Rebels versus Guardians: a case study in misunderstandings

The story of Andrei Doroshin, a 22 year old who successfully led the testing and vaccination of thousands of Philly residents before getting fired, caught my eye in the news feed. Since writing this post, I’ve learned that this is quite a controversial topic and that Andrei is widely seen as guilty in the court of public opinion. I don’t know the details or the truth of his guilt or innocence… but I do want to use Andrei to highlight how brain wiring can lead to tragic outcomes and deep misunderstandings.

It seems evident from these write-ups that Andrei is a prototypical Rebel with a Cause — my term for gifted adults. And this story isn’t new or unusual: it’s played out in traditional organizations and political arenas around the world on a daily basis.

His story could be my story, and also perhaps yours, dear misunderstood Rebel. It’s also yours, you Guardians who work hard to keep the system relatively safe, predictable and efficient within this rapidly changing world. To you, Rebels are often threats not to be trusted.

The point of this article is not about actual guilt or innocence, or who’s right or wrong. It’s about the necessity of understanding and harmonizing opposite ways of moving through the world to bring out the best of both.

What makes Andrei a Rebel?

Diverse interests — He’s a leader in three different businesses: a real estate firm, a biotech company, and an organization called Philly Fighting COVID (CEO), the group who was tapped to run Philadelphia’s first mass vaccination clinic.

Fast thinker and mover — Andrei first gathered a group of friends to manufacture face shields with a 3D printer and donate them to local hospitals. The model then morphed into a pop-up COVID testing center before pivoting to vaccines.

Status quo buster — Hailed as an “operational savant,” Andrei led the team who administered over 7,000 shots (8% of the first dose count) in rapid time.

“We took the entire model and just threw it out the window,” Doroshin said during a segment on the Today show earlier this month, explaining what he saw as his clinic’s two big innovations: getting rid of paper registrations and creating a vaccine assembly line to speed up the shot-giving process. “We think a little differently than people in health care do.”

“Who Exactly is Philly Fighting COVID?” Philly Mag

Fairness fighter —  In interviews, Andrei revealed the justice gene that’s prevalent in gifted adults. “We just vaccinated 2,000 more people this weekend. We only care about vaccinating people.” And when confronted about his lack of experience, he commented, “Our expertise is we’re just trying to help.”

What’s all the fuss?

Governments and large businesses are notoriously populated by Guardians who are charged with keeping the mechanics of the system functioning in a safe and reliable way. From a Guardian’s standpoint, Rebels like Andrei are often viewed with resentment and mistrust. Why?

Rebels don’t stay in their lanes. In the case of Philly Fighting COVID, this group of 20-somethings had virtually zero health background that would appear credible to a Guardian. Rebels easily drift across traditional boundaries, successfully cross-pollinating ideas that work in one setting into totally different environments.

Rebels are obsessed with the work itself, often at the expense of rules or relationships. Philadelphia’s department of health claimed that Andrei turned the company into a for-profit entity “behind its back” and that they changed the data privacy policy on its vaccine interest form, which would enable it to sell the data to third parties.

“For Philly Fighting COVID to have made these changes without discussion with the city is extremely troubling,” a statement read. “As a result of these concerns, along with Philly Fighting COVID’s unexpected stoppage of testing operations, the health department has decided to stop providing vaccine to Philly Fighting COVID.”

“Who Exactly is Philly Fighting COVID?” Philly Mag

Let’s peel away the layers of accusations (which I can’t comment on) to focus on a couple key phrases here: “Made these changes without discussion with the city” and making decisions “behind its back.” Now, I know the optics look bad, but bear with me here…

From what I know about gifted adults with a strong fairness gene (and especially if they have shades of Asperger’s, which can show up as benign cluelessness), I might give Andrei the benefit of the doubt. Actual guilt or innocence aside, I’m convinced that he’s also on trial for simply being a Rebel — moving fast, making decisions on the fly based on what’s needed in the moment, and failing to slow down to ensure he’s checking all the boxes and bringing people along.

God knows I’ve been guilty of this at many points in my career, and have been punished for it. I’ve had people make incorrect assumptions about my intentions based on behavior that was interpreted through a neurotypical lens. One company value from my last employer that I most appreciated: “assume positive intent.”

Despite our fairness gene, we can also completely miss opportunities to pull in oft-overlooked minority collaborators. Andrei failed to connect with Ala Stanford, an experienced physician who founded the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium and had been performing tests in Philadelphia’s black communities for months. I’m not saying this is OK by any means; I simply know from my own personal “benign cluelessness” — flying too fast while focused on only on the work — that I’m reluctant to assign a guilty verdict to Andrei’s motive without deeper understanding.

Rebels can be sloppy. We’re usually not good at managing details. Our errors aren’t usually intentional; we simply let what we deem “small stuff” drop through the cracks as we’re chasing the bigger objectives. But small stuff to Rebels are actually quite significant to Guardians, and our apparent carelessness can erode credibility and trust.

“Philly Fighting COVID has submitted three separate invoices that were rejected due to incomplete documentation and duplicative time sheets…. We will only pay out for legitimate costs incurred by the provider.”

Jim Garrow, Philadelphia health department spokesperson

Rebels can be blindsided by lack of trust.

We’re moving forward, flowing and playing in the open space of possibility, experimenting what what generates the best outcomes, and loving this work, this dance — and if you’re not a Rebel, believe me when I say this is one of the highest, purest forms of enjoyment possible for us — when BAM: we’re hammered with accusations about how we’ve screwed up.

“I don’t understand why people are freaking out about this kind of stuff… We just vaccinated 2,000 more people this weekend. We only care about vaccinating people.”

Andrei Doroshin

Suddenly our joyful, purposeful play is reframed as failure: failing to respect the rules, failing to keep someone in the loop, failing to stay in our lanes, failing to have the right credentials, failing to create the intended outcome because we moved too fast and didn’t bring people along.

This lack of trust and the resulting feelings of failure take their toll.

After a number of these encounters we might “learn our lesson:” to stuff ourselves into a box and apply the mask, diligently and fearfully, trying to conform into a Guardian system that can’t understand or appreciate us for what we bring to the party. It can create intense feelings of depression and self-rejection until we learn to love our unique wiring despite the world’s messages to the contrary.

Guardians feel misunderstood as well.

This story helped me understand and value the role of the Guardian. I imagine that the pleasure that Rebels take in “dancing in the possibility space” is the same emotion that Guardians feel when constructing and working within systems designed for safety and predictability.

When Andrei celebrated throwing the old model out the window, he essentially trashed the work of countless Guardians who worked to iteratively refine a model that had a long track record; it was proven and safe. And given his lack of healthcare experience, he didn’t have the credibility to challenge the system. Andrei essentially slapped these Guardians in the face, and they slapped him in return.

What’s the solution?

I prefer to Start with WHO, not Why. First and foremost, we need to understand ourselves and each other.

Throughout my years of research into human motivation, emotion is the biggest predictor of behavior. And not just any emotion: the most impactful levers are the emotions connected to our 12 core needs like Security, Freedom, or Belonging. I feel safe, free, connected, impactful, seen, etc. — these feelings are how we know our needs are met.

Each human being has a unique set of “motivational DNA:” the handful of core needs and emotions that uniquely define how we see the world and make decisions. Rebels are primarily motivated by Autonomy (“don’t box me in!), and Guardians by Security. This tension between Autonomy and Security is at the root of countless battles, not least of which is the current political environment in the US and Britain.

Thing is, we need both. Rebels continually push the system to improve; Guardians ensure that change can be made in the safest, most reliable way. Is it even possible for them to meet in the middle?

Rebel and Guardian are just two of 33 Archetypes that I use in my work. Other Archetypes like Mediator or Unifier can play a critical role in creating the conditions for collaboration that celebrate both paths and navigate the third way forward. This third role is essential; too many Rebels simply don’t have the patience or social skills required for this human-centric integration. We’re usually off working on the next possibility that’s captured our interest.

What about you?

Where do you fall on the Rebel/Guardian spectrum? I’d love to hear stories about what’s worked within your organizations to bridge this gap.

PS. Read the full article in Philly Magazine and let me know what you think about my assessment.

PPS. If your organization is facing cultural friction in the face of change, let’s talk about how Starting with WHO — along with my Inner Compass process — can help you find common ground.

Don’t let *could* be the enemy of great

If there’s one thing I hear from my rebel clients time and time again, it’s “I could do ____.” Yes, of course you could! You’re a fast thinker and dot connector with myriad interests. You’ve proven that you’re a quick study, picking up a variety of skills and know-how throughout your life.

The double-edged sword of being a human Swiss Army Knife is that you could do a lot of things.

One of my clients is a successful CEO who is selling her business over asking price. We’re working together to define her next chapter in which she gets to do what she loves instead of slaving away for the money.

She can get distracted by the idea of executive coaching. And yes, she absolutely could do that. Many of her friends tell her so.

But feel the difference in energy between these statements:

“I could do that…” versus “HELL YES, I was born to do that!”

Wouldn’t you rather do the latter?

For her, executive coaching isn’t a hell yes. It doesn’t tap into the unique problem that only she can solve AND has a great passion for solving. Not only that, but she’d be a tiny drop in an ocean of executive coaches who have been doing that particular job for years.

But still, it lures her away from where her heart is. And she’s certainly not unique; I and many others have been caught in the could trap. I’ve seen a couple reasons for this:

There’s already a path

It’s really easy to be lured by prestige and financial rewards… especially when we have skills in those areas. “I could do that” makes it far too easy to wander down the shiny, well-trodden path when in fact blazing our own authentic trail will generate far more rewards, emotional and otherwise.

Aiming to please

Could can also send us off track when we’re wired to be helpful. People come to us because we’re good problem-solvers… and because we could solve their problem, we do. It’s justified because we love feeling helpful, and it really doesn’t take us that long.

But all of these little detours away from Hell Yes take their toll. They bog us down and fill up our calendars. We expend a lot of energy supporting other people’s dreams instead of our own.

Yes, it’s hard to turn the spotlight on ourselves. There’s a discomfort in truly being seen, or it can create feelings of guilt. But there’s nothing more inspiring than the sight of another human being who’s standing fully in their power, clear on their YES and NO, and flowing instead of striving.

So how do we avoid the could trap?

Start with WHO, not why

In my former life as a customer-centric strategist, I’d always start with the customer. Nowadays I start with the leader: who are you? What lights you up? What would inspire you to jump out of bed each morning? What are both your Hell Yesses and your limitations, and how can we turn those limitations into strengths?

From there, we can look at other WHOs. Your team, customers… even personal relationships. What emotional resonance can be created that unifies and unlocks collective potential around a shared Hell Yes?

With WHO serving as a firm foundation, you can more easily identify the Why, What and How of your business and operating model. You then can enter the flow of doing what you were born to do…. confidently and unapologetically.

I’d love to hear from you. In what ways has could been the enemy of great in your life or work?

PS. The exact same principles apply whether it’s for your personal life, starting a business, or steering a global company. If you’re an entrepreneur or business leader who’s curious about Start with Who, let’s chat.

Be unapologetically unproductive.

When you think about carving out time to do the small things that light you up — taking a leisurely walk, reading fiction, drawing, painting a rock, watching a sunrise, or anything else that today’s world would deem “unproductive” — how do you feel about it? 

Personally, I can feel a sense of low-grade anxiety: surely I’ve forgotten something extremely important and I must sit at my computer until I remember what it is. Playing Sudoku or surfing social media for an hour somehow feels more productive (“See? I’m at my computer!”) than walking away from the screen to play with paints or meeting a friend for coffee.

Others describe a feeling of guilt, having picked up the belief that being a grown-up, whatever that is, requires us to put everyone else’s needs before our own. There’s a voice that’s constantly whispering “You should be doing _____” that never shuts up, and is never satisfied.  

Where did we get this idea, anyway?

(Scrolling scrolling)… “Four Reasons You’re Not Being Productive.” “Improve Your Productivity At Work.” “10 Productivity Hacks.” “The Best Productivity Apps for 2021.”

Argh! Stop the madness already. These messages are everywhere.

Sure, it’s helpful to get more done in less time. Who could argue with that? But we’re not machines.

Productivity is an idea we’ve borrowed from the Industrial Age in which value was determined by factory output. The greater the output, the greater the value creation.

This, of course, is the fundamental premise of most workplace cultures today. It’s the premise that fuels the relentless busyness in cities like San Francisco, New York, Tel Aviv and London. It’s the message that’s been drilled into us since our first jobs out of school.   

Somewhere along the line, we’ve equated our own personal value with outputs and forgot what it means to be human. Is it any wonder that depression, stress and anxiety are at all-time highs?

It’s high time to accept that we simply can’t live like this. We do have biological limits and vulnerabilities that require downtime, white space, sleep, and healthy boundaries.

It’s time to say NO to the idea of toxic productivity in order to say YES to the best of being human: experiencing the joy that comes from Life and Freedom and genuine Connection and Creativity and all those juicy feelings that naturally emerge from the care and feeding of our souls.

And not just occasionally, not just for a “special treat” for doing such a good job being productive. Gawd, that’s another huge misconception: I’ll treat myself only if I achieve this list of goals. Hogwash. That’s how we train dogs… it’s not how we live.  

You deserve joy, dear reader. And I’m sure you’re overdue to give yourself permission to unapologetically create it for yourself on a regular basis. If you don’t do it for yourself, who will?

Living your truth begins with saying YES to those small, seemingly inconsequential things that represent the essence of who you are. Pretty soon those small things start to snowball into a more authentic, confident, happy version of yourself. You feel seen and heard for who you are because you are seeing and listening to yourself.

Being unproductive can be life-changing.

What will you say NO to this week so that you can say YES to what lights you up? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

PS. We’re exploring this topic in the Intentional Rebels group coaching program right now. If you’d like to learn more and get on the list for the next cohort, click here. Or if group programs aren’t your thing, you can book a call directly with me here.

Afraid of making your mark?

One of my intentions for 2021 is to get back into painting. I used to draw and paint all the time when I was younger, but somewhere along the line I became afraid. I believed that if I didn’t get it right the first time, it was evidence of a more global failure.  

Even in moments when I really wanted to get crafty and creative, I couldn’t overcome my mule-headed resistance. I’d rather stare at a wall for hours than pull out my paints. Fear and longing and self-rejection, all mixed up together, shut me down for decades. 

Over the Christmas break I picked up some cheap paints, paper and small canvasses. Signed up for a couple low-commitment online courses. Started small and reminded myself it was simply play time. Gave myself permission to create ugly paintings. 

I’ve had a blast throwing paint around, making a mess, and delighting my inner 8-year old. And I’ve created plenty of ugly paintings. 

But here’s the really fascinating part. 

My first few paintings turned out more like wallpaper… low contrast and no clear focal point. The other artists in my class have the same fear when it comes to making bold marks. We’re all timidly tiptoeing around the canvas. 

What’s showing up on the canvas is our own minds. Our inner fears. Our desire to hide out in safe territory. 

Like everything else in life, the outer world mirrors the inner. 

The fear of making a single bold mark on canvas is a direct reflection of our fear of making our mark in life. We’d rather hide than be seen making a mistake… or be seen at all. 

The visual clutter, and the lack of open white space, is a direct reflection of an inability to set boundaries and a willingness to say yes to everything. 

My compelling need to add (piles of) geometric lines and shapes reflects my exceptionally fluid mind’s craving for structure. 

My tendency to exuberantly throw paint on a canvas reflects my years of failing to be intentional or to listen to myself. I’m learning that creating art is a back-and-forth dialogue of what wants to show up, and what needs clarifying.

Just like life. 

I’m able to overcome my resistance to painting now because I’m utterly fascinated by the psychological nature of this process. 

I’m starting to be more intentional about slowing down, listening, creating open space, and making bold marks. As I pay more attention in my art, I’m paying more attention to my own mind. I’m attending to what wants to be seen and heard within myself. 

And as I get more comfortable making my bold marks in the privacy of my own home, I’m also more comfortable with making my bold mark in my life and work. 

Like the Zen enso circle*: bold, simple, clear. A tall order for a brain that’s dazzled by too many possibilities, but a worthy goal. 

What about you? 

You may have never played with paint or taken an art class. But if you’re curious, I hope you’ll try it. Like the Inner Compass work that I do with my coaching clients, art is a way of externalizing what’s going on in our minds. When we externalize it, we can see it. And if we can see it, we can work with it.

And no… I won’t show a photo of my artwork right now. Maybe after a couple months of practice 🙂  

PS. I just kicked off the first cohort of Intentional Rebels, a life/work redesign group coaching program. If you’d like to be notified about the next cohort, you can sign up on the wait list here

*Image courtesy of St. Lawrence University. I have had the pleasure of being on retreat with Sensei Kaz Tanahashi, although did not fully appreciate the Zen calligraphy practice at the time. 

Do you feel seen for who you are?

Earlier this afternoon, I was speaking with one of my group coaching clients about self-knowledge. She said something that stopped me in my tracks: 

“Enlightenment is scary.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked. 

“What if we don’t like what we find? What if our real truth isn’t ‘acceptable’ or will stand in the way of making money? Sometimes it feels better to not know.” 

I then wrote out an article about self-knowledge, because of course I have all kinds of thoughts about it, but couldn’t bring myself to press publish. It felt wrong somehow. So I took a step back and allowed myself to feel what she was trying to say. 

I suspect that all this talk of head-based knowledge is a distraction from the real, vulnerable heart of the matter: being seen for who we really are. 

Recognition is one of our core needs. Not in a flashy “look at me” way, but in that magical intersection of individuality and belonging. It’s about being seen — truly seen — by another, and when seen, accepted. 

Perhaps this explains the interest in Marina Abramovic’s 2010 performance art, The Artist is Present, where MOMA-museum visitors could sit across from her, seeing and being seen, for as long as they wanted. She never moved or changed expression.

“The overwhelming feeling I had was that you think you can understand a person just by looking at them, but when you look at them over a long period of time, you understand how impossible that is. I felt connected, but I don’t know how far the connection goes.”

Dan Visel, Participant (from the New York Times: Confronting a Stranger, For Art

How far does the connection go? We’re seen by people, sure. We’re seen by our partners, family, co-workers, bosses and friends every day. But are we really seen? It’s a felt sense of pure recognition, through the defenses and the masks, down to the very essence of who we are as an individual human being.

I haven’t felt seen for most of my life. As I grew up, I felt different… and I assumed that the only way I could be seen is by conforming myself to what other people wanted to see. It was an early, intuitive, subconscious process starting with my own family.

When I failed to conform — when I lost friends, relationships and jobs because I was trying to be someone I’m not — I assumed that something within me was flawed. That I was flawed. 

I didn’t want to see myself. I both dreaded and craved being seen by another. 

I hid for a long time… until I reached the point where I knew something had to change. I remember this point well; I was staying on a farm outside L’viv, Ukraine last year. I took a lot of walks in the forest, journaled for hours every day, went inward, and embraced what I found there. I wrote this post called We Find Belonging in our Darkness; I’d never felt simultaneously so vulnerable and strong.  

And in that moment, everything shifted; I began to step into my power. I had to see it to claim it. 

The biggest compliment my clients share with me is that they feel seen. I feel such incredible gratitude that I can serve in this way. 

Thing is, we can’t be truly seen by another until we are willing to see ourselves completely, and embrace whatever we find there. And it’s only from this place of true seeing and deep self-compassion can we see the essence of another. 

Perhaps this practice of seeing self and others truly is the one thing that could change this world. 

PS. If you’d like to be part of a likeminded group where you’ll feel seen — and learn how to see yourself truly —  I hope you’ll join us in the Intentional Rebels program. We’re just a couple days away from shutting the doors; if you’re interested, email me at jen at I’ll add you to the intro call tomorrow, Thursday, at 11 am EST. Or we can set up something 1:1 for Friday. 

It’s my mission to help original minds be seen and valued for their unique gifts. I’m always happy to have a live conversation; you can book a call with me here.