Again, and again, and again

It is not because you do not know the truth that I write to you, but because you know it already.
– 1 John 2:21

People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.
– 
Samuel Johnson


I am not writing this piece for you, I am writing it for me.

I am not trying – though it often sounds that way, I’m sure – to convince you of anything, to make you change anything, to swing your vote to my side.

It is through writing that I remember what I care about, why I care about it and what I need to do every day to live out those beliefs.

I care about self-knowledge and personal accountability for acting on that self-knowledge as consistently as possible.

I care about building relationships that are based on love more than fear, respect more than intimidation, and open-hearted vulnerability.

I care about learning, the relentless exploration of the frontiers to which each of us is called.

Every time I write I am inviting myself back to those three themes, checking on my integrity, exploring my commitment. Every day I bake a new cake of those beliefs, combining the ingredients once more to find out if I have them in the right proportion, to see again if I am living out what I so easily espouse.

If what I put down moves or shifts your point of view in any way, that’s the frosting, but I am not concerned with that.

I am concerned with the cake. If it’s not right, nothing else matters.


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.

Tourist or Explorer?

I took a risk with a client the other day and did not stick the landing. It got a little messy because I was unclear, following a hunch in the moment and sowing confusion from a place of good intention.

The saving grace is that my client is gracious and understanding, willing to stay with me as I hobbled through an effort to take the work to a new place. Our ensuing conversations brought forth a new level of candor which resulted in a new level of understanding and learning. I’m thankful for the way it worked out. I’m glad I followed my hunch and I will be better for it the next time I am inclined to take that risk.

There are times I’ve been a tourist in my work, painting each interaction by number and “meeting expectations” as so many performance review forms blithely state.

There are also times when I’ve been an explorer, attempting to reach unknown places with no map, a hunch and a flashlight.

I will keep pushing myself to explore because every time I do, no matter how dark or stormy or uncertain, something better comes of it. And because good people are always there to help me find my way back home.


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.

Earning the Delight of Solitude

“Solitude is painful when one is young but delightful when one is more mature” — Albert Einstein


It feels good to have more in common with Dr. Einstein than I realized.

For years now I’ve been contemplating why it is that I am increasingly comfortable with and even possessive of my time alone.

For a long time, more or less between the ages of 18 and 35, I could fairly be described as an “insecure extrovert.” I didn’t want to be around other people, I needed it in an unhealthy way.

I didn’t know how to be alone and it made me restless, anxious and uncertain when I had to be. Since this was still the pre-Smartphone era I didn’t have an easy form of escapism to dull the pain. I just had to feel it. And I hated it.

Other people served as a distraction from the unresolved questions in my heart and mind and the difficult feelings that accompanied them. In many cases I used other people to escape those feelings leading to unhealthy and short-lived relationships. It was a pattern broken by marriage but not resolved by it. In fact, had I not sought help in reconciling my inner life I’m sure my marriage would have suffered great damage, becoming an even more painful casualty.

Doing the work on myself not only made me a better friend, colleague, husband and father but it gave me the peace of mind and heart to be better with and to myself. That made it easier to be with myself and allowed me to transform from an “insecure extrovert” to a thoughtful and even loving one.

This is possible now because the time I spend in solitude refreshes me and heals me. It equips me to be more positive with and more generous to those I care about, instead of requiring them to feed my insatiable insecurity.

Increased comfort with solitude as we age makes sense because our experience of life is simplified. We’ve found our place and way in the world and the comfort of that leads to a quiet sense of security within the known certainties of change.

In my personal experience that increased comfort is also the equity earned from an investment in reconciliation; binding old wounds and enlarging my heart.


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.

Read the Syllabus

When my son started college this fall I gave him two pieces of advice. These were not offered through some soul-searching recollection of my undergraduate experience but rather from my current role as a lecturer at Cal State San Marcos.

I told him that in the three years that I have been teaching at the college level these two things stand out as the easiest way to delineate between highly successful students and those who just get by.

The first is to read the syllabus. A syllabus is an extraordinary document. It is a 15 week roadmap (in the semester system) that provides a precise description of how to achieve success in a given class. Reading the syllabus and making plans according to what is learned there is so helpful, so advantageous, that it’s almost like cheating. In a well crafted syllabus there is no mystery, no secrets, no hidden trap doors. Yes, you have to do the work but you are equipped with the information you need to figure out how to do exactly that. And, if for some reason that is not the case, I told my son, you can apply the second piece advice, as follows:

Meet your professors. Find the spot on the syllabus that tells you their office hours, set up an appointment and meet with them. You don’t even need a reason, though most of my students who do so have a question about an assignment or are looking for some degree/career advice. In each of these encounters I make sure to spend some time simply getting to know them. And as a result, I remember their names, call on them in class more often and otherwise cultivate a connection born of a 15 minute conversation. This is where students seem to get tripped up, not believing that such a small event could have such a big impact. But it does, it absolutely does.

Nearing the end of his first college quarter, it seems that my son has taken me up on the first piece of advice but not the second.  I will continue to encourage him to do so, knowing how valuable it is, what a difference it can make. And I will encourage you to do so as well. This advice – taking full advantage of resources that are freely given and spending some time to make a personal connection – is just as valuable in the “real” world as it is in the collegiate one.

Surely there is information available to you in your field of endeavor that you have overlooked or set aside in favor of assumptions based on prior knowledge and personal biases. A little bit of humility and curiosity properly applied can be the key that unlocks that material and the confidence and capability that come with it.

Certainly there’s a connection to be made through a networking opportunity, a social media connection, comment or mention, an email inquiry, a handwritten note (!), that may open the door to a piece advice, a referral or even just a seed planted for some unknown future benefit. A little bit of initiative and openness properly applied can become the key to cultivating relationships whose benefits we cannot possibly estimate or appreciate.

Read the syllabus. Meet your professors. That’s not the whole list but it sure is a good place to start.


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 Week of Thanks: Day 3

I am thankful for my body.

I am thankful for the way it carried me up and down the streets of San Francisco this morning in my search for an open corner store;

For how it frees me from the creative prison of my head when I am stuck, stuck, stuck on what to write next. And then, like a message from the deep a leg twitches, a suggestion to let the wisdom of movement do the work. Sure enough, a block or two, a mile of two later, an idea breaks loose and runs to freedom.

It is a body that at its authentic best loves to swing, twist, bend, contort, rhythmically and otherwise. It loves to dance.

It is a body that has achieved some milestones – a marathon on one occasion, a few lengthy hikes up some good-sized hills – but has never been truly tested in that regard. Rather, it is one that has allowed me to move freely, quickly, energetically and deliberately forward in the every day; up stairs (two at a time), on a busy sidewalk, through a tedious market, museum or mall. Ever faster. Let’s go! A body that has had to double-back more than once to collect the kids who have been left behind in an urgent march to ‘get there.’

It is a body that has provided the physical bridge, a somatic connection, to the love of my life, the embrace of my children, the warm hug of friendship. It is a hand-holding, arms interlocking, head resting on shoulder, leaning on sort of body. One that has conformed itself to both the huddled embrace of sadness and the exuberant ‘high five’ of joyful celebration. It is a body that has expressed the longing of the heart when words could not be found.

It is a healthy body, most of all. Not a ‘specimen’ mind you, but healthy. And is it ages, a bit less flexible here and there, a bit rusty here and there, I am ever more thankful for how well it has done its work. And I am ever more committed to taking care of it as long as it will have me.

I am thankful for my body.


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 Reliable Reciprocity of Disclosure

“Well, I guess if you’re going to share something personal I will start there, too.”
– recently overheard in a meeting


If I share something personal with you, you are likely going to share something personal in return. It’s just how it works. It’s how relationships are built, one layer of connective tissue at a time.

Early in my work with teams I introduce them to a thought experiment I learned when I facilitated a leadership workshop called Leading Out Loud, based on a book of the same name by Terry Pearce.

It goes something like this: think of all the words you can to describe a leader you would willingly follow? (If you’re so inclined, perhaps pause here and make a list of your own before continuing. I’m curious if you get the same results I get with my clients.)

I then ask them to determine which of the words they have chosen represent a leader’s “competence,” as in the “hard skills” required to do the job, and which represent a leader’s “connection,” as in those having to do with building relationship.

I have used this question and analysis method hundreds of times and without fail the results are the same. One third of the words used to respond to the question can be put in the bucket of competence/hard skills and two thirds of the words go into the bucket of connection/relationship skills. This is determined by affirmation of the participants. Every time.

It seems we want to follow leaders who consistently demonstrate trust, integrity, listening, empathy and so on. We may comply with leaders who excel in “competence” but we commit to leaders who excel in “connection.”

I encourage the leaders with whom I work to build their capacity for connection. And doing so starts with making oneself vulnerable enough to be known at a human, rather than at a positional level. What happens at a human level is the revelation of personal information that reminds us that no matter what position we hold, our work is happening in the context of our common humanity.

When asked to check in at a meeting, kick off a learning event, or introduce a new colleague, the leaders I most admire – and the ones whose authority is most respected – are the ones who use that as an opportunity to be known in a more authentic way. In so doing, others respond by making themselves known, also. And a virtuous circle of connection is born.


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.

My Developmental Pathway

“You can’t go back and change the beginning,
but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
— C S Lewis


You know the feeling of being lost. You know what it’s like to start out with a sense of direction, a heading that makes sense to you. And then, after a wrong turn or missed signpost, that sense of direction evaporates into confusion as you can’t get your bearings. And you stumble around a little bit hoping it will come back to you. “This all looks familiar,” you might say, “but I just don’t know how to get going in the right direction.”

I got lost in the forest that way, not once but three days in a row. Each morning I set out with clarity and purpose and within 15 minutes I was not where I intended to be. I made wrong turns. I missed the signposts. It was dark and I was stubborn, a troubling combination.

For three consecutive days I failed to get the beginning right. For three consecutive days I was able to change the ending and get myself back where I needed to be.

I didn’t want it to play out that way but it was how I needed it to play out to help me understand my developmental pathway. That trail in the woods was always leading me back, not to what I wanted but to what I needed. And what I needed was the reminder that I am least in control when I am the most controlling; that I am least capable when I am blindly confident; that I am least connected when I focus on competence, arrival and completion.

Me against a dark and unknown forest trail wasn’t close to a fair fight. And each time it knocked me down I got back up to test it again. And I got knocked down again. Until, until, until I was ready to accept what it had to teach me; that the construct of “me against a dark and unknown forest trail” was only the latest manifestation of my familiar developmental path.

Me against. Me against. Me against. An endless, un-winnable fight.

Me with the unknown trail. Me with the scary conversations. Me with the deepening relationship. Me with the new opportunity to stretch, learn and grow. Me with the unknown future.

Connection is the pathway I continue to walk.


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.

Worth the Wait

If you want to ice skate on a frozen pond it’s best not to attempt it after the first frost.

A reliable surface, one you can trust to sustain your weight and the carving of your skates, needs time and consistently low temperatures to get to a solid state.

The same is true for new relationships or those that are recovering from a difficult passage.

We want to believe that our initial best efforts to repair the damage will be sufficient. But it takes time and consistency for someone to believe that we are worthy of their trust, once again.

Do not ask me to skate with you on the early, brittle ice. Invite me, deep into winter, to join you on the solid ice that will hold us both.


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.

Something funny

One afternoon last spring, while waiting for class to begin, I clicked on a list of “stupid clean jokes.”  Somewhere mid-list I came across one – see below – that made me laugh out loud, and which kept me laughing for a while. I was so taken with it that I sent it to my wife, Theresa. The ensuing text exchange, in which I attempt to build the joke while she makes clear her disinterest, is one of my all time favorite exchanges with her, text or otherwise. It captures who we are individually and our relationship so precisely, so specifically, that I took a screen shot so I wouldn’t forget it.

I could make some interesting connection here about the necessity of surrounding ourselves with people who challenge us, push us and help us to grow. I could further discuss the benefits of “difference” vs. “same” or explore the needs and wants we all carry around, waiting for others to notice and satisfy.

Or I could just let you know that today I needed something funny, remembered this screen shot, and took a quick dip in its refreshing waters.

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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 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.