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.

 

 

It’s time to let go

It seems that we hold on tighter when we know it’s time to change.

The “threat” of the new, regardless of how promising or valuable it may prove to be at some future date, initiates a fist-clenching, jaw-tightening determination to keep things just as they are right now.

The closer the change, the stronger the grip.

Does your life depend on it? Then, yes, by all means, hold on. Otherwise, those white knuckles are telling you that it’s time to let go.


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.

You do not have to be good

So says Mary Oliver.

And releasing the demands of being “good” may provide the freedom you need to be yourself.

To know how you are made,

To know who you can turn to,

To know what you need – what you want – to learn;

This is how to live and how to lead a more daring life.


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.

Take Responsibility for Your Learning

Jia Jang is inspiring. He feared rejection so much that he decided to pursue it directly with the hope that he would learn to fear it less and respond to it more productively.

He recounts his “100 Day Rejection Challenge” in his self-effacing, funny and beautifully sincere TED Talk. It’s hard not to smile along – to root for him – as he teaches us an extraordinary lesson.

https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jia_jiang_what_i_learned_from_100_days_of_rejection

In the end I felt like I was rooting for myself; to keep learning the piano, to keep seeking out speaking engagements, to keep writing every day, to keep opening my heart to new people and experiences. All of this takes risk and, as Jia so thoughtfully proposes, all of it leads to benefits far too richly saturated for the fearful mind to anticipate or articulate.

{You can also hear Jia talk about his experience on this terrific episode of the TED Radio Hour}


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.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

I chose this poem because it reminds me of singing in my college choir. Our director always challenged us to stay energized in the rests, in the silences that occur between every phrase of music. Each of those moments was an opportunity to be present – for just a beat or maybe for many measures – and in that presence to anticipate what was coming next. It was an active participation, even in the silence. It made us better listeners and, as better listeners, even better singers.

He trained us to sing into the silence, to be active in our rest, to create anticipation – even possibility – out of nothing.


Extremes Are Easy

Two buckets were easier carried than one.
I grew up in between.
– Seamus Heaney, “Terminus”

Where one finishes,
the other begins.

Extremes are easy. Only
the middle is a puzzle. Midsummer –
the middle way,
shades of gray,
no absolutes,
only choices.

There,
in-between two notes,
in the pause,
in the silent space between two waves,
in the breath between breaths,
everything is possible.

{W. Craig Gilliam, Where Wild Things Grow}


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.

You have 30 seconds. Go!

Who are you?

What do you want to do?

Why should I care about that?

These questions are the backbone of any good “elevator pitch,” a brief statement of purposeful introduction that helps one person understand another person’s intentions.

I teach a Business Professional Development course for undergraduate students and this week in class I had the students form two circles in the center of the classroom – one facing in and one facing out – and stand face to face with one peer after another to practice their elevator pitches.

Including brief feedback comments after each round, each person had four chances to practice their pitch in just under twenty minutes. When we got to the final round I asked the students to put their notes away and simply share their pitch with their final partner as best they could. I wanted them to feel the anxiety and, as it turns out, the freedom of simply talking to someone else, off script, about what they want to do.

They ended up surprising themselves, reporting significant increases in confidence and composure from round one to round four. Most importantly, they learned that those first few practice rounds equipped them to leap without a net in the final round…and land safely on their feet.

Since we had an uneven number in our class that day, I joined the circle and took a few turns of my own. It was a fun and helpful challenge to make my pitch, to remind myself what I am here to do, why I want to do it and, most importantly, to ask for what I want. Until that happens, we can’t expect others to know how to help us!

Here’s what I said:

Hi, my name is David Berry. Six years ago I started a leadership coaching and consulting firm called RULE13 Learning. My mission is to equip leaders to be more effective, more confident and more human in the face of complexity and change. I am seeking speaking opportunities with organizations who are committed to continuous learning and whose leaders are hungry for both the encouragement and the tools they need to be successful. Does that sound like your company?

If only for a renewed sense of clarity about your particular mission and purpose, take some time to consider your pitch. It may awaken a dormant intention or spark a creative insight. It may remind you what you most want to do and give you the boost you need to go ahead and ask for it.


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.

Anyone Can Cook

I don’t cook that often but when I do, I especially like to braise. Braising is a cooking method that typically calls for a few minutes of searing on high heat (this is perfect for chicken thighs or short ribs) followed by some combination of butter, onions, garlic and mushrooms and then some wine or a broth…something to create a sauce.

And once that sauce is reduced, the magic happens: the protein goes back in the pan and the pan goes in the oven, where it cooks for an hour, maybe two. This is when everything comes together, when every ingredient becomes a part of every other ingredient, where the whole truly becomes the sum of its parts.

It’s the combination of short-term and long-term that make this method so effective. You start with intensity to lock in the flavors of the primary ingredient but then you incorporate other flavors, over a longer period of time, to transform what you started with into something altogether more appealing.

There’s a lesson here for transforming anything that’s important to you. A powerful beginning is essential to any change effort but will only be sustained with the timely addition of the right resources. And anything worth sustaining needs a powerful beginning to show us why the longer term effort is required at all.

What finally emerges is something that resembles all of the original ingredients but through the commitment of time and energy has now taken on a new and even more compelling identity.


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 Leadership Compass

I’ve told the story many times of my getting lost in the woods while hiking in a forest on Whidbey Island, WA. Three days in a row I headed out in the early morning darkness on a well-marked trail and three days in a row I got lost.

Yes, it was raining. Yes, it was dark. But three days in a row? There has to be more to the story. And there is: I’m an impatient, fast-acting, things-will-work-out-fine-if-I-just-get-started kind of person. By refusing to slow down, much less stop, I repeatedly failed to see and read the signs – literally and otherwise – that would have kept me on the right path.

On the Leadership Compass that behavior puts me squarely in the North. The compass is a tool I use with both clients and students to help them see their operating preferences accurately and to develop empathy for the operating preferences of others. Just as there is no wrong direction on a compass, there is no wrong leadership personality. Understanding these preferences is key to understanding the persistent and challenging conflicts that take place in organizational settings every day.

After asking a group to sort themselves into one of the following categories, I ask them to discuss the questions that follow:

  • NORTH: Acting – Likes to get going, try things, plunge in.
  • SOUTH: Caring – likes to know that everyone’s feelings have been considered and voices have been heard before acting.
  • EAST: Speculating – likes to look at the big picture and the possibilities before acting.
  • WEST: Paying attention to detail – likes to know the who, what, when, where and why before acting.
  1. What are the strengths of your style?
  2. What are the limitations of your style?
  3. Which style do you find most difficult to work with and why?
  4. What do people from the other “directions” or styles need to know about you so you can work together effectively?
  5. What do you value about the other three styles?

I am comfortable asserting that if I had been accompanied on that forest trail by someone from the WEST, SOUTH or EAST I would not have gotten lost. Besides the additional set of eyes and ears, their different sensibility would have tempered my natural inclination to go too fast.

But since there are times we must act alone, keeping our knowledge of the different Compass elements front of mind, and reminding ourselves that we have the ability if not the preferential comfort to practice them, allows us to avoid being servants to our first impulse.

The dynamics of change will frequently require us to walk in the dark. That does not mean we have to get lost.

Personality Compass – Turner & Greco, 1998
Leadership Compass Self Assessment – Be the Change Consulting, 2010


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.

Invitation

The way I’d like to go on living in this world wouldn’t hurt anything, I’d just go on walking uphill and downhill, looking around, and so what if half the time I don’t know what for —

{Mary Oliver, excerpt from “1945-1985: Poem for the Anniversary” from Dream Work}


Maybe today a little more wandering, a little less doing. A little more imagining, a little less producing. A little more “just because” and a little less “have to.”

Maybe today you will stop watching your scoreboard, just for a few moments, and instead watch the way the sunlight fragments through the window or the birds search the grass for something hidden.

Maybe today you will stretch your legs, and notice how your feet and legs work together to keep you in motion. Maybe today you will remove the headphones and listen instead to the buzz of life around you.

Maybe today a little more daydreaming, the slightest space for the birth of a new thought, a reconsideration of something once settled.

Maybe today a quiet invitation to the divine to enter in and have its way with 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.

A Thought Experiment

A thought experiment:

If you could – if you would – bring your best self (imaginative, engaged, energized, creative) to work today, what exactly would that look like? What would it feel like?

What are the conditions that would make that possible?

What are the conditions that would make you say, “yes?”

Unequivocally, “Yes.”

Anything less than that, whatever that is for you, is insufficient to your human experience.

This is not a negotiation. This is the best of who you are. Find the place, find the people, and live into it as fully as you can.


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.