Actors in Our Own Becoming

Everyone is in the process of becoming.

The deeply personal reality of that truth is that each of us has the agency to influence the course of that becoming. We operate along a spectrum, always deciding in small ways and large whether and how to embrace the discomfort of change at one end or the comforting discomfort of the status quo at the other.

Stasis shadows our becoming through the consolation of a sense of permanence. The familiarity of our patterns, the seduction of having arrived, the temptation to believe we are done; these serve to bind our anxiety about the unknown but must, finally succumb to the truth that nothing stays as it is.

Between the boundaries of stasis and mutability is the space in which we are free to decide not if but how and what we will become. Like moving water, it as a conversation that is always flowing, one that does not demand but always welcomes our participation.


water of life

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Welcome

To welcome something is to say “yes” to it. It is to encourage its existence and to join with it in a positive spirit of participation.

I choose this word as a companion to accompany me during these final celebratory and transitional weeks of this year. I think of it as a guidepost to which I can turn when preparing final grades, or decorating the house, or assisting in the wide variety of chores that will present themselves in the coming days.

I welcome the opportunity to read my student’s papers so that I can thoughtfully evaluate their work.

I welcome the opportunity to help prepare the meals that will serve as a centerpiece for our family’s celebrations.

I welcome the request to unpack the decorations and to work together to make our home an outward reflection of our inward beliefs.

I welcome the opportunity to offer to help when that offer is unexpected.

I welcome the opportunity to respond with ‘yes’ when the request I have received is unexpected.

I welcome the opportunity to create moments of connection in the busyness; periods of reflection in the push to get it all done.

I welcome the chance to live into the simple, meaningful lessons of this season of giving; to receive what comes in the spirit of friendship; to start with “yes.”


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The Delight of Solitude

“Solitude is painful when one is young but delightful when one is more mature”
— Albert Einstein


For years now I’ve been contemplating why it is that I am increasingly comfortable with and even possessive of my time alone. It’s unknown territory for me, a long way from where I started.

Between the ages of 18 and 35, I could fairly be described as an “insecure extrovert.” I didn’t want to be around other people, I needed it in an unhealthy way.

I didn’t know how to be alone and it made me restless, anxious and uncertain when I had to be. Since this was still the pre-Smartphone era I didn’t have an easy form of escapism to dull the pain. I just had to feel it. And I hated it.

Other people served as a distraction from the unresolved questions in my heart and mind and the difficult feelings that accompanied them. In many cases I used other people to escape those feelings leading to unhealthy and short-lived relationships. It was a pattern broken by marriage but not resolved by it. In fact, had I not sought help in reconciling my inner life I’m sure my marriage would have suffered great damage, becoming an even more painful casualty.

Doing the work on myself not only made me a better friend, colleague, husband and father but it gave me the peace of mind and heart to be better with and to myself. That made it easier to be with myself and allowed me to transform from an “insecure extrovert” to a thoughtful and even loving one.

This is possible now because the time I spend in solitude refreshes me and heals me. It equips me to be more positive with and more generous to those I care about, instead of requiring them to feed my insatiable insecurity.

Increased comfort with solitude as we age makes sense because our experience of life is simplified. We’ve found our place and way in the world and the comfort of that leads to a quiet sense of security within the known certainties of change.

In my personal experience that increased comfort is also the equity earned from an investment in reconciliation; binding old wounds and enlarging my heart.

That’s something to be thankful for, today and every day.


alone autumn branch cold

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Redwood Homily

I wrote this piece a few days before Thanksgiving last year during a visit to Humboldt Redwood State Park. It’s an extraordinary place…humbling, grounding and pure.


Modern pilgrims wander through an ancient cathedral.

They bear witness to the crescendo of a timeless symphony that began with a single note of fertile earth.

Modern faith fails to note that these pillars haven’t always splintered the sun.

It must learn this one thing: that every living thing is called to find its tallest point, and then to reach further still.

It’s what we are made for.


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Humboldt Redwood State Park – November 19, 2018


 

After the Barrier

Sometimes along the path to a new threshold you find a barrier you don’t expect to see. This usually happens when you are just steps from arrival. A short time ago, you glanced up and saw a clear and inviting path. No longer. Now it’s got your attention in a new way.

You knew it was coming. You hoped it wouldn’t and that it wouldn’t be this hard. But you’re here and you get to decide: will you focus more on the barrier or what’s beyond?

And once you’re through, and your cuts and scratches burn in the salty ocean, will you wish it had been easier or will you be grateful for each and every one?


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Big Sur Coastline – July, 2019

A Year Along the Ecotone

“… as a naturalist, my favorite places to be are along the ecotone. It’s where it’s most alive … usually … the edge of the forest and the meadow. It’s the edge of the ocean and the sand … where the rack line occurs. It’s that interface between peace and chaos. It’s that creative edge that I think we find most instructive. It’s also the most frightening. Because it’s completely uncertain and unpredictable and that’s again where I choose to live.”

Terry Tempest Williams


When I look back on this year on some distant future date, I will think of it – I will continue to feel it – as the year I walked along the ecotone. I have used other words as the year has progressed. I have talked about thresholds and liminality. This new word, ecotone, is the most recent to enter my vocabularyIt is a welcome addition to a growing list of words that mean, here but not still here and there but not quite there.

Very early in 2019 something clicked in me that it was time to make room in my life for what was next with only a faint understanding of what that meant. As I set this new expectation within myself and then expressed it for the first time, I found a sense of ease and comfort I did not realize had been missing, an assurance of moving in the right direction.

As my confidence grew, it became more obvious and much easier to declare new boundaries, to say no to this and only under these conditions to that. I was astonished to find that the world began to conspire to test the limits of my resolve. Two specific, long-time commitments I had intended to keep simply went away, unrelated circumstances removing them from the landscape of my experience.

This unnerved me a little. Was I responsible through the clarity of my intention for this broader re-ordering? It takes a lot of ego to even speculate about such a thing, but the timing was so eerily coordinated, the sense of freedom so enjoyable that I couldn’t help but wonder. And even if it was only circumstantial, it was just the kind of evidence I needed to move towards my new creative edge with additional resolve.

This year will come to a close before I understand what this threshold is asking of me. I imagine that I will be in conversation with it well into the coming year. In all likelihood it will be a much larger and longer conversation than that.

That thought does not frighten me because it allows me not to rush to understand. It allows me to more fully inhabit this place – call it ecotone, threshold, or liminal space – with a purposeful not-knowing.

The days will come and go. I will work and play, sing a little, give thanks, complain, love and work some more. In not-knowing I will live a life and in doing so I may just discover that the ecotone is not only a place to visit, but a place I might choose to live.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Before Dark
{Wendell Berry}

From the porch at dusk I watched
a kingfisher wild in flight
he could only have made for joy.

He came down the river, splashing
against the water’s dimming face
like a skipped rock, passing

on down out of sight. And still
I could hear the splashes
farther and farther away

as it grew darker. He came back
the same way, dusky as his shadow,
sudden beyond the willows.

The splashes went on out of hearing.
It was dark then. Somewhere
the night had accommodated him

—at the place he was headed for
or where, led by his delight,
he came.


close up photography of green and brown bird flying over body of water with catch on its beak

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A Development Exercise for Your Weekend Enjoyment

Respond to this statement five times: “I am the kind of leader who…”

Then, respond to this statement three times: “Right now, my team is…”

Finally, respond to this statement just once: “The most important thing I can learn next is…”

Once you’ve completed your responses, decide which item about your team is most important to address right now and which item from your leadership attributes should be employed to address it.

For example, if I decide that “Right now, my team is struggling in their transition to a new process” is what needs to be focused on and I also have written down that “I am the kind of leader who invests a lot of time and energy coaching my team” I have just identified the beginnings of my approach to addressing this need.

Ideally, once you have your responses in place you will talk them over with someone. This helps you flesh out your thinking and test drive the “why” of your ideas.

(Optionally, you can replace “leader” with father, mother, friend, colleague or any other role of importance to you right now.)

I hope this is helpful. Please let me know what you think.


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Keep it Simple

The older I get the more I discover that my earliest educational milestones are more beneficial than my professional training.

I think it has something to do with the fact that in college, and certainly in graduate school and other certification coursework, the focus gets both narrow and esoteric. It leaves behind the pedestrian qualities of our basic humanness, perhaps based on the assumption that we’ve already got that down, which, of course, in so many cases we clearly have not!

I’m talking about sharing, waiting my turn, giving my best effort, helping a friend, saying ‘thank you’, not interrupting, asking for help, and so on.

When Robert Fulghum wrote that all we really need to know we learned in kindergarten, he was speaking about a set of generalized values and behaviors that truly are the grease in the gears of society.

What exactly each gear is for and how exactly each gear functions is the domain of competent specialists and that remains important work. That said, it is the manner in which those gears intersect – the smoothness of their interactions – that makes the difference in how we feel, which makes the difference in how we live.


arts and crafts child close up color

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A Brief Q&A

Q: How do you build a motivated team?
A: Hire people who are already motivated.

Q: How do you build an energized and creative accounting firm?
A: Hire energized and creative accountants.

Q: How do you create a dynamic and responsive customer service team?
A: Hire dynamic and responsive customer service professionals.


Recruiting and hiring is everything. There are no examples I know of where the wrong people ended up creating the best thing.

Yes, there are times when you can’t hire the level of experience you want. But you can always train for competence. What you can’t do is motivate someone who doesn’t want to be motivated or expect people to be energized, creative, responsive and dynamic when they have demonstrated none of those qualities in their interview.

I believe in development as much as anyone. And I have learned first-hand that investing in development is a decision to play a long game. If you don’t start with the right ingredients you will be waiting forever.

And you don’t have that kind of time.


questions answers signage

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