A city that is confident in itself encourages youth to go out and experience the world beyond the city they know — not try to keep them at home. A city that is confident in itself trusts that gains received by sending young explorers out into the world exceeds perceived benefits of holding explorers back. A city that is confident in itself trusts that what youth gain in their adventure benefits the city, and other cities. A city that trusts itself gifts its youth to the world.
I found myself at a city council meeting earlier this month listening to a discussion about Edmonton’s brand and reputation (see CBC coverage here) and how Edmonton is living into being Edmonton. Edmonton’s brand is Edmonton itself — who we are — with four themes that describe us: inventive, open, courageous, cooperative.
A key feature of the brand and reputation strategy is attracting 18-34 year-olds to Edmonton. As I listened I heard two threads: attract new young people to Edmonton and keep those that are here. As I thought of my 19-year-old who is thrilled to be leaving Edmonton and explicitly embark on life’s journey, I found the latter thread — to keep young people from leaving — alarming.
I found the latter thread — to keep young people from leaving — alarming.
My daughter started university here in Edmonton last year and simultaneously made arrangements to transfer to the University of Toronto. She leaves Edmonton next month — and she might not come back. Here’s what we need to remember: it isn’t about leaving, it’s about responding to a call for adventure.
When youth leave our cities, they are not leaving as much as they are moving toward something that will fuel them for the rest of their lives. Those of us “left behind” may feel threatened because others’ self-empowerment threatens our sense of who we are. At the scale of citizen or city, we disguise others’ self empowerment as a threat because it causes us to grow and change, requiring us to be courageous and face our own self-empowerment. The part of us that doesn’t want to rock the boat, that is closed to our own development, is threatened. The part of us that wants to grow and evolve is shut down and blocked. Wanting to “keep” our youth here holds both them and us back.
The drive to respond to the call to adventure, and even resist it, is part of a large pattern of the human journey. My 19-year-old is embarking on an archetypal journey to reach out further into the world and expand herself. It is the thread of the hero-path, as Joseph Campbell calls it, the “standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero” that involves a simple formula that punctuates rites of passage: separation–initiation–return.1 Leaving, or separating from life as we know it, is something we must do to both grow ourselves and, if we follow through on our/their return, our communities.
For Campbell, it starts with a call to adventure, where the mythological hero sets out voluntarily or is made to cross a threshold of adventure (separation). On the other side of the threshold, in the heart of the adventure, the hero finds tests and magical helpers, and at the height of the adventure experiences an ordeal. Triumph over the ordeal is an expansion of consciousness that involves illumination, transfiguration and freedom (initiation). The final work of the hero’s journey is the return, which is either easy or arduous travel, and the crossing of the return threshold to her people. The journey is not yet complete, for she must reconcile the two worlds she knows: the one that has transformed her and everyday home. She must share what she has learned — the boon, or the elixir — with her community (return).2
Here’s the simple pattern:3
Separation: the hero ventures forth from her everyday world into a new world of wonder
Initiation: the hero encounters fabulous forces that challenge her — tests — and magical helpers, and she overcomes a supreme ordeal
Return: the hero returns from her adventure with stories and lessons for her people, a boon
The hero will go on her journey and we have a choice to be obstacles or helpers. We have another choice on her return, to ignore or shun who she has become, for she will not return as the same person, or to welcome her and her insights. We can choose to thwart or foster their – and our – growth, or we can choose to send and receive our heroes. These choices have implications for our growth as citizens and as a city. We choose to grow or not.
The hero will go on her journey and we have a choice to be obstacles or helpers… These choices have implications for our growth as citizens and as a city.
For Campbell, the return is about becoming more of ourselves, which means integrating the lessons learned on the adventure. It’s not only about the growth of the hero; she is expected to bring back what the community needs to know. We have to know enough to both send her and receive her on her return. For Edmonton to be radically inventive, open, courageous and cooperative, we will send our youth out into the world knowing the ‘return’ might be a familiar physical return, or something completely different. A city that trusts itself is a wonderful nest from which to leap into the world.
How do you and your city send and receive young people on life’s adventures?
(In my next post I’ll explore the community-hero relationship.)
Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, New World Library: Novato, California (2008, 3rd ed) p. 23
Self empowerment threatens the stories we have been telling ourselves for as long as we can remember. Whether its myself I’m empowering, or watching another reach into their own empowerment, my life is changing. My choice:
be upset, feel threatened, find ways to thwart the coming change
be supportive, feel excitement, find ways to nuture the coming change
The choice is, in the end, about fighting or allowing.
The choice is, in the end, about fighting or allowing.
In my last post, Beware listening through stories, I describe two ways people showed up for me while I was going through a tough time. Simply put: they listened through their stories and grief and were unable to support me, or they put their stories aside and listened and encouraged me in my own story. The former was about fighting threats to their view of the world; the latter was about creating the conditions to help me find my way. (Both are reasonable responses, yet as the receiver, only the latter feels like love and care.)
At Donald Trump’s inauguration in January there was great talk of a wall. At that same time, I was making my own wall to protect myself in a difficult time. I needed to figure out what my boundaries were. Here’s what it looked like in my journal:
I came to the realization that I am not going to stop doing what I need to do to be me, to grow into who I am growing into. On my side of the wall, at the end of a 21 year marriage, it meant looking after myself in a whole new way. (I know, this begs description and this will come.) What it meant was self-empowerment.
I am not going to stop doing what I need to be doing to be me, to grow into who I am growing into.
On the other side of the wall was upset. What came my way was advice, fury, sadness, directions, and explanations — and a need for explanation. I imagine what was brewing for many behind the scenes: confusion, envy, anger and grief. When I am low, however, support does not come in theirreactions to my reality, despite their best intentions. Others’ advice, fury, sadness, directions and need for me to explain what happened are about them and their journey, not me and mine. Hence: a wall.
Others’ advice, fury, sadness, directions and need for me to explain what happened are about them and their journey, not me and mine. Hence: a wall.
Travel through the wall is two-way. When fragile, I stay on my side and raise the ramparts for those stuck in their story and their projections, unable to support me when I need it. Those able to walk alongside me, to care for me and my story, come through. This is moment by moment boundary setting to ensure that when I feel fragile, my needs come first.
When I feel strong enough I travel through the wall into other people’s stories, to walk alongside them without my story. To support them in their own awareness and self empowerment. I do this when the following conditions are in place:
I am open, able to release my story
The other is self-aware, knows that their story is their story
The other is open to exploring the tension they experience in their story, what is going on for them
There is love, care and safety for us
I realize now that what I have made for myself is perhaps more of a cocoon of sorts, than a wall. It’s a safe place where I become more me, to prepare to be more me out in the world. Inside the cocoon I am not necessarily alone; there are people who join me and support me in my journey. Those that are able to travel with me join me. I leave the cocoon more frequently now, I go back and forth, stronger and more able to leave the parts of my story behind – not forgotten – to join others in their journey.
It seems the cocoon is not a one-time place and time for transformation, but one I can carry with me and make for myself whenever I need it. It is the boundaries I set for myself and the interactions I have with people, and the discernment about when I am able to be with them in their story out in the world and my expectations of people I invite into my cocoon, my side of the wall. I imagined the wall as permeable and so too is the cocoon. In addition, the cocoon is not a one-time event; I conjure it when I need it because change is not a one-time event. (I like my friend Michael’s take on change: think of it not as a noun, but as a verb.)
We all have the same choice, whether the change comes from within or without: resist our transformation or allow it.
Self-empowerment is threatening to our sense of self and others’ sense of self. People will go to great lengths to keep us we were, and we will go to great lengths to keep them as they were. We all have the same choice, whether the coming change comes from within or without: resist our transformation or allow it.
As you become more you, what boundaries do you put in place to support your own empowerment?
On February 3, 2017 my former partner and I shared parallel messages to let friends know what was happening in our personal lives:
This message let a wider circle of friends know what was happening in our internal worlds, but for most of my interactions with people, for months, when asked “how are you?” my answer was “good.” Sometimes I’d be more honest and say, “You know, I’m ok today. I have some stuff going on and I’m not at my best.” But the majority of time, the most people knew was that I was “good”, or “fine”. Just like them, I suspect, I gave the answer we all hope to hear, that all is well.
Here’s what I have learned: there is no way any of us can possibly know what is going on for someone else by looking at them, or even briefly talking to them. It is irresponsible to think that we can.
There is no way any of us can possibly know what is going on for someone else by looking at them.
As I hunkered down to make sure I kept it together during a significant time of transition in my life, and made my way through the world, I realized that no one else knows what is going on for me. A handful of people got close and gave me the gift of love and support, but when I went out to get groceries or went to work, I did not have a sign on me telling others what was happening. Even if I did have that sign — 21 year marriage just ended — they would still have no idea what it meant for me. All they have is their story.
It is not possible for others to know my story and what it means to me. And this tells me that when I see others on the street, or in a workshop or at work, it is not possible for me to know their story and what it means to them. I can not know by looking, and I can not know by hearing a wee piece of story either. All I can know is the meaning I make of the story I tell myself. All I have is my story.
It is not possible for me to know their story and what it means to them… All I can know is the meaning I make of the story I tell myself.
The tricky work of being in relationship with others is in recognizing that my reaction to what others do and say is my reaction. The stories I tell myself about them are my stories. To show up as my best self with them means I have to be aware of the stories I tell myself.
I have learned this because the stories others tell themselves about me are not my experience. Here are a few story pieces a handful of people have shared directly with me:
There must be a reason why! There must be someone to blame. Who made this happen?
You have lost so much! You are alone, without a partner. This is tragic.
You must be lonely.
You must not know what to feel, so I will tell you how you must be feeling.
You must not know what to do, so I will tell you what you need to know. Here’s how to handle money… here’s how to handle the separation agreement… here’s how to handle the kids.
These stories these dear people carry about my and my situation shape how they offer support to me. As they listen through their story, they act in ways that soothe them, not me. Despite good intentions, they are not supporting me at all. To me, what they say and do can feel disempowering; I sense a pre-supposition that I am broken, flawed, that something is now missing in my life that should be there, that I am incomplete. These stories that are not my own and have the power to deflate me — if I let them.
In contrast, a series of other stories have revealed themselves to me, that recognize and support my journey:
It took courage acknowledge the need to separate.
It took courage to enact the separation.
This is a time of transition, confusion and metamorphosis.
This is hard work and you are capable of handling this.
I am available to listen, with out judgement, and simply be with you.
This set of stories embodies an entirely different way of supporting me because they are listening for my story; they are not listening through their story. To support me, they put their story aside and make room for me. They trust that I am fully capable of living through a difficult time. When we spend time together, they give me space and room to figure out my next steps without inserting their agenda. If they are uncomfortable and upset about my new reality, they are able to put that aside and not let it run the show.
I have a new understanding about what it means to be heard and supported as we make our way through our lives. For me specifically it means this:
I pay more attention to my own state and ability to be with others. If I am not able to listen for their story (and only able to listen through my story), I need to remove myself.
I pay more attention to the quality of listening in others toward me. If they are only capable of listening through their story, and I am in need of support, I remove myself. If they are only capable of listening through their story and I am capable of listening for their story, I will stick around and be supportive.
I choose to notice the stories I tell myself, check if they belong to me and if they are disempowering myself and/or others.
When learners get to take the stage and show what they know, in whatever way they choose, it is amazing what will come out. They seem to learn more with this responsibility.
At the end of The Art of Hosting the Beauty in Difference last month, participants hosted themselves to notice what they knew and understood differently at the end of our four days together. They noticed–of course–that they learned different things and show what they learn in different ways. There was a 3D artifact, a skit, a musical, a dance and the team that hosted them in this experience by offering minimal, yet effective, structure.
This poem was caught while listening to them describe what they learned when pausing to notice what they had learned.
The longer arm points to the camp where I find prejudice and hurt and hope in the personal and local I’m not so naive as I’m growing, discerning what to say what to be thankful for what to look to: a spiral of fear or the good that always comes what feeds my spiritContinue reading Depths of my inside world
The stories we tell ourselves shape our lives and the world around us. When we are closed to learning more about ourselves, the stories we tell ourselves knock us about and take us wherever they want to take us. If open to learning about ourselves, we see that the stories we tell ourselves are stories we choose, whether consciously or unconsciously.
If open to learning about ourselves, we see that the stories we tell ourselves are stories we choose.
Sometimes a circle of two is all it takes for an opening of the eyes, the heart and the soul. A circle of two where another sits across from me and witnesses my growing awareness. A circle of two that enables me to stay in it.
A circle of two enables me to stay in it.
The words of Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway hit, Hamilton: “seize the moment and stay in it.” Now granted, Hamilton is heading into the battle of Yorktown when Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has him say these words. (The words that immediately follow are, “It’s either that or the business end of a bayonet.”) For Hamilton and his mates it’s about staying alive, literally. The metaphor applies to life today, whether we find ourselves physically fighting for survival, or in a more spiritual way.
Sometimes, to “stay in it”, to stay in the battle of grappling with growing awareness in myself, I need someone to sit with me. Here are the wise words of Camilla Gibb, in This is Happy:
Soon enough, words are pouring out, two winters’ worth of ice thawing overnight: the grief and that tight know of anger lodged in the pit of me becoming unstuck. Unmoored, though, they threaten to destroy everything. The feelings are bigger than me, stronger. I am aftraid of their intensity; I am afraid of going crazy, of doing harm, of standing on a bridge plenty high enough, when this is no longer, if it ever was, an option.
One witness, though—one reliable and loving witness with the capacity to hold—can change what you are convinced will be the inevitable outcome.
It is hard work to see and feel what we don’t want to see and feel. Witnessing growing awareness, without judgment, is a beautiful gift to give self and others.
I found myself in the company of people a couple weeks ago who completely understand and respect others’ needs to set limits and boundaries for themselves, so we can enable each other to show up well. In the language of The Circle Way, this is the “ask for what you need” agreement. In reflection, I have learned that I am not always quick enough to realize what I need, let alone ask for it. I didn’t.
Here’s what happened. We circled up for a board meeting for a few days and we had a lot on our agenda so we met for long, full days. On day one, I got up early to maintain my morning practice of writing and walking. On day two I was feeling under the weather, so I chose to sleep in the morning. Still under the weather on day three I chose to sleep. My ability to function and contribute lessened and lessened with each day both because of not feeling well, but also because I did not give myself the things that nourish me every day: time to exercise and fresh air and time alone to write and read.
Over the last several years I have become more introverted; I need more time alone to figure out what I think and feel about things. A day full of other people (including mornings and evenings), let alone several days, is a challenge to my inner well-being. I need time alone to look after my introvert so I can be my best self, for me and others. Without this time my energy stores deplete and my ability to be my best self declines.
I need time alone to look after my introvert so I can be my best self, for me and others.
Last week I didn’t take the initiative to make more time for myself, or to ask for our work schedule to change to allow more spaciousness. This opportunity to reflect has allowed me to see two underlying ideas.
First idea: I want to be in the room where it happens. Just like Aaron Burr in the Broadway hit Hamilton, I want to be there when great stuff happens. I don’t want to miss out on anything and I want to be a part of everything. If something neat is happening, I want to be a part of it.
Second idea: my needs are not as important as others’ needs. In my drive to be in the room where it happens, I fear rocking the boat, or letting other people down by either proposing something preposterous, or by simply not being available when needed.
Our meeting was productive and meaningful. It was a challenging time for us and we met each other well and yet I feel that for me, and how I show up for myself, there is room for improvement. How can I spend days with others, from dawn into the evening, in ways that maintain or even increase my energy stores?
Two contrasting shapes of how to spend three days together come to mind:
Here are five simple ideas about organizing full days of meeting:
Understand the purpose of the gathering at all scales: the reason to gather, the intention for each day and each chunk of time in each day.
Identify expectations and outcomes for the gathering that include both the tasks of the work and needs of the people to do that work. What kind of spaciousness is needed for what purpose?
Start a bit later than usual to allow for the spaciousness of life in the morning (checking email or social media, exercise or meditation).
Decide what works best for lunch and supper breaks. Is it a short break so the day can end early? Is it a longer break for spaciousness? Is the spaciousness needed before the meal or after? Are we sitting down together or can individuals go off on their own to eat?
Designate chunks of time for the whole group to meet. When does everyone need to be together? When can people work on their own schedule? Remember: the days do not have to be the same.
Unscheduled time in our lives helps us do our work. Over a few days of meeting, it is essential to find play time both with others and alone. It helps a group be its best self. When we look away from the tasks at hand, for a moment even, we can see what needs to be done more clearly.
Unscheduled time in our lives helps us do our work.
In my case, I learned that I need to let go of the need to be in the room where it happens and give myself space to discern which room I want to be in. Further, I need to make room for the work to work me, for this is how I find my way, how I figure out what and how to contribute to the world around me.
Asking for what I need is about enabling myself to be me.
How do you make room for you to be you, for “it” to happen?