Who do you think you are?

For what feels like a very long time, especially in my late twenties and well into my thirties, I was asked this question a lot. And every time I was asked it I heard it as an accusation. I heard the question underneath the question: what gives you the right to think you can do this?

Wide-eyed, naive and guilty I would inevitably respond with some stammered version of “I don’t know” or “I’m figuring that out” or “I think it’s this” or “I might be that.” My answer always a plea for mercy from the smallest part of myself.

Strangely, I was only asked the question at times when I was attempting something new, stretching out, exploring new space: maybe with writing or speaking, perhaps with a new workshop design. Unfailingly, the question would be asked of me during conversations with “smart” people about books or movies or politics. It would always be asked in charged meetings where points of view were expected, positions were being staked out.

Always, the question would come.

One day I started to look out for the people who would ask it. I started to wise up and get ready for it because I could predict who it would come from and when. The more I paid attention the more I noticed that the people who would ask this question shared similar qualities; tone of voice, style of dress, demeanor, and even size and shape.

Again and again and again, the people who would ask this question all looked eerily familiar to me.

And then, one day, it hit me. The people asking this question, those judgmental, insensitive, thoughtless, discouraging people were actually only one person in many different guises.

The reason they looked so familiar was that they were me.

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.

Sand and Water

IMG_2150 You are both sand and water.

You are forming and being formed, the ultimate collaboration.

When you accept the continuous reality of your deeply potent changeability, you create space for beauty you couldn’t otherwise imagine. Your agency intact, you invite the possibility that comes with each new wave.

There is design in the chaos, intricate and purposeful. Each new surge offering its contribution to the work in progress that you are. You will grow weary of their insistence, how could you not? And the waves will keep coming, persistently offering an invitation to a “more” (your Magis) that frightens with its sincerity.

It is never just washing over. It’s always forming something new. IMG_2151

Three Signs You Might Be Out of Control

January-9What follows is my interpretation of material shared by Ken Blanchard at the Servant Leadership Conference in Coronado, CA on March 9, 2015. This is his work, not my own. Any dilution of its impact or misinterpretation of its meaning can only be attributed to me!

If you are depleted, exhausted, frustrated, angry or overwhelmed – or perhaps a bit of all of those – it’s likely that you are feeling and acting out of control. Perhaps only slightly, but enough so that you find yourself out of rhythm. In an effort to restore your equilibrium – no one wants to be out of control – you may be employing some unhealthy adaptations, likely small adjustments that have become incrementally more present and therefore harder to notice for what they truly represent.

Think about your lifestyle and behaviors over the last 30 days. Do any of these apply to you?

Are you skimming? You are in the room but you aren’t really present. You are distracted and disengaged from the people who most need your sincere focus and attention, your spouse, children and friends. You are going through the motions, not really tasting or enjoying your food, not really committed to that book you are reading, distracted during exercise or whatever form of restorative practice you rely on. You avoid the deeper dive and commitment of energy required for presence because you are reserving it to fight the battle of insecurity or anxiety.

Are you overindulging? You escape into alcohol, food, television or social media. You over promise, stretching yourself too thin. You avoid confronting the real issues you need to face by losing yourself in things that provide temporary feelings of relief instead of relief itself. You take the edge off, and then a little bit more even though more is never enough.

Are you blaming others for your situation? You look to anyone or anything else as the cause of the difficulty you are facing. You avoid responsibility because it stings too much. You neglect to hold tough conversations about what’s really going on for fear that all fingers will be pointed at you. You make life tough for your team because if you have to suffer they are going to suffer too.

If any of this is true for you – and if we’re honest it’s true for all of us in some way – it is easy to fall into the trap of self-judgment and good/bad thinking. We have to forgive ourselves for the understandable if unconscious use of these maladaptive practices. Having done so, we can more objectively look at the pattern we are in and get ourselves back to the opportunity that is always available to us: to choose our response to whatever circumstances we face.

Others

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Gathering

“You do know, don’t you, that the people you are most threatened by are invariably just like you?” – Richard Rohr – 

I met a friend near the beach yesterday afternoon. We planned to sit and have some conversation, opting not for the coffee shop but for an ocean view. It was low tide and the beach was expansive, endless flat sand stretching away in either direction.

My friend suggested we take advantage of the tide and stretch our legs. Normally, that’s an easy “yes” but I hesitated in light of the fact that I was dressed for “business” – button down, slacks, dress shoes – having come directly from other meetings.

But the beach was calling and it is surely some kind of sin to ignore it so we did not. I quickly and awkwardly transformed from “business guy” to “business guy who just decided to take a walk on the beach.” Dress shoes off, socks stuffed inside, pants rolled up and very white feet exposed to sun and sand, we set off. I was the fish out of water. But only to me.

I have always had a complicated relationship with relationships. Part of it – a healthier part than I may be able to admit – is due to the fact that when I am surrounded by talented people – smart, funny, accomplished – I often choose to allow their qualities to serve as a measuring stick to which I am not equal. I would like to be one who celebrates others more freely, reveling in their achievements without it having to have something to do with me, good or bad. Sometimes I am able to do this, sometimes not. When I operate from my lower self I know that it is because I haven’t met my own standard and I can’t tolerate being reminded of it with the example of other’s good work. The easy remedy is to reject and isolate.

But I can’t go it alone. I need others and knowing the depth of that need creates a vulnerability that can be hard to take. Others – those most important others – can build us up, make us stronger, accept our awkwardness. Others reflect back to us with precision the truth of who we are. Sometimes, like the glare off of a sparkling ocean, it is impossible to see it without squinting and turning away. It can be hard to look at ourselves.

As I keep learning how to walk in the world, the more I am able to see and understand the complications and possibilities embedded in understanding the self, others and the new entity that is formed when they come together. It is awkward at times, sort of like a man in business attire casually walking the coastline, but getting your feet wet always is.

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.

Grown Up

“What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.”  

from “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

I felt like a grown up last week. I had a new experience – hosting a leadership conference – and it went well. It made me feel the accumulated confidence of my experience. It helped me to recognize my capability and to be gratified by the opportunity to express it in a useful way; in a way that helped others gain more from the conference than they might otherwise have done. At least that’s what many people told me.

In that moment of feeling “grown up” – like how Doug Silsbee so artfully uses the metaphor of a massive dragon tail as a “felt sense of fundamental sufficiency” – I recognized how often it is that I don’t feel that way. I recognized how often it is that younger versions of me – the uncertain 23-year old, the confused 10-year old, the insecure 35-year old, the playfully confident 16-year old, the naively curious 5-year old – emerge and express themselves. And why shouldn’t they? I’ve been all of those ages much longer than I’ve been 43. Those patterns, expressions, beliefs and behaviors are well-practiced and well-worn. They just aren’t definitive. As the next layer forms the previous one is flattened out, diminished by the weight of what’s next.

I’d like to feel grown up more often but I have no desire to forget the best parts of being 23, 35, 16 and 5. I want to hold onto the value of uncertainty, embrace the questions of confusion, wrestle with the insecurity of new experience, relish in the playfulness of confident presence and learn with the naive fervor of an innocent child.

The story is still being written, as long as it is. I bring all of it with me.

All of it.