Closing the gap between our actions and who we really are.
We are living three grand divides.
Otto Scharmer, change management expert and Senior Lecturer at MIT, very skillfully summarizes our current global state of affairs at this point in our species’ development. According to him, humans are currently facing three significant divides. The first one is a Social divide, where about 62 people in the planet own the wealth equivalent to the 50% poorer — you can fit them on a bus, he says.
The second is an Ecological divide. Research shows that humankind has exceeded by 50% what our planet can provide of natural resources, also known as the carrying capacity of the Earth. It is worth mentioning that today the U.S. lifestyle alone unreasonably requires incredible 4.5 Earths to sustain, but it is countered by extremely underdeveloped countries that don’t pull as many resources.
The last divide is what Scharmer calls a Spiritual one. Here he brings jaw-dropping data showing that, at the beginning of this century, the number of people who have killed themselves is higher than the number of people killed in wars.
These divides represent three main facets of where and how we are disconnected, to put it lightly.
The Social divide is about a gap that exists between Self-and-Other, meaning our capacity to truly empathize as humans and connect under a world-centric view beyond our nationalities and generate equity across countries.
The second divide, Ecological, represents a disconnect between Self-and-It, aka “Nature” (capital N for respect). It was during the Industrial Revolution that humans began to see themselves as separate from nature and use the planet to sustain our development — in paradoxically unsustainable fashion. We grew egotistically marveled by our own creations that we seem to have lost track that without nature, it is game over.
The last divide is, however, the one that stands out to me the most.
The Spiritual divide means a disconnection between Self-and-Self. Writes Scharmer: “this divide is manifested in rapidly growing figures on burnout and depression, which represent the growing gap between our actions and who we really are.”
I’d like to hit pause there, for a second: The growing gap between our actions and who we really are.
More than that: how do I find out who I really am, what I consist of, what my values are? How do I put forth the way I see the world in accordance with what I need and where I am in my life?
Moving the focus from the system to the individual
From a ten-thousand feet view, it is undeniably true that our species faces systemic problems and, being such, they require systemic awareness to be tackled. In light of this, initiatives such as the Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons School for Design, are incredibly valuable to strengthen the discourse around critical design as a critique of the designs of our time.
It questions the consequences of these designs, what they are indeed in service of and ultimately what are our intentions as a developing species. This discourse does not pertain solely to the discipline of design. It has been expanding broadly to other disciplines, fields and productive sectors, forcing us to revisit our disconnects Self-and-Other and Self-and-It.
For example, social innovation and systems design highly aim at including stakeholders otherwise left out of previous design decisions and speculating on the implications of the design decisions we make today, advocating for a more sustainable and equitable future.
At ground level, however, lies the opportunity (I would even argue “the need”) to focus on that designer, that engineer, or software developer; on the architect or the nurse; on the policymaker, economist, financial analyst, or anybody and everybody. It lies the need to zoom in on this individual, the actual person who is performing any of these roles, and inquire: Are you acting as who you truly are? According to Otto Scharmer — and technically to the whole field of psychology, psychoanalysis, and coaching, for that matter — we seem to be not.
The complex system of me
Regardless of the theory of change of your choice, we can agree that we only begin to change once we understand two fundamental aspects: where we are now, and where we want to go. More importantly: who we are now, and who we can be. While these two latter questions are worth several following posts, the fundamental notion here is that significant life changes are often tough to do alone.
We can undoubtedly tackle simple things in our life such as changing the time we wake up in the morning, or even more complicated things such as our diet, job or career. Though the structural changes pertaining to the way we see as ourselves today (our sense of identity) and how it plays a major role in our struggles and our limitations is an entirely different story.
This is what I call in Life Design, a complex problem.
A lot of us have heard the term “complex problems” or “wicked problems”. They have multiple entry points and not just one specific solution, but several possible solutions. They are also referred to as “systemic problems” in the field of design, and “adaptive problems” in the field of coaching and psychology. Systems can vary incredibly in size. For example, our planetarian food system is gigantic, whereas our body system, not so much. Both are incredibly complex.
Solving for social inequality or climate change, known for being some of the most pressing global challenges of our time, requires broad initiatives such as Scharmer’s uLab, which pertains to the field of social innovation — where Parson’s Transdisciplinary Design also lives. These aim to bring about positive change in the disconnects Self-and-Other and Self-and-It.
At the core of the disconnect between Self-and-Self lies different, also systemic, issues. Such as how to pave our way from being overly socialized (when our sense of self-worth stems from others) to authoring our lives (when our sense of self-worth lies within us). Additionally, how to navigate through a stage of ego-centrism to eco-centrism. These represent some of the ultimate developmental challenges for any individual, in any culture.
The main takeaway here is that the disconnect between Self-and-Self has many entry points and several possible solutions, like any system. In fact, when we are amid cognitive paradigm shifts, there are actually no known solutions to us. We have to live them to create them.
Enters, Life Design.
Why Life Design
I have founded Sunny Minds — Life Design out of a sincere desire to combine my passions with my life’s work and expertise in service of something bigger than myself. I can say, confidently, that Sunny Minds is a product of my own life designing. I sought for an opening where my full potential would connect with something that truly matters to me — human development — including, but not limited to, how we perceive life and how we perceive ourselves in it.
Basically, Life Design is about bringing two to one, reducing the disconnect between Self-and-Self, in what I picture as a sunny mind that integrates what I call the 3 Ps:
- Peace, free from our innate internal discomfort
- Purpose, to live life with integrity
- Power, to serve the Self while also serving Others and It.
How it works
The path of designing your own life is, above all, what I call a deliberate surrendering to the possibility of a new you. It is not necessarily a process or a method, but a relationship that can start at any point in your life. It comes to you, rather than you forcing it to happen, because it sparks out of your deep urge to change and develop yourself when you see that your old ways of being don’t fit you anymore.
The overarching goal of this relationship is to co-develop a sunny mind through what I call augmenting your humanity. Augmented Humanity is this consistent step-taking to discover and design your next self, in whatever domain it may be: your identity, your relationships, or your work. It sails through five areas of inquiry:
- Learning how to accept your own ambiguities and the unwanted facets of you, in what I call Befriend Yourself.
- Negotiating with your ego the enactment of what your Life Purpose may be.
- Seeing in your Relationships powerful ways of developing while fulfilling yourself.
- Understanding Cause and Effect as well as the roots of the questions that move you.
- Enlivening pathways towards your greatest Role in the world.
This relationship’s primary orientation is present-future because it bases itself on the now to extrapolate the notion of different futures, breaking the monopoly of your life possibilities. It does leverage the past and how identity is constructed, though it focuses on gaining and including new perspectives on it. Negotiation and self-mediation are crucial when experimenting with prototypes, or provocative prototypes, where you challenge yourself through new ways of being and acting.
Life Design scaffolds your developmental journey to help you hone new meaning-making tools that will allow you to enact from a newly acquired complexity, with peace, purpose and power. Ultimately, it is about merging your personal sense of fulfillment with the unique contribution you ought to make in the world. With a sunny mind :)