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

You do not have to be good.

flying_canada_geese

Image credit: Kelly Warren – Wild Spirit Resources, LLC

I tacked this poem onto my bulletin board a few days ago. It’s been staring at me ever since, trying to help me understand, to see in a new way. This seems like a good day to explicate it as best I can. First, here’s the whole thing.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

In my reading of the poem it has three acts: permission, perspective, and invitation.

Permission

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

There are a couple of lines in this poem that stop me in my tracks, starting with the very first. If all I could have is that first line I’d be more than satisfied. I needed to hear it a long time ago. I wish I had known and believed it  long before now. It’s a mantra, a meditation. It’s also the beginning of permission to simply let go of all of the “shoulds” and comparisons and the pervasive perfectionism  that prevents creative expression.

The permission in these opening lines simply says, “It’s ok to get off of your knees, once and for all, to let go of shame and guilt and ‘not enough’ and walk on timid but strengthening legs to that which is calling you forward.” It reminds me of the heart-wrenching scene in “Good Will Hunting” when Sean (Robin Williams) says to Will, “It’s not your fault.” “It’s not your fault.” “It’s not your fault.”

And just as that permission begins to settle in, I hear the poet’s invitation to unburden myself of my despair AND to be present to the despair of another. My pain is no greater than yours. Yours is no greater than mine. We are all hurting. And we must all get up and continue walking. And we must help each other do it. It’s the only way.

Perspective

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

The world goes on. I am small. It is vast. I am important, but not nearly so much as I think. I want to be special, to be heard and understood as I’m sure I never will be. Won’t you give me more time? More attention? More care and concern? Why have you moved on? Why must we change the conversation?

Eventually, as my voice gets smaller, drowned by the gorgeous volume of a world in motion, I have to reconcile myself to the hard truth – hard, hard truth – that it doesn’t exist just for me. It is not a backdrop, an elaborate setting, for my experience. It simply exists. As do I. And by existing, as it does, it reminds me to keep returning to myself to learn what I must learn. And to never stop because there is no end to that discovery.

Invitation

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

If only I am willing to refuse my loneliness – that subtle device by which I convince myself that no one else will quite understand – it is all there for the taking. Gifts too beautiful to take in at a glance. I am here. You are here. The world is here, made to be free in.

On stronger legs now I stride into the world, persistent in my self-reflection, consistent in my regard for you, ready to learn all I must if I am to live into the possibility I can see just above the horizon.

That faraway place, always right 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.

Picture Day

I’m guessing 3rd Grade…

My daughters had “picture day” last week. They looked great: hair carefully styled, faces clean, teeth brushed and looking good in their chosen outfits. I’ve been working from home for almost three years now so I’m usually around for these happenings.

My work is speaking and consulting to organizations on leadership and organizational culture. I work with a number of individual leaders in coaching relationships and I also do a fair amount of writing. Typically that writing consists of a semi-regular blog post but for much of this year it has been focused on something bigger. I made the decision to put the lion’s share of my professional effort this year on getting a book written for publication in 2016 (and I’m happy to report that the writing and editing are complete!). Doing this required that I do a few less speaking engagements and take a few less consulting and coaching assignments. It also means that I am home even more than usual.

By the time picture day rolled around my kids were used to seeing me in “writing mode” most of the time: comfortable clothes, maybe workout gear, a day or two of stubble on the face, a baseball cap.

On this particular morning, however, I was getting ready to visit a client. I followed the conventional ritual of shower and shave, put on my best professional attire and exited my room to head down for breakfast. I met my oldest daughter on the landing and without skipping a beat she said: “Is it picture day for you, too, dad?”

It was both a compliment and a dig, a great line delivered in a moment of surprise. My unexpected attention to grooming, at such an early hour no less, threw a wrinkle in the system that she caught right away and handed back to me with the graceful ease of her impeccable timing.

Her question got me thinking about the necessary transition from one kind of focus to another. For so many months now I’ve been of one mind, giving my energy to the work of completing the book. And as gratifying as it is to have come this far, I am fully awake to the reality that an even bigger question looms: So, now what?

That question carries with it the sizable implication that every effort we make will eventually yield to the responsibility of the next one. There is a season for all things, as the verses of Ecclesiastes assure us. As such, you don’t write a book forever. At some point that experience ends, giving way to a new question and a powerful opportunity: what to do with it?  It is time to emerge from the cave of creative effort and organization, the cave of comfy clothes and shave-less days, into the realm of activation and application.

I have done something and it is time to share it. It is picture day, once again.

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.

How to Build Capability Before You Need It 

In Seth Godin’s blog today he writes:

“Often, organizations don’t realize that they’re falling down the abyss until extraordinary efforts are required to make a difference. But it’s always easier to fix it today than it will be tomorrow.”

Last year I wrote about this by sharing 10 recommendations for how to build capability before you need it. If ever there was “evergreen” subject matter, this is it.

Thanks for joining me on a trip into the archives!

Lead well.

Source: How to Build Capability Before You Need It | RULE13 Learning

It’s All Derivative

“Creative theft can be incredibly positive, so long as it’s honoring instead of degrading, crediting rather than plagiarizing, and transforming instead of intimidating.” – Austin Kleon

It’s been said before. Not by you. Say it anyway.

It’s been done before. Not by you. Do it anyway.

It was liberating to me to get clear about two essential truths of creativity. The first is that our perspective, our point of view, our output is derivative of something or someone else. When we experience something that moves us – inspires us – we take it in and allow a transformation to occur. It becomes our own. It can’t work in anyone else precisely the way it works in us. That doesn’t mean it stops being what it was when we first discovered it. It does mean that it has taken a new shape in us given how it bumps up against, gels with and otherwise makes a home inside of our experience.

The second truth is that no one can say it quite like you. I have it heard it said that one way to become a writer, singer, artist, leader or creator of any kind is to start by copying the work of someone you admire. Copy their work as a starting point for the formation of your own. The road to your own expression comes through repetition, habit, experimentation and a willingness to be a beginner. Parroting someone else’s style and form as a way to support the vulnerability of your own exploration can be a scaffolding for your efforts. As your confidence increases so will your ability to let go of the parts that are not authentic to you while you hold onto and continue to shape those parts that are becoming central to your expression.

I vaguely remember a conversation about this with a fellow attendee at a conference some years ago, probably 2007 or 2008. I must have been expressing my aspiration to write and speak along with my doubts about finding my own voice in doing so. I distinctly remember feeling totally capable and totally paralyzed at the same time. Brilliantly and thoughtfully she asked me about reading to my kids before bedtime. She asked if I ever read them “The Cat in the Hat.” Of course I had. She asked if I thought anyone had read it to them quite like me. Of course not.

My ideas about leadership, learning, culture, change and awareness – the ideas and stories I share here, in my talks and in the classroom – are derivative of all whose work has moved me and shaped my thinking. And no can express them quite like me.

With thanks to James Clear for the inspiration to write this.

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.

Ode to Freedom

It is said that Friedrich Schiller originally wrote the “Ode to Joy” in 1785 and was “enthusiastically celebrating the brotherhood of all mankind.” The poem was originally titled, “Ode to Freedom” but in 1803, possibly out of fear of repercussions for such an “overtly political” theme, he revised it to “Joy.”

In 1824 Beethoven set the poem to music in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony and made it universal, perhaps eternal. I am fascinated by the irony that the poet edited his poem for being too political and that it went on, aided by Beethoven’s genius, to become the twentieth century’s anthem for brotherhood, peace and reconciliation. Think Tiananmen Square. Think Berlin Wall.

It is also said that Schiller later regarded his poem as a failure, that it was “detached from reality.” Again, fascinating.

It is not the job of the creator to determine or decide the impact or possibility of what he or she creates. The creator’s job is to break free of doubt and self-criticism – to break free from fear – and to allow whatever is inside, that part that is begging to be released into the world, to find its way to the page, the canvas, the children, the team, the organization.

It is not out job to decide or even know who will be moved by our work or where our contributions will lead.

It is our job to do the work.

—–

The 1803 version with references to the original is below:

“Ode to Joy” – Friedrich Schiller – 1803

Joy, beautiful sparkle of god, (1785 version: Freedom, beautiful sparkle of god,)

Daughter of Elysium,

We enter, fire-drunk,

Heavenly one, your shrine.

Your magics bind again

What custom has strictly parted. (1785 version: What custom’s sword has parted.)

All men become brothers (1785 version: Beggars become princes’ brothers.)

Where your tender wing lingers.

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ode_to_Joy

The Well

Reach way over, toes keeping contact with earth, hips balanced on the rough edge, arm stretching down to just the very surface of the water. Dip your cup and taste your presence.

This is your well. The internal spring of all that you are and all that you have to offer a waiting world.

Don’t drink from other wells, mistaking them as your own. Drink from your well, the one that is hardest to reach, the bottom of which is furthest from your hand. Reach down through the darkness to find a quenching you can find nowhere else.

You will love what you taste with a sadness for having not tasted it long or often enough.

Drink it in. Supply yourself for what you must give away.

The Boulder Next Door

IMG_2105Obstacles aren’t always to be overcome. They do need to be understood. Keeping a close relationship with what is in our way does not mean that we are giving into its power. It can mean that we have made friends with it in such a way that we are challenged to discover a creative response to a difficult reality.

There are boulders. They are large, heavy, even ominous. They do not always have to be moved.

IMG_2104When we reach out to what most impedes our growth there is the very real possibility that we will form a new relationship with it. We might even learn to shake hands with each it day in recognition of its potential to overwhelm us. We respect its necessary placement as the thing we need to come up against in order to sharpen our resolve, to clarify our response to the continuous truth of unwelcome but necessary challenges.

IMG_2102We may find that in our striving to go through, the best answer is to find a way around. This is slower, plodding, frustrating to our need to figure out, complete, achieve and finish. And it also may create opportunity for a new perspective that serves to deepen the empathy we hold for ourself. When we find that we are clinging to something unmovable it can be easy to forget that we are still growing.

Staying close to the hardest thing is a sure way to stay in a conversation of possibility. Over time, we may find that what was once immovable has moved us in ways we could not have done without.

Friday Reflection

The weekend is calling. Before you go, a brief reflection on the week that was.

This week I wrote about love, creativity, energy and choice.

I find myself in a deeper conversation about the regard for self – emotional, mental, physical and spiritual – that is necessary to stay as present as I possibly can to what matters most.

Love myself so that I can love others more generously.

Befriend my creativity so that it can be more fully expressed.

Maintain my energy to sustain my ability to love and create.

Trust that my love, creativity and energy is worthy of being chosen. And the only choice that matters is the one I make in favor of myself.

I wish you a restful, playful weekend. That you emerge on Monday morning with a renewed sense of clarity about the contribution you are meant to make and the determination to see it through.

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.

Walking

“I have walked myself into my best thoughts.” Soren Kierkegaard

I have lost count of the number of times I have sat slumped at my desk at an impasse with a project, proposal or blog post  only to finally admit to that my best and only option is to extract myself from the chair, put my walking shoes on, get a leash on the dog and head out for a walk.

Slogging through it. Grinding it out. Trying harder. These all have their place. But without a sustained attention to the energy they demand, their gravitational pull can lead us into a one-dimensional orbit of limited perspective.

When I get up and get moving I invite my body to join my brain in a conversation of possibility. Turning hard questions over in my mind, my movement acts as a sharp spade, knifing through the impacted soil of my narrowed thought. I open up the gravelly earth of my thinking and discover what is hidden there, what can only be found with the gifts of space, movement, air and sun.

Inevitably, I surprise myself with a key word or thought that feels so obvious and so clear that I can only wonder why I waited so long to get this change of scenery. Sometimes, instead of insisting on figuring it out in a sustained glut of effort, the best I can do is to create the conditions most likely to aid my search for a new way forward.

We were not made for slumping in chairs. We were made to move.

Leader’s note: You are a “Chief Energy Officer,” to borrow a phrase. The more you activate energy in yourself the more you will activate it in others. Get moving, they’re waiting for you.