The Power of Self-Awareness as a Catalyst


I remember the first time Tracey told me about Catalysts. It was one of those impactful moments that happen in life where your brain decides to sear in the memory. When a moment of self-awareness is really driven home.

I was sitting outside at Starbucks on Broadway Avenue in Burlingame, CA. I remember the “click” as the puzzle pieces fell into place. I remember the *sigh* of relief. I remember the deep resonance of identification because it explained just so much about my life and work experiences. I remember the excitement and buzzing about the concept. I felt seen and understood, in a way I never had before. I was a Catalyst!

At the time that Tracey introduced the notion of Catalysts, I been working in the innovation space for several years. Moving into that world officially had been like winning the lottery. I also remember when I got that call from my new boss, our beloved JJ. (It was summertime in the guest bedroom at my sister’s house near Boston). I can still feel the raw excitement as he told me I had been selected to join the fledgling innovation team. I floated on a high for weeks. I was finally going to be allowed to be my full self at work – fast-paced-dot-connector, experimenter, design-thinker. I was actually tasked with constantly creating new things, including an innovation program.

I leaned in hard to that job. Partly because I was so thankful for the opportunity and well, because that’s who I am. One of my original mandates was to create a global Innovation Champion program from the ground up. Throughout that process and through the hundreds of Innovation Workshop I facilitated, I noticed that not all innovation practitioners showed up the same way. As the Innovation Champion program grew from a rag-tag group of 8 positive troublemakers to a CEO-sponsored, gamified, certification program, it became clear that the same 10% of the group were on every call, always sharing a fountain of ideas that they executed on, sometimes faster than we could remove barriers.

I thought it was my fault that not everyone leaned in and engaged in taking on risky new projects or brand-new methodologies. I thought, if I just work harder, if I just get the training right, the incentives right, the right executive sponsorship, the right marketing.

We ended up creating and pulling almost every possible lever. And some things did drive more engagement (recognizing the people who like the Front End of Innovation vs the Back End of Innovation and adapting the program to support that). But nothing really moved the needle. It was a volunteer program that people had to apply to, but other than passion, proof of basic competencies, and executive approval, we didn’t really have a way to identify more like the 10% thinker-doers.

So, when Tracey shared her research around the idea that there is a unique subset of the general population with shared common traits, that she called Catalysts, it was an emotional moment. I experienced many emotions at the same time:

  1. Relief – for being seen and understood.
  2. Joy – because I knew I could shift my focus and start seeking out other Catalysts for support and connection
  3. Gratitude and Self-Forgiveness – for also knowing that there may not have been anything more that I could’ve done to increase participation in innovation
  4. Hope – because understanding that there is a “standard” emotional and energetic journey for Catalysts which often leads to burnout if we’re not mindful, meant I could start to make better informed choices. Choices that would increase my impact and decrease my burnout.

This is the power of self-awareness for Catalysts.

So many labels I had been given since childhood finally made sense. I was told I was too-much, good with insights but lacking detail, a leader, too sensitive, gifted, too fast, a disruptor, empathic, a change agent, a risk-taker, innovator, and design thinker. Some of these I wore with pride, though they may not always have been intended that way. Some them hurt and left scars that I carry with me to this day. But the research shows that most of these traits have an overlap with being a Catalyst. And getting that context helped a lot to start the healing.

The end of that conversation with Tracey while I was sitting at Starbucks was actually the birth of Catalyst Constellations. It was born from a combination of Tracey’s amazing, life-changing research and an idea I had been contemplating for a regenerative unconference. I had been curating a group of like-minded/like-acting individuals from around the world (yes, now we know they’re Catalysts) and it was clear we needed a safe space to connect with those who “get it,” to share ideas and best practices, and to decompress from burnout. A weekend with good people, good food, good wine and a hot tub.

In the years since discovering that I am a Catalyst, that identification, that sense of self-awareness has helped in so many ways. Bringing empathy to how challenging it can be for those around me. Slowing down to more mindfully move through the Catalyst Formula. Even seeing how my catalytic tendencies can have an impact on my personal relationships.

But like any path of self-discovery, though self-awareness is the first important step, it doesn’t mean we instantly make changes or don’t fall back into our default ways of operating. Even though I deeply understand the research and the recommendations, I sometimes fall into some of the same old traps: moving too fast, not clearly communicate my vision, or iterating without intentionality. I sometimes let my rejuvenation routines go and slide back down towards burnout. The difference is, when I bump up against them, I recognize them more quickly, can course correct more appropriately, and perhaps most importantly, have self-compassion.

The key things that help me:

  1. Daily Mindfulness Moments – small to large. Whether it’s the 2-5 minute “drop-in” we do at the beginning of every session, the small “brain breaks” that I take throughout the day, or longer moments of meditation, just getting back into my body and out of my head is a good reset. It allows me to lift my head up and reconnect with how I am feeling and how I want to show up.
  2. Consistent Rejuvenation – Right now the best I can do is an evening walk around the neighborhood with my husband. But it’s a beautiful 15 min. Beautiful views. Time for us alone. Time to reconnect and share about our day. Holding hands as we walk. We count the rabbits each night and appreciate the beauty. I get time to step back and reflect on the day.
  3. Connection with other Catalysts – Spending time with the Galaxy community helps with the self-awareness and resetting. I can see the commonality of our journeys, the thrills as well as the trials and tribulations we all share. I get regrounded through the vulnerability, courage and support the community demonstrates towards each other.

Does one of these resonate with you?

Two week challenge: what will you commit to trying for next two weeks to explore deepening your sense of self-awareness as a Catalyst?


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