By Donna Marie Wing
Many social entrepreneurs have a vision, a passion for social impact that often never gets off the ground. They may have the best of intentions and personal drive, but overwhelming distractors throw them off track. An energy manifestation model can help avoid the common pitfalls of losing sight of the original vision and changing course. This piece considers a practical application of the model to bridge social impact through the author’s applied example from her own social entrepreneurship project.
Passion. It is integral for social change. It is that persistent gnawing; the sometimes elating and sometimes painful urge to achieve a dream of great importance. It is present at the beginning of every great journey of change. But often, and sadly, the passion wanes as we continue our journey and encounter obstacles, naysayers, and distractors who drain our energy leaving us fatigued and overwhelmed. What began as a dream of great hope and vitality morphs into a burden with challenges to overcome rather than a joyful ride with wins to celebrate. And, for this reason, many dreams are abandoned long before they have a chance to reach fruition.
An energy manifestation model for social change is an alternative model that helps to avoid some of the pitfalls of the traditional change models. The energy manifestation model begins with tenaciously holding the vision in place with the expectation that it is coming to fruition. Then every subsequent action taken to fulfill the vision becomes an intentional match with the outcome. It is a process that I have used all my life without really understanding the mechanics behind it. Only as I broadened my social change network did I see that many of my colleagues thought very differently than I and this observation encouraged me to delve deeper and formalize my own thought process.
As I talked with others about my model, I encountered questions about the scientific soundness and research support for the model. Any scientist (of which I am one) has the scientific method engrained in his/her head. “What is the evidence that this model is effective? It sounds idealistic, and, somewhat magical, but where is the science?”
Those representing the fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology understand the power of qualitative research methods -- phenomenology, grounded theory and ethnography, respectively. Being a grounded theorist myself, my analysis of social processes involved participant-observation, case study and interview. These subjective research methods give great insight into the actual thought processes involved in the steps of the energy manifestation model. I invite the reader to review the biographies of George Eastman, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, and other creative entrepreneurs to see the evidence supporting their witting or unwitting use of the energy manifestation model.
What I propose is a model that is upside down from the traditional decision-making, change or project development models because the visionary “owns” the dream upfront. We begin with our dream and remain there. We are in complete control of how we are going to bring the dream into the physical world (manifest). We are tenacious; we see the completed project. Then we move confidently -- backwards.
Between 1845 and 1847 Henry David Thoreau conducted an experiment. He left his job and moved to Walden Pond where he built a cabin and transitioned to a simple life. He wanted to learn how life would be different on a simpler plane -- living off the land, moment to moment. He documented his findings in several essays which were later compiled and published in “Walden” (Thoreau, 1854). His conclusion:
“I learned this, at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dream, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
This directive denotes a specific action (advancing confidently in the direction of dreams) and an expectation (success unexpected in common hours). The intentional action is powerful. It requires faith, courage and commitment. The result indicates much more than the accomplishment of the dream. “Unexpected,” denotes an element of surprise. As we remain focused on the vision, we advance confidently, but in a manner different than we have before. We move backward through the steps of having a dream, holding a vision, communicating, planning, bringing on others, taking action and, finally, achieving staying power, joy and repetition.
I have reviewed the literature to see if this model had been formalized or if it is a process that many of us use without a structured frame of reference -- something that we do innately. Though many papers and books have been written on the power of intention, law of attraction, and other energy-directed ways of manifestation, the closest I have been able to find to the model I am discussing was written by Anodea Judith and Lion Goodman in their book, “Creating on Purpose” (Judith & Goodman, 2012).
The Model and My Story
My first love in life was the stage. For as long as I could remember I wanted to be an actress. As a child and teenager, I did perform in several plays, as well as appeared on a local teen television show. But a series of events took me on a different, yet successful path. I completed both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in nursing, becoming one of the first nurse practitioners to open a business in Oklahoma. I then completed a doctorate in education. By the late 1990’s I was a successful tenured college professor and addictions researcher with an unfulfilled dream of being an actress.
Then in 1999 something unexpected happened. My younger son was playing the role of Christopher Robin at a local theatre. During a rehearsal, Rabbit had a tantrum and pounced off the stage. The director handed me his script and said, “Read Rabbit.” I did. My passion was unleashed; there was no turning back.
In 2000, I was awarded a Sigma Theta Tau Fellowship (the nursing honor society) for nurses in career transition. The Fellowship assisted nurses to redirect their energy and talent towards creative initiatives. Each fellow designed a project. Mine was to use theatre as a mechanism for educating the public about addiction. This presented a challenge for me as I had no formal background or education in theatre. Moreover, I had just moved from Tulsa to Indianapolis and knew nothing of my new home’s theatre community. It was time to put the energy manifestation model into practice.
As a function of the Sigma Theta Tau Fellowship, I enrolled in several theatre classes, embarked on the audition circuit, and performed in numerous plays. But after two years I had a dream of having my own theatre company. I wanted the company to be different from others in the area, unique in some way, and serving a higher purpose. Was there a need out there? A gap? A void to be filled? I was resolute that I was being called, but I did not know for what. I just kept doing what was in front of me to do while staying open and remaining patient. Then I received a phone call about helping with a Halloween event at the President Benjamin Harrison Home. This Victorian home of the 23rd President of the United States is a museum, hosting tours and other special events for local, national and international visitors.
It was almost 6 p.m. on the Saturday evening of the Halloween event, a ghostly tour of the home. I was standing in the foyer waiting for the grandfather clock to strike six when it happened. The vision. It was indeed a flash of lightning. I saw a theatre performance unfolding. Each guest went to one of three rooms to see a play. The last vision I had before the clock struck six was of a woman wearing a white dress in the master bedroom. I believe I had a glimpse of something that had already happened. The vision was overwhelming, staying with me for several weeks. Finally, I realized that I had to walk backward to the next step. I had to tell someone.
The vision kept developing in my mind. The details came into clear focus. I had to found Victorian Theatre by Candlelight at the President Benjamin Harrison Home. As I fleshed out each detail more questions came up. I was able to describe the details in a succinct two-page document. Now, I knew I had to move to the next step -- communication. I then called the executive director of the Home, requesting a meeting where I handed her the two-page synopsis. We discussed my vision for about 90 minutes, then she said, “When do we open?” Although I anticipated that she would excitedly accept my proposal, I was a bit surprised at the rapidity of her response. However, there was a backstory that I was to learn about later that would explain quite a bit.
I will never forget the way I felt after leaving the meeting with the executive director on the beautiful, late April day in 2003. I was dazed. I must admit that, although everything had gone as expected up to this point, I experienced an overwhelming euphoria. So, I took a deep breath and another step backward. After a few days, I reviewed the two-page plan, detailing my questions which cropped up at dizzying speed. This was my first encounter with the details. I had to have a plan in place. I looked to one place for the answers -- “What did I do before?”
The executive director and I decided that we would open in March of the following year, less than 11 months from the approval of my proposal. My next steps were to select the plays, cast them, and find directors. It was time to bring on others. This is the reverse from the usual process of the creative director selecting the directors, who then select and cast the plays. But remember, I am walking backwards. I was particular about who came on board. I would not leave it to a director to select the cast. With all plays, cast and directors in place we started rehearsal right after New Year’s Day. Everyone was excited. My dream was coming into reality, as were many of the actors’ individual dreams. We forged ahead with our creativity while the Home was seeing to all production details. We were ready to open on March 5, 2004.
The day had arrived. We were taking action. It was opening night. We had sold out. The candles were lit. We were ready to go. The energy was high. The scene unfolded exactly as it did a year and a half earlier when I was struck by the bolt of lightning in the foyer. After the guests left, I stood by the grandfather clock and experienced the project a second time. All was as I had seen it before. And, yes, the actress in the master bedroom had worn a beautiful white gown.
It has now been over 17 years since I opened our first play at what is now the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. Our season has expanded to four annual productions, and we nearly always sell-out. We attract guests from all over the United States, as well as internationally. Our troupe is comprised of 20 actors and directors and nine substitute actors. We have engaged a resident playwright. We have achieved the final step of staying power, joy and repetition.
When I revisit the 2-page proposal that I presented to the executive director in 2003, I see that the company as it looks today is consistent with about 95% of the original proposal. I did make one modification. The first was the theatre name. Finding that Victorian Theatre by Candlelight did not represent the plays we presented and was too restrictive, 12 years ago we changed the name to Candlelight Theatre.
I had mentioned earlier that there was a backstory of which I had not been aware when I met with the executive director. I had always been surprised at the rapidity of my proposal’s approval. I learned a short time later that a few weeks prior to our meeting she and the board of directors set the objective to expand visitors to the Home by creating different ways that the Home could be used. My proposal was an answer to their challenge.
While I was at Harvard in 2012 as a partner in the Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI) program, I organized numerous brown bag lunches and informal seminars where I spoke with undergraduate students, graduate students and fellows about the energy manifestation model. Some participants embraced the model and were quite enthusiastic and motivated to use it; others literally rolled their eyes.
In the ALI Fellowship, we discuss the importance of disrupting the landscape. But we must also disrupt the landscape within. We need to trust and tenaciously hold onto our vision, being patient while walking backward. This is extremely difficult to do when one is used to holding onto the reins and being in control. However, we are still in control, just in a different way.
So, I invite you. Set the vision, be patient, wait for the messages and assistance to arrive, and act. Then enjoy and bask in the results. To complete Thoreau’s earlier quotation: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” (Thoreau, 1854)
About the Author:
Donna Wing is Founder and Creative Director of the Candlelight Theatre Company at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. In 2012, Ms. Wing attended Harvard University where she was a partner in the Advanced Leadership Initiative. Her focus on non-profit marketing assisted her in scaling Candlelight Theatre. She is also an actress with the theatre company and has co-authored five plays. The energy manifestation model has been the guiding principle by which she has accomplished her lifelong visions. Ms. Wing received a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of Tulsa, a master of science degree in nursing from the University of Oklahoma, and a doctorate in education from the University of Tulsa in conjunction with the University of London, England. She was an associate professor at the University of Tulsa where she received the distinction of being tapped Mortar Board Professor of the Year, and an adjunct professor at the University of Indianapolis. She has published over 30 papers in refereed journals. In 2000, she surrendered her tenure to accept a Sigma Theta Tau Fellowship for nurses to transition within their careers. As a result, she founded Candlelight Theatre at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site where she currently serves as Creative Director.