How > What

“There is no organization large enough for even one human soul.”
{David Whyte}


If you are engaged in a conversation about your development – the arc of your life and where it is leading – you might be tempted to ask something like:

What do I want to be when I grow up?”

This question is too small. Its narrow focus is on the external realities of position, role and title, none of which is large enough to contain a person.

A better, bigger question is this:

How do I want to be when I grow up?”

This is an especially relevant development question since it gets to the quality of your internal reality.

I imagine that you will hold and play many roles in your life and I hope that each one represents a next step in the evolution of your learning.

What is far more satisfying to imagine, however, is that how you decide to live your life fills you with the pride of knowing that you made the strength of your humanity your most important goal.


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.

Learning to Ask For Help

Among the most important – and most difficult – realizations I had to contend with on my path to becoming a person is that of learning to ask for help. My life is littered with instances of persisting in a state of futility when engaging with someone else, sometimes something else, would have made the difficult thing an easier thing.

The roots of it have to do with perfectionism/fear of failure and a persistent voice in the head asking questions like, “What if they find out you are not as good as you think? What then?”

I have stood on a lakeshore for over an hour, fruitlessly trying to catch fish while everyone around me was having success.

I have gotten lost on a forested trail three days in a row because of my stubborn unwillingness to slow down and notice the actual signs that marked the way.

I have avoided sharing my written work with talented writers and editors whose thoughtful and helpful criticism might just sting too much.

And the list goes on. Or it went on until I turned a corner and began to practice, albeit imperfectly and sometimes haltingly, some alternative ways of engaging with the sources of help that surround me.

Most recently, I took up the piano. After years of avoiding a hard thing that would make me feel all the painful feelings of being a beginner, I decided it was time to get over it and get on with it. My daughter, an accomplished player at age 13, has been exceedingly helpful to me. My piano teacher, with whom I just recently had my first lesson, is genuinely interested in my success. I am saying “yes” to their quite visible forms of help.

I also spend time with two different peer groups on a monthly basis. These are people in similar fields and with similar aspirations for learning, growth and impact. Our conversations consist of inquiry, revelation and support and just being present with and for one another is a form of deeply important help.

My daily writing on this blog is another way I am seeking and finding a helping hand. Basil King said, “Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.” Though I sometimes doubt the value of sending yet another post into the dark void of the internet, I am reminded that the practice of doing so is less about where it lands and more about helping myself stay attuned to my own thinking and my own voice. It is a practice in self-help, I suppose.

One final example of saying yes to help: A few weeks ago as I was scrambling to get my things together and get out the door on time for my full day of teaching and office hours at the university, I asked my wife Theresa if she would make a lunch for me to take along. My campus schedule doesn’t allow me the time to get something between classes and on this particular day I didn’t have time to prepare ahead of time. She said yes, of course, and has done the same for me on each Thursday since.

It’s a simple and loving kind of help, the kind that can be taken for granted. But I don’t because it reminds me that I have someone in my corner who is ready and willing to help me as long as I let her know how. And that’s what makes it such an important example, that she – someone who implicitly wants to help me – can’t do so if she doesn’t know how. Which means I have to ask and risk the vulnerability of doing so.

These examples, large and small, remind me that in spite of a deeply rutted pattern of assuming that people will be judgmental or unkind or bothered – a clear projection of my vulnerability – there is another assumption, by far a more accurate one, to be made: that most people, most of the time, want to help.

The unknown variable in the equation, as it turns out, is me.


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 Hardest Thing

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
{Seneca}


Sharing difficult feedback. Public speaking. Expressing empathy. Learning to play a musical instrument. Becoming fluent in a foreign language.

These are all “hard” things. And I have to put “hard” in quotes because right now you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t think ___________ is that hard?”

Maybe you play an instrument really well or love giving talks or have developed solid skills for giving tough feedback. You probably don’t see those things as hard anymore. You appreciate the work it took to get to your current level of confidence but “hard” no longer means what it once did.

My guess is that before you became competent you told yourself a story about just how hard it would be to get there. And that story – your imagination – depending on how richly it was detailed and how expertly it was crafted, stood in the way of your getting started.

I’m a beginner at the piano. I have not yet had a lesson (that’s coming soon) so I am using my daughter’s early lesson books for exercises to train my fingers and some “easy” songs to aid my learning. I have been at it for one month. In that short time my attitude has shifted from a lifelong belief that “piano is hard” (and therefore not for me) to a present sense of very pleasing satisfaction that I can already do things that I never imagined being able to do.

Until I decided to sit down at the piano for 15 minutes a day, I was living under the shadow of “hard” as an imaginative device to prevent me from starting. I now experience “hard” as an aspirational device to feed my curiosity and help me add one small brick at a time.

The piano is, of course, an objectively hard instrument to master, and mastery is the domain of a very few. But mastery isn’t my goal. Learning to play some songs I love is my goal. Connecting with my kids through music is my goal. Filling the house with Christmas carols is my goal. After six weeks of daily practice, those things no longer seem hard. They seem possible, exciting and a lot of fun.

What changed? I suppose I got old enough and just a little bit wise enough to realize it was time to stop suffering in my imagination and time to start succeeding in my reality.


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.

Courage Begets Courage

Yesterday, I wrote about trying something new as the result of the shared support and accountability that can emerge between trusted friends. Having put myself “on the hook” I felt a strong obligation to them and to myself to follow through. What I didn’t share is that I am not the only of us to take new actions, new risks, as a result of our collaboration.

One friend designed and led a one-day retreat she had been longing to offer. She issued the invitation and many said “yes.”

Another friend enrolled her boss in a difficult conversation about redesigning her work schedule to make her well-being a higher priority. The answer was, “yes.”

While none of us would claim direct responsibility for the other’s courageous step, we feel a profound sense of shared responsibility for the listening, the encouragement and celebration for the other’s follow-through.

Your courage is my courage. And it is her courage and his courage, and then mine again, even greater now.

That’s the gift of connection between trusted friends.


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.

Hang Out With People Who Make You Better

I first played racquetball in high school and loved it right away. It’s intense, fast, highly competitive and an incredible workout.

Less than a year later, not too far into my first semester of college, I befriended a guy who mentioned that he played racquetball and that there were courts on campus just a short walk from where I lived. I brightened up right away and suggested that we play together sometime.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that I was cocky or even overly confident about going up against my new friend on the court, but I had developed some skill in the short time I’d been playing and my friend, well, he just looked too big and slow to be much of a player.

He demolished me in our first game. And in our second game, and in the third one, too.

After the beatings he decided to mention that he had played in a semi-pro league for a while. I didn’t know that was a thing.

Sensing that he was about to lose the possibility of establishing a regular game with me due to my utter humiliation, he made me a deal. A right-handed player, he offered to play left-handed until I beat him.

And I did beat him. Six. Months. Later.

And then he switched back to his right hand and destroyed me all over again.

I never did win against his strong hand but the six months it took to break through against his weak hand saw my game improve by leaps and bounds. Beating him that day, conditional though it was, filled me with pure joy because I knew that I had played beyond myself. And I did so through the willing partnership of a very talented friend.

[HT to Anna Schrag for inspiring this post.]


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.

Right now, under your feet

Under the winter sun, beneath the cold, hardened ground, spring is already hard at work, getting ready, ready, ready to grow.

It is our responsibility to stay present to the lessons and possibilities of the current season while also preparing for the one that is to come.

“Winter” officially began just one week ago and reminds us to come back to ourselves, to conserve, to evaluate. It is an active rest, not a stagnant one.

The roots of the trees are busily storing water and nutrients for what’s to come. If not, there is no spring.


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.

A Redwood Life

IMG_6001“The tree which moves some to tears of joy
is in the eyes of others only
a green thing which stands in the way…
As a man is, so he sees.”

William Blake


As this semester drew to a close I decided to share with my students some images from a recent trip to the Humboldt Redwood State Park here in California.

I wanted to share my childlike enthusiasm for these magnificent trees. I wanted to inspire them to seek out wonder and awe in their lives.  I wanted them to remember that in the field of “management” (which is what the course tells us we are studying) we do well to remember that it is first and always a human endeavor.

I wanted them to believe my admonition that a profound sense of awe and wonder – an appreciation for the spectacular miracle that is any living and learning system – is essential if we are to appropriately honor the very real human beings present in our workplaces, responsive to our decisions, trusting of our intentions.

I then took it a step further. I encouraged, even challenged them to choose to be redwoods in their own communities. I suggested that such a choice comes with great risk because a redwood outside of a redwood forest would be seen as a peculiar, if fascinating anomaly. I then suggested that living a “redwood life,” conspicuous though it might be, might just inspire others to do the same, and that we might just create an entire forest of people fulfilling their potential for growth and impact. In fact, it would be the only way for them to survive.

Redwoods are shallow rooted, a shocking realization given their massive size. Instead of deep roots to support them they use their upper limbs to make contact with their neighbors and together form a dense network of mutual well-being.

Stand tall, reach out, help one another. Live a life of wonder and awe at the gifts of living and learning.


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.