Life is always there

Sometimes it is small and just barely there. Sometimes it grows out of nothing into something. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the path. Sometimes we notice it and sometimes we don’t.

Life is always there, it is always happening. It is among the greatest disciplines we can practice, that of expecting to encounter life at every turn and to be fully available to it when we do.

This is the life that is always emerging in and from yourself. This is the life that is emerging in and from everyone you meet. This is the life that is actually teeming, breathing, vibrating around you right now.

To be there for it is to honor it. To notice can mean everything.


Photo credit: Davis Berry – Cammasia Preserve, Oregon

To Accept Oneself

“Fully alive people accept and love themselves as they are.”

– John Powell, S.J.

This week I am going to explore each of the five elements of John Powell’s “essential steps into the fullness of life.” These steps, as described in his book, Fully Human Fully Alive are:

1. to accept oneself
2. to be oneself
3. to forget oneself in loving
4. to believe
5. to belong.

It is not my intention to restate Powell’s teaching on these elements but to share a personal reflection on how I have experienced each of them, especially in the context of my experiences in organizational life. The lenses I bring to this expression are that of employee, teammate, leader, consultant and coach. It is through these lenses that I intend to articulate how aliveness, a term I first heard in an organizational context, is central to vibrant and productive organizational life.

Fully alive leaders are, in not only my opinion but in my experience, those who have the most chance of leading real and lasting change, the leadership of change being the fundamental task of leadership especially in the context of our current national and global realities.

Leadership is, of course, most directly experienced at the local level. As a faithful subscriber to this localized perspective, that “the universal is in the particular,” it is more relevant – and interesting – to me to share my personal experiences than to conduct some cold case-study analysis of a leader in the abstract.

“To accept oneself” is both the root and the anchor of the entire construct. Aliveness is not possible without it. We can never comfortably be ourselves, give ourselves to another, commit to belief or truly belong until we are at home in ourselves. It is why, in my particular case, once I began to crack the code of self-acceptance it wasn’t long for the other elements to click into place. I am not suggesting that I have achieved aliveness in this sense, but that I spend much more time there now than I ever used to due to the fact that I learned, finally, how to accept myself.

The biggest hurdle to that acceptance was – and sometimes still is – the toxicity of perfectionism. As for so many others, I allowed unmet childhood needs to become the unhealthy adaptations of my adult life. By holding unrealistic standards for my work, for example, I was simply protecting against the fear of loss. Before you could tell me my work was lousy, and probably never want to have anything to do with me again as a result, my inner critic would prevent any external representation of my internal world.

The very reason I began writing this blog, back in 2007, was to prove to myself that I wouldn’t melt like the Wicked Witch at the first criticism I received about my perspectives on leadership and culture. The fantasy I was living had me convinced that there was a stadium of people just waiting to pounce on my ideas when, of course, the stadium was just row after row of empty seats. My job as a writer was to fill those seats, not by perfecting my work but by finding my voice. This had never occurred to me before.

Twelve years later, I haven’t filled that stadium but I have learned, over the course of one book and 832 posts, that the stadium never existed. It was merely a clever construct of my unaccepted self. Today, I write daily to discover what I’m thinking, to maintain a discipline, to share and continue to find my voice.

My commitment to written expression is one of the few essential pathways I have walked directly into a new and trustworthy pattern of self-acceptance.

To be fully alive means to accept and love yourself, just as you are.

high angle shot of sports stadium

Photo by Frans Van Heerden on

What’s your story?

Today I asked my students to think of a recent experience when they were fully engaged, be it at work, in school or with some other endeavor.

I asked them to think of an instance when time slowed down, they were hyper-focused, and they were both cognitively and emotionally dedicated to the work at hand.

Then I asked them to find a partner and share their stories.

The room erupted with the kind of energy and enthusiasm that can only be associated with people who are reminding one another what it feels like to be fully alive.

So I ask you, when did you last feel that way? What kind of recent, dedicated work has made you feel fully alive?

For me, it was the one hour and fifty minutes I spent with my students today. Time slowed down, I was hyper focused and I was both cognitively and emotionally dedicated to the work at hand.

Fully engaged equals fully alive.

phases of the moon

Photo by Alex Andrews on

A Body in Motion (II)

Begin and adjust or wait and wonder.

Get started and discover what’s possible or delay until you’re “ready” and forever dream what might have been.

“This is incredibly difficult,” is only said by those with the courage to begin.

“This is extraordinary! Look what we found!” is only said by those who get underway.

“The water is freezing and deep and frightening and powerful,” is only said by those who will themselves to jump.

“My team is capable of more than I ever imagined,” is only said by those who let them run.

“We failed miserably even though we did our very best,” is only said by those who take the chance.

No guarantees of success, only the chance…every single day…to know what it means to be alive.

Starting is everything.


man skating on street

Photo by Stitch Dias on

Any Given Day

On any given day…

You can pay attention. You can notice what happens as you engage and are engaged by the people around you. You can shrink from them, rise to meet them, learn from them, absorb their discomfiting needs, discard their demands, invite them in.

On any given day, you can also ignore. Whoever appears around you can remain a blurry sideshow to the central drama that is your life.

The first path is costly. You will have to feel, and in feeling you will be whipsawed from the highest highs to the lowest lows.

The second path is easy. Free from feeling, you will be safe, untouchable.

On any given day that you are alive, you may choose to attend or to ignore. Only one of these can be called living.

For my sister, on her birthday

Move toward aliveness

“…anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.”

– from “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte

Move toward aliveness, in all ways and at all times. It’s the only way to stay present, to stay vital, to stay engaged, to stay young…in mind, heart and body.

We are pulled, pulled, pulled to the middle…miles from the edge of our experience. The edge of our experience is where aliveness lives.

It waits for us like a loyal dog, wagging with exuberance when we come into view, jumping into our laps with only possibility on its mind. It begs us to step out, once again, into the field of play.

When we decline, it curls into a ball at our feet, resigned to our disinterest, ready for another try tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow.

Move toward aliveness, in all ways and at all times.

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.

Go Do It

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

—Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), theologian and civil rights leader

We are living at such an extraordinary time when it comes to career options and opportunities. It’s a time when the cliché, “You can be anything you want to be” is truer than it has ever been.

Long gone are the days of slotting into a certain professional track or working your way up in a business to enjoy a lifetime of employment. Long, long gone.

In my capacity as a college professor I have the opportunity to formally and informally advise students about their career paths. Inevitably, even those with a pretty good handle on the degree they want to earn are beset by the question of what they want to do with it, what they want to be. And it is, of course, a vital question to answer well. But it is not the most important question.

For years now I have published the same post on Labor Day in which I talk about my personal journey of vocation seeking and finding. It took me a good long time to realize that I was asking the wrong question about how to discover and participate in my life’s work. Those were days made harrowing by feelings of inadequacy and a deep fear of wasted potential…unfulfilled expectations. I bounced around to roles and organizations that sounded good, sounded like me but that weren’t at all for me. I did this enough that I finally sunk into what today would be called a “quarter life crisis.”

I spent an awful lot of energy on “poor me” because I was stuck on that wrong question of “what.” I needed a concrete, black and white answer so badly that the harder I tried to figure it out the more elusive it became.

And when I finally stumbled out of another failed opportunity and sent my plea for meaningful employment into the freshly minted ether of cyberspace, a single response about an unthought of opportunity helped me begin to shift the question.

That most important question, that right question is not “What do you want to be?” but rather “Who do you want to be?”

When I started to ask “who” I was reminded of the best of myself. I was reminded of the times, places, roles and experiences when I felt most alive. And the sensation I felt was not the satisfaction of having an answer, but the appreciation of finally having discovered my compass and my map.

{An enormously grateful hat tip to Cathy Earley for helping me connect the dots.}

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.

Your Job or Your Work?

Are you a leader because of the role you play or are you a leader because of the work you do?

Put another way: you were hired to do a job. Is that really your work?

Put another way: what is so alive in you, so energizing to you that it is worth doing no matter how it turns out?

That sounds less like a job and more like work. Your good work.

And it sounds an awful like what we need right now.

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.