From Theory to Practice

Oh, what I would give to have my ideas show up on the page, in the speech, in the classroom, in the coaching session as beautifully formed as when they first took flight in my imagination.

Alas, it never happens that way. Not once, not ever.

So I persist, as you do, in taking the inspiration of that starting point and turning it into “good enough.” Understanding that “good enough” is more than just “something,” that it is everything. Because without it we are left with nothing.

And nothing is not an option. Not when there’s this much possibility. Not when there’s this much to do.


 

The Story Continues

A week ago I had the privilege of introducing “Storytelling for Career Success” to a group of young professionals who were generous enough to say “yes” to an invitation to test drive my new workshop. By their energetic participation they taught me what worked, what needed help and, most importantly, that what I shared with them is both practical and valuable.

This past Saturday was Round 2 and again I was inspired by a group of open and dynamic participants, each one willing to step into the unknown and share their story. It was an outstanding day, one I am smarter and better equipped for having led.

What I know beyond a doubt is that when we connect through story we break into a new world of possibility. It’s a world where we become known for more than the 12 point font of a resume, where we live into David Whyte’s affirmation that, “we shape ourselves to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.” (Working Together)

One participant put it this way: “The highlight for me was figuring out how to tell an emotional, vibrant story with structure and organization. I was amazed to find that past experiences I never thought applicable in an interview can be used in an amazing, powerful way.” 

Another said this: “Before this experience, I was pretty confident in my story. What I realized throughout the experience is that I haven’t been telling it in the most effective, powerful way. This experience took my story from a little, shaky tale, to an intense, powerful testimony. Not only do I feel more confident about going into an interview, I feel more confident in myself.”

With humility and gratitude – and a powerful sense of purpose – I am committed to author, and be authored by, the unfolding of this new story.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Gate C22

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching–
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after–if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now–you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

{Ellen Bass}


silhouette of person in airport

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The Human Paradox

The need for certainty. When we meet this need too well, life becomes predictable, routine and stagnant. We end up sort of dying in place.

The need for variety. When we meet this need too well, life becomes chaotic, an endless chase for the next, the more interesting, the more stimulating. We end up sort of dying on the run.


It’s been a strange summer around our house. Since I set up my business and a home office 6 years ago, summers are always a bit strange – and stressful – for me. Mid-June arrives and the kid’s schedules make a hairpin turn into late nights, later mornings, and just a whole bunch of them being around…like all the time. This summer we have the addition of a college student returning to the nest for a few months. It’s an adjustment for all of us, needless to say.

On top of that, we had no plans for any kind of family trip this year, nothing that required reservations or flights or extended planning, anyway. And with some extended getaways on the calendar this fall an implicit agreement was made to stay put this summer.

But I don’t stay put very well. After a couple of months of the certainty of my daily routine being displaced by the variety of summer’s randomness, I heard myself saying that, “If we don’t plan a getaway, I’m going to take one of my own.” Not as a threat, simply as a statement of need. The familiar has become too familiar and, with the squeeze of three teenagers, the fine attributes of the “staycation” no longer seem so fine.

We’ll be making our way north soon, some expected spots on the itinerary and a few unexpected ones as well. Really, it’s the going that’s the thing. It’s the chance to experience the chance encounters that rarely come unless we set out to meet them. And it’s the knowing that, all being well, we will return to the certainty of a home ready to hold us as we settle in again, anticipating what comes next.


white vehicle traveling on road

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The Boss

Lyft driver: You are a business person?

Me: Yes.

Driver: You are the boss?

Me: No.

Driver: When you came out I thought, “He is the boss.”

Me: (knowing laugh) Is that because I look so serious?

Driver: (kindly) No, no.

Me: That’s ok. (In my head: It’s just the facade of competence and control I display when I am tired and no longer interested in any form of connection or engagement. My default is to look so serious and so important that people will just leave me alone.)

Driver: Hand sanitizer?

Me: Of course. Thank you.

Ah, the gift of feedback, like a faithful friend, right there when we need it most.


Any Given Day

On any given day…

You can pay attention. You can notice what happens as you engage and are engaged by the people around you. You can shrink from them, rise to meet them, learn from them, absorb their discomfiting needs, discard their demands, invite them in.

On any given day, you can also ignore. Whoever appears around you can remain a blurry sideshow to the central drama that is your life.

The first path is costly. You will have to feel, and in feeling you will be whipsawed from the highest highs to the lowest lows.

The second path is easy. Free from feeling, you will be safe, untouchable.

On any given day that you are alive, you may choose to attend or to ignore. Only one of these can be called living.


For my sister, on her birthday

Simplify the Story

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
― Albert Einstein


I’m always tempted to make it more complicated than it is.

There is only one reason that I am teaching storytelling to young professionals. I want them to understand – to physically experience and then embody – the truth that stories create “limbic resonance.”

More simply, that stories create connection.

How? The limbic system processes sensory information and compares it to past experience. Since all human beings share a common emotional database, stories that express emotion resonate with our past experience as “true” and therefore trustworthy.

And if the story is trustworthy, the person telling it must be trustworthy, also.

We can explain our qualifications – our competence – ad nauseam and get nothing more than a knowing nod of the head in response. But tell a story about that competence in action, how it made you or others feel, what was hard or joyful about learning it, how you failed and succeeded in applying it, and that will get someone to sit at the edge of their emotional seat.

Limbic resonance = connection.

Connection = trust.

Trust = opportunity.


boy child childhood happiness

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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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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Nonce Words

The road taken
to bypass Cavan
took me west,
so at Derrylin
I turned east.

Sun on ice,
white floss
on reed and brush,
the bridge-iron cast
in an Advent silence
I drove across,

then pulled in,
parked and sat
breathing mist
on the windscreen.
Requiescat…
I got out

well happed up,
stood at the frozen
shore gazing
at the rimed horizon,
my first stop
like this in years.

And blessed myself
in the name of the nonce
and happenstance,
the Who knows
and What nexts
and So be its.

{Seamus Heaney, from District and Circle.  2006}


white boat on seashore near mountain under white and blue sky

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Invitational

Earlier in life, when I made an invitation, I worried about what would happen if the response was, “no.” A fixed mindset, a bruised ego prepared to nurse the wounds of rejection.

Today when I offer an invitation, I “worry” what will happen if the response is, “yes.” A growth mindset, an ego that is energized by the challenge of creating something worth that very precious “yes.”

I’m not sure yet, but I think this is wisdom.


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