Your Best Work

Your best work is the work that emerges from the use of your natural, cultivated and refined strengths.

I have learned to be good at all kinds of things in my life. I have adapted myself to many scenarios and found an ability to become successful in ways I wouldn’t normally expect to be.

I think of these abilities as my “learned strengths” and while I am gratified to make a contribution with them, doing so takes its toll on both my energy and my attitude.

When I employ my natural strengths, those born out of the core elements of my personality and burnished by experience, I have no energy loss and am able to maintain a positive attitude.

Understanding the difference between your natural strengths and your adaptive or learned strengths is less a question about how much impact you can have and more a question of how much you are willing to spend to make that impact.


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.

Try Again

“All I do know is as we age, the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier. . . much heavier. With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher. . . . Long ago, the defenses I built to withstand the stress of my childhood, to save what I had of myself, outlived their usefulness, and I’ve become an abuser of their once lifesaving powers. I relied on them wrongly to isolate myself, seal my alienation, cut me off from life, control others, and contain my emotions to a damaging degree. Now the bill collector is knocking, and his payment’ll be in tears.”

~ Bruce Springsteen. (Esquire, November 27, 2018)


The Boss writes of his inner work like he writes his music: “Now the bill collector is knocking, and his payment we’ll be in tears.” Are you kidding me? If that’s not a song, I don’t know what is.

I started negotiating with my bill collector at 35 years old. He had extended me all the credit I was going to get and it was time to reconcile…with interest.

Considering the freedom paying that debt has brought to my life – freedom, connection, openness – I only wish I had started sooner. And I know, cutting myself some much-needed slack, that I started when I was ready.

“Started” is an important term because it brings with it the implication of an ending. And with this work, there is no ending. There is only the opportunity to get honest about it, make friends with it, and in that friendship find a way to recognize those moments when the impulse to regress is so strong that you want nothing more than to say, “Yes, the old ways are easier and much more satisfying. I will revel in being wounded, resentful, fearful and isolated, wrapping myself in the comfort of that old tattered blanket.”

And then you remember that giving in to that impulse requires the endurance of a hangover so miserable that you feel as if you will never face the light of day again. So, you decline that option and decide instead to live a healed, generous, courageous and connected life.

You decide to try again.


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.

 

Life Lesson #19

Never doubt that the amount of random, difficult and unexpected stuff that enters your life is directly proportional to your ability to deal with it.

The more you grow, the more you can handle.

Keep growing.

More is always coming.


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 6

I am thankful for friendship.

I have more than my fair share.

I tell people all the time that we are lucky in life to have just a few “closest” friends – the kind you can count on one hand – but I humbly realize that I have more than that, two hands full at least.

They are diverse and extraordinary. Some from childhood, some more recently formed. I’ve learned that true friendship is determined by the ability to have a real conversation with another person, and then to be able to see that person again within a few days or weeks and only feel more affection and appreciation. And then to add another real conversation, the quality of which becomes another band in the strengthening fibers of connection.

Great friendship is also light and fun, of course, but the best ones always circle back to meaning. Lightness and fun serve as vehicles to get back to what matters most. True friendship helps me live in that meaningful space in a way that is both sincere and playful, strong and vulnerable.

A couple of recent friendship highlights: three of us meet once a month by video conference. We take about 30 minutes each to share the highs and lows of personal and professional life and then provide some form of coaching and advising to support that person in thinking through their current circumstances. It is deeply trustworthy and encouraging and I am fortunate to benefit from their open hearts and wise counsel.

Another friend has recently invited a small group of men to a “Pints & Podcasts” meeting which he describes as “…a book club with a shorter time investment. And beer.” He appreciates, as I do, that strong male relationships are essential to our well-being and is looking for a way to satisfy that need. I am grateful for his initiative and looking forward to getting started.

As a longtime married person with children still at home, friendship is a tricky thing. It is easy to take a pass, to disconnect, to focus only on who is “here and now.” Sometimes it is a legitimate question of bandwidth, sometimes it is the lazy preference to stay close to home. As grateful as I am to be able to call my spouse my dearest of all friends, I recognize that it is only within the friendships of those outside my immediate circle that I stretch out far enough to be able to come back to the center with the equanimity and  perspective that benefits my family.

To my friends who continue to invite me into deeper and more challenging exploration I offer my deepest thanks.

I will strive to offer the same to you.

I am thankful for friendship.


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.

Optimal Conditions for Growth

As leaders learn to see themselves as planters and cultivators, they will grow increasingly well attuned to the optimal conditions for growth:

Container: the supportive container for your team members is the thoughtfully defined scope of their work. It is appropriately sized to their role, experience and your expectations. It is adjusted based on progress, conditions, and the inevitable changes that occur.

Resources: soil, water and light for your team members are the information they require about the organization and its plans, how they fit into those plans and easy access to the tools they need to be successful. It is context and perspective about how what they do is connected to the goals and vision of the organization.

Attention: for your team members, regular care and feeding is checking in, asking what they need to be successful, providing recognition, assurance, feedback and necessary course corrections. Too much and they will drown. Too little and they will starve.

Applied with discipline and with care, it is nothing short of a miracle what can occur when living things are provided with conditions that respect and expect the emergence of their inherent potential.

Growth is never a given. It can never be assumed. But it is always possible when the conditions are right.

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Plumeria seedling at three weeks. Photo by Davis Berry (2018)


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 Best Advice

The best advice I ever received came from the book, “The Art of Possibility” by Ben and Rosamund Zander. It goes like this:

Don’t take yourself so damn seriously!” (aka, ‘Rule #6′)

I remember thinking, “How did they know!!!” (Yes, three exclamation points.)

The second best piece of advice I ever received was to see a therapist.

Doing so is how I learned make the space to apply the best advice I ever received.

I don’t believe that therapy is the only path to follow but it worked for me and it continues to pay dividends.

I’m not fixed or finished, by any means. I’m a work in progress and will forever be. It’s just that the time and energy I invested in clearing a path to understanding has made it possible for me to reduce my self-interest, my selfishness, my neediness and my need for control.

That reduction has forever changed the quality of my relationships, my capacity for understanding and empathy, my openness to new experiences. It has increased my sense of humor and my perspective. It has encouraged my acceptance of everything that’s beyond my control and a deeper commitment to everything that is.

And that’s what motivates my work today. I understand what’s possible and I want it for others. And for the people they lead. Especially for them.


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.

On whose example do you model your leadership?

A writer I admire said that the way to find one’s own voice as a writer is to imitate other writers. He said that by imitating them you allow yourself to write more freely because you have a model to follow rather than feeling the pressure to be an original voice. Because, of course, you can’t be those other writers but can only do a faint and probably poor imitation, what will begin to emerge is a version of the style you admire which you can practice and refine over time into one that is your own.

I had a similar discussion once with a mentor of mine who said in a discussion of leadership principles that “everything is derivative”; that we are always interpreting and reinterpreting the work, ideas and perspectives of the teachers who have come before us, those we have chosen to turn to as models for how to live, work and lead.

Again there is freedom is this thinking because it grants permission to build on the work of others – to stand on the shoulders of giants – instead of having to start out as giants ourselves.

If modeling is the path to leadership mastery, if it is the means by which you can ultimately claim your leadership “voice,” then there is one question you must answer as capably and responsibly as you can: on whose example do you model your leadership?


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 Midweek Thought Experiment

Imagine that it’s five years ago. If you could meet yourself on October 10, 2013 what advice would you give yourself for the coming five years?

Five years ago, my advice would have been (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Imagine it’s five years from now. What advice can you give yourself today that will help you wake up on October 10, 2023 satisfied that you lived the last five years with intention?

My advice to my future self is the same: (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to separate my present and future selves. It’s a tough thing to be objective about. Or maybe it’s that, having landed on these themes, I recognize that the work never really ends.

I suppose that could be frustrating, even defeating. But I find it inspiring, an invitation to keep learning.

And what about you? What did you discover?


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.

I don’t know

“The human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. ‘Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,’ it invariably says. Most people who think they are fully conscious or ‘smart’ and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.”

– Richard Rohr


If you want to encourage more compassion, start with “I don’t know.” Your vulnerability will signal to others that their vulnerability is ok, and normal. The other day, not knowing what to say to a sick friend, I somewhat shamefully Googled, “what to say to a sick friend.” It turns out that there are some very compassionate people in the world with more practice than me in being in those tough situations. My “I don’t know” led me to the help I needed.

If you want to establish a stronger community, start with “I don’t know.” You will signal to others that it is the combination of your perspectives and experience that form a strong community. You will become an invitation for others to share what they have to offer. The leader of the band I’m a part of consistently asks for the group’s ideas about what music to perform and is always open to suggestions about how we can most successfully sing and play.

If you want to discover more wisdom, start with “I don’t know.” A momentary pause leaves space for more thoughtful consideration, for a deeper learning to take place. Early in my work as a leadership coach, I felt self-conscious pressure to fill in any gaps in the conversation. I have learned to pause and allow brief silences to serve as catalysts for my curiosity.

It’s tough to remove the manhole cover, and I’m not sure I will ever be rid of it entirely. But I have enough encouraging examples of ways I have learned to let go of being right, to let go of being in control.

I am reminded, again and again, that they all start with “I don’t know.”


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.