Take it seriously, hold it lightly



My Circus My Monkeys helps people find meaning, and (consequently) clarity and focus in a critical stage of their lives, as they enter – or contemplate – the ‘post-retirement’, or ‘protirement’ journey.

It’s Personal!

A reasonably well known idiom, of Polish descent, the phrase ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys’ basically means ‘not my problem!’ My Circus My Monkeys reverses this perspective, and picks up several key themes we think are important for our target market.

  • We trade the illusion of control for the reality of influence
  • We make choices – not always easy ones but we do have choices
  • We take things seriously but hold them lightly – the affirmation and joy and that comes from resolving serious topics like illness, death, relationships, money etc.

It’s Social!

While the ‘beyond retirement’ journey is unique to the individual, and our research has shown a strong tendency to look inwards, it also inspires and motivates our human need for affiliation and validation, to have the sense of journeying together with others. My Circus My Monkeys provides opportunities for self reflection as a platform for sharing experiences, exchanging ideas and generating affirmative, productive action.


The Baby Boomers are getting older and moving into what used to be thought of as the ‘retirement years’. They are living longer and at the same time morbidity (the period of that time which involves illness or incapacity) is decreasing, as we see in research such as The Hundred Year Life – Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. What then is this part of life about? My Circus My Monkeys is about inspiring both personal reflection and engaged conversations that approach these (sometimes difficult) questions. The goal is to arrive at solutions – real, concrete actions that will improve our lives.

The beautifully produced My Circus My Monkeys box contains a set of fifty-four different cards to prompt thought and conversation, along with a gameplay booklet which suggests some of the many ways the cards can be used. Within the set of cards there are our nine life categories, plus forty-five Not Knowing cards to prompt, provoke and inspire.

Our research shows that several categories of experience are of interest and importance to this ‘post retirement’ group, and these form the basis of the design of the MCMM card desk and suggested gameplay activities.

  • Health: (i) Physical – Exercise, nutrition and freedom from illness; and (ii) Mental – flourishing, clarity, learning, in balance, efficacy, competency, choice, influence, reducing risk of dementia
  • Spirituality – my purpose, Ego to Eco – from ‘me’ to ‘we’, mind/body integration, meaning, purpose, awe of nature/space/universe, birth and death, my story, meditation, yoga, mindfulness etc
  • Work and Achievement – balance with non-work – leisure/ home/ family/ friends, achievement – past and future, alignment/fit, regular recognition of success, sense of influence
  • Intimacy and Relationships – relatedness, caring, family, friendships, trust, connectedness, compassion, generosity, reciprocity, gratitude, empathy, sexuality
  • Play and Creativity – non-purposive work and development, celebrations, fun, laughter, dreaming, novelty, innovation, discovery, curiosity
  • Change and Transition – transformation, efficacy, surfing the waves of change, letting go and letting come, loss – physical and/or psychological, volition, agency
  • Financial – living ‘in the black’, managing cashflow, enough money and resources to live comfortably
  • Contribution and Legacy – social affiliation and love of humanity, consistent positive feedback from others, a ‘positive eulogy’, mentoring, giving back, leaving the world a better place
  • Not knowing – surprise, wonder, beginner’s mind, curiosity, openness, self-awareness, creative ignorance (‘the more I know the more I realise I don’t know’), questioning



There are many ways to make use of these cards to inspire and explore conversatiions, and ultimately our hope is that you make up your own! But to get started, here are some suggested layouts, and ways of using them.


The deck is comprised of nine Theme Cards. These are ‘topics’, focuses for thought and discussion which our research has shown are particularly evocative of life’s needs and aspirations.

It also includes 46 ‘Not Knowing’ Cards. These can be used in a variety of ways, but mostly they’re used as ‘clutter busters’, opportunities to think about something ‘sideways’ or from a new perspective.


From the nine Theme Cards, select one which you would like to investigate, something that represents a real issue or opportunity in your life.

In this example, I want to think about, and perhaps talk about, the matter of my mental health. I can ask myself the questions written on the card:

  • What are the burning issues for me?
  • What are the strengths and resources I bring to this part of my life?
  • What do I feel I have to let go of in this part of my life?
  • What do I need to learn?

This can be a solo effort, or it can be used as a prompt for conversation with a partner, or even in a small group – more on that in a minute!

This is a ‘time focused’ spread, and it can build on the single card already selected (Mental Health in our example) or begin with another Theme Card. (This can be chosen or drawn at random – more on that in a minute too!)

Assume that the card on the left describes a situation right now.

The next card (the centre one) points to the ‘next stage’ or ‘next movement’ in a journey. In this example, I might think that, given the state of my mental health, I feel the need to change. (I might – or I might not – make reference to one or more of the questions written on the card ‘ ‘What are the burning issues’ and so on)

The third card (the one on the right) points to the outcome or potential of the direction that is presenting itself. In this example, I may reflect that in order to address matters of mental health, I need to do such-and-such to achieve the change I need, resulting in a legacy, something useful or substantial which I can leave behind in the world.

Variation: It is also possible to think of the cards in terms of linear or logical action. For example, the card on the left refers to something I should deal with right now. The card in the middle relates to something I should do in the short term, and the third card, on the right, points to something I could do over the long term.

In this spread, a key Theme Card is chosen (or drawn at random) and three Theme Cards are chosen (or drawn) and arranged in a horse-shoe shape over the key card.

These ‘crowning cards’ can be discussed in general terms, one at a time, in relation to their influence or affect, relative to the key card (e.g. ‘Strong mental health makes it possible for me to achieve more in my work, create a legacy/contribution for others and the world, and to more skilfully negotiate change and transition’)

Variation: This spread can be combined with the ‘Time Line’ spread, so that the three ‘crowning’ cards are understood chronologically, in relation to the key card (e.g. ‘In regard to my mental health, I could work hard on contributing to others, which will give me more confidence at work and help me make the changes that I need.’)

In this layout, I choose a key Theme Card, and then underneath that card choose (or draw) two more Theme Cards. The first card is the issue or opportunity I wish to explore. The other two cards are assumed to ‘underpin’ or influence that issue.

In this example, I decide to reflect on the part in my life played by intimacy and relationships. The other two cards prompt me to explore the ways in which this part of my life enhanced, or enriched, or in some other way affected by play and creativity, and by matters of physical health.

‘Crossing’ cards can be selected (or drawn) and used to indicate adverse or ‘counter’ influences and forces in a reading. For example …

… in this Time Line Layout, I may come to a view that the change I need to undertake is hampered or problematised by the state of my personal relationship(s). In the following Horse Shoe Layout …

… I may feel that the fullest achievement possible in my working life can only be achieved by dealing with spiritual challenges (and in the process I may feel this impacts on my mental health, my ideas of contribution and legacy, and my capacity to change.)

Similarly, in this ‘crossed’ Pyramid Layout …

… it may become my view that in order to optimise my physical health, I should first deal with elements of my mental health.

It happens sometimes that we don’t even know the question we should be asking, let alone the answers we might receive! How might we ask questions that bring forth novel, unexpected, surprising, perhaps strangely useful ideas? How might we ‘change tracks’ or come at a topic from an entirely new angle? In general, how do we deal with not knowing in our day to day life?

As we mentioned, the Not Knowing Cards are ‘clutter busters’, an opportunity to shift gears and change perspective, to associate ‘random’ concepts with the core of our conversational topic … and perhaps to have a bit of fun with them! For example, in a Single Card Spread, focusing on Contribution and Legacy, we might find ourselves ‘stuck’ on how to approach the topic (beyond the questions written on the card itself, or perhaps as a response to one of these questions). I might choose to randomly draw a Not Knowing Card, in this case, one that says ‘Song’ …

It might occur to me, in this case, that a song that resonates, or somehow relates to the topic, is the jazz classic ‘Autumn Leaves’. The lyric, the tune, or perhaps the overall feeling of the song, might give me a perspective, a way to approach such a theme, in an interesting way – Autumn as a season in the world, or in my life.

Similarly, I can draw a Not Knowing card if I find myself ‘stuck’ in relating the three ‘crowning’ cards to my central thematic card, Mental Health, in the Horse Shoe spread. Let’s say this related to the Change and Transition card in this example …

In this example, the Not Knowing card suggests ‘Travel Destination’, which might inspire images, experiences or anecdotes from a travel experience that helps me find a way into the concept of change and transition.

And in the Pyramid Spread, the Not Knowing cards prompting ‘Colour’ and ‘Music Style’ might help me flesh out or differently understand the nature and importance of intimacy and relationships in the overall composition, and help me find some language to clarify my thoughts and perhaps express these to others.


The MCMM Cards can be played in a variety of ways by a variety of players and groups.

The cards offer the opportunity for personal thought and reflection, a means to crystallise thoughts that otherwise might be too formless for careful consideration, a way to get our inner world ‘out there’. In this mode it may be especially beneficial to start a journal, where we can record our thoughts on a particular topic at a particular time, and then re-engage with these later, and perhaps follow through with another spread of cards or two.

Playing with another person invokes the magic of conversation and dialogue, where one thought or phrase inspires thoughts and counter-thoughts in a playing partner. In this mode, a single player might choose to go through one or more of the standard spreads (or a totally DIY version) and invite comment from the other player. Then they might swap places and take on the ‘opposite’ role.

Or each player might work ‘solo’ and share their outcomes, with a view to sparking or enhancing a conversation.

Or one player might lay out the cards, but not comment on them, and invite the other player to create a story or an account of how they see the logic of the spread.

In this mode, everything in the Solo and Duo modes might be used, and even extended. For example, a group might take turns in ‘building’ a spread, where the focus of the conversation is the group (or organisation, or company) itself.

Or one player – perhaps a group leader or facilitator – might create a spread, and invite each group member to ‘interpret’ the cards, with a view to sharing their interpretations and engaging a group conversation.


You win! Everyone who plays MCMM wins! There is no score-keeping (unless you go wild with DIY options, more of which soon). The value of the game is in the quality of the conversation(s) you have, either with yourself or with others, and the reflections and ways of thinking the cards may inspire or provoke.

DIY (Do It Yourself)

Our experience is that, the more we play with the cards, the more frequently that further variations, or even entirely new layouts, suggest themselves. Please feel free to experiment!

As already mentioned, one DIY strategy is to include an element of chance – for example, close your eyes and pick a Theme Card at random. This becomes the focus for your game. Similarly, the other cards can be chosen deliberately, or once more, picked at random. These ‘random associations’ may in fact inspire ideas or ways of thinking which are new and potentially fruitful!

How about a Circular Layout, where a key Theme Card is choses, and all of the other eight cards are arrayed around it in a circle, with the tasks becoming a talk about how each Theme Card relates to the key card?

In a group context, we might choose to focus on one member of the group, who chooses a Theme Card, and each other group member, in turn, chooses another Theme Card (or perhaps a Not Knowing card) and shares the perspective which arises, for them, on the central theme or the person who has chosen it.


MICHAEL DONEMANEducator, coach, animateur, creative entrepreneur
Michael is founding director of Edgeware Creative Entrepreneurship. He has a background in community cultural development which inspired work in business design, vocational education and training, and information technology.
NICK BURNETTEducation and Learning Entrepreneur, author, presenter, executive and team coach
Nick is an experienced trainer, facilitator, author, presenter and coach, who has a particular interest and expertise in the areas of coaching, leadership, special education and behaviour support.
LUDMILA DONEMANOwner, Edgeware Creative Entrepreneurship
Co-founder of Edgeware Creative Entrepreneurship. She is passionate about working with people whose voices are often unheard – young people, women, migrants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

My Circus My Monkeys is a series of cards and documentation which can be used in a range of ways—solo, in pairs, in groups—for meaning-making, just for fun, or for having meaningful fun. The idea is based on an extension of the concept of ‘andragogy’, which indicates the idea that adults bring different expectations and capabilities to learning experiences, contra the received notion of ‘pedagogy’. ‘Eldragogy’ proposes that people over 50 also learn differently.

Contact the team to express your interest today!