This is the World

Welcome to the world of reality — there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth — actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested… True heroism is you, alone, in a designated work space. True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care — with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.

David Foster WallaceThe Pale King

It’s Saturday morning. You’re resting up from a long week of work, getting the kids back to school (maybe getting yourself back to school). You might even be getting ready for work right now, to finish up what the work week was too short to contain, or maybe a second job so you can pay for school.

It’s Saturday morning and you’re feeling, in some way, the painful truth that David Foster Wallace articulates with such heartbreaking accuracy: no one is interested. No one, that is, but you.

And also everyone who loves you, those who are cheering for you, and those who want nothing less for you than all that you have earned and deserve.

The problem, the very serious problem, is that it just doesn’t feel that way so much of the time. The problem is that it is so, so hard to remember that, so much of the time.

Because of that, this Saturday morning, I simply want to say,

You’ve got this.

Keep going.

person in black hoodie sitting on train bench

Photo by Steven Arenas on

Why I Am Optimistic About Leadership and Change

Another way I might have titled this post: “Why a recent concentration of articles and videos about the higher possibilities of the human experience represents a welcome increase in the quality of the conversation about inevitable change.”

The following material landed in my inbox within the last seven days. Given my professional interests and tendency to oversubscribe it’s not all that surprising that I would receive these things. What has my attention this week, however, is that the frequency and quality of the material is increasingly focused on reconnecting to the basic considerations of empathy, contribution, attention and the leadership responsibility to change ourselves before asking anyone else to change.

A bigger conversation is emerging. Let’s help to move it along.

From Harvard Business Review: The Internet is Finally Forcing Management to Care About People

From Insead Knowledge: Restoring Humanity to Leadership

From Tony Robbins: The Leader as Practical Psychologist (watch the 2-minute video)

From Seth Godin: Why Do You Do It This Way?

From David Foster Wallace: This is Water

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He 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.


The Lost Years – James Michener

For anyone, especially in the immediate post-undergraduate years, who has struggled to figure it out, this one is a must. Get inspired yourself and, by all means, share it with others.

The Journey – Mary Oliver

This is the poem that changed my life. If you follow your heart’s desire the path to get there WILL NOT be easy. Which is precisely how you know you are on the right path.

Kenyon College Commencement Address – David Foster Wallace

What if we stopped and considered that the person in front of us right now has greater needs, greater pain and greater fear than we do? I fail at this ALL THE TIME. But then I remember DFW’s comment that is “unimaginably hard to do this” and I take it easy on myself and start again.

Sonnet 29 – William Shakespeare

“With what I most enjoy contented least.” Aka, the grass is always greener. Amen, brother.

The Transformative Power of Classical Music (TED talk) – Ben Zander

If only for the last 5 minutes you MUST watch this. Say it with me now: “Who am I being?”

Divided Brain, Divided World – Jonathan Rowson & Iain McGilchrist

I did better with this .pdf than I’m doing with the full length book but the power of this insight about our overwhelming reliance on the left brain in a world so desperate for right brain thinking is, well, overwhelming.

Putting Leaders On the Couch – Manfred Kets de Vries

Really, anything by Kets de Vries is extraordinary. Until leaders develop the courage to look more deeply at themselves and until we both expect and help them to do so, we’re going to struggle mightily to thrive in the face of ever quickening change.

Be Bigger

Not magnanimous. Not even sacrificial. Just bigger.

I had an experience this weekend that left me startled by just how small people can sometimes be. It was nothing earth shattering or insurmountable, nothing that put anyone or anything in harm’s way, but it was the kind of smallness that, if experienced too often would easily create a big tear in my perception and experience of the world as a typically generous, we’re all in this together kind of place.

It was also the kind of smallness – selfish, like a child who just can’t bring himself to share a toy and controlling; the expressed insecurity of someone who feels that the world will spin out of control unless they remain the master of this small part of it – that felt painfully over-practiced, so routinized as to be unconscious. How can you not assume that this is just who they are?

From my privileged perspective as the slighted one – and what a sanctified stoop on which to sit! – I reassured myself that I would never have done such a thing. And, perhaps I wouldn’t have, not in that particular situation. I, of course, have my own particular brand of smallness, as do we all. Not to paint with too broad a brush but this is a significant part of our human condition, is it not? I mean, it’s a tough and lonely world sometimes, and it’s easy to get lost in our own need to feel special, in control, at the protected and certain center of it all. When that gets threatened, or even if it is perceived to be, out come the small daggers thrown with precision at the target of our undoing.

Feeling small and lost in the world sometimes is just part of the deal. There is no map. There are, however, lots of other people feeling exactly the same way, counting on us to ease the path, even just a very little bit.

Let’s take a half-step towards bigger. Really. Let’s do that.

Don’t Bite the Hook

IMG_0688Lately I have found myself collecting what I consider to be more meaningful and useful drive time material. This is, in part, thanks to a great blog post by Seth Godin, Can an audiobook change your life?, in which he relates the impact of listening to really useful non-fiction as a source of inspiration, motivation and, frankly, just good old fashioned brainwashing (the good kind). He began listening to “books on tape” when he was just starting out, allowing Zig Ziglar to wash over him continuously, supporting the fragile infrastructure of self-confidence and determination he was slowly, steadily turning into entrepreneurial success.

As I continue forward in my own new endeavor I find I am more open than ever before (please see my post on meditation for a really good example) to new ideas, frameworks and possibilities. (It’s really quite alarming to realize how “safety” and “certainty” work in opposition to new learning.) Finding myself in undiscovered country, “whatever it takes” has taken on a whole new meaning.

That said, I gobbled up Seth’s recommendations, starting with Pema Chodron‘s Don’t Bite the Hook. Chodron is an American Buddhist nun and the recording is a series of talks she gave during the course of a weekend retreat. It is truly a powerful teaching about our constant, all-too-human struggle with anger and resentment. Similar in many ways to David Foster Wallace‘s commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, Chodron challenges us to remember that even though we can only see it from our perspective, the world does not operate from only our perspective and, regardless of who or what comes at us, we always have a choice in how we respond.

She encourages us to see the hook that is dangling in front of us, temptingly loaded up with more bait than we know what to do with, and begin to practice new ways of both seeing it and responding to it; challenging us to end the cycle of anger and hurt rather than perpetuating it with yet another open-mouthed, instinctive lunge.

I knew right away that this was a recording that my wife and I should be listening to together, certainly for the sake of our marriage but equally for the sake of our parenting.  Our kids walk around with an arsenal of very large hooks and it’s our job to not take the bait; to respond to their anger and frustration with patience, calmness and loving rationality (permission to insert cynical laughter here). To have any chance of that happening more often (like baseball, 3 out of 10 times would be really good!) we first have to practice more consistently with one another.  So we started. Small. We listened to a bit of the recording together and, as a result, have taken to liberally repeating the phrase, “Don’t bite the hook!,” when the pull to react and retaliate grows strong.

My daughter asked what it means and as I explained it was obvious that she understood right away. As you can see, she’s a natural.