I Got Knocked Down Again

I watched Brene Brown’s Netflix special, The Call to Courage, for a second time today and her call to get into the arena, to be willing to get knocked down – to embrace the certainty of getting knocked down – reminded me of a post I wrote last October. Here it is again, truer than ever.



“You can’t go back and change the beginning,
but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
— C S Lewis


You know the feeling of being lost. You know what it’s like to start out with a sense of direction, a heading that makes sense to you. And then, after a wrong turn or missed signpost, that sense of direction evaporates into confusion as you can’t get your bearings. And you stumble around a little bit hoping it will come back to you. “This all looks familiar,” you might say, “but I just don’t know how to get going in the right direction.”

I got lost in the forest that way, not once but three days in a row. Each morning I set out with clarity and purpose and within 15 minutes I was not where I intended to be. I made wrong turns. I missed the signposts. It was dark and I was stubborn, a troubling combination.

For three consecutive days I failed to get the beginning right. For three consecutive days I was able to change the ending and get myself back where I needed to be.

I didn’t want it to play out that way but it was how I needed it to play out to help me understand my developmental pathway. That trail in the woods was always leading me back, not to what I wanted but to what I needed. And what I needed was the reminder that I am least in control when I am the most controlling; that I am least capable when I am blindly confident; that I am least connected when I focus on competence, arrival and completion.

Me against a dark and unknown forest trail wasn’t close to a fair fight. And each time it knocked me down I got back up to test it again. And I got knocked down again. Until, until, until I was ready to accept what it had to teach me; that the construct of “me against a dark and unknown forest trail” was only the latest manifestation of my familiar developmental path.

Me against. Me against. Me against. An endless, un-winnable fight.

Me with the unknown trail. Me with the scary conversations. Me with the deepening relationship. Me with the new opportunity to stretch, learn and grow. Me with the unknown future.

Connection is the pathway I continue to walk.


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Playful

“We have no empirical evidence that being more serious leads to greater insight into the human condition than being playful. There is, however, growing empirical evidence that being playful opens toward the ever-elusive, supple heart.”
John Paul Lederach


There is only one thing I miss…that I truly miss…from going to work every day at an organization, from being an employee, on a team, responsible to deliver what’s been promised.

That thing? The fun of it. The playfulness, the messing around, the good humor, the connection and camaraderie. Enjoying myself at work – playing at work – is something I never got tired of and that I miss very much.

As a “sole practitioner” I have to work very hard to create the kind of playfulness that, inside the walls of the company – in the right conditions, of course – happens organically. I have regular and irregular phone calls and email/text exchanges with friends and colleagues that help me keep perspective, have a laugh and enjoy the experience of my day-to-day work. And that’s essential because I can take my work much too seriously on far too many days.

I am reminded today that the intensity of my furrowed brow suits my work only insofar as it moves me toward lightness and freedom. I realize that I can measure this by checking whether I am inching myself closer to the playground than to the principal’s office.

That the seriousness of my endeavor can be for the purpose of creating more playfulness – rather than just more work “product” – seemed an irreconcilable difference to me for far too long. That my work is and always needs to be playful, given all of the best effort I can muster, is what makes it worth doing. And what makes those on the receiving end much more appreciative of what I offer.

I love my work. Some days I love it so much that I squeeze the life right out of it. Some days, better days, I hold it lightly…so lightly that it just starts to float away. And I can sit back and smile as I watch it go.


This is for my friend, Alia.

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To Belong

“A community is a union of persons…who share in mutuality their most precious possessions – themselves.”

– John Powell, S.J.


Today, I conclude my exploration of John Powell’s “five essential steps into the fullness of life.”

Part 5: To Belong

Where do you call ‘home’?

What and whom do you belong to that you consider your community?

Is it your family and your private home? Is it your professional colleagues and your workplace? Is it your fellow parishioners and your house of worship? Is it your fellow volunteers and your community organization?

Perhaps it’s a combination of all of these.

My earliest feeling of community, of belonging, came through being part of my church youth group. I was in middle school and we had the chance to spend a lot of time together doing fun activities, singing, eating and being kids who shared the common cause of our faith.

I was on a few sports teams before and during high school but none of them created the kind of belonging I felt as part of my high school choir. The common cause of music, the mixture of all ages and other elements of diversity, a caring and demanding director, and the fact that we sounded great (at least I remember it that way!) made for a very special home away from home.

When I learned that I had been accepted into my college’s choral music program I highly anticipated the continuation of this feeling of community but even more intensely given the increased freedom and adventure I assumed college would offer. To my astonishment it completely exceeded my expectations, beyond any other group experience I had as an undergraduate. I know that we were good, outstanding even, and something about being called, encouraged and cajoled to that mountaintop by both our director and our shared standard of performance, helped us to a level of esprit de corps I have not experienced since.

I am so grateful for these early experiences of community because they helped me create a standard of expectation that has remained a consistent part of my life. In the 27 years since college I have been fortunate to find a version of it in a few work scenarios, in a church music group and, most especially in my own family.

What I have learned from each of these is that there is no possibility of personal aliveness without the support of an enduring community. There is a reciprocal relationship that exists in community in which the community fuels my aliveness and my aliveness – each person’s individual aliveness – in turn fuels the community.

It is the very nature of this reciprocity that begs the question of each of us who is committed to being fully human and fully alive: are we prepared to do the real work of accepting ourselves, being ourselves, forgetting ourselves into loving, and believing in something larger than ourselves so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labors, the chance to revel in the gift of belonging?

There was a time when I would have answered from a purely cognitive place: “Of course! Who wouldn’t want that?”

But to answer from the heart – informed by the careful curiosity of the mind – is a much riskier enterprise. It is one that promises to lay us low, as we learn to let die the smaller version of our self who so vigorously attempts to convince us that he or she is the real thing!

The smaller self, the less than fully human/fully alive self, is merely a container, intended to house us for only a brief time, one whose diminished size tempts us into seeing just a fraction of our potential for living into a much larger and extraordinary life of freedom.


I sincerely hope that this week of reflections on John Powell’s illuminating work serves as a source of insight into your own experience of aliveness. As we become more alive, more human, to ourselves we cannot help but do so for those with whom we are privileged to share our lives. This alone makes it an endeavor worth our sincere and faithful attention.

If you are interested in revisiting any of the previous posts, you can find them below.

Monday: To Accept Oneself
Tuesday: To Be Oneself
Wednesday: To Forget Oneself in Loving
Thursday: To Believe


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Fully Alive

In Fully Human Fully Alive, John Powell writes:

“…fully alive people are those who are using all of their human faculties, powers, and talents. These individuals are fully functioning, in their external and internal senses. They are comfortable with, and open to, the full experience and expression of all human emotions. Such people are vibrantly alive, in mind, heart, and will. There is an instinctive fear in most of us, … and we prefer, for the sake of safety, to take life in small dainty doses. But, the fully alive person travels with the confidence that, if one is alive and fully functioning, in all parts and powers, the result will be harmony, not chaos” [p.19:3-p. 20:1].

According to Powell, “the 5 essential steps into the fullness of life include:

1. to accept oneself
2. to be oneself
3. to forget oneself in loving
4. to believe
5. to belong”   [p.23:1].

Unless you prefer “to take life in small dainty doses,” these are not only worth aspiring to but they are calling us to meet them with heart-filled resolve. Next week, some thoughts and reflections on each one. Please join me.


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I’m a Dog Walker

Wouldn’t it be great – and a little weird and maybe even fun – if you had to answer the question, “So, what do you do?” based on the most recent thing you’ve actually done?

If I just cleaned the house, then I’m a house cleaner.
If I just prepared for class, then I’m a professor.
If I just went on a date with my wife, then I’m a husband.
If I just had a great workout, then I’m an athlete.
If I just wrote a poem, then I’m a poet.
If I just made dinner, then I’m a chef (well, maybe “cook” is good enough for that one!).
If I took the dog for a walk then, yes, I’m a dog walker.

We are ritually, blindly obsessed with narrowing our self-disclosure about what we “do” down to what we get paid for and I think that’s a shame.

You are not what you get paid to do. What you get paid to do is, I assume, something you have deep expertise in and truly enjoy. But is that all that you do? Not even close.

You are, of course, the sum total of how you spend your time. All of your time.

Not only our conversations but our workplaces would be significantly enriched if this was both recognized and normalized. What happens when we get a larger and clearer picture of how another person spends their precious time is that they become more human to us. They take on the complex, dynamic qualities of a person that we easily recognize in ourselves but conveniently ignore in others.

We are not here on a fact-finding mission. We are here to connect, and in our connection support and sustain one another’s doing so that we can relish in one another’s being.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Into Deep Water
{David Berry}

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you.

Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who you are.

Only then will you be equipped to determine what serves you and what must be thrown back.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you.

Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who loves you, just as you are.

Only then will you be equipped to close the difficult distance between the fear of loss and the exponential truth of full relationship.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you.

Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of new learning.

Only then will you be equipped to say “I am, and always have been a beginner.”


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Partnership

fullsizeoutput_254fI don’t pause often enough to reflect on, much less comment about, the importance of my marriage to the success of my business or, more importantly, the success of my life.

While “success” is a subjective term, Theresa and I have done and will continue to do the work that helps us to live up to our core values, both as partners and as co-leaders of our family. I don’t know another way, certainly not a better way, to define success than that.

The simple, beautiful truth is that without her faithful dedication to me and to our family, I would not have the freedom or confidence I need to have the impact that I aspire to have each day.

Today, on our 24th wedding anniversary, it’s important to me to say “thank you” to the person who has been most quietly and consistently responsible for helping me to live into the person I have longed to become.

I couldn’t do it without her. I would never want to. And as I long as I have the privilege to do so, I will work very hard to make sure she knows that.


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Into Deep Water

Each one of us has a net in which we capture an understanding of ourselves. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net in the shallow end of our experience, catching and re-catching what we have long known about ourselves, hoping that this time the limitations of our understanding won’t hold us back, won’t prevent us from getting closer to our heart’s desire.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who you are. Only then will you be equipped to determine what serves you and what must be thrown back. 

Each one of us has a net in which we gather the collective force of our connection to others. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net on the surface of our experience, keeping our relationships at a safe distance, rarely risking bringing them closer and almost never including someone new. We falsely believe that this distance protects us, reducing the risk of being known for who we truly are.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who loves you, just as you are. Only then will you be equipped to close the difficult distance between the fear of loss and the exponential truth of full relationship.  

Each one of us has a net in which we collect all the learning of our adult life. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do so very often, if ever. Instead, we toss our net in the shallow waters of what is known, comforted by the embrace of the status quo, keeping a wide territory between us and the edge of the new with its persistent threat of exposure, embarrassment and failure.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of new learning. Only then will you be equipped to say “I am, and always have been a beginner.” 

Each one of us has a net. It is large and strong. It works fine along the shore but it is built for deeper water.

Only you can throw it there.


Gold Inside

Do you know the story of the Buddhist monks who, in an effort to preserve a revered clay Buddha statue, accidentally broke it open and discovered it was made of gold?

Do you know that the clay was meant to discourage an invading army from stealing the statue but that centuries later this information was lost and, upon rediscovery it was assumed that it was always and only made of clay?

Do you know that most people, most of the time do an excellent impression of that clay Buddha, keeping the best of themselves protected against being seen and being known?

If you’re not ok with this, and I hope that you are not, then I encourage you to remember that everyone’s clay facade has a crack somewhere. If you are truly curious and determined you will find it and, peering within, see that there is gold inside.

This discovery must, of course, start with you.

Go ahead. Have a look.

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Do you still get nervous?

I’ve been performing or presenting in some form or fashion since I was 14 years old. In choirs, as a soloist, a trainer, facilitator, or speaker, I’ve been getting “on stage” for 35 years now. Once I while I’m asked, “Do you still get nervous?”

My answer is always “Yes” and that answer is often met with a look of confusion. Like, how can you have been doing this kind of thing for as long as you have and still feel nervous about it?

What I found myself explaining most recently is what I think of as the difference between functional and dysfunctional nervousness.

My functional nervousness is a result of an energy surge that comes from having an opportunity to do something I care deeply about – be it speaking or singing – and my desire to do the very best job I can possibly do. That nervous energy reminds me that I care and I would be very concerned not to feel it in the moments leading up to the experience.

Dysfunctional nervousness on the other hand, comes from a lack of passion (I’m doing this even though I don’t want to and I hope they don’t notice), a lack of preparation or a lack of experience, and possibly a combination of all three.

Dysfunctional nervousness is the type that induces fear and the very real desire to run away as fast and as far as possible.

My recommendation for moving from dysfunctional or debilitating nervousness to functional or energizing nervousness is to do the following:

  1. Whatever it is, don’t go through the motions. Find your personal passion in the material and deliver it from there. If you can’t find that, what are you even doing there?
  2. Don’t wing it. Do your homework and be prepared. That way, you can put your attention on your audience – who very much want you to succeed – and create an environment of generous, reciprocal positive energy.
  3. Get more at bats. Say “yes” to more opportunities. There is no better teacher than experience and if you really want to feel functional nervousness you’re going to have to go out and find/create the opportunities to do so.

Not only does my being functionally nervous remind me that I care, it reminds that I am alive. That aliveness – that energized and activated presence – is the greatest gift you can give to those who have come to listen.


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