Building Resilience: Life-Planning + Professional-Self Design

A presentation Building Resilience – Life-Planning+Professional-Self Design inspired by the CIP 2017 Calgary – College of Fellows Panel Session on ‘Building a Resilient Career – Lessons, Learning and Pointers’ June 18, 2017.

Taking off from the Building Resilience theme of the conference as a whole, the Fellows panel session afforded an opportunity to reflect on what resilience might mean – more personally – for planning professionals, in their professional practice. The orientation became ‘building a resilient career’, highlighting lessons, learning and pointers from the panelists’ considerable cumulative experience (in excess of 250 years of combined practice!) The panel also represented a diverse set of experiences, from different sectors and different geographical contexts.

I was selected in part as ‘the academic’ in the mix, largely on the basis of my (more recent) two decades or so in the planning academy, following two (earlier) decades or so in professional practice. I was helped to see the long arc of my own career in planning, beginning as a practitioner, then as an academic, and now – I sense – as a ‘pracademic’ of sorts striving to transcend, while including, my earlier manifestations – in a higher integration effort (attempting to ‘operationalise’ my applied integral theory interests).

Thinking back over my own ‘career’, my early ‘practitioner-self’ seemed to feature a distinct professional identity shift from an initial ‘agent of order’ disposition to a more pronounced ‘agent of change’ orientation – more active than passive, more ‘progressive’ in leaning, more questioning of the ‘status-quo’ (interestingly, I am now inquiring into an ‘agent of transformation’ – allied with an ‘agent of goodness’ – positioning).

My early ‘educator-self’ was very much as a planning educator – standard, conventional, conforming – but it too evolved. I became more of a planner educator, particularly concerned with the formation of professionals-in-the-making, rather than education in the more abstract, topical aspects of planning – as academic discipline (With my now more ‘transformative’ disposition, I am wondering about the ins and outs of ‘trans-formation-ing’ – which is taking me into consideration of new conceptual possibilities, around ‘transformency’ and ‘transformativity’ for example – with ‘whole-making’ in mind).

At present, my ‘pracademic-self’ is exercised by the related challenge of ‘evolving professionalism beyond the status quo’, in the context of contemplating the education of ‘the agents of the next enlightenment’ (which now includes an inquiry into ‘transformers, transforming, transformatively’). The panel session was an opportunity for myself to personally reflect on some relevant ‘emergings’ from this work, and this is what I mainly try to communicate, and document, here – from a ‘professional resilience’ [1] perspective.

My general sensing is that I am now mainly operating in what Rosamund Zander (Pathways to Possibility, 2016) conceptualizes as ‘the territory beyond’ [2] – beyond my earlier (small) ‘self’ manifestations; they are still with me, and within me – but they are no longer so dominant, and dominating, as they were in my past.

My ‘becoming’ now interests me more, especially in terms of my larger, more central Self. The resilience I am seeking to build within myself is not simply a ‘bounce-back’ capacity (in response to set-backs), but more of a ‘bounce-forward’ responsiveness (if not ongoing ‘bias’). This features exploring my leading-/learning-edge, sensing into the emerging future, and always emphasizing my ‘evolving’, in pursuit of the associated ‘ever-more-whole-making’.

I therefore found myself framing the panel theme – especially with planners and designers in mind – as an exercise in ‘life-planning’, calling for some dedicated ‘professional-self design’ (Friesen and Wight, 2009; Wight, 2012; 2014). With particular attention to what I may be ‘absencing’ – and better discerning the ‘presencing’ being called forth (Senge et al, 2004; Scharmer, 2009; Scharmer and Kaufer, 2013). This has crystallized in an interest in presencing – in our context – as ‘prof-essencing’ [3]; a ‘rub’ for resilience, ‘oiling’ the often necessary transformation, automatically making the best of any problematic situation.

From a ‘life-planning’ perspective, certain arenas of potentially unconscious ‘absencing’ merit contemplation in terms of a conscious, counter-pointing, ‘presencing’. These may be rendered as a series of aphorisms – telling tag-lines for some resilient life-planning:

an unexamined life is not worth living;

an undivided life is to be valued above all; and

an unlived life is to be avoided at all costs.

The appropriate ‘prof-essencing’ response seems to involve attention to a set of professional ‘makings’ that – together – ‘make’ a professional a professional (Wight, 2012; 2014; 2015):

a personal praxis, reflecting exquisite life-examination, ranging across one’s thinking (knowing), doing and being – transforming… ‘me’ to ‘I’;

an interpersonal ethos, uniting otherwise problematic divisions (between soul and role especially, but also between self and service, and spirit and purpose) – transforming from ‘I’ to ‘We’; and

a propensity for a transcending (trans-personal, trans-disciplinary, trans-professional) poiesis, manifested in the living of one’s life to the full, as a whole, to the end – transforming from ‘We’ to ‘the All of Us’.

The overall offering comprises four main parts:

  • A teasing out of the above ‘life-planning’ taglines
  • A discussion of attendant ‘professional-self design’ implications
  • An exploration of professional education programming possibilities.
  • A concluding coda/chorus – resilience personified and inter-personified

The presentation also includes a series of appendices elaborating/illustrating some key concepts raised in the discussions, and an extensive set of references to help frame the larger operative education context that seems to be emerging, such as: Education 4.0 (in applied U-Theory terms); beyond pedagogy and andragogy – into heutagogy; ‘inner teaching’ privileging; ‘beyond (Donald) Schon’ – into transformative triple-loop meta-learning; the heady/hearty/soulful realms of ‘curriculum as currere’; and presencing self-transformation, en route to self-transcendence.

[1] Neil Seligman, The Conscious Professional “You are always at choice as to how you respond to any situation, event or person. It is a skill that can be taught, practiced and learnt. That skill is Professional Resilience”

[2] “We’ve come to a new territory – the Territory Beyond – beyond what we know and expect of ourselves as human beings, beyond the norms of achievement or psychology, beyond our ordinary measures of happiness, and beyond what we picture as vitality. Let’s say that in this territory the distinction between what it is that we want and what life wants fades and ultimately disappears. We feel whole and in tune and easily imagine that we are resonating with the shimmering oscillations of the very energy fields of the earth itself. Grateful for Nature’s collaborative presence, we deem ourselves to be joyfully capable of all we can imagine… As you may have guessed, what we are calling the Territory Beyond is located inside you where all creation resides…” (Rosamund Zander, 2016, 189-190)

[3] The ‘absencing’ and ‘presencing’ builds on work by Peter Senge (et al) (2004) on ‘Presence’, and – in particular – by Otto Scharmer on ‘Theory U’ (2008) and (with Katrin Kaufer) (2013) ‘Leading From the Emerging Future’. I have been exploring the implications in a ‘professional-self design’ context – via the possibility of ‘prof-essence’: see blog-post