“What’s My Problem?” or “What’s My Identity?”

Last week I had a conversation with someone on Dave Gray’s School of the Possible Discord server, whereby I shared some of my vertical development knowledge with them.

While the conversation itself was thoroughly enjoyable (as I was surprised at how easily I could express myself and my knowledge of vertical development in a loose casual conversation), the end result of reflecting upon it made me frustrated again at my problem and seemingly impossible ability to express myself and my work in a more structured way, like in a book or course format. 

With that frustration rolling through my mind and body, I asked myself a common, reoccurring question that I’ve asked before. 

“What’s my problem?”

Holding that thought for a moment, I then asked myself another question.

“Is vertical development actually as complex as I think it is or is there something about it that is making it difficult for me to accept and fully understand it?”

Again holding that for a moment longer, I eventually just let go of it.

I then proceeded to open up my Flipboard newsreader and after spending five minutes flipping through a variety of articles, a realization struck me full in the face. 

Pretty much every article I read, that had to do with someone being upset or frustrated with something in their lives right now, related to vertical development at its foundational level. So the articles were about people frustrated with their weight, frustrated with their looks, frustrated with their work, frustrated with politics, or frustrated with their lives as a whole. 

I mean I’ve said this before, vertical development connects to everything and, in turn, it shows how everything is connected

What I mean by this is that once you begin to understand vertical development, you realize that there is a base foundational premise to it, which Richard Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey talk about in the beginning of their book Immunity to Change. If I could explain that premise in my own words, it would be as follows. 

Most of the problems that we’re experiencing right now, that we often attribute to something or someone that we believe is outside our sphere of control, are actually emerging and occurring because of an existing sense of self-identity that’s no longer working for us but with which we’re currently stuck within because our identity is trying to protect us from change. 

Now stop for a second and think about how similar this is to an organizational body in terms of how changes acting upon it spontaneously bring out organizational antibodies to try to protect it and maintain it. It’s no different. That’s why organizations are almost impossible to change. 

So what’s happening here is that life is trying to teach us something but we’re intentionally ignoring and blinding ourselves to the deeper lesson that’s below the surface of our lives and our very sense of self. Why? Because we fear change.

When this happens, we fail to have the awareness to perceive and see the real issue in our lives as I mentioned in the quote below from a previous post of mine.

Your perception of your problem is your problem. It seals your fate rather than sets you free to weave your own destiny in life.

So my problem isn’t with something or someone out there, as much as I want and believe it to be, my problem is with my perception of my problems themselves which stems from my identity itself. That’s because my perception, as part of my worldview and beliefs, is intertwined with my identity (as Dave Gray notes in his book Liminal Thinking). 

So reflecting back on my initial question of “What’s my problem?”, it reveals that I don’t actually have any “problems.” What I have instead is an identity that is fearful of losing it “self”, the role it’s been playing for so long, that it doesn’t want to give it up and thus it’s trying to protect itself. So the question isn’t “What’s my problem?” but instead the following.

“What’s my identity?”

Yet if I can introduce my old identity to my new identity and help it understand how it will protect me going forward instead, perhaps I can thank it for its previous service of getting me to where I am now and help it finally make peace with itself, so it can let go and free up space for my newer identity to emerge fully.

When we overcome an immunity to change, we stop making what we have come to see is actually a bad bargain: our immune system has been giving us relief from anxiety while creating a false belief that many things are impossible for us to do—things that in fact are completely possible for us to do!

Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey
Immunity to Change

By Nollind Whachell

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

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