There’s Still Snow in the Summertime

img_7048It’s hard sometimes to believe that other people, in other places, are having a different experience than we are.

That could be across the country, across the county, across the street or across the hall.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own reality that we forget to hold open the possibility that what is true for us is not true for others.

Just a few thousand feet below Mt. Eddy, on a late July summer day, there is no snow. Take a short hike (or a short walk down the hall) and you find a brand new reality. It’s one that might just require a closer look.


It’s ok to say, “Yes!”

At the Crater Lake gift shop my daughter said, “Dad, do you like these socks?”

“I do like those!,” I said.

“Would you like me to buy them for you?”

“No, honey, that’s ok. But thanks for offering.”

But as I browsed the stickers I kept thinking about those cool green hiking socks she picked out for me.

So I went over to the sock section and looked them over again. And I changed my mind.

I really did like them and she made me a kind offer so I let her know that I would accept, if that was still ok with her.

And she said that it was. “But I don’t have my money on me, dad.”

“That’s ok, we’ll work out later on.”

I’ve spent plenty of unproductive mental energy in my life wishing people would pay enough attention to me that they know what I like and then act on it.

On my better days I speak up for myself. I let people know what I want and, more importantly, what I need. On my worse days I get stuck in the wishing well, chants of “poor me” echoing off of its narrow walls.

My daughter noticed me and acted on it. I chose to receive her gift. I chose to say, “yes!”


The following passage is by Dr. Barbara Holmes from her book, Joy Unspeakable. I read it earlier this week in Richard Rohr’s daily email and its precision brought me to a full stop. I offer a few comments and reflections in bold italics. 

“The human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. (If “God” is too specific for you, think of this as our collective need to connect to and strive for something larger than ourselves. We are made to imagine, to create, to connect and to belong in ways much larger than our ability to understand. To say ‘yes’ to that is to express our yearning.)

Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. (Know yourself, know all of it, and use that knowledge to become a more humble and empathetic student of all that will transpire in your life. When you do that, you are a better person for others.) 

Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. (This is the call to learning, to an extension beyond the comfort of our place and point of view and out into a world that includes all of those we would rather not, on a given day, have to encounter. This is the only way that any semblance of ‘peace’, within ourselves and in the company of others can become real.)


Earth Wall (detail), Andy Goldsworthy


Angle of Repose

angle of repose (n): the steepest angle at which a sloping surface formed of a particular loose material is stable.

I couldn’t resist lying down on Andy Goldworthy’s epic work, Wood Line, when we walked along it last Saturday. I am on vacation, a time of rest and relaxation, so I thought I would practice a little.

I wish I had stayed there longer. It was a perfect afternoon.

And since that afternoon I have thought that, had I done so, I might have just slipped away, the angle of my “loose material” overwhelming my repose.

Goldsworthy only creates that which will eventually return to the earth.

I think that’s what was happening to me, lying there even briefly. I felt pulled into myself, a jumble of loose material wanting to settle and be settled, wanting to reconnect to known and knowable things.

And yet, it was not to be. And I was up and walking again before I could slip away.

How necessarily, how painfully human.


Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy – San Francisco

Grandpa’s Onions

At grandpa’s house, when you want onion rings with your hamburger, you start by walking out to the garden and pulling one from the ground.


The best kind of vacation – the best kind of break – is one that reminds you of the clarifying power of elemental, fundamental things.

The adventure of a road trip, even one you’ve taken many times before; visits with friends and family, in the care of their welcoming hands; grandparents and their rich histories, familiar and distant all at once; eating what has most recently been growing in the garden (and frying it to a perfect golden brown!); and being out of your element just enough to notice how easily being in your element has become.




The Pretense of Self Sufficiency

I like to fix things. I’m pretty good at it. I’m not a qualified auto mechanic or electrician by any stretch, but if you need your new TV setup or your phone reconnected or your files moved to the cloud, I’m a good guy to ask.

I like being good at fixing these small things because they are appreciated and they give my ego a nice dose of self-satisfaction. Also, they let me maintain a sense of control over my surroundings.

Over the last few years I’ve discovered that my daughter likes to fix things, also. She’s really good at it. Especially in the technical domain she’s a much better problem solver than me.

I don’t admit that easily (see, “maintain a sense of control” above) because for the longest time I wasn’t willing, when she said “I know what to do,” to get out of the way and let her do it. Instead, we would jockey for position and I would finally snap at her to just let me figure it out.

I still do that once in a while but not nearly as much. I’ve learned that her development depends on the ability to express and use her gifts and that my job is to give her the space to do that.

Instead of seeking that ego boost for these small achievements I enjoy watching her proudly play this role in support of her family and friends. I also enjoy the new reality that whatever needs to be done doesn’t have to be done by me.

It seems to me that this is what great leaders do, too. They learn to stop clinging to any pretense of self sufficiency, to not just admit that they need help, but to relish in the opportunity to give others the chance to be helpful.

That’s a pretty great thing to be able to do for someone. It builds esteem, confidence and connection. It creates teams of problem solvers who learn to rely on one another’s unique abilities to get things done.

Perhaps most importantly, it creates the widest possible feeling of ownership for whatever we have agreed to create together.

In your workplace today, is there someone you can do this for? Is there someone doing this for you?

The Language of Aliveness

Are you living and leading with as much aliveness as possible? You might consider noticing your language to find out. Your instinctive verbal responses to challenging, complex or even novel circumstances say a lot about how alive and intentional you feel as opposed to how flat and stuck you feel.

This is the difference between holding a thoughtfully investigative, open stance versus one that is dualistic, critical and defensive.

The language of aliveness includes words, questions and phrases like:

Let’s go.
I’m curious.
It’s possible.
Wow, look at that!
Let’s find out.
What about this?
Tell me more.
I’m not sure.
I don’t know.
How fascinating!
Let’s understand this better.
How can I help?

This kind of language, however you express it, signals to those around you an eagerness and readiness for learning. Used with careful intention it can be a contagious if fragile bulwark against its easy and defensive opposite.


Camping Coffee (or how to build a culture)

I woke up this morning in a campground that has been carefully tucked into a grove of coastal redwoods along the Big Sur coastline.

In this beautiful setting just after 6:00 a.m. I had the chance to engage in one of my favorite camping rituals, perking a pot of coffee.

A percolator works by the force of gravity. Heated water makes its way up a central tube, allowing the water to spill over the coffee grounds and then drip back into the main reservoir.

The water darkens as it continuously cycles through this process – essentially making itself – until it gets to the color and strength of your preference. This means that you have to pay attention.

Maybe it’s the beauty of the setting or the simplicity of the process itself but I think perking makes a great cup of coffee.

I also think it’s a helpful way to consider building a solid and sustainable company culture.

If you start with great people a sort of human gravity will take over. Great people want to work with other great people to do great things. They just need the right conditions – a reliable heat source, for example – to make possible what they are already inclined to do.

As your great people move around and among one another within the conditions you’ve established – values, direction, clarity – they are the ones who end up making the culture by the way they wash over those ingredients and bring them to life. Great people, given time and support, will make a sustainable culture themselves.

But this doesn’t mean you can ignore what’s happening. You still have to pay attention.

An inconsistent heat source, the lack of essential conditions (clear values, etc.) and the segregation of teams into silos of responsibility will prevent the washing over effect and leave you with a weak culture.

Too much heat, along with conditions that, because too rigid leave no room for interpretation or expression, will over-saturate your people. With too much expected and extracted from them as culture warriors (“one of us…one of us”) they will lose their agency, the belief that through their own efforts they can impact the organization for the better.

Building a culture, like making a great pot of camping coffee, requires a thoughtful blend of art and science. By setting the right conditions and giving it thoughtful attention, it will surprise you by seeming to make itself.

It’s hard to see under water

It’s hard to see when you’re under water.

It’s hard to see under water because when you open your eyes it’s blurry and incomplete. There are forms and figures that are familiar but not quite themselves. Perception of distance is compromised, as is your confidence to move forward.

Trying to see under water is a lot like trying to navigate any significant change.

It helps to have goggles. Good ones. The kind that don’t fog up no matter what.

Since change – significant change – is inevitable, it’s important to always have your goggles at the ready. So you can see as clearly as possible as you make your way through the dark water.

The question then is this: who and what are your goggles?

Is it your internal compass? Your values? Your relationships? Your capacity for enormously challenging conversations? Your empathy and regard for others? Your humility?

Whatever it is, have it ready. Prepare it and tend it. You will need it sooner that you think.

man swimming on body of water

Photo by Anton Avanzato on