"So what do you do?"
This innocent question strikes fear into the hearts of grokkists everywhere – a spike of adrenaline that can trigger a brief moment of anxiety or send us spiralling into existential uncertainty.
Grokkists usually answer it in one of two ways:
1) We choose a safe answer.
By presenting a smooth surface that hides a squiggly career teeming with accumulated interests and unrelated adventures, we can avoid further questions we feel unprepared or unsafe to answer.
This is often easier for us, but also unsatisfying. It comes at the cost of flattening the unruly richness of our experience and what we have to offer.
If we answer this way enough times, we may even begin to forget that we carry around such richness within us at all.
2) We give a well-packaged answer.
This is the kind of carefully-crafted narrative we put in our bios. It suggests hard-won reflection and has all the right words in it, framed to project our personal brand.
We can become so comfortable giving this answer that we barely have to think about it. Such comfort comes at the cost of freshness and vitality.
We may forget to notice how the frozen clarity we once captured is now out of step with the person we have been busy becoming since.
Both answers are a kind of social armour – scripts we rely on to help us give social performances that keep us safe.
After all, we wouldn't want anyone to see the messy and complicated person underneath the armour, would we?
Fear of not being enough
Behind the armour is usually a human being who is afraid of not being enough.
Because grokkists are multi-hyphenate hummingbirds, we accumulate lots of experience but always feel like we're starting from scratch.
Because we have squiggly careers, we experience confusion and doubt about the nature of our expertise, how to name it, and how to value it.
Because we're not always sure what game we're playing, we don't know how well we're doing.
Instead, we tend to look at the different games everyone else is playing and compete against the composite of all of them at once.
No wonder we worry about "not looking good on paper".
But consider this. What's on paper is a statement. A human life led with curiosity is an ongoing question mark.
Grabbing hold of your red thread
Most of us can sense a kind of red thread running through the life we've led so far. Even though it seems close, it can be difficult to reach out and grab hold of it.
Finding your red thread is about being more readily in touch with the questions that matter for leading a flourishing and meaningful life.
It's about knowing how to put your hand on the direction you need when you need it.
Being able to reach for your red thread means that when someone asks "so what do you do?", you'll be able to give an answer that's always different but never changes.
What's a 'red thread' anyway?
Origins of the red thread concept
The concept of the Red Thread has its origins in Chinese and Japanese cultures, where it symbolises the connection between people and their destinies.
In these cultures, the Red Thread of Fate or the Red String of Destiny represents the idea that certain individuals are bound together by an invisible thread, regardless of time, place, or circumstances.
This thread connects them and influences their paths, leading them to meet, form relationships, and fulfil their destinies.
The symbolism of the Red Thread extends beyond Chinese and Japanese cultures and appears in many cultures around the world.
For example, the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan celebrates the bond between siblings with a protective thread, while Jewish tradition includes wearing a red string bracelet for spiritual protection.
In Greek mythology, the thread of life represents the interconnectedness of birth, life, and death. The story of Ariadne and Theseus in Greek mythology illustrates the importance of a thread as a guide in overcoming obstacles and finding a way forward.
Wherever it appears, the red thread concept speaks to the belief that there is a deeper significance to the encounters and relationships we have throughout our lives.
It resonates with the universal human experience of interconnectedness and the idea that our lives are shaped by meaningful connections.
What grokkists need to know about the red thread
In essence, the red thread for grokkists is a conceptual tool for self-understanding. It enables us to recognise and communicate the underlying connections in our lives.
It provides a framework for understanding the connections between our involvement in different projects, our capabilities, enduring interests, motivations, and the underlying questions that drive us.
By identifying and visualising our red thread, we can gain clarity about how our seemingly disparate interests and experiences are interconnected.
We can then navigate our diverse interests more confidently and convey our story with coherence, vitality and impact.
Visualising your red thread
At the centre of the red thread is the spool, which represents our innermost beliefs, passions and motivations that drive us forward.
Moving outwards from the spool, the red thread becomes more visible and intertwined with our various interests, capabilities and projects.
By visualising the red thread from thread to spool, we can better understand how the deeper aspects of ourselves exert influence and show up as actions in our everyday lives.
The red thread is not a linear path, but rather a tangle of intertwined connections that can be rearranged and redecorated like a living room.
It empowers us to rearrange and redecorate our "living room" of experiences, highlighting the relationships between our adventures, enduring interests, capabilities, and projects.
Red Thread Questions - moving from thread to spool
As we discussed earlier, finding your red thread is about being more readily in touch with the questions that matter for leading a flourishing and meaningful life.
When working with fellow grokkists to find their red thread, here are some of the questions I have found it useful to engage with most deeply.
I have divided these red thread questions into two types:
How your red thread shows up in your life in ways that are visible to others
- What projects and adventures am I involved in?
- What do I know about?
- What am I good at?
- What are my enduring interests?
The deeper and less visible truths that inform how your red thread unspools through your interests and actions
- What do I care about?
- What questions direct my search?
- What moves me into action?
- What future am I stretching towards?
These are chewy questions.
Biting into each one invites its own explosion of flavour. Together they constitute a meal that can take a lifetime to digest.
What does a red thread sound like?
There's no predictable or particular formula to a red thread, but it's easy to recognise – it's what you hear when someone suddenly comes to life.
I call it "speaking from the spool".
It is a joy to be in the presence of someone speaking from their spool. Even if our cares and interests are not the same as theirs, the energy of their 'spool talk' will light us up and unconsciously give us permission to reconnect with our own.
How to find your red thread
By now it should be clear that finding your red thread is no mere personality quiz or personal branding exercise.
It's a deep self-exploration with the aim of being able to clearly see the shape of our personal stories in all their dimensions.
If we can do this, we can also learn to step inside our stories, make conscious changes, and gain the confidence to move forward with clarity and purpose.
When you know how to reach out and grasp hold of your red thread, the next time someone asks "so what do you do?", you will learn to improvise a playfully emergent answer drawn from the repertoire of practical wisdom that exists within your possibility space.
Far from hiding behind social armour, your answer to the "so what do you do?" question will be disarming in its vitality, charm, and honesty.
So how do we get there?
Find Your Red Thread course
You're invited to our Find Your Red Thread Course, where we gather to celebrate our squiggly stories, while making sense of them and ourselves.
Led by Grokkist founder Danu Poyner, whose professional journey is squigglier than a Norwegian fjord, Find Your Red Thread’s five live and interactive online workshops will delve into concepts and exercises that help you embrace your multi-dimensional self, weave an intertwined narrative, and find companionship with fellow curious explorers.
Each session is thoughtfully designed to address fundamental questions, guiding you to grasp your red thread and 'speak from the spool'. Topics include:
- What's your story?
- What do you want to be known for?
- How do you name your most sincere practice?
- What future are you stretching towards?
We'll also have plenty of thoughtful discussion and fun optional activities along the way, all of which will help guide your reflection as you complete your own personal Red Thread Worksheet.
Red Thread Café online meetups
Finding your red thread is a journey best done in community.
That's why we host an ongoing series of free Red Thread Café meetups through our Grokkist Network, designed to complement the Find Your Red Thread course.
There is nothing quite like getting together with other grokkists where you can be your shoes-off self and experiment with your self-understanding, or just listen and learn through the reflections of others.
"What every person had to say was like the introduction to a novel I want to read" - Merri
These informal share-and-learn discussions are scheduled on a rotating basis to suit global time zones and are loosely themed around one of the red thread questions.
You don't have to have done the Find Your Red Thread course to come to Red Thread Café meetups, so you're welcome to come along to one to find out whether it's for you.
To find out more, get in touch via the Grokkist Network.
Red Thread Audit
I love to help grokkists find their red thread. Red Thread Audit is my personalised service for those who want to go deeper with me 1:1.
Here's how it works:
- Introduce yourself via a short video and send me a package with your CV/resumé, your various online profiles and attach whatever else you think is relevant to your squiggly story.
- I will personally review the package while you work through the Red Thread Questions course (included free)
- We'll have an initial online catch-up to unpack and explore
- After the meeting, I'll ask you some follow up questions and do a bit of back-and-forth with you via messages
- Once we've had enough time to reflect, we'll have a 'connect the dots' workshop where we aim to visually map out your red thread
- After we've had time to make more tweaks via messages, I will produce a pretty and personalised red thread diagram for you to keep
Going through a Red Thread Audit will change the way you think and talk about yourself.
An 'audit', etymologically speaking, is a 'listening'.
So basically I will listen to you very carefully in multiple dimensions and then show you what I hear, with the benefit of everything I've learned about grokkistry.
My aim is to co-create a threshold moment that sets you on the path to figuring out how to truly unlock your grok.
I will contact you within 24 hours of booking with a personal welcome and further instructions.