I Got Knocked Down Again

I watched Brene Brown’s Netflix special, The Call to Courage, for a second time today and her call to get into the arena, to be willing to get knocked down – to embrace the certainty of getting knocked down – reminded me of a post I wrote last October. Here it is again, truer than ever.

“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.

mountains nature arrow guide

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Pexels.com

Declare What You Want

Yes, you have to do good work and build a reputation that precedes you.

Yes, you have to build a strong, vibrant network of people who want you to succeed and for whom you pay it forward.

Yes, you have to stay humble, keenly self-aware and dedicated to continuous learning.

All of those things, yes!

And I will never succeed at defining which matters most or which, among the many things I haven’t mentioned, should also be considered just as important but here’s the thing that stands out to me as central to deeply meaningful professional success:

You have to declare what you want.

You have to stop saying YES to everything in hopes that you catch something that satisfies your heart’s desire and you have to start saying NO to everything that most certainly does not.

This is especially hard early in a career. This is especially scary when launching your firm. “Sure, I can do that!” I’ve said more times than I care to admit, so often to discover that I had agreed to work that I simply did not want to do.

What if we say instead, “This is who I am at my best. This is how I can provide you with the most value while also bringing me the most satisfaction (and, as a pretty great bonus, the money that I am worth).”

I believe to the depths of both my heart and soul that when a person declares who they are and what they want, the universe gets in motion to help make that possible. I have no other way to explain what has come to me when I have had that conviction and what has eluded me when I have not.

I believe that other people are deeply attracted to that clarity and want to help it become, not only real, but also wildly successful. I believe that when we have the courage to say, “This is it!” we shouldn’t sheepishly prepare for nothing to happen but instead, strap ourselves in for the trip of a lifetime.

At the beginning of this year, I made two clear declarations. Relying on the power of those declarations to say no to some other commitments, I had space for some new, very specific things to show up. In only a couple of months, that’s exactly what happened.

I will share more detail in the coming weeks but the wheels are in motion for an exciting new professional endeavor largely because I cleared the way for it to find me.

It is frightening to claim what we want. How terrible to do so and risk the possibility of failure. On the other hand, in the face of that fear, how wonderful to do so and discover something greater than we had dared to dream.

photo of night sky

Photo by faaiq ackmerd on Pexels.com

The Illusion of Control

You’re at the beach, building a sand castle. You’ve strategically started to build where the water only comes to within 10 feet of your construction.

You dig a nice deep moat to catch the rare, tidal surge but your site remains protected from the waves.

You build higher and wider, packing muddy sand onto muddy sand, buckets and shovels full at a time. Small and large hands aid the work, details taking shape, underground passages collapsing on themselves only to be dug out again.

The water creeps closer. Energies are diverted to deepen the moat and reinforce the water-facing walls. They hold for now.

And slowly, though you have won many battles along the way, you are losing the war.

And you knew this all along. You knew that you were racing time, and you built anyway. You made your best attempt; you dug and diverted your way to a creation that was good enough, here and now, knowing full well what was coming.

Everything is built on sand. Everything passes away. In the face of impermanence, in that moment of acceptance that control is an illusion, to give your very best is an act of courage and resilience.




The Conversation You’re Not Having

The conversation you’re not having is the most important one you can have. It’s high stakes: deeply personal, risky, scary…an extraordinary testament to the terrifying power of the unknown.

It creeps into your mind, inhabits your heart and stays in the middle of both for as long as you allow it. It is formed and reformed by your imaginative telling, listening, responding, re-telling, listening and responding. Around and around it goes, a whirling dervish of pretend, always in motion but not going anywhere, at least not yet.

When you learn, decide, determine to have that conversation, you will be forever changed. And you know that, which is why you haven’t had it yet!

But do it anyway, and do it soon. And then proudly stand in the minority, among the willing few who have overcome their resistance and decided that it is finally time to own, be and do that which is yours to own, be and do.

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.

Someone Else Will

If you don’t give them a chance to show what they can do, someone else will.

If you don’t give them clear and comprehensive feedback about their performance, someone else will.

If you don’t paint a compelling picture of the future, someone else will.

If you don’t speak candidly about your own goals and challenges, someone else will.

If you don’t explain what you’re thinking and why, someone else will.

If you don’t share what you’re feeling and why, someone else will.

You don’t have have to do it “right,” you just have to do it.

Because in the age of connection and compassion, if you don’t, someone else will.

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.

Better Questions for a Better Year

I meet with a small group of trusted friends – fellow travelers – once a month for the purpose of connection that surfaces learning and deepens insight. We create a space of mutual respect and loving friendship because we want to, most importantly, but also because our work as leaders, consultants, teachers and coaches demands that we expand our capacity proportionate to our desire to be of service.

For our most recent conversation, Alia Fitzgerald composed the following questions to help our reflections on the past year shape our aspirations for the year ahead:

  • What are the six words that best describe 2018? What would you like those words to be in 2019?
  • What were you a part of last year that you’ll remember for the rest of your life? What do you take away that you could apply to your wellbeing and success this year?
  • What commitment if achieved tomorrow would give you the greatest feeling of contentment, satisfaction or success?

There is too much to do and too much at stake for any of us to go it alone. Trusted friends and powerful questions are still the best recipe for setting the intentions that allow us to do our very best work, the work that is ours alone to do.

[HT to Molly Davis and Alia Fitzgerald]

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.

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.

An American Life

On this observance of Veterans Day I am reposting this tribute to my late stepfather, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean conflict. Like so many others, before and after, he served his country with distinction and honor. We are forever in their debt. 

My stepfather, William P. Clancey, Jr. died on January 26, 2011.

His story is so quintessentially “American” that I can only shake my head in disbelief that the fullness of his life was lived by just one man.

Born in the east he attended the Milton Academy for a short time before being shipped off to a reform school in New Mexico. From there he found his way to the University of Colorado but not before enlisting in the Marine Corps at 17 years old and serving in the South Pacific during World War II. He fought at Guadalcanal. He was offshore at Iwo Jima. He was in the flotilla during the signing of unconditional surrender on the USS Missouri.  Just a few years ago, on the anniversary of the attack on Iwo Jima, this deeply private, soft-spoken man wept at the memory of the loss he witnessed, the destruction he carried with him, like so many others, for the rest of his days.

He returned home long enough to transfer from Colorado to Cal, the school that would hold his affection forever, only to find himself back at war a few years later, this time in Korea. He served with distinction, was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain and was finally able to get home and get his civilian life underway.

First, it was law. He graduated from Boalt Hall and served as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco.  Then came a higher calling and W.P. Clancey, Esq became Rev. Clancey. He served at All Souls Parish in Berkeley in the 1960s and 70’s and, once again, he was right in the middle of the action. His life was touched both by the Harvey Milk assassination and, more personally, by the Jonestown massacre, losing a family member in the mass suicide.

He lived out his vocation by answering the call to serve parishes all over the Bay Area. He was known as a “priest of priests,” the list of those he mentored, encouraged and supported through the years far too long to mention.

He was intelligent but never put on heirs. Humble and focused, his was truly the “life of the mind and the heart of the gospel” to quote a Jesuit father I once knew. Most importantly, he was an unfailing servant. From his country to the law to every priest, parish and parishioner who called on him, Bill was there to do his part, to challenge and to support, to befriend and to console.

I most loved and respected his profound skepticism of authority, his commitment to remaining a “humble priest” rather than pursuing higher office in the church which would have pulled him away from those he had committed to serve.

As for my mother, he met her twice in his life. The first time was in the late 1960’s when my dad brought him home from seminary to be my sister’s Godfather. They met again about 10 years ago and in the reconnection began a courtship that would become a marriage, giving him a partner that would gently see him through the final battle of his life.

I am deeply grateful to have known this servant of men, this servant of God, if only for a few short years. His model and example will remain with me always as I strive to lead a life of and for others.

Thank you, Bill. May you rest in peace.