Shadow Work Prompts

I wrote a strange note down during a Zoom meeting the other day: “Be the therapist, not the patient.” This was right before I went into a trance doing SEM keyword research, which led me to the chance discovery that shadow work prompts are in high demand these days.

Why was I denying my inner patient? What’s shadow work? I don’t know much of anything about Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung other than that Michael Fassbender played him in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (well hello, sir), but I suspect I’m supposed to call his chief contribution to psychoanalysis The Shadow™ and credit his estate.

The gist of Shadow Work™ is that each of us has a dark side, a disowned self we’re unconsciously trying not to be. The more I can accept and work with my dark side, the easier it is to feel whole. Whenever I don’t have a good grip on my dark side, it turns me into an oversensitive sitting duck; anyone can come along at any hour of the day, unwittingly do something that rattles my emotions, and I’m stuck riding them out until they inevitably subside.

When I wrote “Be the therapist, not the patient” in my notebook, I sensed negative emotions coming up for the colleague I was talking to — frustration, disappointment — and could feel myself starting to mirror them. In the moment, I wanted to contain those emotions. Leadership is just deft self-management, I tell myself. Maybe I can notice us out of friction. Maybe I can just listen.

It makes sense that folks are on the lookout for shadow work prompts, though. Dark sides are tricky. You can only see them when the light hits just right. Plenty of negative traits I observe in others don’t bother me at all. Insecurities that might push another person’s buttons don’t necessarily push mine. I’m only triggered by behavior I consider unacceptable.

It makes sense that folks are on the lookout for shadow work prompts, though. Dark sides are tricky. You can only see them when the light hits just right. Plenty of negative traits I observe in others don’t bother me at all. Insecurities that might push another person’s buttons don’t necessarily push mine. I’m only triggered by behavior I consider unacceptable.

The Shadow Work Scene in Mary Martin’s Peter Pan (1960)

(Wendy gets it.)

What does any of this have to do with Pipe WrenchPipe Wrench operates from a set of guiding principles. We have goals, and partners, and ambitions. Michelle and I want this to be a sustainable company. But far too often, working in media is the dark side. The industry can be unsustainable, unrelenting, and inhumane — a breeding ground for burnout. If you work with a very small team, imposter syndrome can balloon into organizational self-sabotage. Capitalism is evil. Media companies fold. How can I lead if I’m the patient? How can I project confidence while admitting insecurity? If we look out at the world and observe selfish immoral people hoarding wealth, and judge business and commerce as embodiments of those negative histories and emotions, what are Michelle and I doing building a business of our own?

I love acknowledging damaging, unanswerable questions and then promising everyone that everything’s fine! Dark sides are human. I care deeply about imaginative work that makes me feel something. I think the people making that work deserve competitive pay. Michelle trusts me to push all sorts of red buttons. Someone has to set up the ACH transfers. 

I may have been able to play the role of therapist successfully in that one meeting, but I co-founded an LLC on purpose and I am most definitely a patient. You can trust that I’ll be working with my selfishness, my hoarding, and my immorality, all while encouraging various strangers to throw more coins in the fountain because even the banks can’t stop us from wiring euros to Irish fabulists.

If you didn’t know what shadow work prompts were before and now you’re out walking your lovable galoot puppy wondering about which behaviors you unconsciously disown, I’m so sorry. I can’t stop thinking about them, either.

Follow Pipe Wrench on Twitter @pipewrenchmag and me @CusickCatherine.