What journey unfolds when a wild and lost individual meets a wise man at the bar?
I’m not sure.
But I do know what happens when they meet in lockdown - it creates a ripe environment for a ‘Rite of Passage’ to occur.
It explains why the wild and lost individual who went into lockdown has walked out feeling purposeful and driven.
The ripe conditions are best understood through the three phases Arnold van Gennep identified as common to cultures where rites of passage are important.
- Separation from a previous world
- Transitional phase of liminal rites
- Ceremonies of incorporation or post-liminal rites
The Separation from a Previous World
The separation phase involves being taken from your normal environment, usually by elders into what is known as a container. Within this container you begin to experience a shift in your belief system, to identify which parts you need to let go of to make way for the next stage of your life to unfold.
Lockdown created the perfect container for this separation phase to occur.
Not only were we removed from our social circles (let’s not lie to ourselves, those zoom ‘parties’ sucked), our lifestyle required a complete redesign. From the minute we woke up our previous routine was disrupted.
However, it was completely fortuitous that a week before lockdown I met my elder, Errol. A gentleman in his 70s whose wispy white hair wrapped itself around the sides of his head in a way only reserved for the most wise. I fear to think what my life would be like if he hadn’t offered to be my coach. Our fortnightly sessions in my parent’s wine cellar, which was now my study, became the catalyst for the shift in my belief system. I’d often leave feeling dizzy, not from the red wine, but from the lessons I was learning.
My first task was to set goals for the coaching. After much pondering I realised I couldn’t articulate any so I decided that should be my goal: Learn how to identify and execute short, medium and long term goals.
Errol astutely realised I couldn’t set goals because I didn’t know myself. It seems odd, after 24 years I felt like I had a PHD on myself, but as the journey unfolded I couldn’t have been more wrong.
An image of a man wearing many masks is cemented into my psyche. In a process of self-discovery Errol helped me remove the masks I’d woven over my face. To remove the need to be driven by status and likes. To remove the need to satisfy my ‘instant gratification monkey’. To begin to hear the message of the man whose voice had been muffled behind masks for so long.
Lockdown and specifically that cellar became the container for me to identify the person I was going to be in my next stage of life.
The transitional phase of liminal rites
The transitional phase is the period between states when people have left one state but have not joined the next. It’s a phase of testing, learning and growing.
There are three main elements in this stage according to Dr Arne Rubinstein:
Stories help carve a new identity through the examples of others. By reflecting on stories we are able to understand how we would like to see, feel and think of ourselves in relation to the world.
One of the first exercises I did with Errol was identify which parts of different individuals I’d like to model. I mentioned how I admired Steve Jobs' tenacity in creating products he believed in. Tim Urban’s observation, specifically his ability to understand and articulate complex problems through simple metaphors. Muhammad Ali’s grit in standing up for what he believed despite the consequences.
I used these people as a compass for how I’d like to show up in the world moving forward.
In order to grow an individual must overcome a challenge, unlike any previous experience. This becomes evidence that they possess resilience to tackle obstacles and overcome difficulties later in life.
Lockdown itself was a challenge, however for me the true test was the “altMBA”. A cohort-based course described as “a 31-day online leadership workshop that celebrates our shared humanity and provides students with the skills they need to be impactful leaders and make meaningful change”.
The challenge of the altMBA wasn’t just the course itself. It was also the first place that I showed up as this new identity. It was a stress test. Could I take off the masks that I’d clung so tightly to? How would this new person be perceived?
To my delight, not only was I accepted, I was embraced. I’ll never forget when one of the participants described me as a ‘young yoda’. A far cry from my previous comparisons to Johnny Knoxville from Jackass.
A vision is having an understanding of who you aspire to be, how you show up and interrelate with the world. By understanding your aspirations and goals you have a guiding light or pathway to pursue. You can then take actionable steps towards something important.
While with Errol I began defining the person I wanted to show up as, the altMBA provided the prompt for me to begin identifying my aspirations. At the end of the program I identified:
“My personal mission statement is to enable others to live life with the same zest I do. In my mind for people to feel zest for life they need to have confidence to pursue their passions. My vision statement is therefore to develop a process which firstly helps people identify their passions/purpose followed by a framework that helps pursue it.”
I walked away from this experience with a new direction in life. It was no longer based on a certain job I wanted or the company that I worked for. It was now built on the change I wanted to create in the world.
The ceremonies of incorporation or post-liminal rites
The final phase is reintegration back into the community. This process is critical to the transformation holding and completing. If a young person is not recognised by their community as having made a transition to the next stage of their development they will continue to feel and perhaps behave like a child. The coming together as a community and celebrating the transformation completes the transformative process.
I wish I could say after my experience I was honoured and lived happily ever after among my friends and family. However, there was only one (slightly major) problem. I had failed to communicate what I was going through. The experience was riddled with anxiety and I feared others wouldn't understand. The result was I found myself stuck between two paradigms: the person I now was and wanted to build upon and the person everyone still saw me as.
On one hand I didn’t want to revert back to my ‘child-like’ behaviour. While on the other my desire to be loved prevented me being this new persona out of fear I wouldn’t be accepted. Consequently, I began to withdraw.
However, last week that finally changed.
I shared my keynote on ‘The Vulnerability Sweetspot’ on Linkedin. The presentation captures my evolution through the lens of my vulnerabilities. It was a post I almost didn’t click publish on. But geez, I’m glad I did. The response has been overwhelming:
Eighteen months after the altMBA I feel an honouring has finally taken place and I’ve been accepted as the man I now am.
To receive a weekly newsletter on:
One thing I’ve learnt to ponder between sips of your iced oat latte.
One essay from me, that on average I promise will be slightly above average.
One entertaining failure from my week.