When It Got Interesting

A brief summary of my 27-year career as told in single words and brief phrases:

Quit.

Quit.

Quit.

Quit.

Fired.

Quit.

Quit.

Started a company.

Starting a company.

You know when it got interesting? Do you know when it stopped being a list of jobs and started being a career? Yes, of course you do. The day that I got fired was the wake-up call that changed everything. That day, motivated by my responsibility to provide for a young family and in spite of my lack of self-awareness, I took responsibility for my career for the first time.

I had a 7-week severance and I landed a new job in six. (Thank you, Cathy Earley!) And it wasn’t just a job; it was the first role that made it clear that there was a path for my interests and abilities. Getting fired and then hired into that role is why I could eventually start my own company. It’s why I am now ready to help get another new venture off the ground.

Remember Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air?

“Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it.”

A terrible cliche. A pat line, woefully inadequate to ease the pain of a person just fired from a job.

He also happened to be right.


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People of Reflection and Action

Praxis logo_0“The concept of praxis . . . refers to our participation in the shaping of the world in which we live. It is based upon the idea that we are meant to make a difference. We are called to be contributors, people of reflection and action. . . . This is our common human task.”

– Denis Edwards


 

It starts with an idea, a point of view, a model or framework.

It continues with the thoughtful consideration of how it might be activated in support of our purpose, in support of the employees, customers, and community members we exist to serve.

It flows into action, a living engagement of ideas and people joined together for purposeful impact.

It results in outcomes, maybe good or even great ones, and likely surprising or even disappointing ones as well.

It continues with evaluation, consideration and more thoughtful conversation, this time about what happened, the lessons learned, the possibilities that came to life, the ideas of what might come next, having attempted this thing in this way at this time.

Ideas are revisited, perspectives shared and challenged, new approaches proposed.

A next step is agreed upon. A new effort is made.

This is how we make our contribution. This is how change happens.


 

Into Deep Water

Each one of us has a net in which we capture an understanding of ourselves. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net in the shallow end of our experience, catching and re-catching what we have long known about ourselves, hoping that this time the limitations of our understanding won’t hold us back, won’t prevent us from getting closer to our heart’s desire.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who you are. Only then will you be equipped to determine what serves you and what must be thrown back. 

Each one of us has a net in which we gather the collective force of our connection to others. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net on the surface of our experience, keeping our relationships at a safe distance, rarely risking bringing them closer and almost never including someone new. We falsely believe that this distance protects us, reducing the risk of being known for who we truly are.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who loves you, just as you are. Only then will you be equipped to close the difficult distance between the fear of loss and the exponential truth of full relationship.  

Each one of us has a net in which we collect all the learning of our adult life. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do so very often, if ever. Instead, we toss our net in the shallow waters of what is known, comforted by the embrace of the status quo, keeping a wide territory between us and the edge of the new with its persistent threat of exposure, embarrassment and failure.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of new learning. Only then will you be equipped to say “I am, and always have been a beginner.” 

Each one of us has a net. It is large and strong. It works fine along the shore but it is built for deeper water.

Only you can throw it there.


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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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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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.


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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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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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Open, Not Apart

IMG_5965Our hearts do not break apart, they break open.

It is through this opening that what we need tiptoes in, staying beyond our vision until we are ready to see.

This is difficult to explain. It must be lived…felt…to be understood.

Consider the way the fallen Redwood opens space in the canopy of the forest for saplings to receive sunlight. Consider how its decaying trunk provides nourishment for the forest floor and refuge for small creatures.

As we reel from the destruction of the fall we can also trust that what it has set in motion will be more generative than anything that might be gained from its perpetual and upright symmetry.

A healthy forest integrates both the broken and the whole, becoming more resilient as a result.

Our heart’s ecology is the same. When it breaks it does not pull us apart but equips us to open wider still.


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Humboldt Redwood State Park – November 19, 2018

This isn’t what I want

Again and again it seems that we attract into our lives precisely the encounter, the conversation, the article or poem, precisely the thing we are intended to wrestle with in order to shift to a new level of understanding.

I’ve heard myself say, many times, “But this isn’t what I want!”

I read a poem that forces me to confront themes of reconciliation and mortality (Kingdom Animalia) and I resist it, minimize it, dismiss it because it is just what I need right now.

I read a book (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone) that reminds me of the powerful benefits of therapeutic conversation, the examples reflective of (because, human) my experience. I don’t want to be uncomfortably reminded of those themes, but I need to be.

I have a conversation that disrupts the smooth waters of my well-constructed ego, one that challenges my perception and forces my humility. I need that disruption. I certainly don’t want it.

This is, I think, the price of paying attention. And I would rather do so with vigilance and continue to encounter what I need to encounter than bury my head in the sand and risk no encounter at all.

“Development” or “learning” is never about arrival. It is about engaging the same themes again and again and having an incrementally better go of it the next time around.