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.


white airliner wing on top of sea clouds

Photo by C. Cagnin on Pexels.com

 

I’m a Dog Walker

Wouldn’t it be great – and a little weird and maybe even fun – if you had to answer the question, “So, what do you do?” based on the most recent thing you’ve actually done?

If I just cleaned the house, then I’m a house cleaner.
If I just prepared for class, then I’m a professor.
If I just went on a date with my wife, then I’m a husband.
If I just had a great workout, then I’m an athlete.
If I just wrote a poem, then I’m a poet.
If I just made dinner, then I’m a chef (well, maybe “cook” is good enough for that one!).
If I took the dog for a walk then, yes, I’m a dog walker.

We are ritually, blindly obsessed with narrowing our self-disclosure about what we “do” down to what we get paid for and I think that’s a shame.

You are not what you get paid to do. What you get paid to do is, I assume, something you have deep expertise in and truly enjoy. But is that all that you do? Not even close.

You are, of course, the sum total of how you spend your time. All of your time.

Not only our conversations but our workplaces would be significantly enriched if this was both recognized and normalized. What happens when we get a larger and clearer picture of how another person spends their precious time is that they become more human to us. They take on the complex, dynamic qualities of a person that we easily recognize in ourselves but conveniently ignore in others.

We are not here on a fact-finding mission. We are here to connect, and in our connection support and sustain one another’s doing so that we can relish in one another’s being.


english cocker spaniel puppy sitting on ground beside grass

Photo by Johann on Pexels.com

 

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.


fullsizeoutput_25ea

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!”


070FE85E-16F6-4122-A64A-924F1A8E4BB4

Read the Syllabus

When my son started college this fall I gave him two pieces of advice. These were not offered through some soul-searching recollection of my undergraduate experience but rather from my current role as a lecturer at Cal State San Marcos.

I told him that in the three years that I have been teaching at the college level these two things stand out as the easiest way to delineate between highly successful students and those who just get by.

The first is to read the syllabus. A syllabus is an extraordinary document. It is a 15 week roadmap (in the semester system) that provides a precise description of how to achieve success in a given class. Reading the syllabus and making plans according to what is learned there is so helpful, so advantageous, that it’s almost like cheating. In a well crafted syllabus there is no mystery, no secrets, no hidden trap doors. Yes, you have to do the work but you are equipped with the information you need to figure out how to do exactly that. And, if for some reason that is not the case, I told my son, you can apply the second piece advice, as follows:

Meet your professors. Find the spot on the syllabus that tells you their office hours, set up an appointment and meet with them. You don’t even need a reason, though most of my students who do so have a question about an assignment or are looking for some degree/career advice. In each of these encounters I make sure to spend some time simply getting to know them. And as a result, I remember their names, call on them in class more often and otherwise cultivate a connection born of a 15 minute conversation. This is where students seem to get tripped up, not believing that such a small event could have such a big impact. But it does, it absolutely does.

Nearing the end of his first college quarter, it seems that my son has taken me up on the first piece of advice but not the second.  I will continue to encourage him to do so, knowing how valuable it is, what a difference it can make. And I will encourage you to do so as well. This advice – taking full advantage of resources that are freely given and spending some time to make a personal connection – is just as valuable in the “real” world as it is in the collegiate one.

Surely there is information available to you in your field of endeavor that you have overlooked or set aside in favor of assumptions based on prior knowledge and personal biases. A little bit of humility and curiosity properly applied can be the key that unlocks that material and the confidence and capability that come with it.

Certainly there’s a connection to be made through a networking opportunity, a social media connection, comment or mention, an email inquiry, a handwritten note (!), that may open the door to a piece advice, a referral or even just a seed planted for some unknown future benefit. A little bit of initiative and openness properly applied can become the key to cultivating relationships whose benefits we cannot possibly estimate or appreciate.

Read the syllabus. Meet your professors. That’s not the whole list but it sure is a good place to start.


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 Week of Thanks: Day 2

I am thankful for my work.

My day job allows me to interact with thoughtful professionals – leaders and team members – who are curious, energetic and determined. They are people who want to do good work for a cause they believe in. They want to learn and grow, challenging themselves to get better in the ways it is hardest to get better: self-awareness, emotional agility, relationships and working with the dynamics of change.

My side gig allows me to interact with undergraduates on the state university campus near my home. For the most part they demonstrate curiosity, energy and determination. They are people from diverse circumstances with all of the challenges you can imagine who have decided to make their education a priority. They want to learn and grow and I am privileged to facilitate and witness some of their discovery.

I bring the lessons and experiences from my day job into the classroom of my side gig. I bring the questions and revelations from my side gig into my discernment about how to be more effective in my day job.

Independently, each is a gift of challenge and growth. Together, they provide a dynamic interplay of realism, idealism, theory and practice. I am a better person and professional for the opportunity to play in these environments. I don’t take it for granted. I am determined to keep learning so I can serve them well and I will continue to relish the ways they are making me a better human.

I am thankful for my work.


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.