Some good, hard questions

Do I insist on action when more reflection is needed?

Do I got lost in reflection when I need to get moving?

Do I default to the comfort of my competence when the discomfort of connection is what the moment requires?

Do I tend to think my way into a new way of feeling or feel my way into a new way of thinking?

Am I living from the outside in or from the inside out?

Am I spending more energy on fitting in when I should be standing out? Or on standing out when I should be fitting in?

Do I stubbornly remain at my desk when my body is asking me to get up, to move, to walk, to breathe, to play?


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Feeling Words

I was reminded the other day of just how easily my default responses flow from my highly developed rational self (left brain) rather than from my more vulnerable, less practiced emotional self (right brain).

I seek concrete explanations and action steps – my need to know how and why and to know it right now! – because they are easier to process than the abstractions of feeling that are implicit in every interaction.

As a result, my emotional vocabulary is far less developed than my logical one.

Fine, good, alright and No, I’m just tired are safe, easy substitutes for what’s really going on with us most of the time. They are shortcuts that rob us of a deeper understanding that is required for any relationship to be sustained and to grow.

Fresh off of this insight I decided to see what I could find online about “feeling words” and found this very helpful resource.

I’m going to print a few copies and keep them close by so that I am better equipped to both offer and inquire about a more thoughtful understanding of the feelings present at any given time.

I’m guessing that’s going to make my conversations a little bit scary and weird for awhile. I’m also guessing that, with practice, it will make them better, more meaningful and more fulfilling.

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The Emotionally Intelligent Person

Today I add another entry to the long list of “things I wish I had written” with this excerpt on emotional intelligence by author and philosopher, Alain de Botton. I have not read the book from which this passage comes but I have read most of his other works and I will be adding this to the library soon. If it is as good as I suspect it will be, I may have no choice but to buy a bunch of copies for colleagues, family and friends.
There is a lot of competition these days for the title of “most important thing we should focus on.” These are the big, scary things like climate change, political reform, education, healthcare…the list is all too familiar. I am confident in making the argument – more confident now, bolstered by Mr. Botton’s words – that none of these, none of them, will ever be effectively addressed if we do not have a seismic shift in our shared ability to practice emotional intelligence.

Please read on and be sure to visit the links below.


“Much anxiety surrounds the question of how good the next generation will be at math; very little around their abilities at marriage or kindness….

The emotionally intelligent person knows that love is a skill, not a feeling, and will require trust, vulnerability, generosity, humor, sexual understanding, and selective resignation.

The emotionally intelligent person awards themselves the time to determine what gives their working life meaning and has the confidence and tenacity to try to find an accommodation between their inner priorities and the demands of the world.

The emotionally intelligent person knows how to hope and be grateful, while remaining steadfast before the essentially tragic structure of existence.

The emotionally intelligent person knows that they will only ever be mentally healthy in a few areas and at certain moments, but is committed to fathoming their inadequacies and warning others of them in good time, with apology and charm… There are few catastrophes, in our own lives or in those of nations, that do not ultimately have their origins in emotional ignorance.”

– Alain de Botton, from The School of Life: An Emotional Education, as featured in Maria Popova’s wonderful weekly offering, Brainpickings.


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Welcome

To welcome something is to say “yes” to it. It is to encourage its existence and to join with it in a positive spirit of participation.

I choose this word as a companion to accompany me during these final celebratory and transitional weeks of this year. I think of it as a guidepost to which I can turn when preparing final grades, or decorating the house, or assisting in the wide variety of chores that will present themselves in the coming days.

I welcome the opportunity to read my student’s papers so that I can thoughtfully evaluate their work.

I welcome the opportunity to help prepare the meals that will serve as a centerpiece for our family’s celebrations.

I welcome the request to unpack the decorations and to work together to make our home an outward reflection of our inward beliefs.

I welcome the opportunity to offer to help when that offer is unexpected.

I welcome the opportunity to respond with ‘yes’ when the request I have received is unexpected.

I welcome the opportunity to create moments of connection in the busyness; periods of reflection in the push to get it all done.

I welcome the chance to live into the simple, meaningful lessons of this season of giving; to receive what comes in the spirit of friendship; to start with “yes.”


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Keep it Simple

The older I get the more I discover that my earliest educational milestones are more beneficial than my professional training.

I think it has something to do with the fact that in college, and certainly in graduate school and other certification coursework, the focus gets both narrow and esoteric. It leaves behind the pedestrian qualities of our basic humanness, perhaps based on the assumption that we’ve already got that down, which, of course, in so many cases we clearly have not!

I’m talking about sharing, waiting my turn, giving my best effort, helping a friend, saying ‘thank you’, not interrupting, asking for help, and so on.

When Robert Fulghum wrote that all we really need to know we learned in kindergarten, he was speaking about a set of generalized values and behaviors that truly are the grease in the gears of society.

What exactly each gear is for and how exactly each gear functions is the domain of competent specialists and that remains important work. That said, it is the manner in which those gears intersect – the smoothness of their interactions – that makes the difference in how we feel, which makes the difference in how we live.


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Ask for Help

When my daughter was in grade school, she had a tough time raising her hand in class to ask for help. She felt insecure about being exposed as “not knowing” and as a result didn’t get the support she needed when she needed it.

Once her teacher picked up on this pattern she suggested a strategy to help my daughter get more comfortable with the vulnerability required to ask for help. She gave her a rock to place on the corner of her desk, one side of which was painted green and the other of which was painted red.

When our daughter needed help with something, she would turn the rock to the red side, showing the teacher that she had come to a stop and needed help to get moving again. This allowed the teacher to quietly engage with her about the content and get her back on track.

The simple strategy of a painted rock gave our daughter a way to normalize her vulnerability and helped her learn that “not knowing” is precisely the “problem” that school exists to solve.

Sometimes, when I bump up against my own incompetence and the stubbornness that accompanies it, it would be a big help to have that rock handy.

I wonder if you would like one, too?


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What to Say

The next time you are asked to give career advice to a young professional, please just provide them with this quote by the late, great James Michener:

“We all worry about wasting time, about the years sliding past, about what we intend to do with our lives. We shouldn’t, for there is a divine irrelevance in the universe that defies calculation. Many men and women win through to a sense of greatness in their lives only by first stumbling and fumbling their way into patterns that gratify them and allow them to utilize their endowments to the maximum.”

Come to think of it, you might just consider making up some cards so you always have one handy to give away.

Come to think of it, you might read the quote again and realize that it’s even more appropriate for you – that refreshingly pesky divine irrelevance phrase – than for anyone you might share it with.

Perspective is a priceless thing. As is curiosity and experimentation and the relief that comes when we stop comparing ourselves to everyone else and choose to follow our own path.


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A Drop in the Ocean

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” – Mother Teresa


Our workplaces are communities. Each day people come to them, bringing all of their experiences, feelings, joys and losses. They come to them because they must, of course. They come to them to fulfill responsibilities, obligations, to earn a living.

They also come, over and over again they come, to be a part of something larger than themselves. They come to belong to a community of people who work to bring about something worth making or doing or providing.

They come for the celebration of shared accomplishment and for the consolation needed when life turns to disappointment or tragedy. Our workplaces, where so much time and energy is spent; where people are in an eternal conversation about the competing demands of full and challenging lives, are the places where we are first to know, first to learn and first to experience so much of what life has to offer.

There is so much we can do for one another in our workplaces. There is so much we can provide with a simple “hello,” with a sincere “how are you?” and the thoughtful listening that must follow.

Today, let’s remember that the people in our daily lives are hurting too.

We need one another. We need one another more than any of us cares to admit. Our workplaces are a conduit for those needs, a channel through which they flow, seeking to be met on the other end with graciousness, patience and love.

Let’s do that. Let’s greet one another in the spirit of graciousness, patience and love.


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Simultaneously Whole

“Nothing in the cosmos operates independently. We are all holons, which are simultaneously whole in themselves, and at the same time part of a larger whole.”

– Ilia Delio, Center for Action and Contemplation, 2014


I was just wondering how it might shift someone’s perspective about another person if his or her starting assumption is that that person is whole.

What would it do for a team if the leader’s starting assumption about that team is that it is made up of whole people who come together to form a larger whole?

What would it do for an organization, regardless of how large, if its value system centered on the inherent wholeness of each individual as central to the wholeness of the enterprise?

This is not whole as “complete” or “finished.” This is whole as in an independent entity that is connected to and integrated with every other independent entity.

I think there would be more respect and more reliance. I think there would be more generosity and more reciprocity.

I think it would both scare us and thrill us to learn how much is possible when we embrace the depth of our connection.


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Unique Human Needs: Contribution

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Contribution.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 6: Contribution

One of my clearest childhood memories is of riding along with my mom as she delivered food to the elderly and shut-ins in San Francisco as part of her volunteer commitment to Meals-On-Wheels. I remember that one of our stops was adjacent to a market from which I always got a few cellophane-wrapped sesame candies. I remember the smell of the food as not exactly enticing but certainly distinctive. I remember feeling purposeful, that we were doing something important.

Thirty years later I was looking for a way to engage my 6-year-old son and our family in some community service and I came across a Meals-On-Wheels flyer at our church. Those memories of Saturday mornings along 19th Avenue in San Francisco came rushing back and I saw the gift of being able to establish that same tradition with my own child.

I’m proud of the fact that we’re still making those deliveries thirteen years later. Duncan is off to college now and his sisters have since taken his place as co-pilot and navigator. It’s a Berry Family “thing,” a small but important piece of fabric that binds us to one another and to our community.


Tony Robbins classifies the core human needs of growth and contribution as the “needs of the spirit.” What I can’t stop thinking about regarding this final installment on contribution is that it carries within it the possibility of satisfying all of the other needs as well.

To make a contribution is to experience the pleasure of helping others avoid pain, or at least to alleviate it just a little bit.

It is also the manner by which we can immerse ourselves in new circumstances and conditions in order to satisfy our need for uncertainty.

Giving back is clearly a way to feel special and needed, and what better way to achieve that than in service of others?

It is also a means for us to satisfy our need for connection and to express love. To make even a small sacrifice so that another person’s life might be better is a pretty good definition of the everyday goodness of love when you think about it.

In addition to satisfying these core needs there are some other very real rewards of giving back. Among them are happiness, good health, cooperation and gratitude.

It may feel out of place to think of making a contribution as personally rewarding, that we should only give from a place of self-sacrificial concern. But that intention is so idealistic that it becomes restrictive.

What if we could just agree that making a contribution, giving of ourselves freely and generously is the most potent and compelling way to satisfy the needs that we all share?


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