Freedom to Choose

Freedom

– William Stafford, from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems

I have to choose my freedom. It is not given to me by role or position. It is not taken from me by oppression or circumstance. My freedom is exercised in the present moment when I choose how to respond to what’s happening rather than to let’s what’s happening make the choice for me.

I am reminded of a quote of unknown origin: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I imagine what would be different if I learned to take the pause in that space…to consider the options before me and to then make the most positive, constructive choice possible. I imagine that because so many days…so many times per day…I cannot see the space and so I cannot make the choice. I just react.

I am called – as all leaders, all parents, all spouses, all colleagues – are called, to dedicate and rededicate myself to personal responsibility; the responsibility to remember that my freedom is a choice.


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.

 

 

Today, at work

Today, at work you can spend as much creativity, energy and initiative as you want.

And if there is anything getting in your way of spending every last penny, today is a very good day to sort out why that is.

My guess is that one of two things is true:

1. Your boss has failed to create an environment worthy of your considerable investment.

2. You are playing it safe.

My life’s work is to make a small dent in #1.

Your life’s work is to make a big dent in #2.


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.

Before Asking Others to Change

How will you change first? How must you change first?

It’s a radical question because it puts the responsibility back on you. And few people, few leaders are willing to take that kind of responsibility.

Or ask it this way, from The Art of Possibility , “Who am I being that my player’s (my colleague’s, teammate’s, direct report’s) eyes are not shining?”

“Who am I being?” is not just a call to self-awareness but to a humility that opens you to another way of being.

And those “shining eyes”? If they are “windows to the soul” they confirm that those we are privileged to have on our team are fully with us. Even more than that, from our sincere commitment to learn those eyes shine with the anticipation of their own learning.

It is in our very nature to grow, to learn and to make more meaning.

Effective leaders make that possible because they go first.


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 Get to Choose

Maybe you’re reading this on Saturday morning.

And maybe you’re still feeling the week you just had.

And maybe it’s not feeling great.

And maybe you are thinking about how he and her and they and them made you feel so frustrated…anxious…overwhelmed…intimidated…undervalued…isolated…exposed…irrelevant…on the spot…taken advantage of…

And maybe you briefly (just briefly) pause and remember that “they” have absolutely zero control over how you feel.

That your mind and your heart get to decide. And what you decide is this:

To get up, to move, to breathe…exhaling the week that was and inhaling the possibility of who you are…who you can be, in the context of what’s to come.

You get to choose how you feel and what you will do about what’s going on.

You get to choose.

What a privilege. What an opportunity. What a responsibility.


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.

Can you help me?

Last summer I was invited to be a guest lecturer in the College of Business at Cal State San Marcos University here in San Diego. Those first two classes allowed me to fulfill a longtime goal of teaching at the college level, and it is as challenging and fulfilling as I hoped it would be. I accepted two more class assignments this spring, eager for the chance to apply my lessons learned from the first semester and to see the experience less from the narrow perspective of survival and more from the advantaged point of view of having come this way before.

As the school year comes to a close and I anticipate continuing my affiliation with the University in semesters ahead, I find myself thinking about one interaction – one conversation – this spring that helped me to get fundamentally clear about my “why?” for teaching.

I am a leadership coach and consultant by trade. My “day job” allows me to work with leaders to help them become more effective in leading their teams and growing their organizations. It is challenging and humbling work. Progress comes in fits and starts and change is tough to measure in the speed and impatience of the modern company. If I had an agenda for my teaching at the beginning of the fall semester it was to bring this reality – the necessity of continuous learning amidst the demands of organizational life – to my students in a way that would bring urgency to our collaboration and focus to our work.

If I hadn’t physically bumped into a student at a campus event earlier this semester this would likely still be my point of view.

The College of Business takes seriously the opportunity and responsibility it has to prepare its students for career success. One example of this is an “etiquette dinner” for sophomore students who are on the cusp of pursuing and interviewing for internships. The evening is exactly what you are imagining: a facilitated dining experience, course by course, designed to equip students to succeed at the all-important professional lunch or dinner. I was invited to serve as a table moderator, tasked with keeping the conversation flowing amidst instructions for eating soup (spoon it away from, not towards you) and selecting the correct water glass (it’s on your right).

Before entering the dining room, students, faculty and staff were encouraged to “network” in a reception area too small for our group. It was a nervous, crowded room and if you wanted a drink of water you had to work for it. When I finally made it to the self-serve beverage station, I proceeded to bump into one of the students as I was reaching for a glass. I quickly apologized and noticed right away that he was hesitant to engage in any further conversation. Like many of the students that night he had a “fish out of water” sense about him, making it perfectly clear why an event like this is such an essential opportunity.

Just as I was retreating back into the crowd, this young man stepped toward me with unexpected composure and simply said: “Can you help me?”

Surprised at first, I replied, “Of course. What do you need?”

He said, “I don’t know how to do this. What do I say?”

“This” was the small talk of networking. He was out of his depth, nervous and intimidated and, in the swirl of all of those feelings, was still willing to ask for help! He made an affirmative choice to learn from the situation he was in when so many of his peers were shrinking from the opportunity. He could have stayed on the sidelines or just melted into the larger group but he chose a different path.

So we talked it over. I asked him a few questions and encouraged him to ask a few of me. I made some suggestions, shared some ideas and wished him well before we went our separate ways. It took five minutes. I think that I helped him, like he asked me to.

I still want my students to bring their energy and commitment to learning to our modern workplaces that are so in need of meaningful, sustainable change. I still want them to meet the crazy demands of the business world with a maturity and mindfulness that expands the conversation beyond the balance sheet.

But that’s my agenda. It’s not why I teach.

I teach because I want to be around people who, from time to time will courageously remind me that one of the bravest and most important things we can ever do is ask for help.

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 Don’t Fear People Whose Story You Know

20130316-155255.jpg“Ask: ‘What’s possible?’ not ‘What’s wrong?’ Keep asking.

Notice what you care about. Assume that many others share your dreams.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

Talk to people you know. Talk to people you don’t know. Talk to people you never talk to. Be intrigued by the differences you hear. Expect to be surprised. Treasure curiosity more than certainty. Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. Real listening always brings people closer together. Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. Rely on human goodness. Stay together.”

Turning to One Another,” Margaret Wheatley

Small Moves: 100 Days of Connection

“Because it is familiar a thing remains unknown.” Hegel

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Day 100 – “My first 6th grade essay – piece of cake!”

There is a powerful moment at the beginning of the movie “Contact” when young Ellie is calling out on her shortwave radio. She is trying to find someone, anyone, who might be listening on the same frequency. As her frustration grows her dad implores her, “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.”

Finally, someone answers. A man from Pensacola. Ellie is so startled that she doesn’t know what to say.

The movie takes us from this intimate moment between a father and a daughter to a wormhole in deepest space. The story arcs from what is closest and dearest all the way out to an astonishing celestial frontier before curving back to the familiar ground of the here and now. It reminds us that as far as we might travel to find what we are looking for, the things – the people – we most want and need in our lives are usually very close at hand. Connection always requires small moves and in my experience those moves consistently lead right back to what we most need to learn.

This is my lesson after 100 days of seeking connection: I have been looking for something that was not lost. Connection is always one small move away. It’s familiarity is the perfect hiding place.

Ellie is young when her father dies. What becomes her quest to discover life on other planets is really a search for a way back to her dad, a way back to what is familiar and comforting. Is it any surprise that when she does make contact with an “extraterrestrial” it takes the form of her dad, using the known to settle the confusion of the new?

An early, significant loss can make future attachment very hard. It’s just so easy to defend against the possibility of experiencing that old pain in a new way. In my experience it was easier to either smother another person to get them to reject me or to cooly keep my distance to avoid revealing my vulnerability. Of course, both responses left me disconnected and alone, reinforcing my belief that connection could only be attained through a perfect alignment of very specific variables. All or nothing is rarely a successful approach when it comes to matters of the heart.

I am just slightly wiser after these one hundred days. I am more awake to connection’s continuous presence and the deep satisfaction that comes with moving towards it each day. I am more aware of how small moves often feel insufficient in the moment, like breadcrumbs for a starving man. Through sheer redundancy of attention I also see that there’s no other way to do it. Ellie’s discovery of a message from outer space came from years of dedicated listening, one frequency at a time.

At the end of the film the alien who has taken the form of Ellie’s dad says to her:

“You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

My most recent 25 connection photos can be seen here.  Days 1-25 are here. And days 26-50 are here. Days 51-75 are here.

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.

Lead by Choice

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Is there any greater “accident” than the disregard for our common humanity that plagues so much of organizational life?

We are slaves to the false boundaries of time. We are held captive by control, jailed by fear.

To actively think about, to clearly see and to intimately know is to be fully alive in relationship with others with whom we can do great things.

Leadership, then, is no accident. It’s a choice.

A choice to be more human than otherwise.

Room to Run

Rita at Dog Beach/Del Mar - March 7, 2015

Rita at Dog Beach/Del Mar – March 7, 2015

“Always this energy smolders inside, when it remains unlit the body fills with dense smoke.” – from “Out On the Ocean” by David Whyte

You have more freedom than you think you do. This is the strange dilemma we face in a society of wide-open access to information, of infinite do-it-yourself possibilities. We have all the freedom we need except for where we need it most: behind our eyes and between our ears.

I heard a piece on the radio yesterday about the power of exposure as a way to open up the imagination to what is possible. If I see bigger I might live bigger. If I see freedom I might pursue freedom. If I see wealth, opportunity, advancement – a concrete example of another way forward – I might reason that it can exist for me also and then take action to achieve it.

Any opening to another way, however slender it might be, is enough to get some people to leap. Others, not so much. Most of us remain bound by our perceptions, locked in a mindset that makes sense to us, well-shaped by years of effort. This is what I know so this is what I am. All the while, smoldering inside is a tiny fire of possibility that is screaming for oxygen. Remaining unlit it streams toxic smoke into our bodies, directly to our hearts.

It may be that you don’t think you’re worthy of your freedom.

You may believe that how you use your freedom won’t pass the test of others’ care and concern.

Or, very likely, the room you want – the freedom you crave – belongs to a group of “insiders,” smart and special people who have what it takes and “earned” their keys to a door you’re still fumbling to find.

There’s never been a time like this. What are you going to do about that?

Rita doesn’t get off the leash too often. When she does, she makes the most of it.

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Three Signs You Might Be Out of Control

January-9What follows is my interpretation of material shared by Ken Blanchard at the Servant Leadership Conference in Coronado, CA on March 9, 2015. This is his work, not my own. Any dilution of its impact or misinterpretation of its meaning can only be attributed to me!

If you are depleted, exhausted, frustrated, angry or overwhelmed – or perhaps a bit of all of those – it’s likely that you are feeling and acting out of control. Perhaps only slightly, but enough so that you find yourself out of rhythm. In an effort to restore your equilibrium – no one wants to be out of control – you may be employing some unhealthy adaptations, likely small adjustments that have become incrementally more present and therefore harder to notice for what they truly represent.

Think about your lifestyle and behaviors over the last 30 days. Do any of these apply to you?

Are you skimming? You are in the room but you aren’t really present. You are distracted and disengaged from the people who most need your sincere focus and attention, your spouse, children and friends. You are going through the motions, not really tasting or enjoying your food, not really committed to that book you are reading, distracted during exercise or whatever form of restorative practice you rely on. You avoid the deeper dive and commitment of energy required for presence because you are reserving it to fight the battle of insecurity or anxiety.

Are you overindulging? You escape into alcohol, food, television or social media. You over promise, stretching yourself too thin. You avoid confronting the real issues you need to face by losing yourself in things that provide temporary feelings of relief instead of relief itself. You take the edge off, and then a little bit more even though more is never enough.

Are you blaming others for your situation? You look to anyone or anything else as the cause of the difficulty you are facing. You avoid responsibility because it stings too much. You neglect to hold tough conversations about what’s really going on for fear that all fingers will be pointed at you. You make life tough for your team because if you have to suffer they are going to suffer too.

If any of this is true for you – and if we’re honest it’s true for all of us in some way – it is easy to fall into the trap of self-judgment and good/bad thinking. We have to forgive ourselves for the understandable if unconscious use of these maladaptive practices. Having done so, we can more objectively look at the pattern we are in and get ourselves back to the opportunity that is always available to us: to choose our response to whatever circumstances we face.