Thresholds

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From “To Bless the Space Between Us” by John O’Donohue

Within the grip of winter, it is almost impossible to imagine the spring. The gray perished landscape is shorn of color. Only bleakness meets the eye; everything seems severe and edged. Winter is the oldest season; it has some quality of the absolute. Yet beneath the surface of winter, the miracle of spring is already in preparation; the cold is relenting; seeds are wakening up. Colors are beginning to imagine how they will return. Then, imperceptibly, somewhere one bud opens and the symphony of renewal is no longer reversible. From the black heart of winter a miraculous, breathing plenitude of color emerges.

The beauty of nature insists on taking its time. Everything is prepared. Nothing is rushed. The rhythm of emergence is a gradual slow beat always inching its way forward; change remains faithful to itself until the new unfolds in the full confidence of true arrival. Because nothing is abrupt, the beginning of spring nearly always catches us unawares. It is there before we see it; and then we can look nowhere without seeing it.

Change arrives in nature when time has ripened. There are no jagged transitions or crude discontinuities. This accounts for the sureness with which one season succeeds another. It is as though they were moving forward in a rhythm set from within a continuum.

To change is one of the great dreams of every heart – to change the limitations, the sameness, the banality, or the pain. So often we look back on patterns of behavior, the kind of decisions we make repeatedly and that have failed to serve us well, and we aim for a new and more successful path or way of living. But change is difficult for us. So often we opt to continue the old pattern, rather than risking the danger of difference. We are also often surprised by change that seems to arrive out of nowhere. We find ourselves crossing some new threshold we had never anticipated. Like spring secretly at work within the heart of winter, below the surface of our lives huge changes are in fermentation. We never suspect a thing. Then when the grip of some long-enduring winter mentality beings to loosen, we find ourselves vulnerable to a flourish of possibility and we are suddenly negotiating the challenge of a threshold.

At any time you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. At this threshold a great complexity of emotions comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. This is one of the reasons such vital crossing were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds; to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.

To acknowledge and cross a new threshold is always a challenge. It demands courage and also a sense of trust in whatever is emerging. This becomes essential when a threshold opens suddenly in front of you, one for which you had no preparation. This could be illness, suffering or loss. Because we are so engaged with the world, we usually forget how fragile life can be and how vulnerable we always are. It takes only a couple of seconds for a life to change irreversibly. Suddenly you stand on completely strange ground and a new course of life has to be embraced. Especially at such times we desperately need blessing and protection. You look back at the life you have lived up to a few hours before, and it suddenly seems so far away. Think for a moment how, across the world, someone’s life has just changed – irrevocably, permanently, and not necessarily for the better – and everything that was once so steady, so reliable, must now find a new way of unfolding.

Though we know one another’s names and recognize one another’s faces, we never know what destiny shapes each life. The script of individual destiny is secret; it is hidden behind and beneath the sequence of happenings that is continually unfolding for us. Each life is a mystery that is never finally available to the mind’s light or questions. That we are here is a huge affirmation; somehow life needed us and wanted us to be. To sense and trust this primeval acceptance can open a vast spring of trust within the heart. It can free us into a natural courage that casts out fear and opens up our lives to become voyages of discovery, creativity, and compassion. No threshold need be a threat, but rather an invitation and a promise. Whatever comes, the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We merely need to trust.

What to do when they change the rules

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Play it as it lies…

The official rules of golf have been changed! I know, in addition to the crazy swirl of national and world events, not to mention the relentless, arrhythmic drumbeat of your daily life this is sure to appear nowhere on any list of anything that you care about it.

Even so, bear with me for just a moment. I promise that I will spare you an analysis of the rule changes and talk directly about how this is a relevant example of adjusting to the unexpected.

A change to the rules of golf, esoteric to most, got my attention for one simple reason. I named my company after one of them.

The name of my company is RULE13 Learning. “Rule 13” in the old rulebook was “play it as it lies.” I chose this name for my company because it represents a lot of things that matter for leaders who are wrestling with personal, team and organizational change. It is about acceptance, resilience, responsibility and creativity.

I worked in the golf equipment industry for many years and felt great about naming my company after such a fundamental proposition: accept where you are and figure out how to get somewhere even better.

“Play it as it lies” is still a rule, of course, but by simplifying the rules down from 35 to 24, the old “Rule 13” has now become “Rule 9.”

RULE9 Learning? What do you think?

Yeah, me neither.

So, what to do? First, I just had a good LAUGH. I never – EVER – considered that this could happen. The rules of golf just are what they are (or were what they were): an accepted, if sometimes frustrating list of how to play a very traditional, conservative and inherently rule-bound game. The United States Golf Association and the R&A (or “Royal & Ancient”) are the official keepers of the rules of golf and are not what one would describe as liberal or progressive organizations.

And that means that I fell into the same trap I counsel my clients to avoid: believing that even the most hide-bound organizations cannot or will not change. If you look at it objectively, with participation in golf and golf industry revenues remaining flat or declining for at least the past 10 years and probably longer, OF COURSE the governing bodies were going to do something to make the game more approachable and enjoyable.

The irony of that…of having missed something so elusive because of its outward appearance and yet so obvious because of its inward reality just made me start to laugh.

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And don’t forget to have some fun!

And out of that laughter came the realization that I now have to ADJUST. I have to rethink and rewrite the language on my website. I have to rethink the story I tell about why and how I named my company. I have to recast that meaning in a new manner, one that demonstrates that even decisions that seem perfectly sound and timeless will be made irrelevant by the passage of time.

What’s more, this couldn’t of happened at a better time. I just celebrated the 5th anniversary of my business and as I continue to learn how to deliver meaningful work and my clients continue to shape my point of view, it is an ideal time for some thoughtful reconsideration.

I have a responsibility to stay at the leading edge of my own personal and professional transformation and the governing bodies of golf just gave me an extraordinary assist in doing so!

Now, having enjoyed a good laugh and considered some necessary adjustments it’s time to GET BACK TO WORK. I’m very proud of RULE13 Learning, LLC. It’s a growing enterprise with dynamic offerings and a terrific roster of clients. In fact, I’m more committed to the name and what it stands for now than perhaps I have ever been.

So, thank you to the USGA and the R&A for reminding of what I knew, that when we commit to playing it as it lies we commit to the whole experience: good, bad, challenging and rewarding.

We accept it all. We have a good laugh. We make some adjustments.

And then we get back to work.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

It’s a circle, not a line

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There’s a great moment in the movie “Contact” when Jodie Foster’s character – and pretty much every scientist and engineer on the planet -is trying to figure out how to read the design plans for a transportation device that has been broadcast to earth by an alien species.

Attempting to read the plans in a linear manner – in the same way we would read any text – proves impossible. The images and symbols simply don’t line up using the tried and true approach. Finally, Foster is tipped off that the “documents” themselves are actually multi-dimensional and once connected on three sides they become usable. This changes everything.

I had an insight recently that feels a lot like that.

My work with leaders and teams is centered on three interconnected principles, the application of which is the best “equipment” for building resilience and adaptability that I have learned to apply. But I’ve been thinking of it too narrowly, a victim of the same “tried and true” thinking described above.

These principles are the bedrock of my work, the centerpiece of every conversation:

  1. All change starts within. That is, we must develop a deep self-awareness, a fully literate self-understanding if we are to be sufficiently rooted to withstand the winds of change. That self-awareness creates an extraordinary byproduct known as empathy. When we know ourselves we begin to understand the depth to which others can be known and our curiosity leads us directly to…
  2. Deeper connection and stronger relationships. A single rooted tree does not make a forest. It is a collection of rooted trees, co-mingling there roots beneath the surface that makes a forest, an ecosystem within which shelter can be found, diversity can flourish and possibility begins too emerge.
  3. From that place of deep personal awareness and committed connection to one another we become open to the new. We know we must keep learning and exploring if we are going to survive and even thrive in the face of change. We also know that it’s far easier to peer into the unknown – to stand at the edge of the proverbial cliff – when we’re inextricably linked to others, our fears and doubts made tolerable by their presence and encouragement.

But then what?

And here’s the insight, something so obvious that I haven’t taken the time to understand and consider it an explicit way.

What happens after the cliff edge is that we walk the circle again.

 What I learn about myself at the cliff edge becomes the next layer of my self-awareness.

What we learn about one another through that shared experience becomes the next layer of empathy and trust in our relationship.

And it is that accumulation, that layering of self and relational knowledge, that equips us to courageously ask the inevitable question: what’s next?

We walk the circle again. And now, a little bit more faithful, a little bit more thoughtful and a little bit more prepared, we go even further.

Our ability to adapt and grow in the face of change is only limited by our willingness to walk the circle, to not break the chain from self to others to learning.

To keep walking. That is everything.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

The Fire That Saves

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Patches of dead and dying trees near Cressman, Calif., in 2016. CreditScott Smith/Associated Press

“100 Million Dead Trees Prompt Fears of Giant Wildfires” is the headline of an article in today’s New York Times that examines how interrupting the forest’s natural state – its inherent ability to “use” fire to its advantage – has created the potential for unsurpassed devastation:

Mark A. Finney, an expert in fire behavior for the U.S. Forest Service and an author of the study, says California forests are much more vulnerable now because, paradoxically, they have been better protected. In their natural state, forests were regularly thinned by fire but the billions of dollars that the state spends aggressively fighting wildfires and restrictions on logging have allowed forests to accumulate an overload of vegetation.

“We had forests that were very resilient to weather variations and insect disturbances in the past — maintained by frequent fire on the order of every year, or every few years at the most,” Mr. Finney said. By putting out fires, “we’ve changed completely the fire component of these ecosystems,” he said.

The same is true for many people. Instead of allowing for and learning from change we protect against it in all its forms. When we open ourselves up to what is shifting in our lives – and the shift is always going on – we build a resilience that serves us well when the inevitable big changes come. The alternative is to suffer a drought of adaptability and to eventually be fully consumed by something we could have learned to contend with.

Are you over-protecting and making yourself vulnerable to a devastating fire? Or are you learning – one small burn at a time – to thin out the undergrowth of your personal ecosystem by learning to notice, accept and learn from the truth of continuous change in your life?

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

“That I was blessed and could bless”

An excerpt from and link to a wonderful piece on William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Vacillation.”

“By setting the A-Ha! The Awake! In the middle of the prosaic, Yeats acknowledges the absolute ordinary extraordinariness of those rapturous, graceful moments where suddenly we arrive at a sense of meaningfulness.

Those four lines have become a kind of mantra for me – a sense that however dark and alienated and full of ‘trivial days’ the world can sometimes seem, or us within that world, those pockets of twenty minute blaze are as much of reality as the sense of alienation. And, I believe the ‘blaze’ trumps the alienation, because the blaze also enfolds and acknowledges the alienation, the sense of blessed and could bless encompasses the knowledge of disconnection, whereas the disconnected moments cannot remember and hold the possibility of the other.”

via William Butler Yeats – Vacillation

The One Conversation That Will Change Everything

oneYou want to get better at having more challenging and courageous conversations. What you’re doing now isn’t working so you’re looking for a better way, a way to hold a real conversation that actually leads to meaningful change. Like most people you’ve done your research and found that there’s no shortage of books to help you out:

Crucial Conversations, The Art of Conversation, Fierce Conversations, How to Talk to Anyone, You Just Don’t Understand!, That’s Not What I Meant!, are just a few.

And you’ve discovered that with rare exceptions, these approaches are externally rather than internally focused. They teach tips, strategies and approaches for how to engage and influence someone else during a moment of truth and make it productive, or at least better than last time.

While there is no doubt that some of these methods can work, they typically amount to no more than a shortcut around the much more significant and important conversation that needs to take place. That is the conversation within your self.

A more courageous conversation begins when we say “yes” to the invitation to examine the elements of our own individuality.

Instead of, “I will learn and employ this technique to get this person to respond in this way” (which is ultimately, if unintentionally a manipulative approach) what if a more personal and courageous set of questions was asked? Questions like,

  • What am I doing to contribute to this situation?
  • What responsibility do I have for what’s going on?
  • What are my values and how are they feeling threatened or compromised right now?
  • How confident do I feel about my work, position, authority or impact? How might I be acting out against some insecurity?
  • What am I doing – what strengths am I using – when I’m at my best? Am I at my best right now?
  • What stories do I tell about what should be happening? About what others think of me? About how I’ve been treated?
  • How am I getting in my own way?
  • Who’s help do I need?
  • What am I afraid of? What’s really at stake?

This is just a start but it could be a powerful one. It’s certainly a challenging one. And what if you got yourself up for the challenge and began this conversation in earnest? What if you decided to firmly and totally believe – even against present evidence to the contrary – that your progress in holding a deepening conversation with yourself would become a fertile seed bed for the growth of more substantive interactions with all of your significant others?

There aren’t too many people who are willing to take this level of responsibility. There aren’t too many who are willing to adopt the attitudes of vulnerability, transparency, ownership and service that are required. But leaders are willing to do so, which is why authentic leadership is actually quite a rare thing.

What you’re doing now isn’t working so you’ve started looking for a better way, a way to hold a real conversation that actually leads to meaningful change. Stop looking outside of your self and start looking within.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Lost With a Map

Whidbey MapSeth Godin published a brief, excellent piece this morning called The Thing About Maps:

“Sometimes, when we’re lost, we refuse a map, even when offered. 

Because the map reminds us that we made a mistake. That we were wrong.

But without a map, we’re not just wrong, but we’re also still lost.

A map doesn’t automatically get you home, but it will probably make you less lost. 

(When dealing with the unknown, it’s difficult to admit that there might not be a map. In those cases, a compass is essential, a way to remind yourself of your true north…)”

His writing took me back to a series of October mornings in 2014 which I wrote about in the early pages of my bookA More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of ChangeI hope you enjoy this excerpt and that it inspires a bigger conversation about how you navigate the unknown.

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For just a moment, I considered staying in bed. It was 6:15 a.m. and my commitment to getting out for an early hike was being tested by the darkness of the hour. A peek out the window had me convinced it was the dead of night and the thrumming rain only strengthened my impulse to hunker down for a little more sleep.

I was in a cabin on the grounds of the Whidbey Institute in Washington State, a property crisscrossed by forest paths I had first seen in the light of day the previous afternoon. During that well-lit walk in the woods, I realized with satisfaction that the trails would provide an ideal way for me to get some exercise each morning of the leadership conference that I had traveled here to attend.

But once I’m up, I’m up. And I can be a stubborn guy when it comes to changing my plans. Dismissing the darkness, the rain, and my embarrassingly limited knowledge about the property, I got ready to go.

A trail map in one pocket and a small flashlight in hand, I headed down the lane with my usual confidence and a focus on completion. I might as well have taken along a candle and a fortune cookie, so closed-off was I to any form of help. With huge drops of water tumbling from the pine trees above and mud squishing under my heels, I was enthralled by the moment and blind to my arrogance. I had concluded in reviewing the trail map that by navigating the intersecting trails in just the right way I could construct a three-mile loop that would maximize the uphill climbs. It was this loop I was seeking as I crashed into the darkness, assuming that what made sense on paper would materialize before my eyes. It did not, and I got lost. Again and again I was forced to stop, frustrated and breathless, so that I could reorient to the path. I did not complete the route I set out to do. I was lucky to get back in time for breakfast.

On the second morning, I was smarter but no wiser. I was not ready to do the essential thing required of walking in this unknown forest in the darkness: to slow down and notice. I would not let go of my head’s agenda, still believing that I could just figure it out along the way. I backtracked multiple times, misread the map, and found myself at the end of a trail in an open field next to a school. It was one of many recalculations that only took me farther off course.

On the third day, in what I believed was my growing humility, I committed to a different approach. I took the flashlight along but left the trail map in my room. I reasoned that this would leave me no choice but to rely on presence. I would have to notice what was around and available to me at a given moment. I would have to slow down to see the trail markers and to recognize aspects of the landscape I had seen before and could use for guidance.

I got lost again.

This time, I was incredulous. Although I had good intentions, my actual choices did not back them up. I wanted to slow down, but I just wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t let go of my head’s need for completion and achievement. As I contemplated the perilously steep incline of my learning curve, I shuddered to think how a fourth encounter would have gone. My saving grace was the reality of scheduling and a return flight home.

I like to think I would have finally “discovered” the forest in the way that it was so patiently waiting for me to do. I like to think I would have taken care with my time and energy to assess and clarify the best path. Perhaps in a few days (weeks?) something would have shifted. Some new awareness born of the repetition of my obstinacy might have emerged, and little by little I might have started to learn. Perhaps.

I recognize that this kind of insistence – a stubborn refusal to accept the reality of my circumstances – says an awful lot about my particular makeup. I also know that I am not alone in this. What I see, as those who are most afflicted are best equipped to do, is a raft of leaders continuing to do things that no longer make sense. We are operating under radically different conditions than we are used to and we are ignoring the resources at our disposal. We are acting more like heroes on whose shoulders all responsibility must fall rather than like learners who are vigilant in their curiosity.

Doing the same thing, only faster, is an insufficient response to complexity and change. We have to make a different choice in the face of the unknown. We may, finally, just have to stop and get our bearings, about as radical a thing we can do in a world that is constantly on “go.” Coming to a standstill has a way of getting our attention in a new way. What might happen if we stopped long enough and frequently enough to get a deeper understanding of ourselves?

What might happen if we made just enough space for a new conversation about why we are so insistent on continuing down paths that no longer serve us?

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Keep on hand for one of those low days

I cleaned out some old files the other day and came across this note from an early mentor, Dr. Ralph Spiegl.  A longtime family friend, Ralph was a warm, encouraging voice during my high school years and I was incredibly lucky to get to know and learn from a person of his caliber. The fact that he took the time to reach out to me in this way is the best kind of proof that successful, caring and loving people do not consider those qualities to be limited resources. They know that the opposite is true, that those qualities can and will remain unlimited in direct proportion to the amount that they are practiced.

Dr. Spiegl was a man who chose to operate from love and generosity; to his work, his students, his alma mater and to an excitable, idealistic 16-year-old kid who was hungry for exactly the kind of encouragement he had to offer.

One story to illustrate his intersecting enthusiasms: as a dedicated Stanford alum, Ralph was keenly interested in helping me gain admission there. He was so determined in this that he made this offer: “David, just get your application turned in and I will be sure that you get an interview.” Well, I had no business applying to Stanford but I was always good in conversation, especially with adults, so I figured that if they were on the fence about me an interview might hoist me over to the other side. So, I applied, and Ralph, hat in hand, came back to me with the news that Stanford didn’t do interviews as part of its admissions process. He was crestfallen. And I was relieved!

That Ralph saw me as someone worthy of an institution about which he cared so much helped me to see my potential in a different way. It literally lifted my sights. And while Stanford wasn’t the place for me, I landed somewhere that was and brought to that new threshold the conviction that comes from having to go through that examination.

I am long overdue in paying tribute to my first mentor. And I hope you will help me do so by finding your own best way to say “yes” to this invitation:

  1. Think of a young person in your life whom you admire and respect
  2. Write (yes, actually write) them a brief note  of encouragement  (magazine clippings optional, though strongly encouraged!)
  3. Do it again.

It’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that 30 years from now the cooling shadow of your gesture will pass over them again, providing respite from the exposures that always attend a life well lived.

There are so many good reasons why this is necessary right now but I think it’s best to keep it simple and clear: do it because your time and those qualities that are essentially you will remain unlimited as long as they are shared.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

A Runner’s Mantra

Friday Morning Run

This road that I’m running is not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong.

It just is.

And if I keep running I’ll be onto a new road very soon.

……

This road that I’m running is not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong.

It just is.

And if I keep running I’ll be onto a new road very soon.

……

This road that I’m running is not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong.

It just is.

And if I keep running I’ll be onto a new road very soon.

 

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.