Tiago Forte On His Existing Identity Wearing Out

Tiago’s 2022 Annual Review: From Mid-Life Crisis to Reinvention
Completing an annual review is the single most impactful exercise to achieve your goals. Tiago Forte shares his review, learnings, and goals for 2023.

I’ve been following Tiago Forte for some time now. Initially I was fascinated with what he is known for today, his approach to knowledge management using a Second Brain to boost your productivity, but over time I became more fascinated with how he expresses his vertical development (similar to Robert Kegan’s stages of development) and really wanted to see him dive deeper into it.

Well in reading his recent 2022 annual review, it’s evident I won’t have to wait that long, as so many points within it seem to focus around not just his own vertical development but how he wants to begin helping others with their own as well. Let’s take a look at some of them.

I began to find clues in my past writing that indicated a life stage was drawing to a close and a mid-life crisis was looming:

  • My usual sources of motivation stopped working
  • Pursuits that used to fill me with enthusiasm started to feel grey and flat
  • Contemplating a future filled with more of the same began to feel dark and depressing

I found that a mid-life crisis is characterized by a sudden, pervasive loss of energy. Like the engine that powers my psychology is grinding to a halt. My goal then becomes to find a new source of energy and motivation for the next chapter.

This mirrors the recent article I found on how boredom can reach a transformation state that can reinvent us and our sense of self. It also states how social media can addictively distract us to prevent this transformation from occurring.

It’s pretty much the same experience I’ve been having with ever increasing frequency over the past few years. Things that once seemed meaningful to me are now feeling meaningless because I’m looking for a deeper sense of meaning. And I’m even becoming aware of the addictive distraction of social media for what it is and slowly starting to respond differently to it rather than just reacting automatically to it (thus helping to avoid an endless case of doomscrolling which appeases the explorer nature in me but really doesn’t get me anywhere).

Releasing my book to the world has been the adventure of a lifetime, but also the challenge of a lifetime.

This mirrors how I see vertical development as The Adventure of Your Life because it is an ever changing journey across your entire life.

What my series of mid-life crises has taught me is that identities are malleable and temporary.

An identity is an information construct – a loose collection of beliefs, values, viewpoints, priorities, goals, and principles for living held together by a story about who you are. Humans cannot survive psychologically without an identity. It’s the narrative glue that gives meaning to the chaotic storms of electrical activity cascading through our brains.

Like changing clothes as the weather turns, identities serve you for one situation but not necessarily others. When your identity wears out and no longer serves you, it’s time to find a new one. As the saying goes, the identity that got you here won’t get you to where you want to go next.

At certain liminal moments of unpredictable change, such as during a mid-life crisis, the superstructure of our identity becomes especially fluid. There’s a brief window in which we have the chance to shake it loose and build another.

This is vertical development in a nutshell. We don’t have a static identity, awareness, and perception in life but instead they all evolve over the course of our life. And they transitionally evolve by our own identity shattering like a container and the fluidity of our Self flowing outwards discovering a newer, larger “container” of being.

What people often misperceive though is that when they grow up and become an adult, the believe this evolution stops and our identity becomes permanently molded into a set container for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t. There are deeper and broader ways of being a human being but only if we wish to explore them. Because most of society isn’t aware of this, society often can’t help you go beyond this point and may even obstruct you from doing so, as the post-conventional growth beyond is often paradoxical and the antithesis of conventional beliefs.

Using that lens, the picture I see is of a man who is overworked, pushing himself too hard on too many fronts, and using a combination of social media, sugary junk food, strong coffee, and distraction to salve the pain that causes. I see someone who is so tired and anxious that he doesn’t have the capacity to do the things he knows would make him less tired and anxious. I see someone who deeply wants to spend more and better time with his growing family, but doesn’t have clear enough boundaries between work and life to create the necessary space.

Absolutely love this candour and honesty which will probably shatter his most ardent followers beliefs that he’s a “successful individual” living a “perfect life” (especially with the release of his book).

It’s funny. So often we use addictions to fill the gaps in our lives or distract us from them when we should be actually stopping and exploring them further. When we do so, that’s when we find a larger unknown sense of Self awaiting for us. But ya, it can be scary and fearful because you’re stepping into an uncertain unknown, rather than standing on solid ground with a sure footing of who you are.

And this is the key to the identity change that comes next: it has to come from a place of complete self-acceptance and self-love, not a desire to change someone who is bad or wrong.

This is my greatest struggle. Accepting myself as a I am…right now, as I am. I believe this is the core to understanding creativity at a higher level. Having a clear vision of where you want to be is essential but without a clear picture of reality as it is right now, you won’t have a stable conduit for change. Both sides of the bridge need to be firmly rooted. Again I know this but putting it into practice and living it is something different.

  1. I am a Wisdom Worker, not a Knowledge Worker

Early in my career, I was an Information Worker – I spent most of my time taking in, organizing, editing, and manipulating information for others to act on. Later on, I became a Knowledge Worker, conveying tacit knowledge I’d begun to gather from experience. Now I increasingly see myself as a Wisdom Worker, letting go of the implementation details almost completely and instead helping others feel through uncertainty and fear to their truth.

This is the key definitive statement in Tiago’s review that made me realize his next leap is into vertical development work, as this again perfectly articulates what it is about and what I’ve even experienced about it myself.

In Susanne Cook-Greuter’s paper on Ego Development: A Full-Spectrum Theory of Vertical Growth and Meaning Making, she indicates that the shift from conventional linear reasoning to a post-conventional systems view is achieved by shift from a focus on knowledge to a focus on wisdom, whereby we “strip away illusions” and “recognize our assumptions” thus “understanding more deeply.”

More importantly there is a shift away from a focus on just relying upon our thinking to beginning to rely upon our feelings more so, with our intuition being a perfect example of this. This is something I experienced some years back in that I realized that this latter part of the journey, you have to feel your way through it rather than trying to think your way through it.

  1. My purpose is to bring people together over ideas, in inspired communities

Part of my reason for diving deep into my past journaling was to find evidence of my essential nature – what has always been true about me? And when I looked at the most fulfilling, most meaningful experiences of my life, they all had to do with bringing people together in inspired communities centered around the power and beauty of ideas. I want to return to this more purposefully next year.

This pretty much encapsulates my own purpose as well. In effect, when I was younger, I created communities online to help people to level up within the imaginary worlds that we played within (i.e. World of Warcraft). Today, I’m imagining a world of “play” (as a higher level mindset) wherein communities of practice help people to “level up” psychologically in life, thus helping them to prepare for “The Adventure of Their Life.” In other words, helping to create a society that fully recognizes and supports the growth and development of people beyond just the conventional stages of development and into the seemingly paradoxical post-conventional stages.

The thing is, we are not alone in wanting this. I’m seeing other people wanting to create similar communities of practice as well. For example, John Hagel noted that he is wanting to create a community of a similar nature but it sounds like he’s struggling with with it as well. In other words, there are many of us wanting to create the same universal meaningful thing but we’re often just describing and naming it from our own familiar metaphors and disciplinary perspectives which can in turn create a barrier to seeing it for what it is because we often misperceive the meaning of things.

This to me is the greatest challenge of these types of communities. They’re not so much about ideas, as they are about accepting people as they are which in turn allows their potential and ideas to emerge effortlessly and without fear. This is what a world of play looks like and means to me. It’s everyone having a radical openness of each other, letting each person play within their own space of possibilities (as Beau Lotto would describe it).

My official theme for 2023 is Reinvention. I am reinventing who I am, what I do, and what I’m committed to for the next leg of this journey.

There is so much more that I could have highlighted from his annual review but I think this quote from near the end of it pretty much sums what he’s looking for in his life, what I’m looking for in my life, and what I think a lot of people are looking for in their lives in 2023, especially with work not working out for so many people today.

This above all else is what I’m the most interested in with regards to Tiago’s path ahead. How will he market himself and articulate this newer work to new potential customers (as I doubt he’ll call it “vertical development” work), especially to those who are effectively oblivious of this deeper aspect and growth potential of life? If anyone can do it though, I think he can. He has almost a natural propensity to play with his sense of self, leaping exhilarating into the unknown, rather than being hesitantly fearful of it.

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for the roleplaying game called Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.

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