Last week I was in a session with my counsellor. Yes, I see a counsellor! He’s super-helpful to help me try to make sense of my life in a turbulent world.

I was sharing with him how full-on life is right now and how it just feels non-stop. It’s like I’m always ‘on’. I’m on the stage, working, parenting, friending, and just living! You know the feeling, right?

At one point in the conversation, he said to me “It sounds like you need a bit of sanctuary right now.” As in, I need to pull back from the world and disengage for a while.

I sat with that for a moment. Then I said “You know what? As much as it sounds appealing, I don’t think I need sanctuary. You know what I need? I need more of a sandpit!”


Stage = On. You’re performing. You’re delivering. You’re under the spotlight. There’s expectation. And the pressure that comes with all that. 

Sanctuary = Off. The phone’s off. The email’s off. You’re off. You’re getting away from it all. Escape. Downtime. Cocktails. If that’s your thing.

Both modes are important and useful. For most of us, the Stage is how we earn our keep and make our careers. It can be hugely rewarding. And the Sanctuary is, at the very least, an important space to go to to recharge after the pressures of the Stage. It’s also a powerful place for discovery and insight. The power of slowing down our thinking has been well documented. Danny Kahneman’s seminal work on Thinking Fast and Slow is a case in point.

Yet I reckon having just these two options is a little too binary. It’s like your only choices are full ‘On’ or full ‘Off’. The trouble is, it’s hard to quickly stop a car moving at full speed. The results are usually pretty messy.

What if there was a third choice? One that synthesised the best of both Sanctuary and Stage? One that allowed a fuller, richer version of you to come through consistently. One that reduces the lurchiness that comes with being full on and full off?

What would that be called?

The Sandpit.

The Sandpit is where you get to create, play, explore, invent. It’s part-way between the Sanctuary and the Stage. You’re doing stuff, but you’re not overly pressured. You’re blending new ideas with new action. You’re in experiment-mode and learning a heap. At its best, being in the Sandpit feels like you’re doing amazing work, without the cost that comes from too much ‘Stage’ time.

You with me here?

Stage = On.

Sanctuary = Off.

Sandpit = In.

As in, you’re in it. You’re in flow. You’re in sync.

Most organisations I work with lean towards a Stage culture. Always on. Passionate, talented people who are burning out. On paper, Sanctuary and Sandpit are valued, but Stage always seems to win out in the end. It’s where people spend most of their time.

How can we get more Sandpit in our lives and in our organisations?

Last week I shared this Sanctuary – Sandpit – Stage idea with a client. He immediately got it. Inspired, he invited me to help them create a Sandpit to reinvent how they do leadership development. They are so ready for this. I’m in.

What can you do to create more Sandpit in your world? 

Here’s a simple idea: look for opportunities to turn the Stage into a Sandpit. For example, when you’re presenting, running a meeting, or simply feeling the pressure to perform, invite others in. People love to be involved in creating stuff. Especially if you call it a Sandpit. Or a lab, or experiment. You get the idea.

If you’re looking for a Sandpit to experiment with ideas about making change happen, check out Change Makers Co-Lab. That’s exactly what this idea is all about.

Since meeting with my counsellor, I’ve lightened up. Yes, the world is still throwing stuff at me. As Anais Nin says, “You don’t see the world as it is, you see the world as you are.” And the way I am has changed. Just enough to change my Stage into a bit more of a Sandpit.


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