‘Essential’ is a Choice

Most of us don’t meet the government’s definition of “essential” when it comes to working the front lines of the response to the novel corona virus.

Most of us, that is, are deemed “non-essential.”

And we who are “non-essential” have been given a very short and manageable to-do list: wash your hands, stay at home and/or stay six feet apart.

But none of the “non-essentials” I’ve talked to feel like that’s “enough.” Most of them want to and are doing more.

You’re seeing it everywhere: acts of service, compassion, creativity, problem-solving, and helping hands. Educators, musicians, civil servants, service workers, neighbors, kids, from all walks of life, giving of themselves in innumerable ways and with epic levels of generosity.

These acts and these efforts, in all of their forms, are essential because they lift us up, give us hope, and remind us in tangible ways that we are all connected.

When we get through the worst of this crisis, it will be because the first wave of essential workers fought heroic battles to stem the tide of a terrible virus. It will also be because a second wave of people, those who chose to be essential, contributed their best selves to the effort, reminding all of us just how remarkable and just how powerful it is to be human.

This is the time to be essential.

Being essential is a choice.

Please do what you can.


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#34 – The Next Smallest Thing

At the conclusion of a speech last October, on my way out of the conference hall, the organizer of the  event said that he would be more than happy to provide a written reference for me to include on my web site.

This week, I finally followed up with him and asked if the offer was still good. He replied right away (and with enthusiasm!) that it still is.

I thought to reach out to him because since that talk in October the speaking part of my business has been nonexistent. In my transition to a new, full time internal role I stopped seeking opportunities to do one of the things I most love to do.

This week I decided to change that by doing the next smallest thing I could do to bring this part of my professional life back in line with my aspirations. I finally asked for that reference.

The next smallest thing I did was to send an email to someone in my network who invited me to speak at his organization many years ago to ask if he’d be willing to have me back. 

The next smallest thing I did was to research organizations in my community who need speakers on a regular basis. I found three that I think would be a good fit and completing a speaker proposal for each of them is on the list of the next smallest things I will do in the coming week.

The next smallest thing I did was to write this blog post, because until you let people know what you’re looking for, they can’t help you find it.

(HT Carl Richards)

This is #34 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Learning is another great topic to explore.


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#30 – You Can Adjust Your Default Setting

Two beliefs are highly problematic for the modern human being. The first is the belief that we are supposed to be rational actors and the second is the belief that we are.

Just two minutes of silence reveals that in each of our heads exists a chorus of competing, irrational voices that makes our decision-making, especially under stress, unreliable if not problematic. For an even more clarifying experience, try something new, meet someone new, go someplace unfamiliar, navigate by landmarks instead of GPS, anything that increases your heart rate and decreases your sense of security. Now listen to the voices in your head. They should be practically chanting what amounts to your default setting, or how you see the world and your place in it under the stress of change.

That messy mix of voices is the aggregation of your preferences, perceptions, judgments and biases, the result of years of dragging a large collection net behind you through a rich, difficult and multifaceted life.

Remember, your default setting has been working hard to help you make sense of your world and to protect your place in it for a very long time. It’s not that it’s bad or wrong, it’s just that it’s no longer as useful as it once was. It feels useful, and better than an alternative, because it’s familiar and that’s the thinking that keeps us stuck in the status quo.

Here are three options for how to adjust your default setting, not so you can finally become rational, but so that you can more capably organize your competing voices of irrationality under stress.

One, in the category of highly desirable but completely unrealistic, you can find a wise teacher high on a distant mountain and take the next 10, maybe 20 years to get there, live there, and learn.

Two, in the category of moderately desirable and more realistic, you can find a counselor, therapist or coach somewhere in your neighborhood (or via the magic of Zoom!) and take the next five years to explore yourself, make sense of your learning and practice new ways of thinking and feeling.

Three, in the category of undesirable and totally realistic, you can do the following beginning right now:

  1. Pay attention to yourself in familiar, stressful situations and notice what goes on inside. Write it down.
  2. Put yourself into unfamiliar situations and notice what goes on inside. Write it down.
  3. Share what you notice with someone you trust and who has your best interests at heart and see what they think and what feedback they have to share.
  4. Identify and clarify the few things that matter most to you (financial security, family happiness, health and well-being, new experiences, community building, environmental action, continuous learning, achievement, impact, etc.). Use your spending habits and your calendar for clues. Write them down and share them with the person in #3 above, among others. See what they think.
  5. Do the same thing with your strengths. Get as clear as you can about what you do best when you are at your best. Think of concrete examples, write those stories down and share them, as above.
  6. Repeat with an honest assessment of your weaknesses (“opportunities” or “challenges” for the euphemistically inclined). The more honest you get, the better off you will be.
  7. Now, your aspirations and goals. What do you want and why? Write it down. Who knows about this? Find the right people and let them know, you might even ask for help.

What’s happening here? How is this laborious (and therefore undesirable) process of self-reflection, paying attention, writing down and sharing going to lead to the better management of your inherent irrationality?

It’s going to ground you, root you, establish you in your corner of the world by using clarification and understanding as a means to build confidence. The irony of the personal and relational insight that you will gain is that it will make you more aware of and accepting of your irrationality, as well as that of others, which in turn will make you one of the most rational people around.


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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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Which 15%?

I recently shared an idea with a group of 20 people.

Three of those people affirmed and encouraged it. That’s 15%.

Three of those people rejected it. That’s another 15%.

I did not receive a response from the other 13 people, the remaining 70%.

Now, the decision is mine: do I fixate on the 15% who rejected it or the 15% who encouraged it?

I am hardwired to do the former. We all are.

But no dream of creation ever came into being because it was hardwired. Sometimes all we’re given is the tiniest shred – far less than 15% – and our job is to take that sliver of possibility and breathe it into life.



DOUBT
{Kay Ryan}

A chick has just so much time
to chip its way out, just so much
egg energy to apply to the weakest spot
or whatever spot it started at.
It can’t afford doubt. Who can?
Doubt uses albumen
at twice the rate of work.
One backward look by any of us
can cost what it cost Orpheus.
Neither may you answer
the stranger’s knock;
you know it is the Person from Porlock
who eats dreams for dinner,
his napkin stained the most delicate colors.


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One Good Thing

An invitation for your consideration:

At the end of your Tuesday workday, ask and answer this question:

What was one good thing that happened today?

It doesn’t matter if you have a surfeit of answers or if absolutely nothing comes immediately to mind. What matters, once you land on it, is that you make it as specific as possible, as concrete as possible.

I’m not a big positive psychology guy, nor do I make lots of gratitude lists. I just happen to subscribe to Viktor Frankl’s admonition that regardless of our circumstances we always get to choose our attitude.

And I happen to believe that in order to choose an attitude that will keep us moving forward it helps to have some evidence to make the case.

Regardless of your circumstances, force yourself to answer: What was one good thing that happened today?


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The Same, but Different

It’s easy to forget that my perspective on the matter is not the only one, not the only possible interpretation.

The same thing, seen in another way, from another angle, from a different set of eyes and experiences, can and likely will form a different impression.

The intersection of those two points of view is a choice point. It is the place at which we can choose a stance of investigation and integration or one of intransigence and certainty. And it is a choice, that’s the most important realization of all. It is always a choice.

These photos were taken within seconds of one another. No filters, no manipulation. It is the same thing, and from one angle to the next it is completely different.


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‘Earth Wall’ – Andy Goldsworthy – San Francisco
Photo credit: David Berry, 2019

Always Bet On Yourself

You are not going to get picked.

No one is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “It’s your turn. Right this way, please.”

There is no committee of “deciders” who will stumble upon your work, some fragment of your idea and fall so in love with it that they grant you permission to begin.

You have your track record, your value system and people “whose eyes light up when they see you coming.”

That’s enough. That’s everything.

Stop waiting for permission. Bet on yourself.


HT to HA & MW

Independent Study

I’m in the process of co-creating a summer independent study curriculum for one of my students. As we began our discussion of the design, I asked her what she most wanted to get out of the experience. She talked about gaining practical, usable skills in her field of study, about doing something interactive, hands-on and engaging. She is nearing the end of her undergraduate career and clearly hungry for something that resembles what goes on in the “real world.”

The independent study arrangement is a jewel of an opportunity. Created and managed well it can serve as a doorway to, and incentive for, the kind of learning I hope that all people will aspire to throughout their professional lives.

And, good news, the independent study approach is not proprietary to higher education. It is, in fact, available to anyone so inclined to design an approach to their own learning with the support of one or more supportive collaborators.

Recently I asked you to consider what it is you have to teach us. Today, I wonder, what is it you are ready to learn?

Who will you ask to help you? And when will you begin?


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.

Choose to Make it Better

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
{Richard Rohr}


If you’re struggling in a poor work environment – not a toxic one, mind you but one that is marked by ineffectual leadership and uninspired co-workers – you can do one of three things:

  1. Leave
  2. Stay and join in the misery
  3. Make it better

Important to note that choosing #3 does not require you to make the whole thing better, just the three foot circle of it that surrounds you everywhere you go.

You could choose to have a radically positive and affirming attitude. You could choose to be on time in the morning, for all appointments and meetings and with your work as well. You could choose to compliment and recognize other’s contributions. You could choose to offer support when someone needs help. You could choose to abstain from complaining about what can’t be controlled and begin conversations about what can.

Your efforts may not yield the ripple effects necessary to shift the environment in a more favorable direction, but they might. And in the process, for as long as you choose to stay, you will feel better about yourself, most likely do better work, and be a light for others who are also trying to find a better way.


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.