Keep on hand for one of those low days

I cleaned out some old files the other day and came across this note from an early mentor, Dr. Ralph Spiegl.  A longtime family friend, Ralph was a warm, encouraging voice during my high school years and I was incredibly lucky to get to know and learn from a person of his caliber. The fact that he took the time to reach out to me in this way is the best kind of proof that successful, caring and loving people do not consider those qualities to be limited resources. They know that the opposite is true, that those qualities can and will remain unlimited in direct proportion to the amount that they are practiced.

Dr. Spiegl was a man who chose to operate from love and generosity; to his work, his students, his alma mater and to an excitable, idealistic 16-year-old kid who was hungry for exactly the kind of encouragement he had to offer.

One story to illustrate his intersecting enthusiasms: as a dedicated Stanford alum, Ralph was keenly interested in helping me gain admission there. He was so determined in this that he made this offer: “David, just get your application turned in and I will be sure that you get an interview.” Well, I had no business applying to Stanford but I was always good in conversation, especially with adults, so I figured that if they were on the fence about me an interview might hoist me over to the other side. So, I applied, and Ralph, hat in hand, came back to me with the news that Stanford didn’t do interviews as part of its admissions process. He was crestfallen. And I was relieved!

That Ralph saw me as someone worthy of an institution about which he cared so much helped me to see my potential in a different way. It literally lifted my sights. And while Stanford wasn’t the place for me, I landed somewhere that was and brought to that new threshold the conviction that comes from having to go through that examination.

I am long overdue in paying tribute to my first mentor. And I hope you will help me do so by finding your own best way to say “yes” to this invitation:

  1. Think of a young person in your life whom you admire and respect
  2. Write (yes, actually write) them a brief note  of encouragement  (magazine clippings optional, though strongly encouraged!)
  3. Do it again.

It’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that 30 years from now the cooling shadow of your gesture will pass over them again, providing respite from the exposures that always attend a life well lived.

There are so many good reasons why this is necessary right now but I think it’s best to keep it simple and clear: do it because your time and those qualities that are essentially you will remain unlimited as long as they are shared.

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

The Story of Now

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and the challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

— Thomas Merton —

The Story of Now is the story of what we do with our learning and how we continue to develop it. It is the story of turning insight into action, of turning our internal awareness toward our external reality. In other words, it is the story of how we change.

My daughter attends a school that is primarily made up of Hispanic students. Yesterday they were concerned about the election. Today, many are scared that they will be forced to “return” to a country they have never visited. This is not unique to her school or our community. This is our new national reality and it doesn’t much feel like the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Today, I am thinking of our great country as a small child who has crawled into its mother’s lap seeking reassurance that bad things won’t happen. That mother, like all mothers do, lies to her child. She says, “everything will be ok” and “nothing bad is going to happen.” She delays the child’s experience of reality because she knows that the child needs reassurance right now, in this moment. Sixty million Americans crawled onto mom’s lap yesterday because they preferred to be seduced by the lie of simplistic reassurance rather than challenged to wrestle with the complexity of truth.

The truth is that the America of the 1950’s – homogenous and predictable – no longer exists. It hasn’t for some time. That change has been hard for lots and lots of people, in real ways that I have no intention of denigrating or belittling. Globalization is real. The world is smaller and more connected than ever before. Jobs have been lost. The definition of marriage has changed. The make-up of our citizenry has changed. Racism (and so many other “-isms”) remains pervasive. A black man was elected president…twice! And, sadly our government has proven itself to be an ineffective monolith of self-serving behavior. In the face of all of that, with the option of choosing either a deeply flawed woman who was prepared for the job or a detestable narcissist who is grotesquely unqualified, well…60 million people spit in the face of common decency, picked up their ball and walked home.

It’s an immature, shallow response to a new level of complexity. The greatest nation on earth just announced that it is not prepared for change. The “right” guy came along at the right time to fan the flames of uncertainty and send half of the electorate to act on the regressed belief that machismo, polarization and isolation are not only viable but preferable responses. This is stark evidence that when imagination is lacking human beings do the simplest thing they can think of, even when it’s horribly wrong.

We have to, perhaps now we will, reconcile ourselves to the depth of our country’s division. We need leaders who are equipped for that and we need them at all levels of public and private service. In part, that “equipment” is the ability to tell three distinctly and inextricably linked stories: one of personal understanding, one of deep connection, and one of continuous learning. That last one? That’s the Story of Now.

An honest and ongoing self-examination reveals us to ourselves and creates the opportunity to do something with and about what we discover. That experience creates openness to others and the ability to enter into and build relationships of powerful empathy and mutual reliance. With that foundation in place it becomes possible to wrestle – productively, positively, imaginatively – with the realities of complexity and change.

Know yourself. Commit to others. Learn together to create change. That’s the recipe mature adults – mature leaders – follow to navigate toward and meet the challenges of our shared existence. Yes, there are many days we long for mother’s lap and her false promises of security. But we don’t succumb to that temptation because we have earned the ability and made the commitment to stand on our own two feet, holding each other up when the going is difficult. We have earned the ability to see simplistic lies, false promises, fear mongering and hatred for exactly what they are.

The changing face of our country and the interconnectedness of our world will only continue, regardless of what happens these next few years. More acceptance is coming. More openness is coming. More structural dependency is coming. More integrated, holistic and systemic thinking is coming. And it will be created, sustained and led by people who understand how to speak the stories of understanding, connection and learning.

The Story of Now is happening…now. If ever there was a time to write your part, this is it.

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.

Becoming

DSC_0042Sometimes I forget that my son isn’t finished yet. He’s 16, he’s strong-willed and he doesn’t see the world quite the way I do. I understand that this comes with the territory but since my dad left well before my teenage years I feel like I’m leaping without a net on most days. Lacking a model upon which to base my “fathering” I tend, of course, to default to my own experience. And not to my 16 year old experience but to my 46 year old experience. This is entirely unfair, to both him and me.

I so want for him to care about the things I care about, to find importance in what I find important, to believe in, move towards and otherwise embrace ideas and purposes that weren’t even on my radar, much less in my daily practice until I as well until adulthood.

In my utter lack of realistic appreciation for his need to walk his path in his way, I find myself wanting these things desperately, frustratingly, achingly. Sometimes, I drive myself a little crazy with it. I get frustrated. I get ornery and “snipey” and jerky.

Pause here for long sigh of uncomfortable recognition.

There is an essential belief and practice in the coaching, therapy and other “helping” professions that we who are coaches and therapists are to meet our clients “where they are.” This is, of course, as opposed to where we want them to be or where, in our wise assessment, we believe they ought to be.

This is easier, much easier, said than done. I was recently expounding on this idea in a small group conversation about the necessity of leaders to tend to the building of strong connections and durable relationships. I help forth with the example that we might be enjoying our personal “summer” while a colleague or peer is experiencing a transitional “fall” or is even plunged into the depths of “winter.” That our job as leaders is to sharpen our lens to notice and discover where people are and what they need so that we can help them be as successful as possible from that place.

I was both convicted and convincing. For a little while, I even convinced myself.

And then I got home and watched as that logical insight gave way to the messy truth of my uncertain heart. I want so much for him to see what I see, know what I know, to believe in the depths of his heart what I believe in the depths of mine.

More important than that, and far more essential, is how I share what I see, know and believe so that he has a positive model of the value of seeing, knowing and believing. What he chooses to do with that will always be up to him and I have to make peace with that.

I have to learn to love what is unfinished in him, which means I must continue to learn to love what is unfinished in me.

A worthy goal. A difficult path.

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, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.

Welcome to the Age of Meaning

January-2The divisiveness in the world today is all the evidence we need that we have entered the “Age of Meaning.” Our fragile society convulses with the recognition that what has come before no longer serves us and what will be has not quite taken shape. It is into this middle ground, this breach of both opportunity and uncertainty, that today’s leaders must step if tomorrow’s world will become what it must.

Those leaders, powerful in their conviction and beautiful in their humanity, will hold that space because they have demonstrated the ability to express the elements of meaningful change. They will have equipped themselves – through courageous discovery and deep commitment – to speak in three essential ways:

First, they will speak with the voice of understanding. They will articulate a depth of knowledge about who they are and what they believe. They will start within, never asking someone else to change before they have done so themselves. It is their modeling we will honor, their going first we will prize, because it will offer both the permission and the push we need to do it ourselves.

Second, they will speak with the voice of connection. Their strength of understanding will fortify them to reach out, building relationships of mutuality and trust regardless of power or position. They will make themselves known to us first as human beings, inviting relationships based on essential truths rather than of convenience or opportunism. Their vulnerability will knit us together, a catalyst for common purpose and greater impact.

Finally, they will speak with the voice of exploration. Learning, always learning, will be their invitation, their expectation. They will refuse the seduction of the status quo and will rely on us to help them do so. Together, we will question, challenge, invite and listen. We will examine our need for certainty, our resistance to change, as we take the tentative and purposeful steps we must take to reach the edge of our understanding. And then we will go further.

We are at the dawn of the “Age of Meaning,” the full possibility of which will be revealed by those leaders who speak it into existence. More and more, people are listening for a better way. Will you speak to them? Will you be heard?

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, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.

Put Out Into Deep Water

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Each one of us has a net in which we capture an understanding of ourselves. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net in the shallow end of our experience, catching and re-catching what we have long known about ourselves, hoping that this time the limitations of our understanding won’t hold us back, won’t prevent us from getting closer to our heart’s desire.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who you are. Only then will you be equipped to determine what serves you and what must be thrown back. 

Each one of us has a net in which we gather the collective force of our connection to others. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net on the surface of our experience, keeping our relationships at a safe distance, rarely risking bringing them closer and almost never including someone new. We falsely believe that this distance protects us, reducing the risk of being known for who we truly are.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who loves you, just as you are. Only then will you be equipped to close the difficult distance between the fear of loss and the exponential truth of full relationship.  

Each one of us has a net in which we collect all the learning of our adult life. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do so very often, if ever. Instead, we toss our net in the shallow waters of what is known, comforted by the embrace of the status quo, keeping a wide territory between us and the edge of the new with its persistent threat of exposure, embarrassment and failure.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of new learning. Only then will you be equipped to say “I am, and always have been a beginner.” 

Each one of us has a net. It is large and strong. It works fine along the shore but it is built for deeper water.

It cannot throw itself.

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, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.

 

When Memory Serves

Thanksgiving day, 1976, has a faithful hold on my memory. In what would turn out to be our last Thanksgiving in northern California for quite some time (we moved to southern California less than a year later) my family traveled east of San Francisco to spend the day with my aunt and uncle and our extended family.

The most conspicuous element of my remembrance of that day is the welcoming face of my Uncle John Davis. In my vivid recollection it is his generous and heartfelt kindness that 39 years later still feels like it was reserved just for me.

My Uncle John was as kind a man as I knew when I was young. I can’t tell you much about his career or how he liked to spend his free time but I remember the fervent awe I felt when I learned that he served as an engineer on the USS Enterprise in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

I admired him immensely through the remaining years I knew him. From my childhood into my teenage years and young adulthood I held a profound respect for Uncle John. Though surely there were other moments of influence it is the concentrating power of memory that makes it all seem to flow from the way he treated me in what was likely only a few moments of interaction during a family celebration nearly four decades ago.

I wish I could explain it better than this. I wish I understood how something so small could grow into something of so much significance, comfort and appreciation. I don’t understand it. I only know that it’s true. And that it is a memory I treasure now and will hold onto for years to come.

The impact of our actions ripples out from us beyond our ability to know.  It is only ours to trust that those ripples, once joined to the current of another’s experience, can become the waves that help to bring them to the shore.

(My daughter Davis, our youngest, was “supposed to be a boy.” My wife was convinced of it. When “she” showed up instead of “he” we decided to stick with the name we had chosen. My Uncle John is a big part of why that was an easy decision.)

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.

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.

Connection: 75 Days

“Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone.”

– David Whyte, “Everything is Waiting for You”

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Day 59

Some days it just happens. I have an experience or an interaction that is so obviously “connective” and, assuming my iPhone is nearby, it is easily captured. A lovely watercolor falls out of a book. A game of backgammon is in full swing. An old friend appears unexpectedly. Those days make me feel like the beneficiary of some divine offering.

Day 74

Day 74

Some days I know it’s coming. We’re going to see those friends at an anniversary celebration or those friends at a going-away party. Those days feel like cheating. I wake up knowing that this day is “covered” and I don’t have to “worry” about it. Connection is in the bag.

Day 66

Day 66

Some days I have to work for it. I have to be on the lookout and if nothing shows up (or more likely, if I have blindly missed lots of opportunities) I have to make it happen myself. This feels off to me, like I’m engineering the moment in service of the project instead of just experiencing my already connected life. What I discovered though, and this picture (Day 66) is a great example of it, is that good stuff can happen when you are set on creating connection. I asked my daughter to come and sit with me so mom could take our picture. It was 9:30 pm on a Friday night and I still didn’t have my shot for the day. We started goofing around with weird voices and then she said something that cracked us both up. We kept giggling for a minute or two and mom captured what had become an authentic moment of connection.

That moment made something concrete for me in a way that I wasn’t expecting: that connection isn’t always pure and organic. That it doesn’t just “happen” and that we can’t expect it to. Connection needs a catalyst, a spark. Sometimes, especially with the people closest to us, we have to work for it. Sometimes, even when our vulnerability tells us it is awkward or forced, connection can transform a moment into something altogether new, something for us to savor.

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

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Day 64

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.

Connection: 50 Days

IMG_2655“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” ~ Jose Ortega y Gassett

We cannot script our lives. We can only discover them day by day and, in our reflections, learn how our intentions have formed the narrative of our experience. Without intention we wander, puzzled in our backward glances at the randomness of it all, feeling adrift in the present and concerned about the future. With intention we learn to pay attention, discovering how our hopes compliment life’s unfolding, sometimes in ways we want, more often in ways we need.

Had I known when I started this project that “Day 50” – the halfway mark – would fall on my daughter’s tenth birthday I would have laughed at the coincidence. The significance of her birth and growth into such an extraordinary young person and the opportunity to celebrate it in the middle of summer – a time of such energy and emergence – is at the heart of what this experience is trying to teach me: connection is always right here. It is so easy, so tempting to look beyond what is closest and most personal as if it couldn’t possibly satisfy my heart’s desire. But I do that, we all do at times, because connecting with what is nearest also brings the greatest risk of loss. If I simply open my arms to who is before me, a young girl who loves her daddy, I am both overwhelmed by joy and stung by the letting go. Even so, would I dare refuse that embrace? Would I go searching for something “more” as if it could even approach the potency of that relationship? There is no need to go looking for what is right before me. There is only a decision to accept it as it is – all of it – or go on pretending that connection and disconnection are not forever intertwined.

As I review the photographs of the last twenty-five days I see a shift towards greater intimacy and awareness. I see more family – my beautiful wife, my charming nieces (even a great-niece!), my children – I see friendship, I see my home, the evidence of a day-to-day life. I also see more of myself reflected in the images I have captured. I see the way that I am gradually becoming the thing to which I am paying attention and how, in doing so, the more connection I create. As I share this experience with others, they want to help me connect. Curiosity leads to conversation and eventually to stories. Everyone has a connection story. Everyone wants to share, to be heard. My daughter frequently asks me “is that for your connections, daddy?” She is noticing, too.

As I move into the second half of this “project” my intention is a simple one: to start close in, noticing and receiving the connection that is here and now.

It is intoxicating to be an explorer, captivated by the possibility of hidden treasure. An even greater discovery, though, is in learning how to value what we have already found.

You can view the photos from days 1-25 here. And from days 26-50 here.

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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.