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.


 

The Trap of Almost Knowing

I had a painful, shameful memory yesterday. I recalled a speaking engagement from some years ago that ended with my being cut-off mid-sentence by the host because I had gone over my time. There were several of us slated to speak that night which meant that our host had to manage a tight schedule. I knew the expectation – I had 12 minutes – and I failed to adhere to it.

The embarrassment I felt that night washed over me again with the memory of it: how I tried so hard to save face (how, exactly?) and make a graceful exit (impossible) in the milliseconds after seeing my host walk down the center aisle and in full voice exclaim that “we have to move on.”

As I autopsied the experience I realized that I had made an obvious and avoidable mistake in the lead-up to the event. I had failed to clarify what it was, precisely, that I was expected to address in my remarks. I had the gist of it, you see, but I also had the nagging feeling that there was another level of specificity required, the absence of which left me in improv mode rather than prepared mode. In improv mode, perhaps needless to say, time is fluid and evaporates quickly.

There is a trap of almost knowing that can get in the way of actually knowing, or so it seems to me. The misplaced confidence of my almost knowing prevented the humility of my desire to actually know from being activated and acted upon.

In other words, I acted from my head and not from my heart. I allowed “enough” information to be a substitute for the complete information, a protective cerebral response (“Of course I know what I’m doing!”) standing in for an open and inquisitive one (“I think I’ve got what you’re looking for, but could we please review it once more?”).

As a practical matter, I have carried this experience forward and am much more exhaustive in my “pre-game” conversations about expectations and outcomes.

As a human matter, I recognize the gift of this memory as a tender and instructive reminder to trust that vulnerability in the pursuit of understanding is the best kind of strength.


 

Learning is Not Optional

Have you achieved what you’re capable of?

Are you well equipped for the speed of change and the demands of complexity?

Are you operating in a competitor-free environment?

Are local, regional, national and international issues irrelevant to your organization?

Is your team crystal clear about your vision and self-driven to attain it? Committed to your values and living them with integrity?

Do you and your colleagues have difficult conversations as soon and as often as needed? Do you do so with deep respect and empathy?

If so, don’t worry about learning.

If not…


 

Commencement

Here at the end of the school year I’ve been thinking about what I would say to a class of graduating seniors to mark their commencement. There’s nothing here that you don’t already know. The question is, for all of us, at what point does the reminding help us finally decide to take action. At what point do we say, yes, there is another way?


Social media is for sharing, not comparing. We are the most connected we’ve ever been and it’s an extraordinary thing. It’s also a trap that can put you into a “downward spiral” (see “The Art of Possibility”) really fast if you aren’t careful.

You are creative. Beautifully, richly creative. Saying you are not is a lie you tell to protect yourself from the fear of failure.

Everything you find lacking in someone else you find lacking in yourself. Be kind, starting with yourself.

Bullies and other junkie people are in pain which is why they take it out on you. Don’t give them the satisfaction. And, if you can, help them.

The kids who dress weird and are into art, music, tech and other creative pursuits will likely be your boss someday.

Learning is the only path through change. Change will never stop so learning can’t either. Once you finish all of the academic stuff, turn that attention on yourself. Be your own best subject.

There’s no such thing as “ready.” If you’re ever “ready” you’ve waited too long.

If the path ahead of you is clear, you are probably on someone else’s path. Yours is the tough one and even though you will be tempted many times to give it up for some “greener grass,” stay on it and make the most of it.

The vast majority of the world’s population is worse off than you in ways that are sometimes hard to believe. Astonishingly those same underprivileged, underfunded and under appreciated people tend to have a perspective on what matters most that too often eludes the rest of us.

The quality of your relationships determine the quality of your life. Be generous with those you care about. Love them well.

The world is not waiting to laugh at you when you mess up. Everyone else is too concerned about their own stuff. So, mess up often, learn from it and get better. Living intentionally is where the action is.

If it can’t be done playfully it’s not worth doing. Find what you can play at and just keep playing.

Finally, borrowing the simple wisdom printed on the side of a coffee cup:
There is no secret. Keep going.


 

Chance to Lead

The greatest punishment for being unwilling to rule is being
ruled by someone worse than oneself.
{Socrates}


If you have an opportunity to lead, take it.

You may succeed or you may fail, yes, but what you learn will ripen into lessons you will harvest for years to come.

If you have an opportunity to lead and you don’t take it, don’t complain about the person who does. They deserve your expectation of their success, just like you would want from them.