For more than a decade, Valerie Livesay, Ph.D. has been thinking about and inquiring into the phenomenon of fallback––when despite our optimal developmental capacities, what we often refer to as our developmental center-of-gravity—we make meaning, feel, and act from a smaller, less complex, less capable form of mind.
As Chief Illuminator at Ghost Light Leadership, Valerie accompanies individuals through their discovery of self, using the analogy of theater to set the stage for their historical and unfolding story. Through her writing, speaking, coaching, and workshop offerings, Valerie invites the many characters that comprise the full ensemble of one’s self to dance together to better meet their intentions. She is the author of Leaving the Ghost Light Burning: Illuminating Fallback in Embrace of the Fullness of You in which she reveals both the despair and ecstasy that accompany a knowing of the fullness of one’s allowing the reader to find the fullness of themselves in the journey of development and the experience of being human.
Valerie earned her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego. Valerie lives in Southern California with her two cats, husband, and two children.
David McCallum, S.J., Ed.D is a Jesuit priest and leadership educator. He serves as the founding Executive Director of the Program for Discerning Leadership, a special project of the General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Georgetown, and the Gregorian University. The Program provides leadership formation for senior Vatican officials and major superiors of religious orders in Rome, Italy, and internationally.
Currently, Fr. McCallum lives in Rome and serves as a member of the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops Commission on Methodology, supporting the Synodal process initiative by Pope Francis, and as adjunct faculty in the Institute for Anthropology, Interdisciplinary Studies of Human Dignity and Care (IADC) at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
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Scott Allen 0:00
Okay everybody, welcome to the Phronesis podcast. Thank you so much for checking in wherever you are in the world. Very exciting episode today. Once again, I have a co-host, Fr. David McCallum is with me. And he is a Jesuit priest and leadership educator. He serves as the Founding Executive Director of the program for Discerning Leadership, a special project of the General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Georgetown, and the Gregorian University. The program provides leadership formation for senior Vatican officials and Major Superiors of religious orders in Rome, Italy, and internationally. His full bio is in the show notes so you can see him there. Our guest today is Valerie Livesay, and she has written a book ‘Leaving the Ghost Light Burning’. For more than a decade, Dr. Valerie Livesay has been thinking about and enquiring into the phenomenon of fallback. When despite our optimal development capacities, what we often refer to as our developmental center of gravity, we make meaning, feel, and act from a smaller, less complex, less capable form of mind. Following a career in the nonprofit field in higher education and both administration and faculty roles, Valerie's present endeavors seek to extend the concepts and experiences that she studies, teaches, and writes about outside of the halls of academia. Before we begin, I'm going to bring the two of you into a scene. Scott Allen is on his way to DFW in Dallas. Probably, oh, half-hour outside of DFW, they say, “You know what? We are not going to Dallas, we are going to Amarillo, we need to refuel and there's some storms in Dallas. So put everything away, and if you would, hang tight.” So, I have a book with me, and it's your book, Valerie. And, of course, I can't have any other technology on, so I have your book and I'm in the middle of the book, and we land in Amarillo. And I'm sitting in Amarillo on the plane, and I have tears in my eyes. And, wow, I don't know if it's that I read this at the perfect time. I think I had not been my best self before I left for DFW, what I was reading was really resonating for me. And so, it was kind of this comedic moment where I'm in Amarillo reading this book on a plane, and I have tears in my eyes. But that's what your work has done for me. It's been a really, really powerful experience to read your work, to be exposed to your work. So; A) I need to thank David for that. And; B) I need to thank you for your work here. I found it incredibly powerful, and I can't tell you very many books that have left me with tears in my eyes or had that kind of impact on me. So, we kind of start this episode with the punch line for listeners. And maybe we rewind back now, and what is it that, maybe, brought Scott to that point? Because it was a powerful moment, it really was. And David, maybe we start with you, and some of your exploration, and how you crossed paths with Valerie and her work.
Fr. David McCallum 3:27
Sure. But, at some point, maybe later in the show, we have to come back to whether they were tears of joy, tears of revelation, tears of sadness, and maybe it was all three or more?
Scott Allen 3:41
I think the answer is E. (Laughs)
Dr. Valerie Livesay 3:44
(Laughs) Is that all of the above?
Scott Allen 3:46
Fr. David McCallum 3:48
Well, but the way that you're pointing to the deep impact that a book at the right time in our lives can have for us, and the way it can open up all these windows for us of understanding, and of depth and of insight. Yeah, I'm so grateful to Val for the way that she took work that I had done in my own dissertation when I was collecting data at the University of San Diego, in a conference setting where, for many of our listeners, they may be aware of the group relations conferences, which are, in a sense, labs for leadership learning, and live action labs. In the course of my dissertation work, I wasn't necessarily looking for this data, but what I discovered was that, no matter where people have been, in a sense, assessed at a certain stage of their development, they all experience some form of regression, what we call fallback. I'll let Valerie do the defining of the way she thinks about fallback because it's more developed than my own. But, along the way, that research captured her attention, and she reached out to me, as I remember, to see if this is something that she should take further in her own work. And Val, I would just say that my experience of that early connection years ago, and your passion and excitement around delving into a topic that's so critical to all of us who want to continue to learn and grow, and make the most of our experience, that you've really given us a real gift in this work. So, wherever you want to pick up the story from here, I'm going to toss the ball to you. And then, I have some questions to follow up.
Dr. Valerie Livesay 5:33
Yes, it's been over a decade. Gosh, about 13 years since we first met. And it was actually Bill Torbert who pointed me in your direction. He was out at the University of San Diego teaching an action research methods course, and I decided I was going to study this phenomenon on fallback because I had been exposed to the construct of developmental theories, the stage developmental theory, and it made so much sense to me in my own thinking back over the course of my life. And I loved that it created a path for where we might go, we might have the capacity to grow into. But I couldn't find, in the theory, my own experience of the many times in the course of a day when I would not show up with the capacities that I supposedly already had in hand. Bill said, “There's another person who has actually found evidence of this, and his name is David McCallum, and you should talk to him.” And so, I reached out to David, and I just remember you being so incredibly generous, which was the starting point for this long, long relationship where you generously allowed me to move your work forward, to take what you have found from this lived experience of these folks in this group relation setting, and to think about how might this fit within the theory of adult development? And so, that's what I was really excited about is figuring out am I an anomaly. Am I the only one who's falling back from my center of gravity capacities, or is this something that really needs to be reflected in the theory? So, my own original research on that was trying to situate this phenomenon of fallback, so I offered the definition that when we unconsciously for a period of time, whether that be a minute, or an hour, or five days, or 10 months, or longer, lose our capacities to show up, to act, to feel, to make meaning, make sense of ourselves in the world, in the way that we could before. We had rooms that we could access in our developmental house, and all of a sudden, they're locked off. So that's what really energized me, I guess, about pursuing the theoretical framing of fallback, trying to situate it within the broader theory of adult development. And I wanted to tidy up these frayed little edges and make this theory more perfect, more real. And then I, of course, as we often do in research, ended up with far more questions than I had answers, and kind of unraveled the theory even further. And there was a tremendous gift in that too.
Fr. David McCallum 8:26
So, for our listeners who are leaders and leadership educators, maybe we're all alike in the temptation to want to present our shiny best selves, and to actually hold up that ideal when we're talking about tough situations, how we want to teach our students to show up in their own work, or to take up their own roles. But there's something about what captured your attention here, about fallback, and the way that you see it as a critical resource. The way you've reframed, in a sense, these moments that I think is so, so important. Can you talk about how you reframe this experience that a lot of us might want to cover up, move on from, or keep in a closet?
Dr. Valerie Livesay 9:09
Yeah, that's exactly it. And I felt that way too. Honestly, when I first went into the research, it was how can I lock these parts of me that I don't like, that are ugly, that I do not want other people to know about? And, of course, they knew about them, but we had like no one else can see it, and if I don't say anything, no one will notice. How can I lock these away? That was really my initial longing. Get rid of these things. And it was in the course of my follow-up research to my dissertation research on the lived experience of fallback that I realized that is not at all what we want to do, that these parts of self are storming the stage and burning down the set because they have wisdom, they have things that they need to teach us that we didn't learn the first time around for any number of reasons, that we weren't prepared to take in and integrate. In this adult development theory, we talk a lot about transcend and include. But the reality is, we really want to transcend most of the time. We want to grow beyond what we knew before, what we were capable of before. So, a lot of our orientation, and around leadership, and leadership development is how do we accrue these skills so we can get better. And that means, actually, not including, but pushing these other smaller aspects of self away. And what I found as I researched and practiced this with my own students, with my own self, was that those parts of self hold such tremendous wisdom for us, they are in protection of something that we value greatly. They offer us a gift, and they're not going to go away when we try to lock them backstage, they'll make a ruckus, they'll sneak onto the stage, they'll cause mischief. But if we embrace them, if we truly do integrate them, if we come to know them, if we befriend them, then we can learn from them. And that, paradoxically, is a ground from which we can grow. So, this sense of development is not only about growing bigger, going towards the light, but there's descent, there is decline that is necessary in order for us to integrate so we're able to transcend.
Scott Allen 11:34
Maybe, if you would, for listeners, talk a little bit about the source of the title, ‘Leaving the Ghost Light Burning.’ And then maybe, from there, you beautifully, you've referred to some of this thinking in your answer just now, but you talk about kind of our cast of characters at times, would you expand a little bit on that?
Dr. Valerie Livesay 11:55
So, I was in the midst of writing the book without a title, not having a title. And it was during the pandemic, and I received an email from a local theater here in San Diego, and the subject line read, “We're leaving the ghost light burning for you.” And I thought, “What is this ghost light that they're leaving burning for me?” And so, I started to do my research on the interwebs. It turns out that a ghost light is a light left burning on theater stages around the world whenever the theater is dark. And the origins of it are two parts: One is lore. So, theater superstition that if the theater is dark, the spirits of the theater assume that it's been abandoned, and they rush onto the stage, and they cause mischief. And then the other part is actually a safety feature. If people were to actually wander onto a stage when the theater is dark, they could easily stumble off into the orchestra pit and cause damage to themselves, do harm to themselves. And, as I was discovering this ghost light idea, I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is exactly what happens in fallback.” When we leave the light off on the smaller parts of self when we don't invite them into the light, onto the stage, and ask for them to teach us, then they cause mischief, they do damage. We actually do harm to ourselves, and we often do harm to others in the process. And so, it just felt so resonant. I had already been studying and exploring fallback through the lens, through the metaphor of theater, and using it in my accompaniment of others. Our friend and colleague from David's alma mater, Teachers College, Fred Jones, had been hosting a session, and he mentioned this idea of theater to help people get a sense of what characters might we bring on stage as we move forward in our lives. And he was thinking kind of as we get past a certain stage in our careers, and what brings us joy in our lives, how might we envision what's to come? And I thought, “Oh my gosh, what a great opportunity to explore in a safe and playful way how the various parts of us in our small cells show up.” So yes, as you mentioned, Scott, I believe that we tend to believe that we are this one enduring self that shows up to every scene of our lives all the time consistently, but if we really pay attention, we realize that that is not true, that we are an entire ensemble of characters. And we bring different parts to different scenes. And some of them are helpful, and some of them we think they are less helpful. And when we can start to see and really accept that I am not this me that I want to put forth in my life, in all areas all the time, then we can start to notice who else is on the scenes, and we can start to really dig deeper into what are they about. What is their origin story? The language of theater really opens up possibilities for the way that we might think of ourselves and come to know ourselves in a way that is safe, and playful, and a little bit lighter. It is, I have this character and I also have these beautiful, grace-filled, flow, unifying, muse-like characters too. This is all me. It is all me. And so, it was wonderful, the theater metaphor was a wonderful way of thinking about the cast of characters that represent the fluidity of our development too, that we have all of this messy complexity in the way that we show up to the world, so how do we get to know these parts of self?
Fr. David McCallum 16:10
So Valerie, I love the way that you've helped us to reframe, with a sort of playful metaphor, the drama, sometimes the tragedy, the comedy, of our own kind of interior operations, and the way in which instances can trigger us into reactive patterns. And also, the fact that, over time, we can recognize some of those characters because of those patterns, because they become familiar to us. What do we do when we start to notice some of those patterns over time? I'll just give you an example, that part of myself when I'm triggered and overwhelmed by a situation that's emotional and complicated; I'll often create distance from it. And I'll create distance that feels to other people like I'm arrogant, and aloof, and superior, and all resort to kind of an expert way of knowing to become safe in that situation so that I'm not so emotionally overwhelmed. What then do I do? Like, how do I use this fallback kind of methodology, in a sense, that you're introducing to help, in a sense, when I've at least discovered that I'm in fallback?
Dr. Valerie Livesay 17:29
That's such a great question, David, and I just want to back up to, I think, an assumption that you made because you've been in this space of self-reflection, and exploring fallback yourself, and you do have such great awareness. But really, the step that you pointed to, which is noticing, is a huge first step. And I actually think it's the linchpin and all of this, and being able to come into relationship with our fallback, because often, we don't notice that we've fallen back, or we don't notice until after the fact, often. It could be a while down the road, it might even be that someone else points it out to us, which is always fun. But the noticing, as we come into relationship with our fallback, as we begin to unearth these characters, and come to know them, and befriend them, we do notice when they're showing up on the stage of our lives more often, and we can start to arrest that… At least, notice, even sometimes I'll notice, and I'll push that away, I can't change directions in the moment of my fallback. And the train has left the station and it's still going. But sometimes, I can actually pause and take a breath, and a lot of the noticing too can be in, not just our minds the way that we tend to think of noticing, but in our bodies. My fallback often shows up as me yelling at my kids, and I choke. I actually choke sometimes. And boy, is that a clue to stop the yelling, right? To pause, and notice, and think about what may come next. My skin is hot, my muscles are tense, my jaw gets tight. There are so many ways that we can tap into the fullness of our experience to really notice when we are in fallback. But often, it does happen after the fact. And then, as you noted, we want to say, “Oh, that wasn't me.” That was my first reaction I know is I call it the blame-shame game. So first, I blame other people, “That was their fault. They did that, it was the circumstance.” And then, as I continue to reflect on it and sit with it, I realize, “It wasn't all them, it was me.” And now, I'm completely ashamed of the way that I showed up because I should know better, I should have more capacities. And then, I fall into that spiral. But we have to stay present to the experience of it to reflect on it. And part of the theater metaphor allows us the language that we're all very familiar with, to kind of go into that space thinking about, “Okay, well, what other scenes of my life has this part of me shown up in? And what was actually the origin story the first time I remember this character showing up on the stage, and what felt at risk in that moment that this part of me came on and acted in this way? And is that still what feels at risk to me when this character shows up on the scenes?” And once we can start to not see it as something to push away, to reject, to lock backstage, we can start to inquire into it. What is it that that character, what value is that protecting? How is it a gift to me to know this? And so, then, when we are actually in the midst of falling back and notice it, we have that piece of information coming into our mind because we've already spent this time doing this reflection on it. We get the sense of, it isn't just that I'm angry, or, in your case, I'm feeling unsafe… Well, no, you don't go straight to feeling unsafe, you go straight to, “I know this. I know this, and let me share with you all I know, and let me hold myself up here.” And that's what it feels like on the surface, and maybe that's how it comes across. But when that comes out for you now, you know that you're feeling unsafe and insecure. And so, just having that little bit of information allows you to think, hopefully, sometimes in the moment, maybe sometimes not, “This is what this is really about for me, so how might I go in a different direction with this that really actually expresses that?” And that's kind of further along in the process. So, first is this reflection, coming to know the characters that actually do populate the scenes of our lives, especially the ones that come on stage in our fallback. Finding out what it is the value that feels threatened that they're in protection of. And then, you can also start to identify the triggers, what are the circumstances that tend to cue this character on the stage? And then, the recovering and growing part of it is actually about not saying, “And you don't need to be here anymore, this part of me that shows up.” This part of you, David, that shows up as the expert. That part of you still needs to be there because it's giving you important information. This is an environment for whatever reason that I feel unsafe in. So, who else needs to be on the stage with me as kind of co-star, a more mature lot that can accompany this smaller, more constricted, more expert, and alienating aspect of you so that doesn't have to come on so strongly? And this goes into your research a lot, David, on the adaptive self-scaffolds. How do we equip, how do we resource ourselves to show up to the places in our lives when we know that we're going to be triggered, or we're likely to be triggered? So, actually doing a rehearsal. Thinking in advance, “This is a scene which is likely to trigger me into fallback. And I know that I actually need that part of me that shows up in fallback there to protect the thing that feels at risk, and I need these other characters here for this purpose. So I'm going to cast the muse for this purpose, I'm going to cast Pete the cat for this purpose, they're going to serve in this role. I know that I need to have walking shoes with me on this trip because I'm going to need, when I'm in an interaction with my family, to be able to escape, and to walk, and to think, and to process differently. I know that I'm going to need to breathe.” Just actually articulating, what are the props? What are the scaffolds? Who are the other characters that need to be there so that I might show up differently? So, when you actually think through this, in the moments then when you notice that your expert is coming on the stage, then you have these other options available to you. When we were just in the throes of fallback and trying to lock the theater door, those options weren't there because we were just denying it and shutting it out altogether.
Scott Allen 24:57
And you do a nice job. You mentioned one of the triggers. I think, in the book, you have four; would you mention maybe a couple of others? Family can be, at times, something that triggers. Are there other situations that would trigger us or other elements?
Dr. Valerie Livesay 25:12
Sure. And family isn't itself one of the triggers, I think it could fall into the context of several of the overarching triggers because one is unresolved trauma. And I think a lot of the trauma that we carry forth in our lives comes from things that happen when we are in the early stages of our development, in our childhood being shaped by our families of origin. And what happens when we encounter that early on when we are not equipped to deal with it is that we bracket that part of ourselves off. And the rest of us continues to grow while that part stays in this encapsulated bracketed-off space until we can come back from a more developed space with more tools, more capacities, more perspectives, more ability to make sense of complex situations, and go back, and resolve, and heal that part of selves to bring it along. I say that as if it's easy, and it is so not easy. I think that the unresolved trauma trigger for fallback is one of the stickiest wickets, and I'm not sure that we ever fully move beyond some of those. And I think this might be a really good place to mention that this book, and my practice, and my accompaniment, and your life, you're never going to be rid of your fallback. This isn't the five-step plan to stop showing up in your smaller self. You will continue to do it, we all will. And that's such an important valuable source of information for us that we don't think is an important source of information. So, we won't be rid of our fallback, and it is a gift to be embraced. And another family-oriented, I think, trigger for fallback of origin is challenges to identity. Often, in organizational settings, and maybe if David were to reflect on this, he might say that the example that he provided around safety, and showing up as an expert. I know I tend to show up in that expert way when I feel like the sense that I have of myself, the way that I am seen, and the way that I am accustomed to being seen is challenged, and I lose my spaciousness, I lose my capacity to think bigger and to take in bigger perspectives, and I go into, “This is what I know, this is why I'm worth being here, this is why I was invited here.” But I think a lot of that comes also in family settings because, especially for the family that knew us when we were earlier in our identity formation, they are invested, in some ways, us staying the same, and continuing to see us in that way. And so, often, when we go home, we’re 16. We may have a career, and degrees, and guide other humans in their own development, we may have our own children, but we go back into our families of origin, and we are that 16-year-old child again. So, that's another one. Another one is just ordinary triggers, which is I've been waylaid in Amarillo, Texas, and I really am hungry, and they're not serving any food on this plane, and I'm exhausted, and I need to get to my hotel room, and I'm stressed because, when I get to my hotel room, I still have to prep for this presentation that I'm actually doing in Dallas. And so, all of those things conspire to make us smaller, and to strip away our capacities that we would normally have at the ready. The fourth is contextual gravitational pools. So, we talk in adult development about having a center of gravity of development, that this is what we can access at all times, our kind of our best and highest. But when we walk into certain contexts, those contexts themselves, whether they're relationships, or teams, or organizations, they have their own center of gravity developmentally as well. And that might be earlier than what we have. So, our family of origin may very well have a center of gravity that is earlier than what we are capable of, but we get pulled back into that gravitational space with them. It often happens in organizations. That we can be bigger in some spaces, and then, we walk into our own organizations, or into another organization that has a way of holding the norms, the structures of the entity that pulls us back. Either we all go along to get along, or we all are out there professing our intelligence, and our knowledge, and our wisdom and pointing to the rules that guide us. But, in some way, we are pulled back to a smaller space, and those are incredibly powerful. So, those are the four overarching triggers of fallback.
Fr. David McCallum 30:33
Thank you. Valerie, your work, I think, is so clearly an asset to us as we're working on our own personal development. And it's very much a resource for how we envision that complicated, complex, sometimes very murky world of our interior selves and these ensembles that you speak of. I can also imagine how the intrapersonal work is a great asset for our relationships because the dissociated parts of ourselves, which you point to, often get projected out, and other people and we're in a kind of shadowboxing dynamic with them. There's something about them that reminds us about that part of ourselves that we don't want to be acknowledging, and that's what's triggering us in a kind of externalized way. So, doing that kind of cleaning up, growing up, maturing work within ourselves can help kind of resolve, in some ways, the dynamics that gets so messy in between us, does this resonate with you? Does this bear out in your experience of coaching people?
Dr. Valerie Livesay 31:43
Yeah, absolutely. Two levels: I think, in the personal, relational space, and also in our professional relational space as well. So, during COVID, when we were all locked down, I have two children who were, at the time, kindergartner and a fourth grader. And I, all of a sudden, became a homeschool teacher to these children. And my kids thought that was great because, “You're a teacher, mommy,” and I'm like, “I'm a teacher to adults.” (Laughs) “This is not my wheelhouse.”
Scott Allen 32:15
This is what I signed up for.
Dr. Valerie Livesay 32:19
Exactly. But I could see that there would be a fair amount of fallback happening in our household during the pandemic. So, I sat down with my husband, and I said, “Would you be willing to undertake this exploration with me? Could we focus on a particular scene in which we see our smaller self showing up and start to unearth who those characters are, and what is their origin, and just name them for ourselves and make it safe for the other to name them showing that?” So, for instance, I have a Chicken Little character, the sky is falling in, and no one is helping me, and I'm responsible for the weight of the world, and I have a very clear acting out around that. I know our listeners can’t see me with my head kind of in my hands, like, waving in the air, but it's very easy to spot Chicken Little on the stage. And I was doing dishes one night, and, all of a sudden, I said to my husband, “I know who this is, this is Chicken Little.” So now, we can talk about that. So it makes it a nameable, discussable thing in our relationship, and we also come to know what the values are underlying these characters. And instead of doing the ‘waving the hands in the air, it's everybody else's fault, why do I have to take on everything,’ I can say my sense of fairness, it feels threatened in these moments when I feel like I'm responsible for everything in the family. And just being able to address that in a different way from, “This is what I value that feels threatened,” is so incredibly helpful, and not as escalating into the fights, and the back and forths, and you did this, and all of that. But in the professional world for coaching, specifically, David, you asked about this. I think my friend and colleague, said something, she calls it, she said “We get the clients we deserve.” We may have heard, Scott, I know you have children, “You get the children you deserve. You get the students you deserve. You get the clients you deserve.” And those are the individuals who have something to teach you about yourself. So, when you are feeling triggered by others in your professional workspace, or in a coaching situations, for instance, with the coachee, you feel yourself being triggered. You then go into your shutdown, not accepting, not opening up space, holding space yourself because you yourself are triggered by something that they've recollected for you, then you can't be of service to them. So, a lot of my exploration now is around how might we actually pay attention, notice that that is happening, reflect on what’s that about for me? Not about projecting it on them. What’s that about for me? Who came on the scene with this client, and where else have I seen that character, and what's at risk in that moment? What do I value? And then, what is my intention for the way I want to show up with this client in the future? And let that be the guide for who's cast in the scenes in the future. That can be so incredibly powerful. Even if you only do that within yourself, but you're also, probably, offered a lot of insight into what may be going on for another person and a lot of compassion to allow you to support them better. But, on teams, if we're in this space, and we're leading teams, or we're moving in teams, a lot of this exploration can be done around; what roles do we take up when we come to this team? So, I am always the organizer, the doer, the detail-oriented one. And, as a result, I don't get to see the big picture, I don't get to think, and to imagine, and to trust that someone else will take this up. And this comes from me. And they use origins. Like, I do this exploration myself, and I name this character myself, and I call out who I see myself being on this team, and everybody else knows because we know who our team… What characters our team members are bringing, but, all of a sudden, we can have a deeper understanding of why, what this is about for them. And also, maybe let them assume that role sometimes, not always be the one to claim that. Can we play around with not getting typecast in a particular role? And can we make the name mean safe? So, can I call myself this? And, David, you name this part of yourself so that, when your team members see it in the future, they can say, “This was Dr. David McCallum on the scene in this team meeting,” or whatever name you want to give to your expert self, and make it a discussable, make it a safe discussable. So, I think there's a lot of power in this. And I also want to acknowledge that there's a lot of risk, especially when our livelihood is tied to how we show, and from a leadership perspective, to how we show up, and that identity, and the ‘I can,’ and to putting the best self forward. It feels like such a risk at many levels if we admit that we do have the shadowy part of self, and that we don't always know what to do, or how to interact, or we don't always bring the bigger capacities that we have access to. And so, I'm in a space of real wondering about how do we create the spaces for people to do that exploration that feels safe, or doesn't, but makes that okay too?
Fr. David McCallum 38:37
Hmm. So, Valerie, maybe that's the next question. When you think, again, about the audience, leaders, leadership, educators, coaches, people who are pracademics in this particular field, who are really dedicated to developing people and creating conditions for people to do that work of showing up as their better selves, where do you see some glimmers of hope for this kind of space emerging in professional organizations, in the leadership and coaching development fields, in the ways that people are talking about their after action reviews? What hope do you see or what spaces do you see of possibility?
Dr. Valerie Livesay 39:23
I remember, David, you, and I talking early on in the pandemic, and I was working on an article, and you were kind enough to give me feedback on that about what we were seeing in Pandemic times around fallback. And, as we were talking, we were discussing the ways in which all of the, kind of, facade of how we used to bring ourselves to work and to the workplace. We'd put on our costumes, our going-to-work costumes, and we'd have our full face on and we would leave the dogs, and the cat, and the children, and the co-working spouses behind. And we could just show up, in some ways, our best selves. I know that there are aspects of organizational life that often don't welcome that, but we could put on a good show. And during the pandemic, so much of that was stripped away. And you referred to that as the revealing of the artificiality of our compartmentalized lives.
Fr. David McCallum 40:30
That's a mouthful. (Laughs)
Dr. Valerie Livesay 40:33
Oh, my gosh, I loved that, and I think it's in the article too. The artificiality of our compartmentalized lives. I just think that there was something so freeing in that. To be stripped down and revealed as a whole person that didn't just bring self, and makeup, and costume, and hair to our professional spaces. That we were able to acknowledge the other factors that are always there with us, but that we push behind, that we try to hide and lock out, and not make available to ourselves and others. And I think that the call to leadership is the owning that in self, the acknowledging that in others, then making space for that, for the fullness of who we have, rather than just this sense that, “Oh, well, Bob has developed to this capacity, and so he will always show up in that way,” because we know that Bob doesn't always show up with his full capacities. So, just like I, at the beginning of my research, thought, “Am I an anomaly?” We're walking around saying, “Am I an anomaly?” Bob showing up his smaller self, at least as much as I am. So, when we can make that actually discussable, then we can; 1) connect to what the values are in an environment, in an organization, in a team, that call us to be there, and that also make us want to run from that, that challenge us to grow beyond, to think beyond what we would normally have the capacity to do. We see each other as full humans, we're hopefully, because another benefit of actually going into the space, and doing it in the company of others, is realizing they've got that in them too. They may call it something else, but I have that. We can connect on this human level, and realize that we are not what we've been pretending to be. And that this other part that we've been trying to push away is beautiful, and rich, with wisdom, and knowledge, and information.
Fr. David McCallum 43:04
You make me think about our mutual friend, Hillary Bradbury, and her work on developmental friendships, and how important the context of friendship is where we can mutually behold one another as our authentic selves, with all of our messiness, and our loyalty to each other over the long term, and our sense of compassion for each other, self-compassion, and the elasticity to keep kind of growing, and holding one another over a lifetime, hopefully. What a gift that is because, when we allow ourselves to blur that artificial compartmentalization, and see friendships across the boundary, personal and professional, as the spaces where we allow ourselves the freedom to be ourselves, and to grow, and to be seen, to be witnessed with our imperfections and flaws, to see all of it reframed as you're helping us to see as a kind of space for really flourishing, but it's all at the expense if we try to be perfect. If [Inaudible 44:22] for the prime material of all of our fallback to sort of serve as the soil, then we've got much richer ground to grow from. I wonder if friendships are part of that.
Scott Allen 44:33
Well, for me, I think that's wonderful, David, and, at least, a couple things come up to mind for me. Are each of us in this continual space of exploration, and do we have an opportunity, whether it's through those friendships, or through our faith, or through…? I see a psychologist every two weeks to help me think through just life. Three children; 13, 15 years old, job, consulting, it's complex, it just is. And, at times, I don't show up as my better self, for sure. So, do we have a system in place and a support system to help us make sense? And then, I think, at times, when it comes to the topic of leadership, maybe we do a disservice as educators when we aren't modeling that vulnerability, when we aren't modeling that confusion, that curiosity, that humility, that we don't have it all figured out, we are works in progress as well. And I think modeling that, whether it's as an educator, or whether that's as a leader, not always, necessarily, but are we creating that space for others to bring their full humanity, some of their other characters? Because it's almost like, Valerie, the image I have in my head, and let me know if totally I'm off base here, but, at times that one character, the perfect character, the one-person show, takes up all the bandwidth, and there's all these other characters that want some space as well. (Laughs)
Dr. Valerie Livesay 46:11
Scott Allen 46:12
They show up at the wrong time, in the wrong scene, right? I don't know, I love the conversation. I'm so thankful.
Dr. Valerie Livesay 46:18
I'm thankful for the invitation. I do agree with you, Scott, I think that we, as leaders, as educators, have to go first. We can't expect anyone else to do this if we're not willing to do it ourselves, and it is risky. And the call to leadership is risky. If we don't want to just be managing, then leadership really is risky. And so, just like it's not a great sales pitch to say, “I'm not going to teach you how to get rid of your fallback,” to say to leaders. It's not a great sales pitch to say, and you may be assassinated. (Laughs) Figuratively assassinated. It carries great risk to lead with purpose for something greater than what exists now. That's true. And this is an aspect of that. It involves loss on many levels, I think. And I just feel like we need to be honest about it, and to be honest with ourselves of; are we willing to go into this space?
Fr. David McCallum 47:30
Yeah, yeah. You make me think too, Val. Your last thoughts there are really, really profound and worth replaying. And one of the debts is also to that idealized self that we carry around that really can sometimes be so abusive to us, and keep us in a box, and keep us, in a sense, constrained in ways that are really a disservice, not only to ourselves, but to others. That vulnerability and the authenticity that you're inviting in your work is really liberating. So yeah, sincere thanks. As we're drawing things to a close, do you want to share anything that you're feeling inspired or fed by these days?
Dr. Valerie Livesay 48:17
Well, I don't want to draw to a close without looping back to Scott and hearing more about the Amarillo detour. So, I don't know if that should come first, but I will say that, when you told that story, it did make me think about the best plane rides that I've ever had alone or with others have been when I've been reading this book that I continue to read because it just makes me smile called, ‘Let's Pretend That Never Happened’ by Jenny Lawson. And it is not an academic book in any way, but it is hilarious. And it is about this woman who grew up in Texas in a place called Wall Texas, as we're talking about Texas. And it is a laugh-out-loud. That woman must have something wrong with her kind of book. I've read it off and on planes, and I've also shared it with other people on planes as I told the stories, and they giggled about it, and then they've taken it on planes and giggled themselves too. That's one thing. Another thing that I'm really present to now that I'm out of the tunnel of writing my own book is really thinking about how other people are thinking about these things. And our mutual friend, Chuck Paulus, said, “Have you read ‘Falling Upwards’ by Richard Rohr?” Who is a friend of yours, David. And I said “I have not.” And so, I've started to read that. And it is Fr. Richard Rohr, and he has kind of split this idea of development into two halves of life; the first half of life and the second life. So, it's much more simplified than some of the developmental theories that we follow. But what I'm really appreciating about it is... So, he talks about the first half of life is building the container for what you will essentially do in the second half of your life, which is your purpose, and coming to your calling, your vocation. And I, myself, am not a particularly religious person, but I am really appreciating Richard Rohr's framing of our calling and life around the religious teachings, and also where the religious teachings have been misrepresented, and how they constrain us into only living into the first part of our lives. So, I think, just hearing about the things that I think about from different angles is really enriching, and I've very much enjoyed that. And then the other thing to the same purpose, the book that I have been in the years-long process of reading and rereading is ‘The Five Invitations.’ And that is discovering what death can teach us about living fully. And that is by Frank Ostaseki. No, I didn't pronounce that well. But I started reading this several years ago because I had been fortunate to that point not to have to have a relationship with death. I had not lost people close to me. And so, I knew that I didn't know how to have a relationship with death. And I knew that that was coming because my sister wasn't long for the world, and she actually passed away a year ago. And it just really inspired me around thinking about who we are in this world, and for what purpose and the parts of self that we may need to let go of in order to let the fuller, more beautiful, more for this world parts of self to come about. So, I've actually been reading a lot of articles, a lot of New York Times’s articles on grief lately that have been very helpful.
Scott Allen 52:27
David, do you have something you want to share with listeners, and then I'll close this out? And I'll provide the answer also. Yes.
Fr. David McCallum 52:36
Just sincere thanks, Valerie, very personally. It's such an honor to have you take up this thread from work that I did, and then to just take it in your own direction in a way that's been of such service to people. So, I'm just so grateful to you. And it's really been a pleasure spending this time with you today.
Dr. Valerie Livesay 52:57
Thank you, David, for inviting me so graciously into this space, and accompanying me all along the way in my discovery. I'm grateful for you.
Scott Allen 53:08
Well, to the two of you. I'm on the plane and, Val, you introduced me to a character. I don't know that I can say more than that because it's there, it's raw. And in the course of this conversation, I wrote down two new characters. So, I appreciate that. Oof. I had a guest, Michael Mascolo, and he said… Oh, I'm not gonna get the correct phrasing, but it was something to the effect of, “Each one of us are infinite.” I'm amazed and I'm so curious at what I continue to learn about myself. If you're open to it, new insights just continue to flood in. And so, for your work, just incredibly thankful. For listeners, check out this book. It's an incredible read. And, Fr. David, thank you so much for introducing me to this work and introducing us to Val. And to the two of you, keep doing incredible things in the world. Thank you so much.
Fr. David McCallum 54:11
Dr. Valerie Livesay 54:12
Scott, I just want to thank you for sharing that beautiful story of your own experience of being in relationship with the fullness of you and discovering new parts of yourself.
Scott Allen 54:24
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