Monday Morning Thought Experiment

Imagine that it’s five years ago. If you could meet yourself on October 14, 2014 what advice would you give yourself for the coming five years?*

Five years ago, my advice would have been (1) trust yourself; (2) open yourself; (3) move towards aliveness, always.

Imagine that it’s five years from now. What advice do you give yourself today that will help you wake up on October 14, 2024 satisfied that you lived the last five years with a clear purpose?

My advice to my future self is the same: (1) trust yourself; (2) open yourself; (3) more towards aliveness, always. 

Is it a cop out to focus on the same things, evidence of a lack of growth or ambition? It’s tempting to think of it that way, but I choose not to. I choose instead to recognize my “advice to self” as an acknowledgement that my core developmental themes will always resist being “fixed” or “solved.” These themes represent a very large part of the work of my life, work that never really ends.

I suppose that could be frustrating, even defeating. But I find it inspiring, an invitation to keep learning.

And what about you? What did you discover?


*Suggestion: conduct this experiment out loud, with a friend. Make a commitment. See what happens.


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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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To Be Oneself

“Fully alive people are liberated by their self-acceptance to be authentic and real.”

– John Powell, S.J.


Today, I continue to explore John Powell’s “five essential steps into the fullness of life.”

Part 2: To Be Oneself

Sometimes I think I matured in reverse. My memories of high school in particular are a series of Technicolor images of “being myself,” feeling fully human and fully alive. Not long after that time, my “self” slipped away and it took a long time to get it back.

In high school I remember feeling completely comfortable expressing myself in the assorted ways it made sense for me to do so. I sang in choir, performed in musical theater, participated in student government, in talent shows, pep rallies, air bands, skits…anything and everything that gave me a chance to employ my extraversion, my energy and my joy for performance. I wanted to create, to connect, to engage. I instinctively wanted to use my energy to energize others.

Once in a while, I hit the books. And I did well enough. But the classroom was not my personal proving ground. My greatest learning, and my most positive memories of that time, came from getting up in front of people. It was what I knew how to do and I had a wide-open runway on which to do it.

College wasn’t remarkably different from high school in this regard and I found some similar ways to tap into that bottomless reservoir of performance energy.  This gradually became muted by more rigorous academic demands and the fact that I was swimming in a much bigger pond. The fact that it never dawned on me to get involved in theater at the college level is a decent indicator that I was already working hard to protect myself from not getting picked.

Since the approval of others came so easily in my teenage pursuits I was ignorant about how much I needed it. As that veil was lifted, as my need was exposed, I began to shrink away from some of the risks that would have come easily before.

As comfortable as I was in “presentation mode” in my earlier years, I found myself anxious and afraid as my young career provided opportunities to be out in front. I got myself convinced that those innocent exploits were an anomaly, not really me, and what chance did I really have to repeat an anomaly!

Finally, at 37 years old, an age that seems obscenely old relative to how intensely my unmet internal desires were burning, my friend Molly Davis paved the way for me to make my first professional presentation at a conference. It was the first time I stood up and said, “this is the work I do, what my team and my company have accomplished, and I am very happy to share it with you.”

I had some skin in the game and because of that I was very, very nervous. And it went great. And there was no looking back.

Twenty years after experiencing the joyful and easy expressions of my youth, I had discovered it again, this time with the maturity of my professional experience to back it up. It was quite a moment to be reconnected to myself after all of those years.

Today, I am a soloist at church and I give lots of talks and trainings. I freely share stories about my experiences, striving always to represent myself authentically and without a varnish that begs for approval. And I still get nervous. But that nervous energy is no longer rooted in the fear of not being good enough but rather in my desire to do good work. I care about what I do and I want that to come across loud and clear.

I once heard it said that if the path ahead of you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s path. And tempting though it may be to stay on that safer road, to get to oneself requires the harder work of a boulder-strewn, uphill climb.

No one else can walk it for you. And the view from the top is breathtaking.


Tomorrow: Part 3, To forget oneself in loving

January-12

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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Your Natural Best

It’s Wednesday. You’re busy. Your week is flying by and you don’t have time to read this post.

Pause.

Take a breath. (Count to 4 on the inhale and 4 again on the exhale. Repeat if you so desire)

D  e  e  p       b  r  e  a t  h.

Ok, then, just a quick thought experiment before you get back into the mix. Do you have just another moment for that? Here it is:

  1. Who are you at your “natural best”?
  2. Have you been at your natural best this week?
  3. If so, how did that feel?
  4. If not, what’s in the way?

You and me? We’re both much happier and we’re certainly more engaged when we’re operating at our natural best.

Something to consider, here on a busy Wednesday. Because, of course, none of this will ever work as well as it can if we’re all busy doing impressions.

Time for the real thing. Time for you and me to shine.


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HT to the ever thoughtful Andy Wong.

Start Within

“…the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.”

Jim Yong Kim
President, The World Bank


There is no team member, and certainly no team, who will surpass the commitment to learning and development that is established by their leader. If you are frustrated by the lack of growth, or the lack of commitment to growth, being demonstrated by your team, you must first look at yourself.

The act of learning in organizational life, and the feedback required to enable it, depends totally on the environment created by the leader, one in which he or she demonstrates a personal, living commitment to continuous learning. If there is a “secret sauce” to effective leadership, this is it.

Today, the onus on leaders is to start within, focusing first on their own improvement as a continuous exercise of genuine humility. This practice of humility creates a space for a deeper empathetic sensibility that can then be applied to the leader’s team.

When feedback comes from that place it demonstrates a universal commitment to getting better (We are all in this together!) while also reenforcing the most basic truth of leadership, that leaders go first.

If you are not willing to go first, you are not a leader. If you are not willing to learn continuously, grow continuously, question your personal status quo continuously, you are not a leader.

Once you do so, however, it changes everything. You will no longer dread the discomfort of providing feedback to your team but will instead relish the opportunity to be a catalyst for their growth. Once you normalize a persistent and consistent approach to learning for yourself, you will normalize it for them as well.

As ever, leaders go first.


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Labor Day

“Work isn’t to make money. You work to justify life”

Marc Chagall ~

When I was 17 years old I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I just didn’t know that it was possible to apply what came naturally to me to a formal educational and professional pursuit. And so began a 14 year journey to find what it was I was supposed to do with my life. When I finally landed on my vocation I was shocked to find that I had known the answer so many years before; that the answer had always been in me, just waiting to be unlocked and reintroduced to the world in a new and more profound way.

Of course, had I not wandered in the desert, searching in vain for the perfect fit; had I not been tested and molded by so many “roads to nowhere” I never would have found the road to somewhere. It was because of the work that was not my work that I was able to find the work that is.

James Michener wrote, and I’m paraphrasing heavily, that until we find our “thing” everything else we do along the way is creative. It’s all part of the process of learning who and what we are and how we are meant to use it in and for the world. Another sage, Joseph Campbell, said this:

“If the path ahead of you is clear, you are on someone else’s path.”

In other words, your path – the work of your life – is the one with all the obstacles. You have to fight for it, up and over, through and around; clawing, scraping, racing, pushing, pulling. This is how you know it is yours. And, in my experience, while all of that is happening you are deeply gratified by knowing that this fight is your fight, this labor is your labor; the work meant for you and you alone.

And what a joy it is to find that work. Truly, it is an exceptional thing to realize that this is my offering, my contribution. And with it comes a deep and significant responsibility to fully explore, fully realize and fully practice that which I am meant to do.

I am grateful on Labor Day to have found my work. More than that, I am grateful to have the resources, support, trust and well-being to fully express it.

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”

Albert Camus ~


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.

Yes, She is Smarter Than You

You were hired because you are smart (researcher) or funny (comedian) or clever (analyst). You were hired because of your insights (strategist) or storytelling (marketer) or interpersonal skills (sales).

And you feel good about yourself. And you begin to move among and learn about others in your field. And you quickly realize that there is someone (perhaps many “someones”) who are smarter, funnier, more clever, insightful, who tells a better story or who connects more easily with more people.

Does this mean you are an impostor?

No.

It means that you are hanging out with exactly the right people.

There’s always someone who has “more” or is more of whatever you most value. The sooner you accept that and choose to learn from those you admire, the sooner you can get back to doing what you were hired to do.


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Carl Richards, New York Times

Every Superhero Has An Origin Story

Soon after I published my book, A More Daring Life, in early 2016 I was invited to take a daring new step of my own, teaching in the business school at Cal State University San Marcos. I had no idea what I was in for, no idea of the energy, enthusiasm and kindness of the students it would be my privilege to teach.

A few months ago, I started noodling on an idea built on the foundations of my book but specifically geared to soon-to-be graduates and young professionals. The outlines of a storytelling workshop, one that would teach participants to transcend the quantitative constraints of their resume by learning how to tell a more personal and selectively vulnerable story about their experience and qualifications, began to take shape in May. This weekend, planning and thinking became doing and I led the first one.

For the generous “yes” of those willing to be first I offer my deepest gratitude for trusting me, for being all in and for teaching me how to make it better. (Session 2 is next Saturday!)

To them and to you I offer a toast: “To a more daring life!”


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