If you’re even a semi-regular reader of this blog, you likely know that I had a moment with the Universe around the name Personal Systems Disruption in September 2020. You may also know that some people found that phrase unsettling, too aggressive and/or not representative of the work that is actually done at the PSD retreats.
I briefly considered changing the name in November 2020, but after doing a quick Facebook poll, where the results were pretty evenly split between keep and change, I opted to keep it. After all, it was the Universe that provided the name, and who am I to quibble with the Universe? Plus, it really resonated for me.
In my most recent work with coach Jessica Buchanan, however, we’ve uncovered some interesting things about this work I do. We agree that “Personal” makes sense—I am guiding people to make discoveries about themselves.
“Systems,” however, no longer feels accurate. The journey through this work is less about the programs, routines and structures you have internalized to move through the world and more about the little flame, the spark of something extraordinary, you were born already possessing. That little glimmer of greatness might be something that leads you to global notoriety, if that’s what you know you were born to be. But it’s just as likely, and equally valuable, to know you were born to be an incredible parent, friend, child or neighbor, even just to one other person. Both of those ends of the measuring stick, and all the dreams in between, are worthy of pursuit. So if it’s not Systems, not an external program you’ve adopted, what is it?
I think it might be “Spark.”
The Search Institute notes that “sparks are interests or passions that light a fire in a person’s life. Spark expresses the core of who a person is and how they want to engage with the world around them.”
Everyone’s dream of fulfillment is different, and I aim to assist people in uncovering what that is and how they might go about actively pursuing it, either again or for the first time. After all, that’s the work I have been so diligently doing for myself and with those who have already gone through the retreat.
Then there’s the final word of the existing phrase to contend with: “Disruption.”
I’m sure the word came to me because I was literally experiencing a massive disturbance to my routine: I was away from home and work for 14 days with primarily only my thoughts to keep me company. It was a huge jolt to my system—to the way I had been kind of autopiloting through life: Get up, go to spin, get ready for work, go to work, come home, make dinner, attend an arts event, come home, read, go to bed. Repeat.
In fact, I likened my early discomfort around all of this to Dr Marry’s seismic disruption as he transitioned from active alcoholic to first moments of sobriety. There’s no doubt, we have moments or periods of our lives that are highly disruptive: having a child, losing a parent, moving to a new city, divorce, starting a new job, a medical diagnosis, retirement. But those a significant, singular moments. They are more like a sharp, unexpected corner than a gradual bend in the road.
In thinking about this work and my goals around it, the word disruption is too jarring. Rather, it’s about an unraveling of sorts, a conscious excavation of all that has been piled on top of that little spark, intentionally or not, so that it can shine brightly again—a beacon to guide us on the rest of the journey.
If you’ve not watched the beautiful Pixar film Soul, I highly recommend it. Joe Gardner is a frustrated (failed?) jazz pianist. He knows it’s his life’s calling; instead, he’s a middle school music teacher (surely one of the cruelest of jokes).
*On the surface, the premise of this film is textbook “Follow your heart and eventually you’ll find your pot of gold.” It’s seemingly the jazzy version of The Little Engine that Could. Note I said seemingly.
But what if achieving your dream is not actually what spark means? What if it’s the journey that is the spark?
In his Medium article “The Philosophy of Pixar’s Soul,” author Steven Gambardella says, “In Soul the characters refer to ‘spark’ frequently. For a long time Joe confuses ‘spark’ with ‘purpose’. He thinks that our spark is the meaning we have for our life, it’s the thing that we’re destined to do.
But the spark is really the ‘spark of life’ — the enthusiasm to live for the sake of living…The ‘spark’ is being able to live in the moment and appreciate it with all your soul.”
That’s not a disruption, that’s a (re)discovery of how you used to see the world. A recollection of when you stopped, with utter fascination, to watch ants march to and from their little round dirt mounds, how you laid in the grass and watched the fluffy white clouds morph in and out of identifiable shapes, how you tied a blanket around your neck and were instantly a super hero or a royal princess.
Jess and I discovered that, actually, I’m not trying to bring disruption to people’s lives at all. I’m trying to help them (re)discover who or what they used to know they were born to be. And to recognize that it’s the journey of striving to uncover and (re)ignite that long-hidden spark that is ultimately where the joy lives. If we’re willing to notice it.
I knew this even as I was living with the phrase Personal Systems Disruption early on, as evidenced by this Lessons at Sunrise I did the weekend after I got home from the retreat in 2020.
So, I’m playing around with the phrase Personal Spark (re)Discovery.
I don’t love it, if I’m honest. It feels too wordy and even less clear, which is something I struggle with often. I don’t want people to dismiss it for being way too woo woo. I worry that spark will make people think it’s about rekindling a fizzled romantic relationship, like those crazy classes Kathy Bates’ character goes to in Fried Green Tomatoes.
That is definitely not what this work is about!
So I’m a little bit back at square one, despite the fact that I am using the phrase Personal Spark (re)Discoverer for the moment.
I still know the Universe provided that initial phrase, and I’m grateful for it. I needed something that shattering to light the urgent first fire of creation under me, but that initial, frenetic development phase is over. Now it’s about creating language that invites people to say yes to the work so that it grows exponentially.
I’m curious to know your thoughts. Please, tell me the good, the bad and the ugly about the old phrase Personal Systems Disruption and the new, at least for the moment, Personal Spark (re)Discovery.
As always, thanks for reading, and if you share your thoughts, truly, thanks for that, too!
*Read this review for another interesting angle on Soul from David Fear in Rolling Stone magazine.