The Mother of All Fears

Below the surface of every negatively adaptive behavior there is a fear driving the action.

I took a job earlier in my career that I was incredibly excited to get but about which I was deeply anxious because I didn’t feel qualified. The first couple of weeks on the job, I got my hands into many different pots, trying to be as “helpful” and to “add as much value” as possible to defend against the inevitable discovery of my fraudulence.

By not staying in my lane I started frustrating the very people who just days earlier welcomed me with open arms. Little did they know I would try to run the place! Once I was redirected to my area of influence with a sharp dose of feedback I had the chance to consider what was motivating my behavior.

Below the surface, further down than just my fear of being “found out” was a much more painful feeling of having abandoned my family and a potent fear of the repercussions that would follow. I had worked from home for many years at this point, with all of the benefits of flexible scheduling that provides, and the abrupt change to a traditional 9-to-5 office environment 10 days after the birth of our third child left me reeling.

I assumed, wrongly of course, that I had to prove to my family that my decision was the right one and the only way to do so was to make a big impact as quickly as possible. It was an understandable if unfortunate adaptation to my circumstances and one that has been instructive to my personal awareness and the manner in which many people cope with the unseen force of an unnamed fear.

In the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, the protagonist comes to the aid of the King of the Danes who has been under attack by a monster called Grendel. Once Beowulf slays Grendel he discovers that his work has only just begun as he now must contend with the unnamed creature known as Grendel’s mother. To do so, he goes into the lake to her underwater cave and engages her in a fierce battle which he finally though barely wins.

If I had stopped my reflection about my negative behaviors on the job at the first or “Grendel level” – the fear of being found out – I would have been left with something useful but insufficient. Not until I confronted my primary fear at the “Grendel’s mother” level could I follow the bubbles back to the surface, stand on the shoreline and imagine a new way forward.


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.

 

The Leadership Compass

I’ve told the story many times of my getting lost in the woods while hiking in a forest on Whidbey Island, WA. Three days in a row I headed out in the early morning darkness on a well-marked trail and three days in a row I got lost.

Yes, it was raining. Yes, it was dark. But three days in a row? There has to be more to the story. And there is: I’m an impatient, fast-acting, things-will-work-out-fine-if-I-just-get-started kind of person. By refusing to slow down, much less stop, I repeatedly failed to see and read the signs – literally and otherwise – that would have kept me on the right path.

On the Leadership Compass that behavior puts me squarely in the North. The compass is a tool I use with both clients and students to help them see their operating preferences accurately and to develop empathy for the operating preferences of others. Just as there is no wrong direction on a compass, there is no wrong leadership personality. Understanding these preferences is key to understanding the persistent and challenging conflicts that take place in organizational settings every day.

After asking a group to sort themselves into one of the following categories, I ask them to discuss the questions that follow:

  • NORTH: Acting – Likes to get going, try things, plunge in.
  • SOUTH: Caring – likes to know that everyone’s feelings have been considered and voices have been heard before acting.
  • EAST: Speculating – likes to look at the big picture and the possibilities before acting.
  • WEST: Paying attention to detail – likes to know the who, what, when, where and why before acting.
  1. What are the strengths of your style?
  2. What are the limitations of your style?
  3. Which style do you find most difficult to work with and why?
  4. What do people from the other “directions” or styles need to know about you so you can work together effectively?
  5. What do you value about the other three styles?

I am comfortable asserting that if I had been accompanied on that forest trail by someone from the WEST, SOUTH or EAST I would not have gotten lost. Besides the additional set of eyes and ears, their different sensibility would have tempered my natural inclination to go too fast.

But since there are times we must act alone, keeping our knowledge of the different Compass elements front of mind, and reminding ourselves that we have the ability if not the preferential comfort to practice them, allows us to avoid being servants to our first impulse.

The dynamics of change will frequently require us to walk in the dark. That does not mean we have to get lost.

Personality Compass – Turner & Greco, 1998
Leadership Compass Self Assessment – Be the Change Consulting, 2010


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.

Better Questions for a Better Year

I meet with a small group of trusted friends – fellow travelers – once a month for the purpose of connection that surfaces learning and deepens insight. We create a space of mutual respect and loving friendship because we want to, most importantly, but also because our work as leaders, consultants, teachers and coaches demands that we expand our capacity proportionate to our desire to be of service.

For our most recent conversation, Alia Fitzgerald composed the following questions to help our reflections on the past year shape our aspirations for the year ahead:

  • What are the six words that best describe 2018? What would you like those words to be in 2019?
  • What were you a part of last year that you’ll remember for the rest of your life? What do you take away that you could apply to your wellbeing and success this year?
  • What commitment if achieved tomorrow would give you the greatest feeling of contentment, satisfaction or success?

There is too much to do and too much at stake for any of us to go it alone. Trusted friends and powerful questions are still the best recipe for setting the intentions that allow us to do our very best work, the work that is ours alone to do.

[HT to Molly Davis and Alia Fitzgerald]


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.

Follow the Breadcrumbs

Every time you speak and in every way that you act, you are telling us who you are, what you care about, how you are made. Consciously or not, you are always dropping a trail of breadcrumbs for yourself and others to follow that will lead to a deeper understanding of you.

I didn’t realize until just this week that for months now I have been using words and actions in a wide variety of ways to express my desire for more physical, literally hands-on expression. Planting, cooking, constructing, washing, assembling, painting and a yearning for the physical challenge of playing an instrument have all been clues to this mounting somatic desire.

A sharply focused lens on my words and actions these last six months would have made this obvious but I needed time to realize that there is a larger question emerging about how I will satisfy a need my body already understands but about which my mind is just becoming aware. Those breadcrumbs I’ve been dropping allowed me to follow the path back to myself.

This is worth discovering for yourself. A way to do so that is both revealing and connective is to find a trusted partner or small group and ask each person to respond to a provocative question: “Tell us a story about when you were at your best?” or “Describe an experience that challenged you and how you responded to it?” or “What’s something about you that is true today that you never imagined would be true?”

Once the question is answered, you might follow-up with, “And how is that relevant for you today?” or another inquiry that brings the insight forward.

The listener’s job in this conversation is to spot the breadcrumbs that emerge in the response and then feed them back to the speaker, asking what they make of having left this particular trail.

The breadcrumbs aren’t an answer in themselves, but they are a pathway into a larger conversation full of “questions that have no right to go away.”


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.

[Author’s Note: “…questions that have no right to go away.” is the final line of the poem, Sometimes by David Whyte.]

The Scoreboard

For the better portion of my adult life I was convinced that there was a scoreboard and that I was always on the losing side.

I allowed the scoreboard to enable my perfectionism. This meant that I didn’t try things I couldn’t be great at right away; I didn’t create things for fear of criticism, comparison or being found out as a fraud.

I spent so much time staring at the scoreboard that I didn’t have any time left to look at myself. I had no idea how to do that.

And then a confluence of events created an opening for another way; a challenging professional opportunity and lots of difficult, necessary feedback put a crack in my facade, the one I had constructed to make up for my losing score.

That difficult feedback and the crack that came with it also came with an invitation for the kind of rigorous support that can repair the crack or at least contain its spread. Mentoring, counseling, friendship were made available to me in abundance for long enough that I could finally learn to mentor, counsel and befriend myself.

Here’s what I know: there was no scoreboard. There was only an adaptation to feelings of shame that led me to believe that I would not be, could not be, good enough.

But I was, and I am.

And so are you.

If you’re busy watching the score, please try to remind yourself that it’s not real; that there are good mentors, counselors and friends who will stand with you if you let them, and who will help you train your gaze on something much more worthy of your attention: your whole and healed self.


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.

Equipped for Contact

Internal development – the decisions and actions you can freely take to dismantle the dictates of your past experiences – will always precede external awareness.

Your capacity to gracefully and constructively accept and engage with the external changes that come into your life is positively correlated to the degree to which you’ve done your internal work.

This is crucial to understand because every day you do not act upon this knowledge is another day you employ an operating model that was once relevant but is now obsolete.

Think of it this way: people were driving and crashing their cars for a long time before seat belts, safety glass and air bags showed up. Those inventions don’t prevent the crashes, they limit the human damage. What was once a sure fatality is now a few bruises and an insurance hassle.

Your internal work will equip you, just like those safety features, to make contact with change without it turning into a wreck. If it’s good enough for your car, surely it’s good enough for you.


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.

An Inside Job

I applaud every single person who says they want to get better at dealing with change.

I respect their acknowledgement that doing so will make a big, positive difference, not only to their peace of mind but in their ability to move through the world with greater ease, composure and confidence.

To those stout-hearted souls I offer this recommendation (if I am briefly allowed the presumption of having something of value to offer on the subject):

First, start within.

Begin with the assumption that your resistance or difficulty with change is a byproduct of your personal, necessary adaptations to life.

And then question those adaptations with vigorous curiosity;

“Is it still necessary for me to control every situation or is that a leftover from feeling out of control for so long?”

“Is it still necessary for me to dominate every conversation or is that a leftover from my not being heard?”

“Is it still necessary for me to shrink into the corner at the first sign of conflict or is that a leftover from being exposed to too much conflict?”

Your history is your history and it has deep, inherent value. Until it is reconciled in terms of who you are now and where you intend to go next, however, it will always remain an anchor on your forward progress.

Yes, yes, yes…devote yourself to greater capacity for both the quality and quantity of the changes you will face. And, please do not lose sight of the basic truth that there is no skill you can learn, seminar you can attend or guru you can follow who can capably replace your honest declaration of what you alone must first address.

It is always an inside job.


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.

Regularly, Deeply Embarrassed

“Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun.”

– Alain de Botton


The post office was a mess today. Because, well, December 14.

I knew it as soon as I entered the parking lot and someone swooped into the spot that was clearly mine. That’s right! Mine!

The line for counter service was out the door and the line for self-service was shorter but disorganized and chaotic. A man leaving the store started blathering about how even though he’s a proud liberal democrat he still hates the government, his post office experience wringing out the last of his tolerance.

I didn’t even need to be there. Not really. The post office is located next to the library, a place I did need to go today and since I was close by I stopped in to mail an oversized envelope and buy some stamps. Nothing urgent and a big mistake.

One of the things that defines my own craziness is my flat refusal to bail out on lost cause situations like this one. I finish things, even when it makes no sense to do so (from a common sense, maintaining sanity perspective,  that is). The thought of having wasted the trip, the time, the energy…to park, to walk, to wait…it annoys me so much that I just don’t and won’t.

And the recorder in my head plays out the same call and response soundtrack every time: What is everyone’s problem? Why are you doing this to yourself? Why is everyone so awkward, slow and unprepared? Take a breath, welcome the opportunity for patience and understanding. I would happily be patient and understanding if this place weren’t a complete mess. I should just go. I’m not leaving until I get what I came for, etc.

This stubborn “stick it out at all cost” attitude isn’t my only brand of crazy, of course. I’ve written recently about my compulsion to make sure my car is pointed in the direction I’ll be going next; I must have the dishwasher loaded a certain way, my shirts folded a certain way; and for all of that anal retentiveness I will regularly complete things so quickly (so efficiently I tell myself) that I make and miss easily correctable mistakes. Yes, “regularly and deeply embarrassed.”

This is a great time of year to get in touch with your own crazy. Every anxiety is heightened, every situation more compressed, every responsibility hard up against the clock that tells us that the year is done. It’s a perfect time to take stock, feel a little embarrassed by our self-importance (not ashamed, mind you, but embarrassed) and have a self-deprecating laugh at it all.

I know that self-knowledge comes at a steep price. It is never found in the discount bin or the holiday close-out pile. It is always marked at full MSRP and it never, ever, includes free shipping or free returns. That’s the bad news.

The good news it that it’s always a perfect fit and is worth every penny you pay for it.


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

Your Best Work

Your best work is the work that emerges from the use of your natural, cultivated and refined strengths.

I have learned to be good at all kinds of things in my life. I have adapted myself to many scenarios and found an ability to become successful in ways I wouldn’t normally expect to be.

I think of these abilities as my “learned strengths” and while I am gratified to make a contribution with them, doing so takes its toll on both my energy and my attitude.

When I employ my natural strengths, those born out of the core elements of my personality and burnished by experience, I have no energy loss and am able to maintain a positive attitude.

Understanding the difference between your natural strengths and your adaptive or learned strengths is less a question about how much impact you can have and more a question of how much you are willing to spend to make that impact.


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Try Again

“All I do know is as we age, the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier. . . much heavier. With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher. . . . Long ago, the defenses I built to withstand the stress of my childhood, to save what I had of myself, outlived their usefulness, and I’ve become an abuser of their once lifesaving powers. I relied on them wrongly to isolate myself, seal my alienation, cut me off from life, control others, and contain my emotions to a damaging degree. Now the bill collector is knocking, and his payment’ll be in tears.”

~ Bruce Springsteen. (Esquire, November 27, 2018)


The Boss writes of his inner work like he writes his music: “Now the bill collector is knocking, and his payment we’ll be in tears.” Are you kidding me? If that’s not a song, I don’t know what is.

I started negotiating with my bill collector at 35 years old. He had extended me all the credit I was going to get and it was time to reconcile…with interest.

Considering the freedom paying that debt has brought to my life – freedom, connection, openness – I only wish I had started sooner. And I know, cutting myself some much-needed slack, that I started when I was ready.

“Started” is an important term because it brings with it the implication of an ending. And with this work, there is no ending. There is only the opportunity to get honest about it, make friends with it, and in that friendship find a way to recognize those moments when the impulse to regress is so strong that you want nothing more than to say, “Yes, the old ways are easier and much more satisfying. I will revel in being wounded, resentful, fearful and isolated, wrapping myself in the comfort of that old tattered blanket.”

And then you remember that giving in to that impulse requires the endurance of a hangover so miserable that you feel as if you will never face the light of day again. So, you decline that option and decide instead to live a healed, generous, courageous and connected life.

You decide to try again.


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.