Tell Me Your Story

I was here, and you were here,
and together we made a world.
{David Whyte}


If you tell me your story, I will tell you mine.

From that small, open place we will take steps that help us to know one another. Through our disclosure we will build trust, and from that trust we will experience the reinforcement of connection.

I will only learn about myself, which means that I will only learn how to walk in this world, through my relationship with you.

When I resist I do so because I don’t want to be reminded of what I don’t yet know. When I resist I am bound by the seduction of the status quo, refusing to yield to the certainty of change.

When I engage I do so because you help me to remember that my initial discomfort holds the seeds of my future wisdom.

Tell me your story, and I will tell you mine.


 

 

The Relief and Joy of Imperfection

I pray there is at least one person before whom you can be imperfect. I have several in my life, and they are such a relief and joy to be around.

{Richard Rohr}


Here in my 50th year, when the phrase “mid-life” can no longer be used with anything close to mathematical accuracy, I am singularly proud of one accomplishment. And it is the fruits of this accomplishment, I am convinced, that will see me through the next 50 years, or however many more are mine to claim.

That accomplishment is the cultivation of a small and extraordinary group of people with whom I can be imperfect.

I consider this an accomplishment of such importance, in part, because it took so long to achieve.

For too long it was just too expensive to allow anyone to see the version of myself that was not in control, that was scared, doubtful, and overwhelmed. Others could see those things, of course, but I made sure to keep enough space between us so that any kind of reckoning could not take place. As a result, none of the vulnerability that keeps us in the mutually reinforcing orbit of healthy relationship could materialize.

Eventually, my facade of competence was destroyed, as all have to be for anything new to emerge and slowly, in that emergence, it became possible to cultivate “the gifts of imperfection.”

What that means in practice is that when I find myself, especially under stress,  defaulting to competence as a bulwark against insecurity, I am more likely to be “invited” back to the more fully human version of myself by those faithful few I am fortunate to call partner, colleagues and friends.

That invitation, issued and answered, always results in feelings of relief and joy, the kind that only exist in the realm of what is authentic and true.


 

No Green Bananas

Bob, the car salesman: So, what do you think of the car?
Me, “coolly” parrying the coming hard sell: Oh, I like it a lot but I’m in no hurry. I’ve got a least another week before I have to decide.
Bob: Well, I’m not sure I do. I’m 75 years old and as I tell my wife, ‘Don’t buy any green bananas!’
We shared a big laugh and I could only shake my head. I didn’t buy a car from Bob, but I did buy the one I wanted.
Carpe diem.

 

Thresholds

We are called to be larger than who we can imagine being in this moment.
{Sr. Joan Brown}


A threshold is a demarcation between the known and the unknown, an entry point to a new frontier.

It’s not an easy place at which to stand as it represents a break from our familiar or ordered understanding of things. One more step, and we are in the unfamiliar, a disordered version of our experience.

These threshold moments exist in each of our lives, some large and some small, some by our choosing and some purely by chance. Each one is an opportunity for development depending on our choice to step across that demarcation line or retreat from it.

And the reason it is so hard to take that next step, and why we so often retreat from that threshold, is that we feel utterly alone.

But we are not alone.

Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. We are more connected than we realize, more connected than we allow ourselves to admit. Perhaps that’s because we’ve bought into the myth of “going it alone,” and perhaps because being connected makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. To be seen by another for who and what we are, especially as we stand at the threshold of our own becoming? I admit that is a scary thought.

And (and this is such an important “and”) it is precisely that vulnerability that leads to our connection and that connection is what leads us to our greatest strength: the ability to rely upon one another to see us not just as we are but as we may yet be. To hold an imaginative sense of one another’s larger self at the moment when we alone are least able to hold it is a gift both precious and powerful.

To stand at a threshold, then, is to stand in a place of complete connection, summoning courage from one another to cross over and into the frontier of our largest possible self.

I don’t know if the world can be saved but if it can be, this is how we will do it.


 

 

I Can’t Do It Without You

I will always think too small about my own potential.

Left to my own impulses, I will always make the canvas of my possibility too small, and paint myself, with big, bright strokes, right into the corner.

Since I am both the painter and the canvas, I will think it a sufficient representation, even a bold one, but I cannot see it, so I do not know.

When I invite you into the gallery, you look upon the work I have created, you tilt your head, you take a step closer and immediately I know that you see it. You see that something is not quite right.

I ask, “What is it?”

And you say, “Well, it’s lovely, but it’s just so much smaller than I thought it would be.”

“What do you mean?” I protest. “It’s just how I imagined it!”

“Exactly!” you say, as my trusted colleague and friend. “That’s exactly the problem! You think you’ve stretched yourself to a new limit but you’ve only painted yourself into a corner. It’s too small a space for you!”

“No, no…,” I begin to protest further, but then I step back to look at my creation and I see, right away I see that you are right.

I had the choice of any canvas I wanted. The small ones were much too small and I am far beyond their limitations. But the large ones, the truly expansive ones, those are for the real painters, the ones who merit the largest possible expression of themselves.

And I chose the one in between, the one that would allow me to satisfy my too small definition of self.

You saw what I could not see. You helped me know what I could not know. That is why my development, my learning, is impossible without you.

Today, I buy a new canvas. “Will you come with me, please?”

DSC08616


 

11 Reasons Why You Should Take a Walk in the Woods

I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.
{Henry David Thoreau}


I live in Southern California where a walk in the woods is a luxury enjoyed only after a long drive or, like I did recently, an airplane ride. My dream is to someday live where I can step out of the house and onto a forested trail but, for now, inspired by my recent wanderings, I offer you these enticements, hopeful that they will encourage your own exploration.

  1. Technology has had its way with you. You need a break.
  2. The natural world has stood the test of time; there’s a lot to learn from it.
  3. Simpler is better. You already overthink too much stuff.
  4. Connection. The spacious intimacy of the woods is the perfect environment for a deeper conversation.
  5. You could use a fresh perspective. (Any walking will aid this, being in the woods is a bonus!)
  6. You love to be outside, remember?
  7. Your body is built to move. Even slowly, it’s hungry for it.
  8. You’ll get dirty, at least a little bit, and that dirt will reinvigorate the kid in you.
  9. Trees are quiet. They don’t talk back.
  10. Trees are patient. You won’t be rushed.
  11. You’ll be reminded that you are a part of something much larger than yourself.

I can’t help but wonder how our lives, relationships and communities would benefit if we chose more often to enjoy the restorative, essential and affirming benefits of a nice long walk in the woods.

Happy trails!


SWSP Ridge Trail

South Whidbey State Park, Ridge Loop Trail

 

 

 

 

 

Do Your Work

“You only have two options—you do vulnerability knowingly, or vulnerability does you. People are taking their pain, and they’re working it out on other people. And when you don’t acknowledge your vulnerability, you work your shit out on other people.”

{Brene Brown}


At our best, we are dandelions, our seeds spreading out from us wherever we go. Every interaction is a puff of wind, taking more of the best we have to offer towards and onto the people in our lives. Great relationships are the accumulation of those seeds and the positive ways that they take root in one another’s lives.

white dandelion under blue sky and white cloud

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

At our worst, we are manure spreaders, every interaction a chance to cover others in the worst smelling, least desirable parts of ourselves. Toxic relationships are made up of the accumulation of the manure we spread around and the negative ways it impacts other’s lives.

images

It’s a wonderful irony that manure is widely used to make things grow. To do so, it must be transformed; it must be put in the ground and combined with other elements before it can become a medium for growth.

So it goes with us. We can transform our own pain – the pain that becomes our manure –  by acknowledging it, by admitting to how we use and misuse it and by offering reconciliation to ourselves and to others. When that happens, our worst inclinations become source material for the realization of our better selves.


 

 

Shaped, and Shaped Again

“We shape our self to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.”
{David Whyte}


fullsizeoutput_24fcThere is a dance we all must do. It is the dance of forming ourselves well enough to meet the requirements of our lives while also allowing ourselves to be formed by those same forces.

Those requirements, those forces, are not static, linear or concrete. Those forces are dynamic and fluid, most often we call them other people.

It is a deeply vulnerable act to willingly, as an accomplished and self-assured adult, allow others to use the tools of their dynamic selves to transform our own soft clay into something even more beautiful.

To trust the possibility of that happening is to trust those people, first of all. And as we know, that only happens when we create the space, the time and commit the energy to building a reservoir of trust that is filled by our mutual offerings.

A question to consider is this: do I allow myself to remain soft enough that I am able to be formed? And another: do I cultivate relationships with people whose forming power I can deeply trust and who are open to receiving my own?


Offered with affection for Tom, Molly, Kyle, Alia and Theresa.

Keep Showing Up

I have a few different “accountability” gatherings I participate in each month. “Accountability” isn’t a great word for them but it will have to do for now.

These are individuals and small groups with whom I have established an intimate and trustworthy rapport and from whom I receive both the space and the grace to rely on it. I expect and am expected to actually “show up” in these encounters, to enter into conversation that is revelatory for the purpose of personal learning and group cohesion.

We strengthen the integrity of our relationships one layer of authentic interaction at a time. And it is in that way that these are “accountability” gatherings. We are not looking for the best from one another, we are just looking to bring out what “is” right now and learn from it.

What I have learned in the 15 years of participating in these kind of conversations is that it is when I least feel like attending that I most need to.

Just last week, a few hours before one of these gatherings, I made a quick mental list of all of the reasons I could and should cancel. What I was struggling to admit to myself is that I didn’t want to talk about “what is right now” because I was feeling lost about what to do about it. I didn’t want to feel that lack of control in an explicit way so I considered going for the escape hatch.

But I didn’t open it and I am so, so thankful that I was able to right myself, show up as planned and receive the extraordinary benefit of a listening ear and some thoughtful questions.

Avoidance and resistance are the key ingredients in the recipe we call fear. It’s not one we have to make, tempting though it may be to do so. And to be reminded of that, yet again, by people who truly care about my well-being, marks another humbling step on the path of my life.


 

10, 25, 45

I’m very interested in public speaking. I enjoy doing it and I enjoy listening to a great speaker. It’s a wonderful, even essential skill to develop for anyone who wants to have more influence, for those who wish to lead.

To that end, for those aspiring to increase their influence through public speaking, I’d like to suggest that you develop three talks of differing lengths; 10, 25 and 45 minutes.

Your 10-minute talk is one big idea supported by one story.

Your 25-minute talk is one big idea supported by two stories.

Your 45-minute talk is one big idea supported by two stories plus 5-7 minutes of audience conversation about how they feel about what you’ve been saying (because no one wants to sit for 45 minutes without a chance to talk…about themselves) and 5-7 more minutes devoted to their sharing of what they just said.

Two takeaways: first, you deliver one big idea, and only one big idea. Second, your talk isn’t about you, it’s about them. The longer you have to speak the more space you should create for your audience to do so.


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.