If you're not familiar with Kazimierz Dąbrowski, he was a psychologist that was particularly interested in the development and functioning of gifted children.
He brought us the concept of over-excitabilities as well as his Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD). The former is the idea that some people have areas of intensity, which they seek stimulation for (intellectual, imaginational, emotional, psychomotor, and sensory). The latter, TPD, is about self concept and how we develop our personalities.
Self concept is what we think of ourselves, and is a reflection of the feedback we’ve received since birth, from people who played significant roles in our lives. This is the end result of your parents socializing you and sculpting you into the reasonable likeness of what they considered a “good human being”. Your parents gave you the yarn to make a sweater and showed you how to knit it. As a gifted person, your experience of the yarn is . . . more intense than most. You may see the colors more intensely, or the wool is scratchier for you than it is for others.
Let's think of this in terms of entrepreneurship. You came to this work with a whole truck-load of ideas about who you are and why you’re doing what you do — this is the amalgamation of ideas, thoughts, concepts, and structure created by your childhood, adulthood, work life, and seeking of rewarding work. You’ve been socialized to business by your parents and how they got through their day-to-day life, but also by the businesses, leaders, and teachers you’ve been exposed to, for whatever reason.
You became an entrepreneur as the result of finding all of the other options . . . unpalatable.
Maybe you did that as a child, and it’s only grown since. Maybe, like me, you came to it as an adult (and somewhat unwillingly). Either way, there was a tension you felt that you couldn’t shake off, to be more and do more and break free from the restraints of what you “should be” doing with your life. That is what Dąbrowski called disintegration -- that discomfort with how things are going.
As you can imagine, once your business personality has been established, it’s pretty freaking hard to change it (insert “old dog new tricks" joke here). The way to change it is by receiving new input, new opinions, new feedback, and new socialization that reflects new ideas. With all that newness, it’s not shocking that people resist change, is it??
Because it’s risky, to willingly go into all that newness, and risk can be scary AF — particularly if the self concept is negative, with a heaping of low self-esteem and sprinkled with impostor syndrome. That's deeper when you're gifted, because you can, if allowed, tend towards over-analysis, tunnel-vision, and getting stuck in cycles that are not productive or healthy.
That fear of the unknown can lead to a shut-down, right? You can become paralyzed with self-doubt and freaking out because impostor syndrome is running hog wild in your brain. Most people think that losing your shit like this is bad. We don’t want to lose our shit because then we look even more unqualified than we feel, which then leads us even deeper down the rabbit hole of despair. You put the knitting needles down because you can't handle it right now, and your work starts to unravel.
But what if I told you that what you’re seeing as a red flag ("stop what you’re doing because you’re obviously not going to be successful, and you’re wasting everyone’s time and no one wants to drink your crappy kool-aid anyway”) is actually a green flag? It's an all-hands-on-deck and a chopper-go!
That’s what Dąbrowski’s theory says. When you’re feeling unraveled it’s because you’re getting ready to make a new sweater -- you just don't know it. Just when it feels like your world is falling apart, that’s when you’ve got the best opportunity to make something spectacular. Your unraveling is creating mounds of opportunity to create new stuff that has great potential for being awesome.
Dąbrowski goes a step further to say that when you’re feeling unraveled, it’s actually because all this time, you’ve been knitting a sweater that wasn’t even your design! The personality you’ve created has been the design of your parents and all those influential people in your life — who you are when you’re at the crossroads is the construct of what other people think you should be. You’re a sweater designed by others, not designed by your own self.
The next question must be along the lines of who decides whether you go down the rabbit hole or up into the light? ((You know this one, right??))
It’s YOU! 😃
So how does this play out in your business?
You may come to a place in your work where you’re stuck and you aren’t feeling authentic, and that’s maybe being reflected in a lack of sales or a disinterest in being at work, or going through the motions but not getting all the feels you used to from your work.
Can you sit with these feelings? Can you give them space? Can you chill with them and let them mingle in your mind? Now that you’ve realized you’re in a rut and you want to redefine who you are in business and what you are all about, you have an opportunity to create your own personality, with intentionality and authenticity.
To keep on with my knitting analogy, when you’re in a positive disintegration, you’ve just realized that the sweater you’ve got on was knitted by you, but the yarn was given to you by your parents and other influential people in your childhood. When you take control of the development of your sense of self in business, you are creating something new, yet familiar; you’re making a new sweater out of old yarn. With that realization, you’re suddenly in a yarn store. All the yarn is there for your taking, to create the sweater that is truly yours and authentically you, integrating some (or all) of the yarn from your ravelings, plus new yarn that YOU get to pick out because, dammit, you like it!
You get to do you! Finally!
What yarns will you pick? Do you grab what’s right in front of you? Walk around the shop and touch everything? Walk around twice? Three times?
You pick yarns that speak to you, because of their color or their feel, the thickness, or the sparkles (yes, some yarn has sparkles -- don't judge). Oh! Maybe you’re even eyeing the unspun wool (the stuff that looks like it just came off the sheep or alpaca) and thinking you could needle felt some elbow patches onto the sweater once it’s done. You’re thinking about what the sweater will look like when it’s done, not just what the yarn looks like in a ball on the shelf.
You're thinking so meta it blows your own damn mind! (it's how you roll, my gifted friend)
This sweater is you. This sweater is your business (see what I did there). Don’t think those are two different sweaters, because that’s where people often go wrong. When your personal sweater is expressed in your business, that’s when you’re most authentic in your work and that’s what clients and customers connect with.
They like the way you knit; they're your tribe, your peeps, and your network. And that’s the awesome sauce. That’s the home run.
Clients come to me with arms full of unraveled yarn, wanting to know how to put it all back together. We work through what the sweater should look like, and how the style of it speaks to the people checking it out. You find your voice, and speak it out loud, and that's the awesome sauce on top of the awesome sunday. I help my clients transform something that might do well at the "ugly sweater" party into a comfy, cute jumper. So what do you have? Can you see all the possibilities?
I want you to get that sweater made just the way you like it. It's all about you.