Jennifer Johnson portrait

Written by Jennifer Johnson

As a parent, a former educator, an entrepreneur and a passionate change-maker, Jennifer is on a mission to empower young people to be their best selves to create a better world. She has an M.A. in Education in Curriculum, Teaching and Organisational Learning.

Since launching the Captains & Poets Program in schools in 2019 we have been exploring the ins and outs of what it means to be human – and all with the backdrop of a series of crises at home, at school and on the world stage. 

The erosion of the social fabric in schools over the past two years has led to notable increases in issues around mental health and well-being, and in bullying and hate crimes. While the two may or may not be directly correlated (a topic for another blog perhaps), what they have in common is the unprecedented level of uncertainty, the minimizing of interpersonal connection, an absence of ritual, a sense of complacency and rudderlessness that has set in, the shrinking of young people’s worlds and the associated loss of opportunities for identity formation – do I need to go on?

The premise of the Captains & Poets program is that there is a unique Captain and Poet in each and every one of us that, in partnership, enable us to be our best, most authentic selves. And, when the Captain and Poet are operating in full partnership, we are better able to live from a place of “emotional courage” and “inspired action”. Today, we need Captains and Poets everywhere.

Emotional courage is about being brave enough to be vulnerable, to feel the uncomfortable emotions and follow your inner truth in the face of conflict with the outside world. 

Inspired action is the ability to live from a place of meaning and purpose, where our values inform our actions, where we let our passions guide us. It is about truly being the change you want to see in the world.

To quote 12-year-old Sam in our documentary video: “When the Captain and Poet come together, they give you courage which is different than confidence. Because confidence is thinking you have the ability to do something, but courage is knowing what’s right in your heart.”

But how do we thrive when the world is in such a state of upheaval? One of the main things that keeps me afloat and even thriving in these times is having a sense of purpose and agency in the world with the work we are doing at Captains & Poets. As challenging and depleting and heart wrenching as these times have been, they have helped us peel the onion on what we all need, not only to survive, but to thrive. We are all at risk of developing the same set of symptoms in these times: languishing, anxiety, complacency, overwhelm.

What we have learned in the delivery of the Captains & Poets program thus far is that many of the issues society aims to remedy seem to lead back to the same thing – having a positive sense of identity in the world. The journey to Self is a lifelong one and at its core is self-awareness and the ability to connect with the world around us in meaningful ways that have a positive impact on ourselves and others. 

The message we need to send to young people now more than ever is that they are whole, resourceful beings who have everything they need inside of them to thrive; and, that what they yearn for deep inside is similar in spirit to what others want. Perhaps now is a time in history where we can all draw on our collective Poets to guide us, and our collective Captains to bring that vision to life.

Imagine a world where we all lived from a place of emotional courage and inspired action. We would take care of ourselves and each other. We would derive an innate sense of belonging from the shared journey we are on. We would seek to understand before judging. We would be more fully expressed in who we are. Connection with ourselves, others and the world around us would be our lifeblood.

While it may sound idealistic, this is the human journey we are on. For some of us it takes a tragic event or a significant life change to connect more deeply with what matters most and to begin operating with a greater sense of purpose. But what if we could make having a sense of agency in the world more accessible for everyone? 

Perhaps the cure for what ails us is closer than we think. The phrase we use to help young people embrace and celebrate their uniqueness is “We are all the same because we are all different.” We all want to be seen, to connect, to matter. And we all have a Captain and Poet inside of us ready to help us heal.