Embracing Your Shadow Self

One of the key things I’m discovering on my journey is that to transform and integrate ourselves, we have to not only accept that we have a shadow self within ourselves but to openly embrace it. The reason being is that if we ignore or deny the existence of it, the stronger its hold will be upon us. By recognizing and accepting it though, we are able to step beyond it.

The thing is though, while I’ve read this time and again in the articles I’ve researched, when I encounter other people who are also undergoing this deep journey, there seems to be this fear or aversion of openly recognizing this side of ourselves and discussing how we are striving to overcome it. In effect, there is this whitewashing of the deep struggle within us, striving to maintain a facade of positiveness to avoid discussing this darker aspect of ourselves. It reminds me of people wanting to avoid admitting or talking about depression which only makes its hold on us all the more stronger.

Of course, the opposite is true as well. If we give into our shadow self and our depression, we shift and become a victim of it by accepting it without seeing a way around it. In effect, “This is my reality, I may as well accept my lowly fate.” Obviously this is a trap that our ego wants us to fall into and we must learn to avoid it as well. Thus the trick is to accept it being there, what it’s trying to do to us, but step beyond it at the same time. Nevertheless to do so is a monumental challenge which is why I believe those who have undergone this struggle should share their experiences with it, so as to help others better understand the process of doing so.
With that in mind, I’d like to point out two great sources who I believe are doing wonderful work in this area.

Brené Brown is without a doubt a seasoned traveller in this field because she, herself, has openly talked about her own struggles within her own journey of acceptance. Encapsulating this as vulnerability, she emphasizes the acceptance and sharing of this side of ourselves so that we can collectively rise above it.

Maria Popova, at her website Brain Pickings, is another excellent source of inspiration, as she often discovers and shares the stories of countless creative icons of our time and how they have struggled through this process themselves. Intimate details of their battles with and within themselves are revealed, showing how with time and reflection that battle shifts to one of love and acceptance of oneself.

Shifting & Aligning to 21st Century Work

Fast Company has an article entitled LinkedIn’s Top Three Secrets To Getting Hired In 2016 by Eddie Vivas, Head of Product at LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions. What I found interesting about it is that it does show where things are headed in terms of The Future of Work but at the same time shows how most companies (even those at the forefront like LinkedIn) are still missing what’s under their very noses, thus hampering the very change they are looking for.

The top two hottest skills in 2016—cloud computing and data mining—didn’t even exist a few short years ago. The world is simply changing too quickly for even young professionals to rely on the hard-won skills from their college years. You may choose a well-researched major or what looks to be a stable career path, but there’s no guarantee those skills will be in demand in 10 years’ time—sorry!

In such a world, it’s difficult to predict which industries and jobs will face decline and which will be the next wave. How many companies employed a chief data scientist or an economist in 2011? Now some companies (LinkedIn included) have both.

For employees, that means everyone should be thinking about developing new skills right now in order to keep up, or how they could adapt their existing skills to a new specialty. Job seekers who will come out on top will be those who stay curious and are lifelong learners. For companies, it’ll mean arming existing workforces with new knowledge, getting creative with job requirements, and keeping an eye out for skills that could transfer well into newly imagined roles.

Leaping Into The Future

For anyone who has read JobShift by William Bridges, they’ll know that what’s described above is a clear marker and waypoint to a future without jobs (something which Mr. Bridges foresaw back in 1995). To grasp this leap of logic though, one needs to first understand that a future without jobs isn’t everyone being unemployed but rather a future with bountiful, “unpackaged” work. In effect, just as organizations are beginning to break down the borders and silos within themselves, so too will the borders of work itself—a “job” as a rigidly defined package of work—be broken down as well.

The second leap of logic that one needs to understand to embrace and understand this emerging future is that it’s about going beyond adapting your existing skills to a new speciality and instead understanding how your skills can be adapted to multiple specialities at once. In effect, what’s being described above in the article is nothing more than a stepping stone to something bigger. In other words, to deal with the ever increasing change before us, organizations will need individuals that aren’t just capable of adapting their skills to something new every few years but are capable of adapting their skills in the moment, as the need arises. By doing so, this allows both the individual and organization to not only cope with change but to creatively embrace its complexities as well.

These types of individuals and organizations are so creatively adaptable, they are often referred to as being fluid. They’ve achieved this state because they have let go of the outdated structural limitations of a job and evolved to a more expansive social structure of passion and purpose which allows them to easily flow between seemingly diverse work. In effect, instead of a future of scarcity focused on the problem of finding their next job, individuals are focused on a future of abundance with unlimited work opportunities before them, thus finally truly releasing their creative potential in the process.

The third and final leap of logic is understanding how work will shift away from being centered around jobs and instead centered around passion and purpose. This mirrors the noted shift, mentioned in the article above, from you having to push out to an organization to find work as a job and instead the pull of your passion and purpose (integrated together as your life’s work) gravitating and aligning the organization to you. This is achieved when individuals begin to see what unifies their skills at a deeper core level which in turn emerges as their passion and understand their own deeper values as their purpose.

Conventional Lenses Limit Our Vision

As I noted above though, many organizations, even those at the forefront of this change like LinkedIn, are actually impeding this change rather than embracing it. The reason for this can be revealed by looking further at the article, in particular the following quote below.

That suggests many companies are holding out for “A” players with all the right skills at the same time that more and more professionals are looking to change employers. But they don’t seem to be finding each other—which means we may need smarter ways to get connected.

In effect, it’s not that they aren’t finding each other but rather they aren’t seeing each other. That’s because they are still looking at each other through a job lens which limits them to what they are seeing. Thus the company doesn’t see the potential of the individual and the individual doesn’t see the potential of themselves for the work because both are trying to achieve an alignment through job titles rather than aligning through transferable skills (which reveal and define the individual’s unifying passion). Thus no matter how often they look, there’s always this disconnect because of the method or lens of comparison.

New Lenses, New Vision

When both individuals and organizations start looking through a lens of passion and purpose though, suddenly there is an abundance of potential people for the work, even to the point that the organization starts seeing potential people within their own organization, thus avoiding the need to look externally. To put this metaphorically, many individuals and organizations are often blind to what is under their very noses. By shifting or reframing their perspective, suddenly they awaken to a whole new world of possibilities that were previously hidden and invisible to them before. In effect, nothing’s changed. We’re still the same people. But we’re looking at ourselves and our potential in a much greater, inclusive, and empowering way.

Last but not least, with this new vision, did you notice the universal pattern between finding people and finding your passion? Just as we are now finding more and more connections and relationships between people below the surface, so too are we seeing these connections and relationships within ourselves. In effect, look beyond and below the direct visible links, both within and without, and start understanding how these weaker invisible links are allowing not only organizations to become much more dynamic and complex but individuals as well.

So while I wouldn’t downplay the value of a first-degree connection as a valuable “in,” it’s important to pay close attention to that second layer if you’re in the market for a new opportunity…

Striving To Overcome Complex Judgement

I mentioned before that I don’t have any mentors or guides that can relate to the transition I’m going through, so I often end up learning and growing by reading books and articles by others that I come across that seem to be on the same journey as myself. One author, Venessa, who has a blog called Emergent By Design, I’ve read repeatedly in the past few years but I haven’t been to it in a long while. In visiting recently, I noticed two blog posts by her from last year, What Mental Slavery Looks Like: Repressive & Reactive Patterns and When The Mind Hijacks My Flow State, that really resonate with the struggle I’m going through.

The Maelstrom of Voices

Within these these two posts, she talks about a “society of personalities” within her head that often sidetrack her from making creative progress in her life.

the Critic would cluck its tongue, “tsk, tsk. look at you. totally out of control. way to keep your shit together.”

the Servant would apologize, “ugh, i didn’t mean it. i’m a horrible person.”

the Slave Driver would spur me on, “be more self-righteous! remind them of all the ways you do more than your fair share!”

the Victim would be both helpless and indignant, “everyone’s always trying to use me, and i guess that’s what i deserve.”

at the end of the day, neither of these patterns was what i actually meant to say or do. they were the result of pathways laid down long ago by the desire to meet the expectation of family or cultural conditioning. and apparently they were still calling the shots.

i can’t remember what it felt like to be connected to my creative essence, or who i was then. i only know that i have become a society of personalities. i am exhausting myself maintaining the dynamics between them. the tyrant and slave, the victim and abuser, the oppressor and oppressed, all playing out their parts. one faction mercilessly berating me for my failures, the other trying to survive the onslaught. i keep trying to “push through,” hoping that there is a hump somewhere in the not too distant future, that if i can just get over it, things will right themselves. this of course is not true, and no matter what output i produce, i’m dissatisfied with it, and furious and disappointed with myself. every day i get more and more frustrated, more and more depleted.

In reading this, I know that she is ahead of me on this journey. Why? Because she’s aware enough of the voices that she is ability to differentiate them into their different perspectives. In my case, they are all just one voice (as I’ve never thought of differentiating them). And often times for me, they’re not so much voices as flashes of imagery that relay a feeling of expectation and judgement from each.

Transcending The Voices

In thinking about this today though, I had an epiphany. Each of these voices, these society of personalities, almost sound like they each match a specific stage of human development of making sense and meaning, also known as an action logic. For example, the Servant sounds like it matches the Diplomat which is an early stage of human development whereby the individual wants to belong so much that they will do anything to conform to the group. And the Slave Driver almost sounds like it matches the Expert which is the next stage of human development whereby the individual focuses on differentiating themselves from others so much, that they strive to impose, control, and belittle others in their efforts to do so.

If it sounds like these are just very negative stages of human development, they’re not. I’m just focusing on the negative aspects or fears of each stage. Each has a positive side as well.  The emphasis here though is to show the striking similarity to these voices and how they seem to match the negative aspects of each of these stages of human development. In effect, even though one is able to progress and develop positively through the various stages, each one of these negative aspects from each stage still sits in their mind, making their ego more and more complex as one develops to the latter stages.

Increasing Complexity

What I find remarkable about this is that it matches the descriptions of the tests by the Devil in the Bible and even the stages of testing in The Alchemist. In effect, the more one gets closer to integrating the complexity of themselves as a whole person, the more complex the challenges they face to do so. I’ve describe this before as an increase in paradoxes that one faces, the closer they get to the final (albeit as far as we know) stage of development. In fact in the final stage, the goal isn’t so much to integrate and control these voices but to let go of trying to control them and just accept and witness them as they are. In doing so, one transcends them and lets go of a fixed sense of individual identity, taking on one of a much more transpersonal nature (i.e. beyond the self, universal, timeless, fluid).

Of course, I know this all, having researched and figured it out over the years, but knowing is not enough. It’s like reading something versus actually experiencing it. In experiencing it, you finally truly understand the depth and simplicity of it, its wisdom. Thus in my mind, it sounds simple and logical for me to just let go of having expectations and judgements on myself so that I stop having expectations and judgements of others but it’s easier said than done. The societal conditioning goes so very deep and it’s hard to unravel.

Valuing Oneself

In fact, what I find interesting is how I differ from Venessa in her struggle (or at least from external appearance based upon what I’ve read of her from her posts). You see I often find it fairly easy to obtain a flow state in my writing and love the curiousity and exploration of researching my life’s work in understanding creativity. Where everything falls apart for me is what to do with all of this amazing knowledge and wisdom I’m accumulating. In effect, while my exploratory research side feels amazing and fruitful, my other side sits their judgementally and says “What are the results of this? How are you supporting yourself with your work?” That’s where everything falls apart and I feel irresponsible and useless (regardless of all of the amazing things I’ve discovered along the way).

It’s a struggle for me. My research implies a letting go of expectations and judgements of myself and others, yet it seems impossible to do so until I can sustain myself economically and in such a way that works within this new way and New World of thinking and doing. Why? Because if I just fall back into a conventional job, all of the things around it just keep pulling me back into the old way and Old World of thinking and doing. In effect, it causes a regression in oneself as you fall back into an earlier stage of development. 

Alas, it seems that unless I become a monk, giving up my worldly possessions and live based upon what others give me, this goal of letting go seems unrealistic to attain. And yet I know people have already made this leap. And yet how did they get around this stage of the journey? Alternatively is it because while I’m living authentically with my writing and taking leaps with it, I’ve still yet made the full leap in living what I’m writing? In effect, as my mantra of old goes, I’m not fully yet “working on living what I have learnt through play” which represents creativity as an integration of playing, learning, and working in harmony with each other, thus allowing you to finally live a life whereby you truly feel alive.

Sharing My World

Over the past few days I’ve been rethinking and rehashing about what I want to do with my Be Real Creative identity and brand which will hopefully encapsulate all of my research on creativity that I’ve done and will still do. More than anything now, I realize I want this to be a safe space for myself. A place where I can extend as curiously as I want without feeling limited by conventional beliefs and boundaries.

In terms of others though, I want it to be a place where I can share this New World I’ve discovered with them as well, so that they can safely explore and immerse themselves within it, as it is the only way to fully comprehend the complexity of it. In effect, you can’t understand it by observing one aspect of it because it will seem completely impossible and incomprehensible if you do. Instead you have to understand all aspects of it as a whole in relationship to one another, at which point the paradigm shift in thinking occurs and you suddenly step through the looking glass to suddenly see the impossible possible before you.

Feeling Ripped Apart

Close to a decade ago, I read Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra which talks about how transitions through a career change are unconventional in that you often don’t know exactly what your new identity will be at the outset of your journey but instead you must experiment and explore to find the right fit. Making this transition of change though can be extremely difficult upon us and those around us, as noted below, because changing our identity, as a complex system or entity, is about changing our relationships.

We cannot regenerate ourselves in isolation. We develop in and through our relationships with others—the master teaches the apprentice a new craft; the mentor guides a protégé through the passage to an inner circle; the council of peers monitors the standards of a professional group, confirming status within the community. Yet, when it comes to reinventing ourselves, the people who know us best are also the ones most likely to hinder rather than help. They may wish to be supportive but they tend to reinforce—or even desperately try to preserve—the old identities we are seeking to shed.

Changing careers is not merely a matter of changing the work we do. It is much about changing the relationships that matter in our professional lives. Shifting connections refers to the practice of finding people who can help us see and grow into our new selves, people we admire, would like to emulate, and with whom we want to spend time. All reinventions require social support. But as this chapter reveals, it is hard to get the support we really need from career counsellors, outplacement, or headhunters, or even from old friends, family members, or trusted colleagues. New or distant acquaintances—people and groups on the periphery of our existing networks—help us push off in new directions while providing the secure base in which change can take hold.

What I recognized afterwards though—upon reflecting upon the book, my life, and the patterns of change around me—was that I wasn’t going through a midlife crisis to change my career but rather I was experiencing this Big Shift that everyone will eventually go through which is a change of paradigms, mental models, and world views (aka social innovation). You see it’s much easier to shift a career because you’re often moving from one known context to another known context (i.e. job to job, albeit in different disciplines) within the conventional world that everyone knows. Making the Big Shift is radically more complex and difficult, as you are effectively moving from a known context to a completely unknown context that 99% of the population cannot relate to or understand. So not only will your friends and family think you’re crazy but most of the world will think your crazy as well.

You’re Not Crazy

Another important role a guiding figure plays is to reassure us that we are not out of our minds, to convey that what we are contemplating is not only reasonable but totally consistent with a wise assessment of our potential.

This is why mentors or guides are so essential to your journey because they help you to realize that what you’re experiencing is completely normal and you’re not going crazy. In my case though, while I’ve found tons of diverse articles and books on the subject, I’ve yet been unable to find anyone I can interact with who can relate to what I’m going through and who can see and understand this big picture of societal change on the scope that I do. Thus right now, my only mentors are those within the articles and books I’m reading which makes it difficult for me to make this transition because I’m continually being pulled back into the Old World—it’s outdated beliefs and behaviours—by those close to me, rather than stepping freely into this New World.

But People Will Think You’re Crazy

Our close contacts don’t just blind us, they also bind us to our outdated identities.

This is also why I feel like I’m continually being ripped apart between two worlds, as I’m struggling to step forward but continually feeling pulled back. Because of this, I’ve lost a couple of really close friends over the past few years because they no longer can relate to me. I even find the same thing happening with my family, as I begin to distance myself from them. Basically any friends and family I interact with now about my journey and these bigger changes affecting society, I know they are either thinking I’m crazy or I’m possibly on to something but their lack of understanding of this “unknown” makes them feel uncomfortable because they can’t relate to it at this moment.

A perfect example of this is the typical convention of asking someone what their job is or how their job is going. Neither of these apply to me because this New World is about going beyond a “job” and discovering your life’s work (i.e. your passion & purpose in life). Thus any “job” that I’m doing is just to pay the bills and my real work is that which I do in my days off and evenings. In effect, I’m having to work in two worlds to bridge myself from one to the other. But to fully make the transition though, I eventually need to let go of the Old World’s conventions and beliefs so that I can fully become the potential of that which I wish to be in this New World, my true self.

Without meaning to, friends and family pigeonhole us. Worse, they fear our changing.