#2 – Change Starts Within

Between now and March 22, I am happy to share “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


If I could only write about one thing it would be this: all meaningful, sustainable change starts from within.

For so many years I blamed my parents, my bosses, my siblings, my friends, my children, and even perfect strangers for my inability to get, to be, to have what I most desperately wanted.

I blamed them because I was not ready to accept responsibility for myself. I was not ready to accept the truth that I was the only one standing in the way of becoming the person I knew I could be, feeling the sense of security, composure and equanimity I knew I could feel.

I blamed them because that was much easier to do than to accept the fact that my old patterns of compensation were no longer enough, no longer capable of supporting my facade of competence and composure.

As many have said, “You are not responsible for what you received as a child but, as an adult you are 100% responsible for fixing it.”

When I finally did, the world opened up to me as it never had before. I found possibilities and experienced freedoms I never knew existed, because I was able to put to rest the old hurts that kept me from becoming myself.

All meaningful and sustainable starts from within.


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The End of the Beginning

Fifty days from today is Sunday, March 22. Assuming all goes as planned and I have the opportunity to write a post each day between now and then, that will be the day on which I publish #1,000.

Between 2007 and 2015 I wrote more than 300 posts. The following year I selected my favorites and published a collection under the title, “A More Daring Life.” I continued my intermittent writing habits for a couple more years until in mid-2018 I read a Seth Godin piece in which he encouraged bloggers to get into the habit of writing every day.

I took him up on it, deciding to write each day for one year. When that anniversary arrived, I kept going, in large part because “1,000” was less than a year away and achieving that nice round number was a goal too enticing to pass up.

Now that I’m within 50 days of it I have given myself permission to let March 22 mark the end of the beginning, the date after which I no longer write and publish every day.

There are other things I want to do, other projects to explore, new work opportunities to invest in. I want to make those investments wholeheartedly. I will still publish “Poem for a Sunday Morning” and perhaps one or two other selections during the week that emerge from my experience. I just won’t do it every day.

To mark the occasion and to complete this daily practice in a way that I feel great about, I have compiled a list of “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For” and will write about them each day between now and the third weekend in March.

Since Sunday has become “poetry day” on the blog, I will begin the countdown tomorrow with idea worth fighting for #1: Read More Poetry.


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Not Done Yet

I’m not done yet.

I’m not done becoming, growing, learning, discovering, adventuring. I’m not done becoming myself. I’m not done because there is no such thing.

All together now: there is no such thing as being “done.”

This is an unnerving, even frightening idea and it’s also an exhilarating one.

It’s both unnerving and exhilarating because I get to decide.

I get to decide where to go, who to be with, what to read, what to say, what to feel and  how much more to stretch my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual capacity. I get to decide all of that.

I’m not done yet. And I get to decide what to do about it.


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I Don’t Know

“The human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. ‘Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,’ it invariably says. Most people who think they are fully conscious or ‘smart’ and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.”

– Richard Rohr


If you want to encourage more compassion, start with “I don’t know.” Your vulnerability will signal to others that their vulnerability is ok, and normal. The other day, not knowing what to say to a sick friend, I somewhat shamefully Googled, “what to say to a sick friend.” It turns out that there are some very compassionate people in the world with more practice than me in being in those tough situations. My “I don’t know” led me to the help I needed.

If you want to establish a stronger community, start with “I don’t know.” You will become an invitation for others to share what they have to offer. The best leaders I know consistently and sincerely ask for their team’s ideas on how to address the endless supply of opportunities and challenges they face. This may sound obvious but the need to be the smartest person in the room drives many leaders to disconnection and isolation, the opposite of community.

If you want to discover more wisdom, start with “I don’t know.” A momentary pause leaves space for more thoughtful consideration, for a deeper learning to take place. Early in my work as a leadership coach, I felt self-conscious pressure to fill in any gaps in the conversation. I have learned to pause and allow brief silences to serve as catalysts for my client’s inherent wisdom to emerge.

It’s tough to remove the manhole cover. There are lots of days when it’s just too darn heavy. But I do have many encouraging examples of ways I have learned to let go of being right, to let go of being in control, and I am at my best when I let those examples help me to rise above myself.

I am reminded, again and again, that they all start with “I don’t know.”


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A Few Steps More

Just a few steps after I wanted to give up, to turn around and head back down the hill, the trail flattened out, an unexpected stretch of grace and ease that allowed me to keep going.

I really wanted to be done, to acquiesce to my limitations, and if not for this change in the landscape, that’s exactly what I would have done. But, right on cue, there it was, the breather I needed to support my flagging confidence.

I kept walking, in no way because of some special resolve, but because the circumstances allowed me to do so. This was a gift, plain and simple.

The lesson is not to grind it out at all cost. The lesson is to appreciate that sometimes, with a few extra steps, we may be lucky enough to discover that the world has turned just slightly in our favor.


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Do you dare?

It was above the timber line. The steady march of the forest had stopped as if some invisible barrier had been erected beyond which no trees dared move in a single file. Beyond was barrenness, sheer rocks, snow patches and strong untrammeled winds. Here and there were short tufts of evergreen bushes that had somehow managed to survive despite the severe pressures under which they had to live. They were not lush, they lacked the kind of grace of the vegetation below the timber line, but they were alive and hardy. Upon close investigation, however, it was found that these were not ordinary shrubs. The formation of the needles, etc., was identical with that of the trees further down; as a matter of fact, they looked like branches of the other trees. When one actually examined them, the astounding revelation was that they were branches. For, hugging the ground, following the shape of the terrain, were trees that could not grow upright, following the pattern of their kind. Instead, they were growing as vines grow along the ground, and what seemed to be patches of stunted shrubs were rows of branches of growing, developing trees. What must have been the torturous frustration and the stubborn battle that had finally resulted in this strange phenomenon! It is as if the tree had said, “I am destined to reach for the skies and embrace in my arms the wind, the rain, the snow and the sun, singing my song of joy to all the heavens. But this I cannot do. I have taken root beyond the timber line, and yet I do not want to die; I must not die. I shall make a careful survey of my situation and work out a method, a way of life, that will yield growth and development for me despite the contradictions under which I must eke out my days. In the end I may not look like the other trees, I may not be what all that is within me cries out to be. But I will not give up. I will use to the full every resource in me and about me to answer life with life. In so doing I shall affirm that this is the kind of universe that sustains, upon demand, the life that is in it.”

I wonder if I dare to act even as the tree acts. I wonder! I wonder! Do you?

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1999), 123-124.


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It’s in Your Pocket

In a recent talk, Tara Brach shared the following story:

“A master thief waited his whole life to acquire the most valuable diamond in the world. When he heard it had been purchased, he spent three days trying to steal the rare jewel. He failed.

Finally, the thief walked right up to the owner and asked, “How did you hide this precious jewel from me?”

To which the owner replied, ‘I placed it where I knew you would never look—in your own pocket.'”

That thing you’ve been looking for, that you’d be willing to steal, that thing you have convinced yourself is too far out of reach, have you checked your own pocket?

Chances are, it’s already there.


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What Will Be?

It is worth remembering that between takeoff and landing there is a period during which you are aloft, held up by unseen forces – the miracle of air flowing over a wing.

This is the gift of in-between time. Just as the excitement and stress of preparation recedes and just before the anticipation of arrival enters in, there is a space, sometimes brief and sometimes generous, called flying.

You are not meant to take it for granted. You are meant to marvel at your suspension over the earth, granted for a time the gift of neither here nor there.

No longer leaving and not yet arriving. This is the time for a long look around. Not to solve, not to know, but to wonder, what will be?


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Too Many Trails

I watched a hiking documentary the other day. It’s called, “Figure It Out On the Hayduke Trail.” That led to my watching another hiking documentary, this one called “Mile, Mile and a Half.” It’s about a film-making team’s trek down the John Muir Trail. (Both are available on Amazon Prime if you are so inclined.)

But this isn’t a movie review. It’s simply an opportunity to state the realization that I had in watching these adventures unfold in two dimensions: I want, no, I need to be out there, too.

So I asked a loaded question of a small group I was working with today. I asked them, as a way to kick off our conversation, what would they be doing if they weren’t doing “this”? And by “this” I mean, “this job,” “this career,” “this pattern or path of the life they find themselves in.”

My answer: I’d be outside, on the trail, among the trees. I turn fifty years old this year and I plan to spend a whole bunch more time on the trail than I have so far. I’m a little late getting started on this aspiration and there are too many trails to walk. But I’m not too late and I don’t need to walk them all.

I just need to walk the next one. And then the one after that.

I read somewhere that’s how you get to where you want to be. That it’s how you build a life.


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Pacific Crest Trail near Mt. Eddy (California)

Who Am I Being?

“I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
– Rumi


Ben Zander, orchestra conductor and co-author of “The Art of Possibility,” had an epiphany about why his players weren’t producing the sound he wanted. Instead of berating them for a lack of preparation, professionalism or skill, he decided instead to look at himself.

“What are they doing wrong?” or “Why can’t they get it right?” became, “Who am I being that my players are not playing the way I would like them to?”

He began a practice of placing a blank sheet of paper on each player’s music stand, on which they were invited to give him any and all feedback they wanted to share. And because he was willing to change himself, to change the relationship between a conductor and his orchestra, they did exactly that.

Every time – every single time – I have applied this same approach to my own circumstances I have found myself not only happier but more effective, too. When I stop trying to change my clients and instead change my approach to our interactions; when I stop trying to change my children and instead change the quality of my listening; when I stop feeling frustrated with other’s negativity or cynicism or disconnection and instead become more positive, optimistic and connected, this is when good things start to happen.

And to those who suggest that this is an unfair division of labor, that changing oneself is an unsustainable approach unless others are willing to do the same, I can only say that leader always go first. As a result of doing so, one of two things tends to happen: others positively respond to the leader’s personal changes and begin to change themselves (like Mr. Zander’s musicians learning to give him feedback) or they reveal their intransigence, helping the leader better understand which relationships and opportunities to invest in and which to leave behind.


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