Threefold

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.)


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Earth Wall (detail), Andy Goldsworthy

 

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.

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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.

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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?


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.


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More fun, please

img_6938It seems to me that the designer of this particular user interface had better options than this.

Instead of “No one is invited” how about:

“Who will you be meeting next?” or “Who’s on your invite list?” or “What are you waiting for? Make that call!” or “I can’t read your mind…who’s next?” or “Connection is the seedbed of creativity. Who will you be planting with today?”

I know, these aren’t great and I should stick to my day job, but I do wonder if the designer – team of designers? – knew that they had better options. I wonder if a better option got vetoed because it was “too funny” or “too creative” or “not in line with our customer’s expectations” or “not the best representation of our aspirational corporate image.”

I wonder when business got so dang boring, so risk averse, so disconnected from the actual human beings who work for them and from those they serve?

It’s not really a big deal, this unimaginative interface, but it’s just no fun. And we need more fun, much more of it, even in the form of a silly message on a corporate phone.


 

The Story Continues

A week ago I had the privilege of introducing “Storytelling for Career Success” to a group of young professionals who were generous enough to say “yes” to an invitation to test drive my new workshop. By their energetic participation they taught me what worked, what needed help and, most importantly, that what I shared with them is both practical and valuable.

This past Saturday was Round 2 and again I was inspired by a group of open and dynamic participants, each one willing to step into the unknown and share their story. It was an outstanding day, one I am smarter and better equipped for having led.

What I know beyond a doubt is that when we connect through story we break into a new world of possibility. It’s a world where we become known for more than the 12 point font of a resume, where we live into David Whyte’s affirmation that, “we shape ourselves to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.” (Working Together)

One participant put it this way: “The highlight for me was figuring out how to tell an emotional, vibrant story with structure and organization. I was amazed to find that past experiences I never thought applicable in an interview can be used in an amazing, powerful way.” 

Another said this: “Before this experience, I was pretty confident in my story. What I realized throughout the experience is that I haven’t been telling it in the most effective, powerful way. This experience took my story from a little, shaky tale, to an intense, powerful testimony. Not only do I feel more confident about going into an interview, I feel more confident in myself.”

With humility and gratitude – and a powerful sense of purpose – I am committed to author, and be authored by, the unfolding of this new story.


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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.


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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.


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