The Boss

Lyft driver: You are a business person?

Me: Yes.

Driver: You are the boss?

Me: No.

Driver: When you came out I thought, “He is the boss.”

Me: (knowing laugh) Is that because I look so serious?

Driver: (kindly) No, no.

Me: That’s ok. (In my head: It’s just the facade of competence and control I display when I am tired and no longer interested in any form of connection or engagement. My default is to look so serious and so important that people will just leave me alone.)

Driver: Hand sanitizer?

Me: Of course. Thank you.

Ah, the gift of feedback, like a faithful friend, right there when we need it most.


Any Given Day

On any given day…

You can pay attention. You can notice what happens as you engage and are engaged by the people around you. You can shrink from them, rise to meet them, learn from them, absorb their discomfiting needs, discard their demands, invite them in.

On any given day, you can also ignore. Whoever appears around you can remain a blurry sideshow to the central drama that is your life.

The first path is costly. You will have to feel, and in feeling you will be whipsawed from the highest highs to the lowest lows.

The second path is easy. Free from feeling, you will be safe, untouchable.

On any given day that you are alive, you may choose to attend or to ignore. Only one of these can be called living.


For my sister, on her birthday

Simplify the Story

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
― Albert Einstein


I’m always tempted to make it more complicated than it is.

There is only one reason that I am teaching storytelling to young professionals. I want them to understand – to physically experience and then embody – the truth that stories create “limbic resonance.”

More simply, that stories create connection.

How? The limbic system processes sensory information and compares it to past experience. Since all human beings share a common emotional database, stories that express emotion resonate with our past experience as “true” and therefore trustworthy.

And if the story is trustworthy, the person telling it must be trustworthy, also.

We can explain our qualifications – our competence – ad nauseam and get nothing more than a knowing nod of the head in response. But tell a story about that competence in action, how it made you or others feel, what was hard or joyful about learning it, how you failed and succeeded in applying it, and that will get someone to sit at the edge of their emotional seat.

Limbic resonance = connection.

Connection = trust.

Trust = opportunity.


boy child childhood happiness

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Leap and a Net Will Appear

If you feel “ready,” you’ve waited too long.

That’s my takeaway from volume one of Shelby Foote’s three-part narrative of the Civil War.

It’s oversimplified, to be sure, but the biggest difference I can see between the Union forces in Virginia, commanded by McClellan, Halleck, Pope et al, and the Confederate forces under Lee in the first 18 months of the war is that the Union refused to act until the conditions were “just right” and the Confederates acted when opportunity presented itself.

If you subscribe to the sentiment, “fortune favors the bold” you can understand why this approach kept the Confederacy in the driver’s seat in those early months of the war.

It’s quite discouraging to read about the number of opportunities the Union squandered that would have brought the conflict to an early and victorious end. Even knowing how things turned out I find myself in the thrall of Lincoln’s despair, shaking my head that the war ever ends up moving in the right direction, much less victoriously for the north.

What then of our own resistance to act until the time is just right? How many times have you said some version of, “As soon as THIS happens…” or “If I just had more of THIS or THAT I would be willing to get started?”

And what hangs in the balance for you? What idea or purpose or effort will be delayed or even sacrificed to the dustbin of history if you should continue to forestall the action you want to take, not in spite of but right alongside the reasons not to make a single move?

There will always, always be an excuse to wait. (“Stonewall” Jackson regularly led his troops into battle in the rain, while his Union counterparts regularly refused to do so!) Disaster, catastrophe and total ruin notwithstanding – all terrific inventions of our fertile imaginations on most occasions – you are better to act with enough  information, enough opportunity, and enough support.

If you feel “ready,” you’ve already waited too long.


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Every Superhero Has An Origin Story

Soon after I published my book, A More Daring Life, in early 2016 I was invited to take a daring new step of my own, teaching in the business school at Cal State University San Marcos. I had no idea what I was in for, no idea of the energy, enthusiasm and kindness of the students it would be my privilege to teach.

A few months ago, I started noodling on an idea built on the foundations of my book but specifically geared to soon-to-be graduates and young professionals. The outlines of a storytelling workshop, one that would teach participants to transcend the quantitative constraints of their resume by learning how to tell a more personal and selectively vulnerable story about their experience and qualifications, began to take shape in May. This weekend, planning and thinking became doing and I led the first one.

For the generous “yes” of those willing to be first I offer my deepest gratitude for trusting me, for being all in and for teaching me how to make it better. (Session 2 is next Saturday!)

To them and to you I offer a toast: “To a more daring life!”


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Nonce Words

The road taken
to bypass Cavan
took me west,
so at Derrylin
I turned east.

Sun on ice,
white floss
on reed and brush,
the bridge-iron cast
in an Advent silence
I drove across,

then pulled in,
parked and sat
breathing mist
on the windscreen.
Requiescat…
I got out

well happed up,
stood at the frozen
shore gazing
at the rimed horizon,
my first stop
like this in years.

And blessed myself
in the name of the nonce
and happenstance,
the Who knows
and What nexts
and So be its.

{Seamus Heaney, from District and Circle.  2006}


white boat on seashore near mountain under white and blue sky

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Invitational

Earlier in life, when I made an invitation, I worried about what would happen if the response was, “no.” A fixed mindset, a bruised ego prepared to nurse the wounds of rejection.

Today when I offer an invitation, I “worry” what will happen if the response is, “yes.” A growth mindset, an ego that is energized by the challenge of creating something worth that very precious “yes.”

I’m not sure yet, but I think this is wisdom.


advertisement businessman hands handwriting

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Why Stories Matter

“In the particular is contained the universal.”
{James Joyce}


We tell stories to create connection. We create connection because it builds trust. We build trust so that we can rely on one another. We rely on one another because we don’t – even on our most selfish, ego-bound days – want to go it alone.

Most of all, we tell stories because they remind us that our humanity is not only shared, but bound up together, inextricably linked for all time.


silhouette of person holding glass mason jar

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Change

Change

change
change
C
hange(!)
CHANGE
CHANGE?
change!!!
egnahc
ChAnGe
cHaNgE
change
changE
!!!CHanGE???

It takes as many forms as we can imagine but what is consistent about them all is that they don’t stop coming.

It’s never “if,” it’s only “when.” This means that any effort to be ready, to be well-equipped to stand tall when others are blown sideways, will pay off handsomely.

You have either reached the fourth stage of enlightenment, have become a Jedi Master or you are like the rest of us, with plenty of opportunity to learn how to work with the reality of change.


red and green tree leaves on a sunny day

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Frustrated Idealism

“There are teachers, social workers and clergy who work incredibly hard until they are 80 years old and never suffer ‘burnout’ because they have an accurate view of human nature, of our potential and limitations. They don’t over-romanticize people, so they don’t feel the great psychological stress when people let them down.”

{Peter Senge quoting Bill O’Brien in The Fifth Discipline}


It is said that if you scratch the surface of most cynics you will find a frustrated idealist.

I am re-reading The Fifth Discipline right now both for an independent study project I am supervising and as a refresher in preparation for a new project kicking off this fall. When I read the quote above I find myself both encouraged and humbled. That is to say, my “frustrated idealism” has come a long way and still has a long way to go.

I so appreciate O’Brien’s and Senge’s matter-of-fact commentary about this. “Yes, people will inspire you beyond your imagination,” they seem to say, “and they will also leave you banging your head against the wall and tempted to give up.”

The great gift – and this can only come to us through a deep dive into our own development – is to find the space where we maintain a positive, even soaring commitment to what is humanly possible while also steadying ourselves for the reality that elevating to those heights regularly results in some tough and painful landings.

We best support others and we best support ourselves by remembering Wilferd Peterson’s admonition to:

“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it…”


boy child clouds kid

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