Levelling Up Your “Character” To Set Yourself Free

The characters come before the story. Once you figure them out and set them loose, the story unfolds on its own.

Sheree Rehema, The Art of Character Development

This is what life is truly about. Understanding ourselves at a deeper level, so we can set ourselves truly free, and let our innate story emerge and unfold on its own. 

Leadership on a life level is about being nobody-but-yourself. This is the Hero’s Journey. This is what my Be Real Creative mantra, as The Adventure of Your Life, embodies as an integration of leadership, authenticity, and creativity. 

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.

E.E. Cummings

The hero’s will is not that of his ancestors nor of his society, but his own. This will to be oneself is heroism.

Jose Ortega Y Gassett

This relates to The Future of Work because we have to understand ourselves at a much deeper level within it because no one will be telling us what to do. We have to chart our own course. This requires us to be proactive and self-managing. 

“Our schools, our systems, our retirement things, our taxes, are all built around this notion of doing what you’re told.”

This is about figuring out our own inner hidden narrative, what drives us, and then bringing it out into the light of day. Once we’ve done that, we can decide if we want to live by this narrative, considering it’s often constructed by societal pressures and expectations, or author our own.

We’re entering a new world that requires a new worldview. 

All these patterns in my life are now guiding me forward like quest givers in an MMORPG. They’re trying to help me find and see a larger narrative of life, a universal truth.

Such an understanding will also make it clear that finding a guide for your journey isn’t a question of finding a special person. It is a question of becoming a special person: a traveller, a pilgrim, a person on a journey. When you have done that, the whole world turns out to be full of guides.

William Bridges, JobShift

Gaining A Different Perspective On Our Stuckness

Exploring stuckness with visual frameworks – by Dave Gray
Do you feel stuck? It might help to explore the variations and permutations of stuckness.

Visual frameworks are patterns to help you think creatively, reframe challenging situations, and imagine possible strategies and solutions. Think of a situation or challenge that’s on your mind right now, and click an image below.

Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks – A Language of Patterns

Dave Gray posted an introduction to his newly launched Visual Frameworks website and after perusing a lot of the illustrations, it has sparked a question about my own stuckness.

Am I stuck because I keep looking at the patterned pieces when I should be looking at the whole narrative of the bigger picture instead and then dropping in the pieces and seeing how they fit into it?

What I mean by this is that this stuckness I feel, caused by something unknown I’m trying to make known, is often an amalgamation of these patterns. So it feels like a fog, mess, pain map, puzzle, and maze all at the same time. But again, I’m wondering if this is happening because I’m too narrowly focused on each piece of it and I need to step back from it to gain a larger perspective of it.

For example, if I look at the bigger picture of my own life’s work, I would encapsulate the heart, head, and hands dimensions of it as follows.

Metaphorical Heart

The Adventure of Your Life. The Hero’s Journey. Life as an MMORPG.

Logical Head

Becoming who you truly are, rather than what society expects and programs you to be. Recoding your “self.” Vertical Development. Creativity. Social Innovation.

Practical Hands

No longer dependent upon someone else for work. You’re able to become independent by discovering your life’s work. You’re able to future-proof your self because you step beyond just trying to fit in to survive and thus start stepping out of your limited, conventional sense of self to thrive. The Future of Work.


Crafting The Larger Narrative of You

Something else just leaped into my mind in writing my last post and talking about living your new story as a narrative. It relates to my previous thoughts on concept maps and wondering if they could help me get past the block I feel like I’m experiencing.

Why it feels like an important thought though is because I’m wondering if living the new narrative of your new story, which embodies the new you and your new identity, is really nothing more than simply taking these different aspects of your larger connected self as keywords and laying them out relationally in a empowering narrative sentence that actually inspires you to live and embody your new identity.

This has always been something that has frustrated me in the past. Trying to describe my identity from one perspective. Or perhaps, feeling constrained in having to describe it from one perspective (i.e. “I’m a gamer, no I’m a Future of Work guy, no I’m a…”), so it’s easier for people to grasp and understand.

But really I don’t want to do that and I don’t want to be one dimensional. I want to bring seemingly unrelated aspects of my life together (i.e. play & work) and show how they are deeply meaningful and related to one another, as long as you’re able to let go of your conventional biases (i.e. play is frivolous) and look at them in a completely new, unconventional way.


My Identity Is About Identity

When I think back to the turn of the century in 2000, when I was working as a Senior Web Developer, my focus and passion seemed to be helping people to express their identity…be it a company, community, or person.

What I’m realizing today is that my identity has evolved beyond this. I want to help people to express the transformation of their identity, as it evolves and grows through their own life’s development.

So much of the conflict within our world today is often because of identity, whereby one group tries to marginalize and control the identity of another group for their own exploitation and gain.

“There is a natural order to this world…”, Cloud Atlas

Yet at the same time, we ourselves are often enslaved by our own identity, seeking safety and comfort from within it as our “home” to exist within. Yet it can limit us if we don’t let it naturally grow and evolve, becoming something larger than we are, thus giving us the space and freedom to be more of who we truly are and who we are truly becoming.

This to me is what the last two decades of my life have been about. While I was researching The Future of Work, social innovation, creativity, vertical development, and the Hero’s Journey (symbolizing the psychological process of growth and development), really all of these things were about identity and how we need to give ourselves the time and space to let our identities evolve and grow, just like I needed to do with myself.

And the more I think about this, the more I feel that what’s impeding me isn’t my inability to articulate my life’s work but rather my inability to articulate my own identity.

It’s funny. I remember when I was young and my metabolism was so high at times that I felt like I had so much energy within my body that I couldn’t contain myself. In a way, that’s how I feel like right now in terms of my identity. There’s this tension between this old me and this new me that’s trying to burst forth from the old container that is me but I just can’t find the words to articulate and free my larger sense of Self.

Or perhaps it’s more than this. Perhaps it is that I need to give myself the time and space to first evolve and grow before I can articulate who I truly am. In effect, the certainty comes afterwards, not beforehand. So there’s this liminal space of uncertainty where things just blur together between certain domains of knowledge and you’re just trying to make sense of your Self but everything’s out of focus and without clarity. But the clarity and certainty of who you are is emerging with each step you take.

I think this is why so often when I’m exploring a new social space, my greatest fear and aversion to it is trying to express who I am, because so much of who I am is still in flux and fluid. So I don’t feel like starting within it because I can’t simply articulate the complexity of who I am.

But perhaps that’s the path I need to take though. I need to let go of trying to articulate my “identity” beforehand and just let my identity emerge and reveal itself naturally step by step, one post at a time, helping to build a larger, clearer narrative of who I am over the journey I’m taking.

Hmm, this is interesting though because it reminds me of something else I thought about before, relating to creating something that goes beyond a resume. In effect, a resume focuses on what you’ve done in the past and where you’ve been, whereas we need something beyond a resume today that shows us where we are but more importantly where we’re going, but within a world where things are in the process of emerging and thus are not fully known yet.

My base vision for this was something like a website or social platform whereby you just share things you’re passionate about and over time, AI would connect the dots, seeing the relationship between them, and show you the bigger picture of who you are. But no one has as yet done this with AI yet, so I need to figure out a way to do this manually, trying to organize and map my identity from basic building blocks to showing how they relate to something larger as a whole.


My Fears Preventing Me From Having A Solid Footing

While I tried to dismiss this in the past, it’s evident to me now that I am fearful of talking about how we don’t see reality directly. In fact, if anything, it makes perfect sense why I’m not making any progress with my work if I can’t get past this point because the entire foundation of it is based upon it. So with no foundation, I have nothing to layer everything else upon which perfectly explains why I feel like I’m not standing on solid ground.

What’s even more interesting about this though is that only by realizing that we don’t see reality directly, do so many other confusing and misinterpreted things in our lives suddenly start making sense. So a lot of the sense-making and meaning-making that comes after realizing this can’t happen until this foundation is laid first. So it’s kind of feels like untwisting a knot that we’ve twisted up ourselves because we were trying to force it through in the wrong direction.

Expanding upon this further though, in terms of trying to simplify things, I’ve also realized the basic psychological structure of my work is as follows.

Hero’s Journey + Vertical Development = Life’s An MMORPG

This also makes sense to me now because the Hero’s Journey is the psychological journey we undergo to transform ourselves and our perception of our world via our worldview which is like our perceptual “augmented reality” lens. This happens when our current worldview, as a narrative myth, no longer works in our lives.

But the problem though is that the Hero’s Journey is not enough because it only focuses on understanding the elements of what it takes to psychologically level up, it doesn’t take into account how these same elements evolve, are different, and become much more complex with each level gained.

Comparing it to playing an MMORPG, it would be like saying the “monsters” you face at Level 1 are comparable to the monsters you face in an end-game raid. They’re not. They’re dramatically different in their complexity.

So it is recognizing that the game itself changes its dynamics as you level up and thus each level is like its own game within the larger game. This is what vertical development helps us to understand. It helps us to see and understand the different monstrous fears we face, as well as the quests we will be undergoing that are appropriate for our current level.

In other words, it’s like seeing the map of World of Warcraft with different zones, along with the levels appropriate for each zone, as well as the monsters you’ll probably be encountering along with the typical quests tied to them.

To put it another way, vertical development gives the Hero’s Journey a larger context to play within, as though Life were an MMORPG, helping us to understand, make sense, and make meaning of life in a way that is often well beyond the horizon of most conventional minded people.

And I’ve actually likened this to stepping outside the safety of Stormwind city in World of Warcraft, whereby the city represents your societal programming and scripting, thus causing you to act like an NPC (non-player character). But by stepping outside the city gates, one heroically becomes a PC (player character), “recoding” themselves (like Ryan Reynolds in the movie Free Guy) and authoring their own script for life.

But back to my original point though. Until I can get over talking about “how we don’t see reality directly”, thus defining the setting, simulation, and “game” that we are playing within, the rest of the elements of my work don’t have a foundation that they can be laid upon.


Psychological Play

In reflecting upon trying to merge the world of work and the world of play within my life, I’m realizing that my use of the word “metaphor” may be the root cause of a lot of my confusion and lack of progression in my work. For example, I’ve been saying that The Future of Work is metaphorically like MMORPGs.

This morning I realized that what I really should be saying is that the MMORPG experience psychologically embodies The Future of Work.

When I make this shift, using the word “psychologically” instead of “metaphorically,” suddenly there seems to be a greater weight and seriousness to what I’m saying. And there should be. What I’m talking about here is an arduous, epic, inner journey through our inner psychological terrain that helps us to transform the way we perceive ourselves and our world around us.

This is why so much of getting to The Future of Work and living within it deals with our mental health and well-being, with us gaining a greater awareness of them and taking a greater responsibility of managing them.

At the same time though, there is still this association and relationship with play though. But play at an unconventional level we’ve never imagined before.

For it is play, at least the play I’m referring to here versus what we conventionally think of as “play”, that allows us to psychologically move and mature into newer territory, newer states, and newer stages of being. 

After the field is prepared, at a certain point in this creative process a person is ready to play. A moment comes when there is simply no other choice. We have to liberate ourselves from the idea that playing is for children. Playing, as we shall see, is for maturation. In that sense, as Jung said, play becomes serious.

D. Stephenson Bond, Living Myth

Update: Just thinking about this some more and realizing that getting to The Future of Work requires us to “level up” psychologically. Therefore, more appropriately, Life itself is psychologically a MMORPG and The Future of Work is just the next “expansion” we collectively need to “level up” for.


Accepting My Current Reality To Accept Who I Am

In vertical development, there is this reoccurring theme about accepting your current reality. In effect, you can have the greatest visions of where you want to go in the future but if you don’t accept the current reality before you, you’ll find yourself having a difficult time navigating your way to that vision because you’re not using real bearings that you can work off to chart your course.

It would be like a small forest fire causing a light to appear within a foggy night as though it was a nearby lighthouse and causing a ship’s captain to navigate incorrectly and run aground. You have to know if what you’re seeing is actually there or just something you believe is there.

More and more, I keep coming back to this feeling that I’m not accepting my current reality. And more and more, this avoidance of not accepting my current reality has to do with with the fact that I’m not accepting who I truly am, to the point that I feel like I’m avoiding who I am, almost as though I’m embarrassed of who I am.

The ways this feels is like I’m encountering something that I can’t fully make sense of, so I navigate away from it, exploring other options or potential paths, but they only waste my time, efforts, and energy as I eventually end back up at the same spot as earlier, facing this larger unknown thing which is actually me and what I’m becoming. Or more aptly, what life (or my soul) wants and needs me to become.

The mystery of the psyche is that we are haunted not by what we want out of life, but by what life wants out of us

D. Stephenson Bond, Living Myth

These patterns are self-evident and irrefutable at this point in my life, usually taking one of two forms. While researching vertical development, creativity, social innovation, and The Future of Work over the past two decades, I’ve noticed how similar they are to experiences I’ve had in MMORPGs or how they are similar to MMORPG elements in a metaphorical sense. And at the same time, while playing MMORPGs, I’ve noticed how game experiences are similar to life itself, almost being a microcosm of it.

So there is this convergence of two worlds occurring within my life, struggling to come into alignment, but I’m standing at the midway point between them, trying my best to prevent it from happening, even though I’m not exactly sure why. As I noted above, it feels like there is this embarrassment or disbelief at what I am becoming. Almost as though it is something that I need to hide or cover up the truth about.

Wait a minute. I think this feeling is arising because of the perceived contradiction of these two worlds by others and thus I’m afraid and fearful of what others might think about me because of this. In effect, what I’m talking about here is a “world of work” and a “world of play” coming together and trying to align. From a business person’s perspective, this would probably seem absurd and ridiculous, that play and work would have anything in common with each other.

And actually when I think about it, this is probably the number one thing that has prevented me from sharing with others the depth of what I’ve been learning because it seems out of alignment with the people I’m trying to communicate it with. So when I’m talking to business-minded people, the gaming metaphors I utilize often seem out of place to them, thus making them question the seriousness of my “work”. And when I’m talking to gamers, sharing how a game experience is remarkably similar to vertical (psychological) development, it’s like “Whoa dude! That’s way over my head! It’s just a game.”

In other words, I’m in this liminal space between worlds, trying to bridge and bring them together, yet I’ve got no one to share this space with who can actually understand where I’m coming from. But at the same time, perhaps that because I’m not fully understanding where I’m coming from and where I’m trying to go.

At the same time though, in trying to express this seemingly inconceivable vision to people, I think my avoidance, frustration, and endless looping ruminating over it is caused by my frustration with the uncertainty of not understanding and making sense of it all as I’m mapping it out to try to make sense of it all.

This may seem absurd but this is the exactly the same behaviour I mentioned people at earlier stages of development experience when trying to understand something. They try to shortcut making sense of something because it’s taking too long and the uncertainty of not understanding it makes them feel fearful and uneasy. So they just shortcut, jump to a conclusion, and often end up misinterpreting what they trying to make sense of.

In my case, I’m experiencing the same phenomenon but just at a latter stage of development. In effect, the complexity of what I’m trying to comprehend is even surpassing my current perceptual capacity, thus I just end up trying to shortcut things, avoiding them in the process. I think what I need to do here is to try to not force the comprehension and sense-making resolution but let it be open ended. In effect, like an explorer mapping out a new world, I need to let go and be comfortable with the unknown and mapping it out bit by bit.

Reflecting upon this all, it seems like I need to do a few things to progress forward.

  1. I need to create a bio that open accepts who I truly am and what I’m doing (rather than hiding it), explaining how my life’s work is a convergence and integration of the world of work and the world of play.
  2. I need to create a space and seek out people who have an affinity and attraction for being within this convergent liminal space as well.
  3. I need to create posts within this space that share how these two worlds are more alike than they seem, thus helping myself and others to step into this new integrated world and make it a reality for all, even if it is done just one step and one piece at a time.

Using Books to Reflect on the Growth of My Emerging Identity

A few days ago, reflecting upon my frustration in being unable to push through and articulate this bigger picture I’m seeing, I asked myself the question, “How did I get here?” In doing so, it made me reflect back upon the last couple of decades of my life and I realized how specific books dramatically altered my path and the trajectory I’m taking right now.

While there have been a few influential books within the first half of my life, it was really the books I read in the second half, after the 2001 Dot-com Bubble burst, that really affected my perspective of life going forward. In effect, prior to 2001, I was just a person looking to fit in and do my part within society. After 2001 though, I no longer wanted to just fit in and just survive but instead wanted to stand out and thrive. In doing so though, I had to go beyond the expectations of society and thus go beyond its borders, seeking something new.

Without a doubt though, this all primarily centred around work and how work was no longer working for me (and today it seems like it’s actually working against people as well). But while work was the central focal point or fulcrum of this all, it went beyond it as well. It was about how the culture and environment of work was actually impeding the growth and development of people, feeling like it was standing in their way.

So in a way, I was intuitively seeing or perceiving something more. And it wasn’t just something that I was longing for but something that other notable authors were longing for as well. Something was and still is trying to emerge from our society and its individuals.

That’s basically what I want to reexplore with a series of reflection posts on the notable books I’ve read in the hopes that I can bring this seemingly intangible intuitiveness to the surface, so that I can clearly articulate it going forward.

In just thinking through this process though, it has made realize that a lot of my work today feels very intensely rushed. It’s like I’m constantly exploring new articles and subject matter daily, almost in a frenzied manner, hoping that I can find one thing that can catalyze everything into something tangible. But in doing so, my gaze is continually focused on the hopes of finding something “out there” that will make everything click.

What I’m realizing though is that it won’t be something “out there” that will make everything click but rather something “within me” that will achieve this. In other words, by reflecting backwards instead of just continually looking forwards, its really about trying to understand why all of these things clicked with me in the first place, revealing these patterns. In doing so, hopefully I will then make sense of a something bigger that will make everything click as a whole.

Already in reexploring one book, I’m amazed at what I’m seeing and perceiving with my newer perception, seeing connections and relationships between things that I was surprised that I had missed before. Hopefully these newer insights from these reflections will help something else to emerge from within me, perhaps finally giving a voice and name to itself.


Sense-Making: A Maze of Lateral Contextual Shifts

Oh wow! I think I just had another major breakthrough.

While thinking about why I’m having difficulty trying to connect everything up together, I told myself to try to focus on how things relate to see these connections. In doing so, I immediately thought about what I said before about how “The Future of Work is Being Yourself.” Yet to truly understand yourself, you have to go spelunking within the dungeons of yourself to discover the treasure of who you are, which mirrors with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

At the same time, this reminded me of Richard Bartle’s book MMO’s From The Inside Out where he said that people play games because they get to be themselves and that’s all anyone “anywhere throughout history have ever wanted to be.”

But this adventure within ourselves to understand ourselves also reminded me of the Berkana’s Two Loops Model which looks striking like Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey because the liminal, unknown, limbo world of the Hero’s Journey is similar to the outcast space where the trailblazing “walkouts” of the Two Loops Model end up.

But what’s interesting about everything I just mentioned above is how it relates to my previous post whereby I said I’m trying to integrate these different layers of my work. In effect, what I described above are different contexts and perspectives that all relate to one another, helping me to perceive and make sense of this bigger picture.

There’s just one big catch though. The process of making sense of this bigger picture isn’t easy. In fact, it feels dizzying, almost like going through a maze.

And as soon as I thought about, I remembered a picture that looked like a maze from an article I read yesterday. The article is about mental health, whereby it states that “struggling with your mental health can feel like being trapped in a maze.”

An “Amazing” Way to Develop Your Mental Health | Psychology Today
How to make sense of your struggle without losing your mind.

Suddenly when looking at the image in the article, I realized what I was experiencing in relation to my work and why it was so difficult to make headway. My work feels like a maze because I’m making lateral shifts through different contexts and disciplines (assuming you view my work as sideview stack of layers turned sideways). So I may start within one contextual layer, shift to another, and then move from that one to another, which may then take another shift and move me back to the original contextual layer.

So if I’m understanding what this realization and breakthrough is about, it means I need to organize my work beyond just connections but also into layers (kind of like three dimensional chess) because the layers will help me to better understand the shifts and metaphorical meanings between each contextual layer. In doing so, it may help me to organize and visually map it out, thus finally making sense of the larger meaning of it all.


The Fear That This Fiction Reveals A Truth

What if I’ve got this all backwards? What if what’s holding me back is not fears relating to my base psychological needs but rather the fear that what I’m discovering is true? In effect, reality is an illusion, a “game” that we’re “playing” different “roles” within.

Like it’s one thing to “play” that “Life is an MMORPG” but another thing to realize and accept the truth of it, understanding the deeper meaning of it and how we have so much more power as a “player” in it than we realize. And how that power then instills a sense of responsibility in living one’s life.

Perhaps that in itself is the crossover from being an NPC to a player character? One begins to truly take leadership over one’s life, self-authoring one’s own unique story rather than just following the script of someone else (which allows one the comfort and safety of being a victim and blaming someone else if the “script” they’ve been given no longer works).

To put this another way. It’s easy to learn and know something. It’s infinitely more complex to take what you know and then begin to put it into actual practice in your life. Because only then do you truly begin to understand the deeper wisdom of what you supposedly “know.”

That is another adventure in itself. One that requires some serious play to process.