The Next Right Thing

“The purpose of life is not to maintain personal comfort; it’s to grow the soul…’The work’ does not need to be grand, only fitting. It is guided by asking ourselves over and over: What is the next right thing?”

~Christina BaldwinThe Seven Whispers: A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These

My daughter auditioned for a high school theater production yesterday. This cannot be classified as “typical” or “expected” behavior. As she grows up she leaves behind some old fears about risk, exposure and failure. It is her “next right thing.”

My son moved into his dorm today and starts class on Monday. This is his “next right thing.”

A friend says “yes” to a call to serve his church. His “next right thing.”

A client turns his belief system into concrete actions for his team. His “next right thing.”

A friend commits to a daily writing practice. She’s going strong a month and a half later. Her “next right thing.”

As for my next right thing…something fitting…I am trading, piece by small piece, “competent composure” for “human presence.” It sounds abstract but it’s concrete as can be. It means to feel what I’m feeling instead of lifting the shield.

It means that when I am terribly sad and reach for the phone seeking consolation via text message, I say instead, “I’m terribly sad and I am just going to feel it.” That feeling has something to teach me and my challenge is to learn.

My life is not a competition to be won through sheer force of will. It is not a race to be run at full sprint.

It is a quest to grow my soul by asking over and over again, “What is the next right thing?”


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.

Put Out Into Deep Water

Casting-Net-Maintenance

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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

A Midweek Dose of Self Inspiration

I know you know how to change because you’ve already done it. If you’ve got a few minutes, please allow me to prove it to you:

This will take you no more than 15 minutes:

List three major changes you have made in your life so far (personal and/or professional).

Choose one of those changes and respond to the following questions:

  • What was the most challenging aspect of this change?
  • What role did your values play in helping you make this change?
  • What role did your strengths play in helping you make this change?
  • How did you rely on or collaborate with others to help you make this change?
  • What did you learn from making this change?

If you’re not inspired, you’re not giving yourself enough credit.

Now, the bonus question: how will you apply what you already know how to do to the next change coming your way?

(To ramp up the learning as well as the fun, ask a colleague to also do the exercise and then get together to share your findings.)

Keep going. We need you.


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.

 

 

 

Change Your Mind About Someone

We’re quick to judge. And those judgments form a narrative that can prove very difficult to change. Those snap judgments rarely tell the whole story of what someone is capable of. Those judgments keep people stuck in a place that is comfortable for us, confining for them.

A thought experiment: think of someone – a colleague, team member, boss, sibling, neighbor – about whom you have a clear, strongly held and negative opinion. Consider how you came to hold that opinion. Consider what allows the opinion to persist. Separate fact from story, truth from fiction and see, if only for a moment, if there is something else that may be true.

I don’t suggest that every one deserves a second chance. But most people do, especially when our judgment of them is based more on perception than reality.

It takes courage to reassess our long-held perspectives. It takes courage to be vulnerable enough to admit that while there was a time and place where this belief made sense, it is no longer that time and it is no longer that place.

Most people, most of the time are worthy of our reconsideration. When we make room for surprise, it just might happen.


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.

Your attention, please

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” – from “Everything is waiting for you” by David Whyte


Perhaps the idea of cultivating and expressing love in the workplace doesn’t sit well with you. It is a freighted word, full of complex associations. Many would suggest it has no place in any conversation about colleagues, teams, camaraderie and esprit de corps.

I can appreciate that. And I’d like to suggest that all of that love “baggage” prevents us from remembering what is most fundamental to its genuine expression.

For that, I offer this brief, gentle reminder from the film Lady Bird:

Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento.

Lady Bird: I do?

Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.

Lady Bird: I was just describing it.

Sister Sarah Joan: Well it comes across as love.

Lady Bird : Sure, I guess I pay attention.

Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?


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.

Our Human Stories

Willa Cather wrote, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”

Have you ever noticed that when you share a personal story in an honest, revealing way someone says, “You just described my life!”?  Me too.

James Joyce wrote, “in the particular lies the universal.”

Have you ever wondered why the very specific, very intimate experience you relate to a friend is met with a knowing and familiar nod of understanding? Me too.

John Updike wrote, “…my autobiography is my attempt to treat this life…as a specimen life, representative in its odd uniqueness of all the oddly unique lives in the world.”

Have you ever shaken your head in disbelief when a conversation with a stranger reveals a common connection? Me too.

We are all sharing the human experience. There is no separation. The sooner we realize that and activate our common ground, the sooner we will enjoy the extraordinary powers of empathy, connection and cooperation.

Your pain, your joy, your anxiety, your flush of confidence, your spiral of fear?

Me too.


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.

Out of the Raft

A client of mine was recently on a whitewater rafting trip. The day started with a 90 minute bus ride to the point on the river where they would put the boats in. It also started without mobile devices since they were collected by the guide staff to be returned at the end of the float. It was shaping up to be a very quiet, very boring hour and a half.

That is, until a guide told the group that they were going to use the ride to get to know one another. Each person was invited to tell the group:

  1. their name
  2. where they are from
  3. and an embarrassing story

But this wasn’t just a fun (and funny) way to pass the time. It had a very specific purpose. According to the guides, you’re more likely to pull someone to safety if you know their story.

That is, the more we know people the more we are likely to help them. On the river, in the office, on the field, in the meeting, people “fall in” all the time. And when they do…when you do… it’s good to know someone will extend a hand to get you back on the boat.

Think about your teammates: who know’s your story? Whose stories do you know?

{Hat tip to Marc Letzmann}


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.

 

 

On the Frontier

American mythology has long included the archetype of the “self-made man.” And no place is associated with that archetype quite like the American west. Think of covered wagons and remote outposts, think of cowboys and ranchers, think of miners and the Gold Rush. Think of the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood ethos. Think of Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, Walt Disney and Steve Jobs. For that matter, just think of Silicon Valley.

Pioneers, adventurers, trailblazers. Vigorous, steadfast and resilient. They set out to conquer some part of a vast, undeveloped territory and make it their own. The “self-made man” goes on a hero’s journey: he sets out to fulfill a vision, is forced to overcome both internal and external obstacles to achieve it, finds resources within himself that he didn’t realize he had and ultimately, against all odds, achieves his dream.

And he does it alone.

Here in the present day American west, and in the broader American culture, we still live in the shadow of this romantic legacy. We obsess over our jobs, our homes, our stuff. We carve out a small space – an eighth of an acre in most cases – and make it our castle. We preserve at great lengths the old story of individualism, what I alone can do, what I most dream of doing, in order to get our piece, our slice of the dream.

And this becomes the operating system of our neighborhoods, our “NIMBY” communities and our corporations most of all.

So many of our most prominent, influential corporations, through their failed performance management and reward systems, a relentless focus on short-term results, through lip service to vision and values, leadership development, social responsibility and employee engagement, are no more than temples of self-congratulation and self-worship. They are, all too often, simply a construct for the very few to accumulate as much as they possible can while the very many do the hard work to make that possible.

All of this you already know. What I hope you also know is that there are small and powerful exceptions. The inspiration for this post, in fact, came from the comments of a team member I worked with earlier in the week. We were in the midst of a conversation in which we were exploring the intersection of individual, team and corporate values. An expatriate from Brazil, he shared how much he appreciated this kind of interaction with his teammates because so much of his American experience is marked by the sort of individual compartmentalization described above. With typical Brazilian enthusiasm he described his desire to be more connected, to literally be closer to his colleagues, in a culture that seems to work so hard to avoid that kind of intimacy.

I believe that what he is asking for, what he is seeking is a new frontier. And it is there for us if we are willing to take the steps. This new frontier is marked by a more purposeful kind of interaction, one that preserves a focus on the individual but in the larger context of how she connects and contributes to the larger group of which she is a part. It is a frontier of deep and challenging conversations about why we are here, and what we are meant to achieve. It is a conversation that calls on us to recognize that our actions have an impact beyond ourselves and that we are responsible for those outcomes, good or bad.

It is a frontier that demands us to wake up to the truth that everything is connected, that how we honor the person in front of us is how we honor all things.

The “self-made man” is a myth for one simple reason: no one does it alone.


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.

 

The Gathering Darkness

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When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.’

– Paul Hawken

The gathering darkness is real.

And you are a point of light.

Choose to shine or choose not to shine. You decide.

If you choose to shine you will only get brighter as the darkness deepens. And if others also choose to shine the points of light will connect and overwhelm the darkness.

Don’t concern yourself with the darkness far from here. There’s enough nearby to contend with. Concern yourself with that person who has not yet decided to shine and see if you can help them start their own, small fire.

One at a time.


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.

 

It’s four letters and it starts with “L”

I attended a wedding on Monday afternoon.

Monday afternoon is not a typical “wedding day.” Monday afternoon is the time when most of us are at work, the time when we have shaken off the weekend and placed our noses firmly, if not reluctantly back to the grindstone. But there we were, on a Monday afternoon, in a church, at a wedding.

And it was peaceful and intimate. It was sincere and lovely. In fact, it was the expression and experience of love itself.

In that church on Monday afternoon, feeling displaced by the difference between a “typical” Monday and this particular Monday I started to wonder why we work so hard to separate feelings and experiences that are more powerful when joined together.

Why do we work so hard to separate love and work? Our workplaces can and often do facilitate deep and extraordinary relationships between people gathered together in common cause. These are relationships of trust and dependence, of mutual respect and concern, of help and collaboration. We should be celebrating this for what it is (LOVE) rather than euphemistically calling it “teamwork” or “partnership” or, and it pains me to write it, “synergy.”

But that’s what we do because it’s “appropriate” and “conventional” and allows us to forego the hard work of expanding our definition of “love” beyond our present and limited understanding. (The Ancient Greek’s had six words for love – it’s a good place to start!)

And as I continued my reflection I realized that we have begun to wrestle with this question in contemporary terms. I remembered Tim Sander’s 2003 book, Love is the Killer App. I remembered Herb Kelleher, the visionary founder of Southwest Airlines saying, “A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear.” And I remembered this piece from Virgin.com, Does love have a place in business?

And I thought, there should be more Monday weddings! And Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday weddings as well. We need more reminders that a workplace – and a church – that is filled with love is vibrant, alive and full of possibility. And one that is not is just another building.


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.