“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.

~~~

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.

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.