Change One Word

Think about your job, your commitments, your responsibilities.

Have all of that in mind? Now, say to yourself: “I have to do this.”

Ok. How does that feel?

Keep thinking about all of those things you do every day.

Let’s replace one word and try it again. Say to yourself, “I get to do this.”

What do you think? What’s the difference for you?

Please comment below and let me know.

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.



Harvest Time

A “volunteer” fig tree sprung up in our yard this summer. We left it alone, cautiously optimistic that we might get some fruit. It did not disappoint. We picked five or six ripe figs a day for a couple of weeks at the height of summer.

The ones we didn’t pick the birds took care of until we realized that they we’re getting more than their fair share. So, we put a large piece of netting over the tree to keep them at bay.

But the netting also kept us at bay, making it more challenging to get to the ripe fruit on the days we remembered to pick it.

That’s when the fig beetles showed up. Overripe fruit takes them to their happy place and they came in droves to get it.

From across the yard I noticed a dark clump where a green fig had been ripening. Upon inspection that “clump” was the beetles amassed in the photo above. It was impressive to see them make quick work of that mushy piece of fruit.

It got me thinking about the opportunities or ideas I am sometimes slow in acting on, the fruit that ripens in my mind and heart that looks so promising as it grows but becomes more intimidating the closer it gets to harvest time.

“What if I’m not ready?”

“What if nobody gets it?”

“What if it’s not good enough?”

This is what’s true: if you’re ever “ready” you’ve waited too long.

The birds and the beetles will get their fill.

Will you get yours?

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.

Labor Day

“Work isn’t to make money. You work to justify life”

Marc Chagall ~

When I was 17 years old I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I just didn’t know that it was possible to apply what came naturally to me to a formal educational and professional pursuit. And so began a 14 year journey to find what it was I was supposed to do with my life. When I finally landed on my vocation I was shocked to find that I had known the answer so many years before; that the answer had always been in me, just waiting to be unlocked and reintroduced to the world in a new and more profound way.

Of course, had I not wandered in the desert, searching in vain for the perfect fit; had I not been tested and molded by so many “roads to nowhere” I never would have found the road to somewhere. It was because of the work that was not my work that I was able to find the work that is.

James Michener wrote, and I’m paraphrasing heavily, that until we find our “thing” everything else we do along the way is creative. It’s all part of the process of learning who and what we are and how we are meant to use it in and for the world. Another sage, Joseph Campbell, said this:

“If the path ahead of you is clear, you are on someone else’s path.”

In other words, your path – the work of your life – is the one with all the obstacles. You have to fight for it, up and over, through and around; clawing, scraping, racing, pushing, pulling. This is how you know it is yours. And, in my experience, while all of that is happening you are deeply gratified by knowing that this fight is your fight, this labor is your labor; the work meant for you and you alone.

And what a joy it is to find that work. Truly, it is an exceptional thing to realize that this is my offering, my contribution. And with it comes a deep and significant responsibility to fully explore, fully realize and fully practice that which I am meant to do.

I am grateful on Labor Day to have found my work. More than that, I am grateful to have the permission, support, trust and expectation to fully express it.

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”

Albert Camus ~

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 best predictor of someone’s future behavior…

…is their past behavior.

I find the simplicity of that statement to be both refreshing and annoying. I know that people don’t change very often or very easily. And I also know that I fall into the trap of thinking that he or she just might.

A small, personal example: Theresa and I made a deal when the kids came along that she would cook and I would clean. We’ve stuck to that deal, more or less, for 17 years with only a few hiccups. Those hiccups include her occasional but desperate desire to run into a burning building at the thought of planning for and preparing yet another meal. For me a longtime hiccup was my bewilderment at the state of the kitchen after dinner.

You see, Theresa has a knack for separating lids from containers in a manner and at a distance that defies logic, gravity and lots of other laws. For quite some time I fumed about this trivial thing. The part of me that operates on a rational plane was unsuccessful in making sense of it. So I puttered and pouted, making my annoyance known before getting to work.

And then one day I stopped being annoyed. One day I realized that this was just her way and it was not going to change. So, I changed instead. And today I consider it a friendly competition to see if I can master this complex game of hide and seek.

A bigger, professional example:

I once found myself over-reliant on a certain colleague. Their contribution to my thought process about the work was substantive and deeply meaningful. But when it came time to putting those great ideas into practice, making concrete plans with specific and timely deliverables, this person was incapable. I was so entranced by the possibilities that were spun in our long, rich conversations that I repeatedly made the mistake of assuming they would somehow manifest into real action.

I understand now that they were operating from a set of very specific gifts and that I was expecting and needing them to be something other than what they were. I was slow in learning that I needed to put our conversations through the filter of my more practical, planful colleagues but that wasn’t nearly as much fun! And the work suffered because of it.

Do you see the thread connecting these two examples? There’s always a choice between waiting for others to change or just getting on with changing ourselves.

Learning to accept reality is hard to do. It’s a path that always leads to the same doorway, the one marked “change starts 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.

And what was so beautifully . . . what is the word? . . “comforting” about what happened every day

Live & Learn

Now she is 63. What I want to know is: What does 63 know that 44 didn’t? She pauses for a long time. “In your 40s, you’re coming into it, you’re intellectualizing things, and you kind of know it and you feel it,” she says. “But there is a deepening and a broadening and quickening of the knowing that happens in your 50s. Maya Angelou used to say to me, ‘The 50s are everything you’ve been meaning to be.’ She looks at me over the top of the nerd-chic glasses she favors these days. “You’d been meaning to be that person.” She laughs. “By the time you hit 60, there are just no . . . damn . . . apologies. And certainly not at 63. And the weight thing that was always such a physical, spiritual, emotional burden for me—no apologies for that either.”

Interviewing people who interview people…

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A new saying emerged in our house last week. Its acronym doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. We sometimes pronounce it “bow-uh-buh” (try it, it feels weird!) but now I’m just saying “Baw-buh.”

The saying: “Be Awesome Without Being Asked.”

(And you really have to hit the “-ked” in “Asked” or someone will get the wrong idea. We have learned this first hand.)

Theresa and I are raising three kids. Sometimes one or more of them will do “just their part” and nothing more. (You may know something about this.) The other night, when the inevitable “but I already did my part” response came flying in, Theresa got a little animated and suggested to that person that they “be awesome without being asked.”

In other words, see the opportunity to help someone out and then do it!

Let’s break it down:

To SEE the opportunity means that we have to NOTICE other people. Which means we have to step out of our three-foot circles of narcissistic compulsion (3C-NC) and recognize the other 3C-NC’s who are sharing our space.

To DO is to take an action right now, however small, that makes another person’s existence slightly better.

A simple home example: one daughter is finishing a project her mom asked her to do. The other is asked to set the table for dinner, usually a shared task. Instead of only doing her part of the job, second daughter notices first daughter involved in project so just takes care of the entire table-setting thing. That’s B.A.W.B.A.

How about at work? A colleague is on a tough project deadline. You’re busy, too, but you allow yourself the small admission that you’re not as busy as she is. So you field a call for her, run some interference, sit in on a meeting. Nothing serious or complicated. A small act that provides a little space. B.A.W.B.A., again.

Or on the sidelines, as a way to demonstrate empathy and a commitment to understanding, like this guy. Definitive B.A.W.B.A.

It’s even possible to B.A.W.B.A. in moments of tension and uncertainty, as demonstrated by this woman in Charlottesville.

Opportunities abound! What will you add to the list?

How will you B.A.W.B.A.?

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 only place where things are real

I hope you will set aside 20 minutes and take in what is a perfect introduction to David Whyte‘s work. A poet and philosopher, and a longtime consultant to leading organizations, he begins by talking about the “conversational nature of reality.” It’s a phrase that may seem esoteric but the meaning of which is fundamental to your experience as a parent, a partner, an employee, a leader, a friend and any other present or future role you can imagine.

Early in the talk he says, “The conversational nature of reality is the fact that whatever you desire of the world — whatever you desire of your partner in a marriage or a love relationship, whatever you desire of your children, whatever you desire of the people who work for you or with you, or your world — will not happen exactly as you would like it to happen.

But equally, whatever the world desires of us — whatever our partner, our child, our colleague, our industry, our future demands of us, will also not happen. And what actually happens is this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you. And this frontier of actual meeting between what we call a self and what we call the world is the only place, actually, where things are real.”

I hear this as an invitation to a third way…one that is about engagement with the unknown rather than the seduction and false security of yes/no, this or that thinking and acting. This requires the capacity to sit in complexity…messiness…precisely when we – when I – want my work and relationships to unfold in neat and tidy, measurable and manageable pieces.

The poems he recites are from a collection called “Pilgrim.” And the work that first made me a fan is called “The Heart Aroused.”

One Good Word

breadLoaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

From “The House of Belonging”: poems by David Whyte

My son’s high school football team started “two-a-days” in early August. That means intense conditioning in the morning and skill practices in the afternoon. That much time on the field goes a long way to building team chemistry, an “x” factor that can make a big difference during the season. In an effort to enhance that chemistry further the head coach decided to implement an intra-squad competition.

He divided the team into four groups of about 10 players and had them square off in daily team building competitions – relay races, for example – the result of which determined who got to sit out the next morning’s conditioning practice.

One afternoon, in the first week of competition, my son came home from practice and I asked him how it went. He started to describe the game they had played and how his squad had performed when he stopped short to talk about one specific teammate.

He said, “I am so inspired by this kid. He’s worked so hard to earn his place on our team and I’m just really impressed with what he’s accomplished.”

This took me by complete surprise. Not because of what he said but that he said it at all! I would generously describe it as an anomaly for my son to express this kind of affection and admiration so openly. He has a big heart but it doesn’t frequently find it’s way to his mouth in this way.

His being inspired, inspired me too, so I said, “Wow. Good for him. Have you told him that you feel this way?”

“No. But maybe I will at the end of the season.”

I said, “Hold on. Your coach has implemented these games precisely to bring you all closer together and doing so has allowed you to see a teammate in a new way, a way that has really caught your attention. Don’t you think it makes more sense to let him know now when it can bring you together even more?”

A typical dad comment. I know this because of the look I got and the response that followed.

“I guess.”

“So, are you going to do it.”

“I don’t know.”

The next day, I asked him if he said anything. He hadn’t. And I don’t think he ever did.

And I get it. I imagine that my son feels that by doing so he would risk a level of vulnerability that he’s just not ready for. A leap he’s not yet willing to make. While I wish he had, of course, it may ultimately be just as important for him to have been invited to do so, to consider it as a powerful tool for connection and team building rather than as a weird thing his dad suggested.

Maybe just the invitation and whatever he imagined about it served as a practice run for future expressions of intimacy. Maybe it has lodged in there somewhere as a kernel of possibility and will emerge at the end of the season, or at the arrival of the next opportunity to reach out. I really do hope so.

Each of us has an opportunity to reconcile ourselves to the discomfort of our vulnerability, to cross the divide that prevents us from noticing and sharing what inspires us, what we appreciate, what we truly value in those around us.

I am urgent about this for the simple reason that “good words” are being suffocated by negativity and hostility in so many quarters. An eye for an eye eventually leaves us blind and I would rather see the good around me and summon the courage to say so. For now, I will take my own advice, projecting my urgency not at my son but at the targets of my admiration of whom he is certainly one!

What’s your opportunity to share a good word? What are you waiting for?

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 Light Silent Sound

Imagine that you are notified that the most important and impressive leader you have ever heard of will be “passing by” this afternoon. You would never, ever miss an opportunity to meet, much less simply encounter this person so you are prepared to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

You have followed this person’s work your entire life, his ideas have shaped your approach to your own work and your relationships with those you lead. You feel deeply indebted to his guiding influence. You are, without understatement, a disciple of his teaching. So much so, that you can’t help but see him as “larger than life.” The thought of meeting this person is overwhelming to you.

When you arrive at the location, you see an enormous crowd gathered.

The crowd passes by but this person is not among them. This gathering was not for him. Then you hear music in the distance, a fanfare that must indicate his presence. You make your way to the music, only to have it dissipate on your arrival with no evidence of him being there.

There is a great commotion behind you now. More people than before, someone yelling into a microphone, the words are passionate almost angry, though you cannot make them out. Is this him, you wonder? You approach and discover that it is not. He is not here.

Discouraged, you begin the long walk home. Street after street there are fewer people, fewer buildings, fewer cars. You continue walking into a large, forested park. A light silent sound – your intuition? your instinct? – invites you to take a rest under the canopy of a tremendous oak tree. As you approach it you see a man sitting at its base, resting there, reading a book.

He notices you and calmly waves you over. It is him, at last. Just him, alone. Waiting for you.

You sit, bewildered at first, taking in the truth that this is the one, right in front of you now, this is the one in whom you so fervently believe and you think to yourself, of course! Of course he wouldn’t be a part of the enormous crowds, or at the center of the loud music or rallying people with angry speech.

Of course he would be right here at this tree. He did pass by as promised, so quietly, so humbly that no one noticed him. But you did, finally, and his invitational presence led you right to him.

You stopped looking for him the way so many others had looked. You gave up what they believed about how he would arrive and how he would be found. And you forgot to be afraid or overwhelmed. You forgot to be intimidated or anxious.

You discovered something so essential and somehow still so foreign, a leader whose authority comes from internal capacity rather than external validation. A leader who is concerned with serious things in a curious way. A leader who is engaging but not forceful, present but not consumed with his presence.

And you rested there for a while, enlarging and enlivening the conversation with your own contributions because he not only made space for you to do so but expected that you could and you would.

This is what stays with you today, that it was never about him. It was always about being a part of something larger than yourself.

And then you got up and on your way, restless with determination to get back to work so that others could feel the same.

Inspired by 1 Kings, Chapter 19

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.

Unsaid and Undone

IMG_4307It matters to me to be good at things. Appearing competent is a hallmark of how I present myself to the world. And I am competent, very much so, in a lot of ways. And I’m not, really not, in a lot more ways.

Competence matters so much to me that I have a frustrating track record of not trying or starting things I don’t know I can be good at.

And then I deepen the dilemma by not asking for help. Because then I’d be admitting that I don’t know how to do it and, well, no thank you.

That said, I’m a lot better than I used to be. I’m not saying that asking for help is strength but I’ve come a long way. Still, there are times when the going feels particularly slow.

A recent sailing experience makes the point very well. After I had released a sail from the mast, as instructed by the captain, I left the slack of rope lying loosely on the deck. (I didn’t know what to do with it so instead of asking I just left it there. Great example so far, yes?) When the captain saw this he explained the importance of keeping the deck clear and showed me how to gather the rope, wrap it, tie it and hook it back on the mast.

Later on, working with that same piece of rope, I found myself in the same situation. With the rope lying at my feet I could not remember how to tie and wrap it so, you guessed it, I just left it there! What the hell was wrong with me???

A few minutes later, our captain saw this and asked me a much kinder version of “What the hell is wrong with you?” And, because I value competence SO MUCH I was ashamed of myself.

The captain, an enlightened and thoughtful leader, took some time to talk over what had happened between us and how it could have been prevented. We agreed that what I needed after his first demonstration of how to manage the rope was a chance to practice. We also agreed that I needed to take responsibility for asking for that, as in: “let me give that a try to be sure I’ve got it.” But since both of us were caught up in the pressure of the moment – high winds and a choppy sea – we neglected to take the next step. He didn’t make sure I had it, and I gave him no indication that he needed to! We were the perfect partners in crime.

Let me say that another way: we colluded to allow the conditions of our experience dictate more urgent behavior than was actually necessary. He didn’t know me well enough to understand my reluctance to ask for help and I was too deferential to his authority to ask for what I needed. If the boat was heading for the rocks, a loose rope on the deck wasn’t going to make much difference. No, this was a different brand of urgency, the kind that traps us into thinking we have to go faster than we really need to. As a result, we make small mistakes that eventually lead to much bigger problems.

Everything is not an emergency. You have more time than you think.

If you’re the captain, check for understanding.

If you’re on the crew, ask for help.

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.