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  • Writer's pictureGarth

High ground for hard days. The Totem. ​


Video Length: 1:01 min


Take a look at this scene from Inception so we can see the importance of having high ground for hard days and to never be overwhelmed by circumstance. ​


A totem is defined as a natural object or an animate being, as an animal or bird, assumed as the emblem of a clan, family, or group. Great. Got it, but what is it actually and what’s the purpose?​

Simply put, this scene demonstrates that a totem is symbolic of what it means to have high ground for hard days. We know that in any worthy venture, there will be hard days. Elite leaders understand this and prepare accordingly in a way that transcends the severity of circumstance. In the movie clip, “high ground” is the totem. Ariadne (played by Ellen Page), has just been brought onto the team as a dream architect, and she immediately finds herself in over her head. The scene depicts her waking up in a panic with no sense of reality because she was unable to separate reality from her dream. Her success while in the dream is dependent on her actually knowing she’s in a dream and that she is not in any real physical danger. She’s then introduced to the idea of having a totem; an object with unique characteristics that she can depend on to let her know whether she’s in a dream or not. ​

Translate this outside the fictional context of the movie, and it’s easy to see the symbolism and parallels. It’s far to easy to be overwhelmed by circumstances of adversity without some sense of higher reality, so as elite leaders and elite performers, we must always have some way to bring us back to reality while we’re in the midst of adversity — another perspective on the pale blue dot.

Decision, design, discipline:​

In the movie, the totem (symbol of high ground) is an actual object. During my time in the teams, I have seen operators train themselves to use objects to physiologically reset their mind and body during periods of intensity. They would use door frames, or their trigger guard as a means to bring themselves back to the now instead of the “what if.” More often though, the same can be accomplished by simply having a clear idea of what your high ground is; this can come in the form of a favorite saying, quote or mantra that points to your high ground during times of adversity. Decide what your high ground is, and how you will find it when things get nightmarish. ​

After you encounter adversity, and after the dust settles, give yourself an honest assessment on whether or not you went to your high ground, or you were overwhelmed by circumstance. How can you improve on this process?

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