What are you going to do about it?

IMG_6337A few years ago, I added my birthday to my calendar with a highly specific and presumptuous question attached.

Each year, on the day before, I get a little nudge to consider what kind of contribution, what kind of person, what kind of learning I intend to make/be/take on in the year ahead.

I love it and I hate it.

I love the invitation to embrace the simple, sober truth that every single day could be my last and that I damn well better make the most of it.

I hate the reminder that I get to choose, for as long as I’m here and healthy and bestowed with the largesse of privilege at my fingertips, I get to choose just what to make of every day.

And so, here on the eve of my 49th birthday and the commencement of my 50th year what I’m going to do about it is this:

I intend to love the people I love more generously and with a more abundant spirit of service.

I intend to expand my self-awareness and deepen my spirituality because it makes me a better human and a better agent of change and because I can’t ask people to do the things I am not willing to do myself!

I will continue to write every day and practice piano every day, commitments that enrich my daily life and keep me at the edge of my learning. I will also sing more, because I love to sing (and it’s why I started to play the piano).

I will create, based on my book, A More Daring Lifea workbook that allows readers to more practically apply its central teachings to their own lives. And I will use that workbook in the context of workshops for college students and professionals, anyone who is ready to move to the edge of their experience.

Further afield, but very present on my mind, I will move this year towards a concrete plan to make the pilgrimage of The Way of St. James in northern Spain, an endeavor I will complete within the next two years.

Finally, in the coming year, I will seek to be present and connected. I will ask for help instead of being stubborn and I will listen before giving advice. And I will ask forgiveness when I fail at all of the above.

I am older, slightly wiser, and massively energized for what’s to come.

Happy birthday to 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.

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.

Someone Else Will

If you don’t give them a chance to show what they can do, someone else will.

If you don’t give them clear and comprehensive feedback about their performance, someone else will.

If you don’t paint a compelling picture of the future, someone else will.

If you don’t speak candidly about your own goals and challenges, someone else will.

If you don’t explain what you’re thinking and why, someone else will.

If you don’t share what you’re feeling and why, someone else will.

You don’t have have to do it “right,” you just have to do it.

Because in the age of connection and compassion, if you don’t, someone else will.


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.

Don’t Act Your Age

If you’re trying to learn something new, do it like someone more experienced, more mature, more qualified would do it.

My daughter, a middle schooler, is taking voice lessons. Her teacher challenged her to sing like a high school student.

She wants her to get a mental image of a more mature sound that she can live into. She’s asking her to stretch her mindset as much as she’s asking her to stretch her voice.

It’s commonly said that if you want the next job you should just start acting like you have it in your current role.

Most people would say, “I’ll sing like a high schooler when I get to high school. Or, “I’ll do what’s required of the next job when I get it.”

Most people would say that. But you don’t have to.


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.

#500

On May 14, 2007 I uploaded my first blog post. It was this poem – The Journey – by Mary Oliver:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Today, over eleven short years later, you are reading post #500.

As the poem concludes, I started writing in this space “determined to do the only thing I could do – determined to save the only life I could save.”

What that meant then is that I was desperate to unlock my capacity to express myself on the issues, ideas and opportunities that matter to me most. To that point and for a long time after, it felt like too big a risk to be thought of as a fraud or a phony; a poor writer with poor ideas and a poor ability to share them. That’s what my merciless voice in the head had to say about it, anyway.

These days I write less to conquer demons and more to help me think. As a daily discipline it has both a meditative quality as well as a purposeful intent. The discipline is to stop long enough to germinate a thought and turn that thought into something I want to say. The meditative quality is that I don’t know where it will lead but I trust that it will be somewhere good, or at least good enough. And the purpose is that I want to be a catalyst; that I have a responsibility to push myself and others to start and sustain conversations that matter about leadership, change and the rough road to self-awareness.

Of course, there’s an ego component as well. I wonder who is reading or not; why or why not. I relish the thoughtful comments, questions and encouragement that come my way, brief reminders that something has landed, a nudge to keep going.

But even that satisfaction has taken a back seat to the value I gain, personally and intimately, from simply thinking onto the page.

I am no longer vexed by the inner demons. I no longer feel a sense of “should” or “have to.” Today, I write because it makes me a better person, in the way that any daily practice of stopping, thinking, and expressing will do.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, whose encouragement inspires me to continue, we will never have more freedom – to express, to create, to build, to disrupt, to connect – than we do right now. Might as well take advantage of it.

And so I will. Thank you for reading.


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

A Midweek Thought Experiment

Imagine that it’s five years ago. If you could meet yourself on October 10, 2013 what advice would you give yourself for the coming five years?

Five years ago, my advice would have been (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Imagine it’s five years from now. What advice can you give yourself today that will help you wake up on October 10, 2023 satisfied that you lived the last five years with intention?

My advice to my future self is the same: (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to separate my present and future selves. It’s a tough thing to be objective about. Or maybe it’s that, having landed on these themes, I recognize that the work never really ends.

I suppose that could be frustrating, even defeating. But I find it inspiring, an invitation to keep learning.

And what about you? What did you discover?


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Predisposed to Lead

It is widely believed that leadership can be taught and there is a thriving multi-billion dollar industry to prove it. I agree that anyone can become at least incrementally, perhaps even demonstrably better at skills like listening, presenting, planning, goal setting, feedback and decision-making. Each of these core leadership competencies comes with models and frameworks – take your pick – that, through the discipline of routine practice can be effectively implemented.

And nothing about the application of those skills makes me feel compelled to follow.

I want more and I believe that you do, too.

I want my leader to possess and demonstrate a deep and genuine love for the welfare and progress of all people.

I want my leader to possess and demonstrate a deep and genuine humility born of robust self-awareness.

I want my leader to possess and demonstrate an ability to tell the story about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. And why.

I want my leader to possess and demonstrate an unparalleled commitment to personal, team, company and industry learning. I want them to have an energetic spirit of exploration and the expectation that I will, also.

Can these things be taught? Honestly, I don’t think so. I think to have them you have to care more than anyone else and only a very few are up for what that means and what that takes. It’s time to stop saying “everyone’s a leader” and start saying that while everyone can have influence and make an impact, leadership is reserved for those who dare to go where a shiny set of new skills can never take them.


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

Put Out Into Deep Water

Casting-Net-Maintenance

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.

It cannot throw itself.


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

More Human Than Otherwise

“We are all much more simply human than otherwise.”
– Harry Stack Sullivan –

Human beings deserve a human experience in the workplace. That is possible…that actually happens…when leaders decide to be more human themselves; when they decide to make what is common between us the foundation of their leadership.

In the face of complexity and change – the relentless pressure of change – this can be very difficult to do even for the most well-intentioned leader. The questions before them – before us – are daunting and powerful:

  • How do we eradicate fear and replace it with love?
  • How do we shift from the exhaustion of change to the inspiration of possibility?
  • How do we release anxiety and capture imagination?
  • How do we free ourselves from our well-worn ruts and unleash creative energy?
  • How do we replace tension and struggle with ease and pleasure?

To work with these questions sincerely and authentically, wholehearted leaders do three things:

1. Start within: an intentional inquiry and continuous dialogue about who they are, where they shine, how they struggle and what they most want from their work and their life.

2. Strengthen relationships: a dedication to the truth that only through reliance, trust and vulnerability are we able to create the future we desire.

3. Commit to a lifetime of learning: a commitment to the raw humility that the only answer that makes any sense in the face of complexity and change is to just keep learning.


I created RULE13 Learning to support leaders who make the commitment to live the hard questions; to stand with those leaders as they strive to be more courageous, more resourceful and more generous in the face of complexity and change.

“There is no organization large enough for even one human soul.”
– David Whyte –


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Lost With a Map

Whidbey MapSeth Godin published a brief, excellent piece this morning called The Thing About Maps:

“Sometimes, when we’re lost, we refuse a map, even when offered. 

Because the map reminds us that we made a mistake. That we were wrong.

But without a map, we’re not just wrong, but we’re also still lost.

A map doesn’t automatically get you home, but it will probably make you less lost. 

(When dealing with the unknown, it’s difficult to admit that there might not be a map. In those cases, a compass is essential, a way to remind yourself of your true north…)”

His writing took me back to a series of October mornings in 2014 which I wrote about in the early pages of my bookA More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of ChangeI hope you enjoy this excerpt and that it inspires a bigger conversation about how you navigate the unknown.

~~~

For just a moment, I considered staying in bed. It was 6:15 a.m. and my commitment to getting out for an early hike was being tested by the darkness of the hour. A peek out the window had me convinced it was the dead of night and the thrumming rain only strengthened my impulse to hunker down for a little more sleep.

I was in a cabin on the grounds of the Whidbey Institute in Washington State, a property crisscrossed by forest paths I had first seen in the light of day the previous afternoon. During that well-lit walk in the woods, I realized with satisfaction that the trails would provide an ideal way for me to get some exercise each morning of the leadership conference that I had traveled here to attend.

But once I’m up, I’m up. And I can be a stubborn guy when it comes to changing my plans. Dismissing the darkness, the rain, and my embarrassingly limited knowledge about the property, I got ready to go.

A trail map in one pocket and a small flashlight in hand, I headed down the lane with my usual confidence and a focus on completion. I might as well have taken along a candle and a fortune cookie, so closed-off was I to any form of help. With huge drops of water tumbling from the pine trees above and mud squishing under my heels, I was enthralled by the moment and blind to my arrogance. I had concluded in reviewing the trail map that by navigating the intersecting trails in just the right way I could construct a three-mile loop that would maximize the uphill climbs. It was this loop I was seeking as I crashed into the darkness, assuming that what made sense on paper would materialize before my eyes. It did not, and I got lost. Again and again I was forced to stop, frustrated and breathless, so that I could reorient to the path. I did not complete the route I set out to do. I was lucky to get back in time for breakfast.

On the second morning, I was smarter but no wiser. I was not ready to do the essential thing required of walking in this unknown forest in the darkness: to slow down and notice. I would not let go of my head’s agenda, still believing that I could just figure it out along the way. I backtracked multiple times, misread the map, and found myself at the end of a trail in an open field next to a school. It was one of many recalculations that only took me farther off course.

On the third day, in what I believed was my growing humility, I committed to a different approach. I took the flashlight along but left the trail map in my room. I reasoned that this would leave me no choice but to rely on presence. I would have to notice what was around and available to me at a given moment. I would have to slow down to see the trail markers and to recognize aspects of the landscape I had seen before and could use for guidance.

I got lost again.

This time, I was incredulous. Although I had good intentions, my actual choices did not back them up. I wanted to slow down, but I just wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t let go of my head’s need for completion and achievement. As I contemplated the perilously steep incline of my learning curve, I shuddered to think how a fourth encounter would have gone. My saving grace was the reality of scheduling and a return flight home.

I like to think I would have finally “discovered” the forest in the way that it was so patiently waiting for me to do. I like to think I would have taken care with my time and energy to assess and clarify the best path. Perhaps in a few days (weeks?) something would have shifted. Some new awareness born of the repetition of my obstinacy might have emerged, and little by little I might have started to learn. Perhaps.

I recognize that this kind of insistence – a stubborn refusal to accept the reality of my circumstances – says an awful lot about my particular makeup. I also know that I am not alone in this. What I see, as those who are most afflicted are best equipped to do, is a raft of leaders continuing to do things that no longer make sense. We are operating under radically different conditions than we are used to and we are ignoring the resources at our disposal. We are acting more like heroes on whose shoulders all responsibility must fall rather than like learners who are vigilant in their curiosity.

Doing the same thing, only faster, is an insufficient response to complexity and change. We have to make a different choice in the face of the unknown. We may, finally, just have to stop and get our bearings, about as radical a thing we can do in a world that is constantly on “go.” Coming to a standstill has a way of getting our attention in a new way. What might happen if we stopped long enough and frequently enough to get a deeper understanding of ourselves?

What might happen if we made just enough space for a new conversation about why we are so insistent on continuing down paths that no longer serve us?

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.