The Human Paradox

The need for certainty. When we meet this need too well, life becomes predictable, routine and stagnant. We end up sort of dying in place.

The need for variety. When we meet this need too well, life becomes chaotic, an endless chase for the next, the more interesting, the more stimulating. We end up sort of dying on the run.


It’s been a strange summer around our house. Since I set up my business and a home office 6 years ago, summers are always a bit strange – and stressful – for me. Mid-June arrives and the kid’s schedules make a hairpin turn into late nights, later mornings, and just a whole bunch of them being around…like all the time. This summer we have the addition of a college student returning to the nest for a few months. It’s an adjustment for all of us, needless to say.

On top of that, we had no plans for any kind of family trip this year, nothing that required reservations or flights or extended planning, anyway. And with some extended getaways on the calendar this fall an implicit agreement was made to stay put this summer.

But I don’t stay put very well. After a couple of months of the certainty of my daily routine being displaced by the variety of summer’s randomness, I heard myself saying that, “If we don’t plan a getaway, I’m going to take one of my own.” Not as a threat, simply as a statement of need. The familiar has become too familiar and, with the squeeze of three teenagers, the fine attributes of the “staycation” no longer seem so fine.

We’ll be making our way north soon, some expected spots on the itinerary and a few unexpected ones as well. Really, it’s the going that’s the thing. It’s the chance to experience the chance encounters that rarely come unless we set out to meet them. And it’s the knowing that, all being well, we will return to the certainty of a home ready to hold us as we settle in again, anticipating what comes next.


white vehicle traveling on road

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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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The First Domino

download-1July 5, 1776 must have been an interesting day for the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Righteous cause or not, there had to be some intense ambivalence among that group about the repercussions of their act. To many, the justification of the airing of grievances and the proposal for independence that came with it must have been shadowed by the real possibility of imprisonment and death at the hands of the British.

That said, the domino was sent tumbling forward and all who pushed it had to wake the next day to face the consequences of what they had set in motion.

What makes the founders so admirable is that they acted on their convictions in the face of overwhelming odds. Would that you and I might act so boldly when filled with our own convictions, and in the face of consequences which seem revolutionary but are, in the clear light of day, more the artful imaginings of our fertile minds.

What is your first domino? Is it an idea for a process change that you fear might be rejected, leaving you embarrassed and on the outside of things? Is it an invitation for a first date that you fear might be rejected? Is it your intent to start a blog, the purpose of which you fear will be misunderstood if even read? Is it simply a necessary conversation, the repercussions of which will be profound and likely beyond your ability to control?

You have a basketful of “first dominoes” to set up and push forward should you choose to do so. Are you so certain that you cannot live with the consequences of those acts? Are you prepared to wake on July 6 wondering what might have been? Or would you rather rest tonight with the satisfaction of making a start while summoning the resolve to follow where it leads?


 

Freedom to Create, Freedom to Lead

Those who allow themselves to be challenged and changed will be the new creative leaders of the next period of history.
{Richard Rohr}


The disciplines of creativity and leadership require freedom from the limitations that stem from our undeveloped, unexamined selves.

You cannot be creative if you are continuously second-guessing yourself, consumed by concern about other’s opinions or stifled by perfectionism. It just doesn’t work that way. And the same goes for leadership.

To do either effectively demands agility, flexibility, exploration and the ego strength that only comes from robust self-awareness.

Creative leadership, then, exists when the leader engages the team in an open and ongoing conversation about what is working, what is not, where we are going and what we can do to get there.

Creative leadership, then, requires a dedicated effort to normalize change as the best friend of our future effectiveness.

When we celebrate our freedom, the independence gained from breaking old constraints, we are also called to celebrate the opportunity to be stewards of a new creation.


bird animal freedom fly

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Lazy Vines, Lousy Wine

It is the hardness of the struggle to adapt to change that brings out the best in us, not the predictably generous comforts of the known. Change and struggle lead to incredible things for those who are willing to dig deep and figure it out.

As I pondered this idea for a while today, looking for a “hook” to help make the point, I came  across the following passage from an online British wine journal:

“More modern methods of growing grapes…take advantage of the fact that making the vines struggle generally results in better quality grapes. It’s a bit like people. Place someone in a near-perfect environment, giving them every comfort and all that they could ever want to satisfy their physical needs, and it could have rather disastrous consequences for their personality and physique. If you take a grapevine and make its physical requirements for water and nutrients easily accessible, then (somewhat counterintuitively) it will give you poor grapes.

This is because the grapevine has a choice. Given a favourable environment and it will choose to take the vegetative route: that is, it will put its energies into making leaves and shoots. Effectively, it is saying, ‘This is a fine spot, I’m going to make myself at home here’. It won’t be too bothered about making grapes. But make things difficult for the vine, by restricting water supply, making nutrients scarce, pruning it hard and crowding it with close neighbours…it will sense that this is not the ideal place to be a grapevine. Instead of devoting itself to growing big and sprawling, it will focus its effort on reproducing itself sexually, which for a vine means making grapes.”

When you find yourself asking for comfort, for the chance to simply “vegetate,” remember that you asking to absent yourself from learning, growth and the chance to make your very best contribution.


Selection from Wine Anorak

green trees

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Change or Progress?

It is said that people resist change but embrace progress.

To ask someone to change is to ask them to disregard their status quo in favor of an unknown future. However ineffective or limiting that status quo may be, because it is known it is comfortable.

To ask someone to progress is to suggest that there is a natural evolution to all living things and that it is only normal to aspire to a next level of impact. Progress assumes and celebrates the achievements of the past and sees what’s next as an opportunity to build on that success. Progress affirms what has been while embracing the inevitability of what’s to come.

The language and attitude of progress in no way guarantees the success of what’s next but it positions the process in a way that human beings, with our deeply conflicting need for both certainty and uncertainty, can more easily adopt.


person s left hand holding green leaf plant

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As You Like It

I attended college just about 100 miles north of my hometown, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Arriving on campus in 1988, I met my wife Theresa during those undergraduate years and we return to the area with our family a couple of times a year to visit our friends, also met and married through LMU, who live just down the street from campus.

This weekend, we are here to celebrate his birthday, in part by visiting campus last night to picnic and enjoy an outdoor presentation of Shakespeare’s, As You Like It. The production was musical, light and refreshing, as summer should be. And yet, within it, Shakespeare pointedly inserts the character of Jacques, known through history as one of the Bard’s most famous melancholy characters.

The play rollicks along as we good friends, having first met at 19, celebrated weddings in our 20s, children and budding careers in our 30s, veterans now of the maturing realities of our 40s, sip wine into the long June evening. Into that scene of our own authorship, supported as it is by the very place that first brought us together, strides Jacques to remind us of where we’ve been and where we’re going:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

{William Shakespeare – As You Like It}

Without putting too fine a point on it, I suggest this: whatever and whomever “Los Angeles” or “Loyola Marymount” or “our dear friends” is for you, go back there as you are now to celebrate who and what you were, who and what you are and who and what you are becoming.

Jacque’s “melancholy” is not sad, it is instructive. The time to play this part is now. So play it.


LMU SHC

The Label Doesn’t Stick

If you’ve attended many conferences or trainings you’re familiar with the ritual: you arrive at the registration desk, a kind person takes your name, checks it against a list and then hands you a blank nametag and a Sharpie.

You write your name on the nametag, remove the backing and stick it to your shirt.

Has it ever, even once, stayed put? Not for me. And, without fail, I fold it onto itself and toss it in the nearest trashcan.

I was reminded today that I do a much better job of making labels stick, especially the ones I give myself, than the “name tag corporations” who supply those useless stickers.

For a long time I “wasn’t good at math.” It’s true that I did poorly at math in high school. But I did poorly at math because I found it difficult, and I lacked the work ethic and the humility to ask for help. As a defensive tactic I decided that math was not relevant to my future which made it easier to adopt the “not good at it” label. The fact is that I am good with numbers and surely, with the right attitude and maturity, would have been a fine math student.

That label no longer sticks.

For a long time I was sure I “didn’t have anything to say.” More than anything in the world I wanted to make my professional mark by sharing – through writing and speaking – my ideas about learning and leadership and the very complex relationship human beings have with their workplaces. But perfectionism had its way with me and if I couldn’t do it like David Whyte or Parker Palmer or Manfred Kets de Vries or Margaret Wheatley, then why bother?

Never mind that I had been speaking and writing about those things since I was 17 years old with an energy and enthusiasm that was my very own. I had the goods, at least my version of the goods, but lacked the wherewithal to put them on display. And so the label of “having nothing to say” was an easy hiding place.

I gave my first professional talk at a conference when I was 37 years old after which I had only one thought, “What the hell was I so worried about?” I loved it and I just kept going. Not long after that I started this blog as a way to both practice my new commitment to expression and steer clear of that old label.

Because that old label no longer stuck.

As easily as those conference nametags fall off, our old labels adhere to us so well that we mistake them for a permanent part of our daily attire.

Socks? Underwear? Self-diminishing label of insufficiency? Check, check and check!

The good news is that an old label is indeed removable. The bad news – the really tough part – is that an old label is indeed removable. Once you take it off, you feel naked for a while, which, when you think about it, is the ideal condition for trying on something new.


name tag