Protagonist
Linda (Elle) Yaven
May 15 2020

            A client said “I always thought great storytellers were born that way.
            Now I see telling my story is more than telling my story.
            It’s me designing my life."

I. Wherever we were in our respective storylines at the year’s start Covid 19 has been a disrupter. 

Coaching and teaching self-leadership a useful distinction is one between learning asked and learning unasked. Baking your first cake or taking a course are examples of the former. Here you foresee the outcome and won't necessarily be changed by the experience.

Current unprecedented uncertainties and constraints position us as the later. We have each been thrown into a state of learning unasked. We did not choose to be the learners we now find ourselves to be.

Unless we take the reins in our lives, the world makes decisions for us. While this has always been so, in sobering times we are called to set intentions more deliberately.
The thing about intentions is we are not always aware we have them. Let alone possess any kind of awareness of their impact on others – or ourselves.

II.           The learner is permanently enroute.  

When I first heard the word protagonist in high school English it didn’t click. Years later in a different language, school and landscape it felt right. I was a visiting educator to Reggio Children in Northern Italy. Newsweek had called it one of the
top ten learning systems in the world.

Their students were three months to six years of age; I coach grown-ups. Yet their learning model knocked my socks off and I returned fortified by this systemic model of the world working. One concept, the protaganista, surfaces now given the journey we have set sail on globally.

The protagonist is the main character in a story who faces conflict and seek resolution. A protagonist grapples with a meaning making process having several possible outcomes.

The Reggio educators view each child as a protaganista on a learning journey. They claim even young children have a right to be at the center of their learning. Children are agents – not just consumers but producers of meaning and of culture. Children are seen as capable of hypothesizing, researching and interpreting the world.

As a coach my ethos runs parallel to the one for the bambini. As learners we each have an ethical right to interpret the world alongside diverse others. And to articulate authentic voice and choice on our respective paths. Recently I came upon an early definition of a hero/heroine: “One who speaks the inner narrative in public.” 

III.
             To begin with, I worship at the altar of intention and obstacle.
             Somebody wants the money, the person, to get to Philadelphia.
             The obstacle has to be formidable and the tactics they use to
             overcome that obstacle are what show us character.                                                                         
                                             -Screenwriter Adam Sorkin  


While setting intentions at the outset a protagonist cannot fully know how the story evolves. This is especially true in the intensity of our VUCA (velocity, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) times. 

Intentions can remain hidden within adversity yet provoke us to action. A client choosing to exit a company said all they knew was they had "to make the situation different". Turning points can be easier to identify afterwards when no longer in the grip of provocation.   

At a certain point in life, if we allow it, a fortunate crossroads appears. "There’s got
to be a better way” dawns on us; best of all – we’re ready. Practicing intentionality refining, redefining and revising our narrative makes good sense. A gift of adult-ing is creating what the philosopher Nietzsche called "the second self". Working with young professionals I know gravitas has less to do with age than our stage of understanding.

In this time of unprecedented challenge we are called to act as protagonists designing the path ahead. Design is a change methodology with a driving bias for the possibility within constraints. It assumes going in you don't have the answers but provides structures and rigor for discovering these. Like a protagonist we become more deliberative, adept and willing to test out new aspects of ourselves.

In this global reset narratives of equivalency, listening and healing surface as leading edge markers. Collectively and individually the opportunity to grow ourselves up has presented itself.

          What intention is becoming clear for you recently?               
A neighbor walking her dog shared she felt lost and unmoored. I thought of a friend who’d sailed from San Francisco to Tahiti with his brother. “It’s like sailing when you
hit the doldrums in the Pacific” I replied. In this moment of learning unasked we puzzle through framing the challenge in ways to suggest a route.

An intention sheds light during the seeming inactivity of ambiguity, confusion or fear. Like a roten faden, red thread, it provides a through-line to hold in our hands. Intentionality says keep your eye on the prize when the going gets overly gray.
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