The Landscape of Our Identity

Navigating away from who we’re expected to be and towards who we naturally are.

Technology today has made getting lost less likely an occurrence, with our personal mobile devices showing us exactly where we are at all times. Yet even knowing with exact certainty and obviousness of where we are, why do so many of us feel lost inside, uncertain of who we are anymore and what we’re supposed to be doing? The reason for this is because we’re lost in a different way, within the larger landscape of our identity.

Illustration from Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

Here We Are, of all my books, seems the most relevant for the world’s current reality. It began as a sort of comedic routine in pointing out the obvious, but slowly it dawned on me the importance of re remembering the basic principles of what it is to be alive on earth in the 21st century.

Oliver Jeffers

Because of this, while some can help remind us of the obviousness of where we collectively are in relation to the universe around us (as shown above), what many of us really need is some way of obviously knowing where we are in relation to knowing who we are within the internal landscape of our evolving identity.

Yet even though we have been undertaking this ongoing journey and quest for identity since the day we were born, most of us haven’t really mapped out what this landscape of our identity looks like at all. The reason for this is obvious though because we were within a known territory where everything just seemed to make sense, so there was no need for explicitly stating the seeming obviousness of it.

Today though, we’ve obviously wandered off the edge of that known world and are exploring newer unknown territory which doesn’t make much sense to us. So we need a newer way of understanding and making sense of ourselves, one framed not from within just the last point of our journey but framed from within our entire journey overall.

By doing so, by seeing this bigger picture, perhaps we’ll finally be able to dispose of our extrinsic societal compass, telling us where we are expected to go and how we are expected to fit in, and instead start guiding ourselves on our own using our own intrinsic “gyrocompass” that we’ve had all along but just weren’t aware of.

A Map of Days by Grayson Perry

There is little allowance for the complexities and occasional chaos of our lived experience. Where there is space for commentary of any sort, we are expected to apply a degree of narrative coherence, making sense of memories and past events, creating connection and continuity. It is necessary to supply a beginning, middle and end, summarising what has brought us to this current juncture in our lives.

Reality is invariably more shambolic than this. More a hyperlinked web of avenues followed and retraced, jump cuts to elsewhere, occasional returns, disappearances and new beginnings. It is a ball of wool, a tangle of spaghetti, rather than a long straight line or a ladder extending ever-upwards. There are parallel paths too, simultaneously followed, within this entangled mess. Both/and rather than either/or.

Perhaps, like Perry, we need to draw our own maps, reflecting our convoluted journeys, our diversity of experience, the lessons we have learned, the places visited, the destinations yet to be attained. These could be maps of possibility, of intersections, convergence and mash-up. Maps that look to the future and what might be.

Richard Martin, Show Your Map
“The Experiential Qualities of a Lifetime Path of Development”, Action Inquiry

Self-transformation toward fully and regularly enacting the values of integrity, mutuality, and sustainability is a long, lifetime path that most of us follow as we grow toward adulthood, but that very few continue traveling intentionally once we become adults. Each major step along this path can be described as developing a new action-logic: an overall strategy that so thoroughly informs our experience that we cannot see it.

The Diplomat, Expert, and Achiever follow a progression through what are identified as the conventional action-logics. The conventional action-logics take social categories, norms, and power-structures for granted as constituting the very nature of a stable reality. We are learning how to relate by gradually gaining increasing skill and control in one territory of experience after another—first, the outside world, as an Opportunist; next, the world of our own actions, as a Diplomat; then the world of thought, as an Expert; and then the interplay among all three as an Achiever. As persons operating within conventional action-logics, we typically do not recognize ourselves as seeing ourselves, others, and the world through a particular frame or action-logic. Nor do we realize that our action-logics have been transforming into different ones over the course of our lives.

Then, the Individualist action-logic is shown not as a destination, but as a path that somersaults reflectively through one’s previous history (reevaluating all prior life experiences) and through the growing recognition of alternative action-logics, until one reaches the Strategist action-logic (aka Teal stage within Reinventing Organizations). Then the journey from Strategist to Alchemist is shown as different in kind again. The double-headed arrows between Alchemist and all the earlier action-logics suggest an ongoing, time out of time process…

The Individualist is a bridge between two worlds. One is the pre-constituted, relatively stable and hierarchical understandings we grow into as children, as we learn how to function as members of a preconstituted culture. The other is the emergent, relatively fluid and mutual understandings that highlight the power of responsible adults to lead their children, their subordinates, and their peers in transforming change.

Although this illustration is offered from the outside in, giving no direct taste of this woman’s inner experience (as an Alchemist), it suggests one way that people who measure at the late action-logics of development tend to live at once “symphonically” and “chaotically.” One might mistakenly conclude that she and the other people we are profiling are in a constant rush. Quite the contrary. We found in all of them a sense of leisure, playfulness, or meditativeness at times; a sense of urgency, fierce efficiency, or craftlike concentration at others. (Indeed, a telling characteristic of their work and play is that they cannot really be distinguished; “work/play” is a conjugation that comes closer to describing the actual interweaving of business, art, and leisure in these peoples’ lives).

This example illustrates particularly well two Alchemist characteristics: (1) active attention to analogies across the individual, group, organizational, and international political scales of development and (2) the use of one’s personal “charism”—one’s personal spiritual energy—not to charm one’s associates and generate worshipful subservience, but, rather, to challenge them to engage in collaborative action inquiry.

Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership
Illustration from Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

You will figure out
lots of things for yourself. 
Just remember to leave notes
for everyone else.

Oliver Jeffers, Here We Are

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