Episode 16: Growing Well part 2
with Keith Eigel & Sara Musgrove

Leadership maturity isn't the natural byproduct of aging. It requires wisdom, courage, and effort. Having influence requires us to grow into - and take ownership of - who we are and what we stand for. In this episode, Dr. Keith Eigel explains the levels of development, and shares how we can take control of our growth to accelerate progress in leadership, life, and legacy.

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Episode transcript

Sara: Welcome back to Growing as Grown-Ups, we are so excited to have you guys with us as we kick off this new series, bringing in experts to talk to us about different leadership strategies. The first series that we did on this podcast was really inspirational in giving pictures of how amazing leaders have grown as grown-ups and sharing their stories and pulling out principles from those stories that we can all use. Today, we are shifting gears. It's going to be a little bit more educational, but we bring it all to you still with the spirit of how it can help you grow. And today, I'm going to interview my co-host, Dr. Keith Eigel. Are you excited to be on the other side of the microphone this time?

Keith: No, I am surprisingly not. I'm feeling a little unqualified, even though I know technically I'm not. I mean, it's a little weird being on this end of things.  

Sara: It's going to be super great and you are 100 percent qualified to talk about what we are talking about, because one thing we want to emphasize from all the work we've done so far in this podcast, and that underpins all the work that we do at the Lyceum and through growing as grown-ups, is this idea of helping people continue to grow, to be more mature and more effective leaders. And somebody asked me the other day, "Can you give me a definition of how you're thinking about the word 'maturity?'" And I thought, "Well, that would be a good thing for us to describe." And so, Keith, since you have literally written the book on this topic, the book is called “The Map”, and you and Karl Kuhnert wrote it together. I wanted to bring you on and have you share your wisdom and your insights. So I think maybe before we get into the nitty-gritty details of what you shared with our guests on our first episode, the difference between the two ways that we grow as grown-ups. So do you want to give us a little refresher overview of the two ways that we grow?  

Keith: I mean, I think that's a good question. You caught me a little off guard for a second because I thought you were going to make me define maturity. So my brain was reeling in the maturity space. But yeah, I mean, this is a designation that is kind of global, right but it's useful. It's got utility to it and there are there are ways that we grow as grown-ups, ways that we grow through childhood that we call "lateral development" and when we grow laterally, it is really the acquisition of knowledge, skill, or ability. It is learning something new. It is learning or developing or honing or refining a skillset that could be had at almost any level of maturity. Or it is understanding, taking ownership, leveraging an ability that we were just given in some way - that could be personality related, that could be intelligence related. That outside kind of stuff, it could be athleticism or likeability or communication ability or all of these different things that are skill sets. We know it's lateral development when we can see a pretty true expression of it. Even in like a high school student or a college age person, you can see great intelligence, you can see great communication, ability, likeability, all of these things but we also can see that someone can have a skill set in Excel spreadsheet maintenance or creation. Now, I'm getting in way over my head super-fast because I don't do Excel very well. But also it's just learning new things and there are some people--I've got one child that from the time he was literally in elementary school, he just had a thirst to know things. But that didn't make him more mature.  

Sara: Yeah.  Keith: It just made him kind of smart about a lot of stuff. My other children used to say, "Forget it, Dad, I'll go ask Pete."  

Sara: So then what is the flipside; if knowing all of this information doesn't make you mature, how do we grow in maturity?  

Keith: Yeah, the flip side, we call "vertical development" and vertical development is this word that really is a catch-all. We have used the word "maturity", mainly because most people kind of resonate with that. They use phrases like, "Well, that person's not very mature," or "They're not that mature for their age," or "They're really mature for their age," and what do they mean by that, right?  But vertical development, I think a better way to think about it, because maturity is like this big overarching concept when it comes to this but when we think about vertical development, it's really that what we have is this series of lenses that we see the world through. It is the focusing mechanism for how we understand ourselves, others and what's going on around us, right? And that series of focusing mechanisms, that series of lenses, changes in predictable ways over the course of our lives. In other words, those lenses change in a specific order, we grow in a specific order. But what gets interesting is once we get into about our teenage years, we actually have enough control over our sense-making to stop growing. We can in some ways decide "No, this is the lens I'm going with," and the longer we stay in "this is the lens I'm going with," and not let that continued evolution of lenses and take place, that's when people start saying things like, well, "That's kind of an immature response." Right, and so when we think about maturity, it is about growing well, especially given your chronological age, right? Either on par or ahead of what would be normal in the population in terms of growth we start to think of as maturity but I think when I think of the word maturity, very often I'm really thinking about a specific point on the journey that is more characterized by people who are usually not younger than their early thirties. Sometimes they are, but usually not, not younger than their early thirties and it is, as we've talked about on this podcast so often, it is this groundedness, this what we call a self-authored or inside-out understanding really begins to characterize maturity and then great maturity or sageness or wisdom actually comes to a small percentage of the population, and usually not until they're pretty old, not 'til they're really mature.  

Sara: So why don't you kind of start at the beginning and walk us through what these stages are in and how people progress through these developmental milestones and what it looks like and what it takes. And, you know, this is this is a part of our curriculum that we teach all the time. And typically we take 90-minutes to teach it but we’re not going to make this a 90-minute podcast. So as much as you can explain these levels in a way that that will give clarity and help people understand the progress of growth, I think would be really valuable to our listeners.  

Keith: Ok, so let me give that a shot. I mean, I equate this to when somebody asks me this over a lunch when I know we've only got 15-minutes to talk about it and I'll break out a napkin and draw a vertical line on it, right. Let's say, like, a 45-degree line and I'll put some hash marks on that line. And there are some lenses that we have in childhood but this format is not the right place to go into that. But this lens changing, child development psychologists have argued, is taking place basically from our first moments of life. That our little brains are working in a way to process even in infancy in ways that are predictable, knowable, understandable, and that change and so that begins to rattle on through our toddler kind of years into the four or five years of age is kind of a major transition point that has been well-documented by Jean Piaget, amongst others in well-established in the psychology literature. But almost everybody's familiar with the phrase "formative years” and those ages from elementary school, kind of 6 to 10, 11, 12 years of age, where we're learning a lot of stuff about how the world works.  And so we have chosen to put numeric descriptors on these things. Other theorists in this space have used names to describe it. But the name, the number, it's not even important. It's just a way to say this kind of major shift that's happening at this point of time, kind of predictably in people's lives and keep growing. And so the first one that we can really identify with is what we call Level Two. But it's kind of this, "Me First", more concrete, more black and white. There is kind of a clarity or a certainty, but without maturity. There is not yet an ability to see the big picture. There's not yet an ability to see how opposing and contradictory things might fit together in a way that lead to something bigger and more complex. And so this kind of Level Two way of making sense of the world is kind of simplistic. It's kind of concrete. You and I have said a million times in front of groups, it's kind of a middle school level of understanding.  There's the confidence to know that I know it, right? I mean, we get that with math. We get that with our language. We get that with understanding the definitions of words but we also get it where we're starting to make these assessments of our friends. And you know that's the smart person over there, and that's the athletic one, and that person person's super nice and, you know, these kind of one word over simplified descriptors. And the reason we start there when we talk about this is that there's a percentage of the adult population that that's where they stop growing. Usually there's something going on in their lives, but that's where they stop growing. And, you know, I've been really reluctant to talk about this prior to now, but I think we had a major national leader in our midst that I was reluctant to make the call early on because I didn't have the chance to interview him and for it to be official but I think the kind of "me first", "either/or" kind of behavior painted a pretty clear picture. So if you want to know what it looks like in adulthood, that's kind of what it may look like, I'm pretty sure. But we've all known people who are too “me first”, and we talk about them as narcissists. I saw that grimace on your face. I hope you don't cut that piece out, I'm ready for it to go forward and be known. So what happens is, beyond Level Two, there is always a movement toward the next level. And when we move toward the next level, two things are at play. One is letting go or giving up or loosening our grip on the previous way of understanding, and then absorbing or beginning to have a new way of understanding defined. And people who are watching this on video, I always use like the judges scales where there's the fulcrum in the middle and the two scales. And this doesn't happen like in the snap of a finger, it happens over a significant period of time as we enter these years. And that is always going on between levels of development, is that's the letting go of kind of one predominant way of understanding and a new way of understanding coming more and more into play eventually where one will outweigh the other. And now you've made the shift where you're dominant in the next phase. So to try and move on quickly at Level Three, what happens is it's very much the way we think about, in its most stereotypical form, kind of a college-age person who is completely defined by the affiliations that they have by some subject matter expertise that they have learned or grown into, or by an ideology that they have affiliated with, like a political ideology or a cultural ideology or a friend group ideology or religious ideology or these different things that can shape my understanding of how I make sense of myself and others in the world in which I reside. Those are three good categories to think about. And at Level Three, the key is that always comes from the outside-in. Those sources are always from beyond me, but I'm understanding them, adopting them, resonating with them. And so it's like I know it, but I really don't yet own it, I can't own it yet, I have to know it first before I can own it.  

Sara: And so I think now, you know, hearing the model now in my more adult years, when I look back on my life, obviously, I can see elements of this, but I think I have just the funniest life example of this. I need to find the actual document, but in college, I was always getting my identity because I was kind of the smart one, right? I was identified by my academic success, and I got to graduate school at the age of twenty one and was now in a classroom with all the other smart ones and felt completely lost because my identity now didn't fit.  "Wait, I'm not the smart one anymore," and I actually emailed like my five best friends and said, "If I'm not the smart one, who am I?" Asking my friends to now give me a new identity. I mean, it's like, "Oh, I was the poster child of that," you know? And it's funny looking back, right?  

Keith: That's such a great example of what it feels like to be outside-in like you affiliated with that, right? You resonated with it. It made sense to you based on the way you were making sense of the world at that time. And it could be that “I'm the smart one”. That could be that “I'm the funny one”. It could be that "I'm the rich one," it could be, "I'm athletic. I think I'm beautiful or I think I'm handsome, or I think--" you know, all of these things that are things that you may have, like you had an intelligence, right, and that intelligence could actually be measured against other people's intelligence. And you start to go, oh, yeah, “I'm the smart one”. But really, what we're paying attention to it at that stage in our life is all the cues outside of us that allow us to make that comparison to know that that's where we are. And so what happens is that's a really healthy place to be at a stage in our life until it gets challenged, right, until it no longer fits. And the way I saw it - the lens that I was seeing the world through all of a sudden is not making the right kind of sense, right? And it's like, OK, what am I going to do with that? And we email friends. Am I really smart? I always thought I was smart. Do you guys think I'm smart?  

Sara: We look to the outside to tell me who I am now that this previous lens didn't make sense. Now, I wouldn't do that, but that's right.  

Keith: And so at Level Two and Level Three, there are all these outside influences that wind up shaping our understanding. And that's not to say that any of those things are bad. I will say that there are better and worse outside influences, right? There's bad parenting. There are bad friends that can influence our behavior. There are bad ideologies. There are bad dogmas. There are things that can be said to be measurably not as good as another thing. Right. It's not all just OK.  

Sara: It's interesting to think back to so many of the leaders that we interviewed in the first 14 episodes of this podcast and how many of them shared these pivotal moments in their lives where exactly at this phase, right? They were Level Three. Something happening in college, early career, where they realized, "Hey, this thing that was defining me isn’t working anymore," right? I won't go through the list, but it's just it's depicted in so many people's stories. I mean, what happens when adults when adults stay Level Three, right? When it's not the 21-year-old college kid, when it's full-blown adults. What is Level Three? How does it express itself?  

Keith: What you're really asking is what's Level Three look like when they should be growing beyond Level Three? Is that kind of what you're asking? Like, let's say now that you're 40 years of age and you're still Level Three dominant?  

Sara: Yeah, because I think this is probably where more of our listeners might be stuck than at Level Two, right? So what is Level Three look like in an adult?  

Keith: Statistically, you know, the kind of people that are listening to podcasts? Well, it may be none of you are Level Two if you're listening to podcasts. Right. But it's really only five percent of the of the population of people who would be listening to podcasts are probably stuck at Level Two. At Level Three there really is probably as much as a third of people get kind of stuck in this what we call Level Three dominance, which means that they're not one hundred percent Level Three, but Level Three is kind of prevalent in their world. And what this looks like they start putting too much pressure on the outside. A different way to think about too much pressure is they lean too hard on these outside sources or affiliations to get their identity and their understanding. And so it could be being popular, right? It could be fitting into a community. It could be being a great parent. It could be the performance of my children. It could be being really smart. And I start to lean too much on that thing that I'm allowing to define me. And the thing that makes this a little bit complicated, I think, is that our personality is something that I believe, there's nature and nurture, but there's a lot of nature, right? There's a lot of kind of we're born and built a certain way that we really didn't get to choose. What we do get to choose is how we're going to steward that thing that we've been given over the course of our lives. But what makes this complicated is when we allow our personality to actually define our understanding of ourselves, as you said in the previous episode, not refine our understanding of ourselves, even this thing inside of us, like your intelligence, right, you're like you're the smartest kid in the class kind of thing that's inside of you, but it's you're allowing it to define you almost like it's an outside source. Yeah, right, so I hope people are able to get their arms around that and in me trying to respond to your question on this.  

Sara: So what do we do next if we grow out of Level Three?  

Keith: So the next major thing is Level Four and Level Four is the move from being outside-in from allowing these things outside of us to define us to being inside-out and really taking ownership of self-authoring what this means for us, right? There's a level of self-awareness right, and struggles, both in terms of the great things and the not so great things. I recognize that I may or may not be smart in some way or and there may not be athletic in some way, but I'm no longer defined by that thing. I'm no longer putting weight on that thing to define who I am. And the thing that's crazy about this part of our journey is that for most people, people who are growing in healthy ways in the population, that's a 20-year transition from Level Three to Level Four, where we're where we're increasingly letting go of these things that we were allowing to define us. And in letting go of that, the healthy response is actually authoring or saying, "who am I going to be and how am I going to understand this?" And it begins to become inside-out. There's a small part of the population that part of the journey may only take 10 years. But there's an equally decent sized part of the of the population that it takes 30 years or 40 years for them to go, "I just can't live like this anymore. I can't keep trying to please all these people or be this certain way, because that's how I know myself and they know me," right. And so there are a number of theorists who work in this same space that I've worked on, had dedicated their careers that actually put a stage of development in between what we call Level Three and Level Four because so many people stop growing because it's good enough, right? It's just good enough, like I've authored enough stuff to be successful in my career or to know how our marriage works. I did a good job with my kids are all these different kinds of expressions, I'm making enough money, whatever it is, and they and there's a lot of people that just sort of stop in the middle at kind of a good enough point.  

Sara: Yeah, I think that's a really good point, because I have had too many people ask me, "Am I Level Three or am I Level Four?" Right? As if it's kind of a clear either/or distinction, right? And the fact that it's a 20-year process and it's, you know, this gradual thing and it goes back to what we've talked about, even in our last episode of the different practices we engage in to keep growing. But I think about, you know, this silly example from my own life is I feel like professionally I'm really grounded, right? I've worked through enough challenges and wrestling through career things. When I go home for a holiday, I feel like I can revert back to a younger level because I haven't had to wrestle through so many challenges with my family since I've been out of the house since I was 18, right? And so this idea that you can be really grounded in certain areas, right? Maybe, you know, you've thought really hard about what matters to you in terms of relational values or family values or spiritual values. But when it comes to, you know, professionally, you're still too defined by what your title is or your salary is. Does that capture kind of the essence of that transition, because I feel like people get confused a lot about the middle stages, because it's like we describe it as Three and we describe it as Four, but it's the messy middle, right?  

Keith: The messy middle where we see both things kind of in operation, right? We can look at scenarios or situations and circumstances where we feel really grounded in who we are. I would challenge people in areas where they really feel like that to look back at the things that actually challenged them into that understanding, because I can almost promise you that there have been things that you bumped up against. Feedback that you got that you didn't like early in your career, difficulties with children that shaped your parenting in a way that you had to decide who you were going to be independent from your child. For so many people who are married or in a relationship, a committed relationship with a significant other, a lot of times early on, there's all of this kind of co-defining that's going on. When we get to the point that we should have grown out of that, we start--the counselors start calling that co-dependency, right? Which--it's what it shouldn't be where we are more dependent than we should be when we start calling it codependency, right?    Yeah and I think what complicates this even more, Sara, and I didn't used to present this clearly I don't think. But the more I have coached people and they see these points of contradiction in their own lives, where they feel kind of Level Three here, kind of Level Four here and in some cases kind of Level Five, which we haven't even talked about yet, I really think we're in a zone of development that can capture, at certain points in our life, aspects of actually three different stages of growth where the more under pressure we are the more we bump into an area that hasn't been challenged. Like going to our in-laws' house when we didn't even used to have in-laws, how could we know how that's going to bump up against it, right? So we could we could have some little bit of the previous stage operating at times in certain circumstances under stress. We can have times that were actually beyond where we probably measurably are because we're at our best, it's just clicking. We can see it. The pressure's not on. We're feeling growth-oriented and generative and we're being--we're living into the bigger us that you and I have so often talked about on these podcasts that we want to be. But then in the middle somewhere, there's this stage that is probably how we would measure someone, we would say, "Well, this is where they are, but that allows for a little bit of the thing beyond it and a little bit of the thing before it." Does that make sense?  

Sara: Yeah, it does. So I want to ask you kind of to keep this moving, because I have some other questions I want to get to at the end. You said early on that your definition of maturity was people when they get to this inside-out phase. So what is it about Level Four that now puts somebody in that definition of maturity for you?  

Keith: That's a great question. I mean, there are measures of effectiveness, life satisfaction, general measures of well-being that I think give people a peace. Like a peace of mind, a peace in their spirit. It's bigger than the little things that are going on around you, bigger than the little gnats that are biting, that are biting on the side. And I think when most people think of maturity, they think of, "Well, that kind of--that way of being is a mature response." Again, maturity is so age-dependent when most people think about it because they're saying, "Well, for how old you are, chronologically, you're not as mature as I thought you might be," or "Golly, there's a maturity, there's a--" You know, we hear people use this about 20-year-olds, but we also hear people use this about 50-year-olds, that they're an old soul, right, which I think what we're saying is there is there mature beyond their years, they've got this ability to sort of not be buffeted by all of the things that are biting at them in the wings, which is a more Level Three, less mature kind of response. So in adulthood, I think that's the way I think about maturity in that way.  

Sara: Yeah, so what I hear you saying is once we get to this inside-out part of the journey, we're definitely more effective. We are considered more mature but that is not the end goal, right? Getting to Level Four is not the end of the story. So what's next?
Keith: Yeah, because if we stop growing at Level Four, which, what the data suggests is that is that 85% of the population in general stops growing at Level Four or below. But when you start to add up the people who may have stopped that Level Two, at Level Three or in between Level Three and Level Four, there's probably 30-40% of the population, maybe closer to 30 that make it to Level Four but then stop growing at Level Four. They kind of know who they are, they're grounded in who they are and if you stop growing there, and we've mentioned this in other podcasts, these are people who become increasingly cranky or benign the older they get. They just either quit making a difference or they get kind of dogmatic in what they hold to be true. But growing beyond Level Four is actually--we talk about the developmental disruption, the thing that sort of upsets the apple cart at Level Four, is this idea of giving up the right to be right. You know, Karl mentioned that in the podcast, the election time podcast. But really, this realizing the inadequacy of this self-authored understanding and what that needs to be coupled with, Sara, is a loosening our grip on it. A holding that understanding with a more open hand. And what begins to happen is this movement toward Level Five. And most people have someone, even if they're not still alive, someone who's been in their own life, that they just think of that like, "Oh, my gosh, they just see the world in such a big, usually values-oriented, bigger-picture sort of way," and it's not their self-authored way and it's not the other person's self-authored way it's the thing that actually knits these layers together that becomes the lens that people see the world through at Level Five. This higher order, bigger picture, more values-oriented way of understanding. And so, I don't know how much time I just took, but that's kind of a developmental journey in 20 minutes or whatever it was.  

Sara: Yeah. Good job. That is one of the more succinct but thorough presentations I've seen you do so that's awesome. Let me ask you this. You know, we made the differentiation at the beginning of the difference between lateral and vertical development, stressing the importance of vertical development, which is progressing along this journey. But we just gave everybody a little dose of lateral development. So why do you think it's important for people to understand this model of growth, this roadmap? How is the lateral development serving vertical development?  

Keith: Yeah, so laterally understanding, gaining knowledge about the developmental journey actually creates context for us. I think understanding the map is--for folks who don't know, Sara often criticizes me or pokes at me is probably better--I can get hyperbolic at times.  

Sara: Never.  

Keith: But I think if there is a single best accelerant for growth it is actually understanding the map. It's actually learning about the map and being able to say, "Oh, that was too outside-in of me. What would it be like for me to be more inside-out?" It's why you and I always throw out these questions that "Who do I want to be? What's the story I want to tell?" kinds of questions, things that demand an inside-out answer. And when we understand the map, we can understand codependency in a new way. We can understand allowing things through which we gain our identity. We can put those in the context of do I really want to be known by this? Is this the end for me? Is this really the thing? Because that's kind of an outside-in thing and it's--this is what makes growth so challenging beyond Level Four is if you've grown to Level Four, you have often times generated the resources, the authority, the position in the organization, in the community, in the family. But you don't have to keep growing to provide for your needs, right, and you've got more capacity to make challenge and contradiction in your life go away.  

Sara: Yeah.  

Keith: I forgot the question.  

Sara: Yeah, well, what I was asking about what how the learning of the map serves in the vertical development journey? And I think one point that you make a lot that I think is really important, and I don't think you covered explicitly, I think it's where you were going with that last answer, is this idea of it's not just knowing the map, it's finding yourself on the map and then recognizing that to get to my destination, which we hope for most people is Level Five in whatever that looks like for each individual, I can't go from Level Two to Level Five immediately, right? So knowing the map and knowing if I'm at Level Two, my next stop on the journey is to become more Level Three, I need to take more steps to understand the perspectives of others working in compassion and empathy and paying attention to the influence that my behaviors have on other people. If I'm at Level Three, I need to work on shedding outside influences and moving more towards being more self-authored. If I'm at Level Four, moving towards more openness and big picture holistic understandings of the world. So I kind of took over your interview, but--  

Keith: Sara, that was -- which is what we should have had you do it! That was so beautifully said. It was so concise!  

Sara: I just think it's so important that I want everybody to understand that your goal is not today to go work on being Level Five, right? Your goal today may be just asking yourself those simple questions.   So, you know, Keith, what would be your encouragement to our listeners? This is going to be a little bit of a repeat, but I think it's so important to us. If people want to grow vertically, what do they need to be doing?  

Keith: Yeah, that's so good and when I said that knowing the map may be the single greatest accelerant, there's a close second or an almost equal piece. That is, life is actually feeding us the fuel that we need to grow. Every time we are bothered, resistant, defensive, defined by, disturbed by, upset by, right? I could go on, I think I could go on, but those are little pieces of fuel. But what is in our court is are we going to ignite that fuel or not, right? We do have responsibility in this --I think I want to rephrase that: we can take responsibility to ignite it. Some people have had some pretty tough upbringing, some people are just trying to survive, some people this idea of, "Well, why didn't you just ignite your fuel?" I don't buy into that at all. There are people that it's--that's just their stories make why they haven't totally understandable to me.  

Sara: So how do you ignite your fuel?  

Keith: Well, you recognize what the challenge is teaching you about your current location on the map and you allow it to say, "Hey, you're trying to pry my grip on this lens open so that the new thing can begin to emerge," and that takes courage. As we talked about in the last episode, it is way easier to ignite that fuel with others around than it is to try and do it by ourselves. It is possible, I think there are certain journaling kinds of exercises, reflection exercises that can facilitate that sort of solo growth, but man, can being around other people, really, really accelerate that process. So, you know, we've always talked about the formula for growth, this idea that challenge and contradiction, challenging circumstances, things that are bugging us, all the things I just listed that our current lens can't make sense of. In other words, "That thing is contradicting my current understanding over a period of time." So challenge and contradiction over time, when we persevere through it, when we lean into it, when we don't run away from it, when we don't try and stuff it in a box, when we explore it with a counselor or a therapist or a close friend or a trusted advisor, that is what fuels growth and all the map is doing is just it's contextualizing where we are. It's helping us not get lost on this journey.  

Sara: And giving us a sense of a direction in which to grow. I think a lot of times we're told, "Oh, keep growing," you know, "Keep developing," but nobody really tells me what that looks like, right? What am I working towards, and it's working towards becoming more inside-out, more grounded in ourselves.  

Keith: Yeah. I love it.  

Sara: So you know that I love, you know I love stories. I love kind of real life pictures of the lessons that we teach. So I'm going to put you on the spot and I have some stories I can share but I'm going to let you take a crack at it first.   So I shared a story just from my own life that was like the epitome of Level Three, right? But I'm wondering if you have stories either from your own life or stories of people that you've worked with that really categorize kind of the awakening from Level Three, making the move to Level Four, and then kind of the Level Four learning to let go and move to the more openness of Level Five. Do you have two stories you could share for those?  

Keith: I--my mouth started to sweat when you started to set this question up. Yeah, I mean, of course I do. There are--you know, for me, the biggest kind of landmark story, there are a lot of little landmarks. There are a lot of little landmark stories in the midst of this but the biggest landmarks story, I think really has to do with--it's got a faith underpinning to it in some ways. I was a Young Life kid and Young Life was just such a meaningful part of my college age experience and young adulthood and even into high school, and I really resonated with kind of the theology, if you will, behind Young Life and so I had this lens that I had not yet taken a perspective on and I already said earlier in the podcast that I went to graduate school in my early 30s and there were some professors who were brilliant, who had loads of research, mainly in philosophy classes, that the way I described it at the time, Sara, is that I felt like their singular goal in life was to pull the rug out from underneath people like me. And I don't--I can't even, there's no way to make light of this because it was so profound, but this was a multi-year WTF, right? What I mean, "What am I going to do with this? I don't know what to do with this." You know, my wife got to witness it from the sidelines and she, pun intended, said it scared the hell out of her. But what was interesting is that all of the challenge, all of the having to let go or loosen my grip on this understanding that had been such an important part of my kind of formation of who I was and how I understood myself. Letting go of that was crazy scary and I can remember some very specific points where I said out loud to myself things that I didn't think I'd ever say out loud, right? But what emerged on the other side of that is a place that I feel like is more grounded, better. It's allowed me to have greater and a different kind of influence with people and that journey continued on. And there were still things that I bumped up against and still bump up against, you know, but one of the things that became really important to me during that time period, one of the things that I am kind of proud maybe of self-authoring, going inside-out with is my relationship to doubt and having decided that I wanted to lean into doubt with great courage, right, and so that--  

Sara: That's awesome.
Keith: So that was a big thing, I think--.  

Sara: Thanks for sharing and I think one thing I want to point out from that and what makes it such a beautiful story of that transition is the alternative path you could have taken, which was you have all of these people causing you to question, posing alternative views. You could have just left behind what you had learned up until this point and then just adopted their view, so it would be just trading one outside source for another rather than saying, "I'm going to sit with myself and figure this out for me," and I think that is a challenge that we need to embrace and not just trading one outside source for another but wrestling through that.  

Keith: I mean, thank you, that's humbling to even hear you say that. I've seen folks who have been too fearful to loosen the grip and it feels to me like one of those lap pools where you get in and the water is only three feet deep and then it goes to like eight feet deep, but then as you go to the other end of the pool goes back to three feet deep again and it's like you got to the deep point and in order for it to get deeper, you have to let go of it and just, for anybody who's concerned, my faith is still foundational. You know, it's not like it all went away, although that that does happen for some people. They take ownership of something where that's...but the pool kept getting deeper, and I'm grateful for that.  

Sara: Yeah, so as we kind of wrap up, I'm watching the time and I want to make sure not to go too long, but I know you are really committed to not getting stuck at Level Four to keep moving towards a Level Five. So kind of to put you in the seat that we put a lot of our other guests, what are some of the ways that you have challenged yourself to not lock in on what you have created as your own understanding of the world?  

Keith: Thank you for not asking me where I think I am on the journey, but I am trying to proactively loosen my grip on what I think is right and sometimes I'm horrible at that and sometimes I'm good at it, and when I'm good at it, yields fun stuff in general. But so two things I've done, we encourage this actually in the book as well, is that my wife and I have been married for 36 years this coming year. She's a great source of growth for me.  

Sara: In the best way.  

Keith: In the best way and in the hardest way at times, right? I mean, she knows the buttons to push or I allow her to push the buttons, right, in a way. And I find that when I am disciplined enough to take the time to really understand her, to listen to her, to what's important to her, it winds up growing me in a way that I'm thinking, "Keith, you're really dumb if you hang on to what you've been hanging onto," but that takes a level of humility and courage and bumping up against fear. The other proactive way, I think that I've encouraged others to do, but I've also tried to engage in myself, is to find somebody who really just sees the world differently than me, either because of the circumstances they were brought up in, because of the political orientation that they've taken in their lives, because of the faith-based experiences that they've had and try and sit in a space with them again, where this really deep "Oh, now I see it, now I see it” kind of understanding kind of emerge." And the thing is, Sara, is I'm not sure that that is brilliant encouragement for someone who is in the throes of Level Three, I don't know that that would have been a help to me restabilize, I think it would have contributed to more destabilization if I had done that when I was 30. But there comes a time when you feel yourself getting dogmatic, when you feel yourself doubling down on what you believe to be right. Those are those little unignited fuel cells that you can either continue defending and then they just sit there with no developmental value but what igniting them looks like is to say, "So what happens if I loosen my grip on it?"   Anyway, I didn't know you were going to go there, but thanks for going there.  

Sara: Yeah, well, thank you for sharing. I think real stories always help solidify what growth can look like for people so I appreciate you sharing your stories. Anything else you want to make sure to encourage our listeners about on this topic? Anything that you think you missed? We'll definitely link that people can get a copy of The Map if they want to go deeper. It's a whole book devoted to this topic, what the different levels look like and how you go from one level to another can get that at We'll also have it linked on and all the other places.  

Keith: You know, Sara, I guess one thing is the Growth Gap Tool that we've talked so much about that is a free download is designed to create "what's the next step?" and "where are you?" and it's designed to give clarity to that and where what a person comes up with in the Growth Gap Tool, really has the potential to help them locate their position on the map and what next might look like.   The other thing that I would say is put yourself in a circumstance or a retreat setting or a silent retreat if you're built like that or something where you really think about what your true north is, what you want your life to be about, what you want your legacy to be, what you want people to have said about you when you're gone. It is so rare and I mean tiny, rare that when we take people through a day of authoring what that true north is, what that legacy is, that they don't actually author a Level Five destination almost regardless of their age. They author this bigger me, other-focused kind of impact that they want to have and I think that that is also another great thing to do to keep moving along the journey. Creates a reference point.  

Sara: I love it, those are really, really great suggestions for people. Again, this is what we have devoted our professional lives to. We love this stuff. We want this for our listeners. Our online class that we have that we've mentioned, the Challenge to Change course pulls in deeper looks at the different levels, it pulls in how to listen to people well, to get those different perspectives, developmental relations, all these topics that we've said really are important elements to vertical development to help you grow on this journey. It's what this course offers and we would really love for as many people as possible to take advantage of that. It's one of the positive things that have come out of all the changes that have happened in this past year is that what has previously only been accessible to large corporate groups, now anybody in their own homes can engage in this content. And so, buy the book, and if you want to learn more, go to our website and look at the Challenge to Change course, if you are interested in that. But as Keith loves to say, we want all of you to journey well. We want you to keep moving and not get stuck. So, Keith, thank you for sharing your wisdom, your expertise, your stories with us.  

Keith: Thank you, Sara.  

Sara: We will be back next week with another expert to share their wisdom on leadership that can also help you take more steps on the vertical journey as you learn more lateral knowledge. So with that, take care.