After the Barrier

Sometimes along the path to a new threshold you find a barrier you don’t expect to see. This usually happens when you are just steps from arrival. A short time ago, you glanced up and saw a clear and inviting path. No longer. Now it’s got your attention in a new way.

You knew it was coming. You hoped it wouldn’t and that it wouldn’t be this hard. But you’re here and you get to decide: will you focus more on the barrier or what’s beyond?

And once you’re through, and your cuts and scratches burn in the salty ocean, will you wish it had been easier or will you be grateful for each and every one?

Barbed wire

Big Sur Coastline – July, 2019

From the Outside In

Real change begins at the edges, never at the center.

The center is dogmatic and certain. The edge is open and curious, the gateway to possibility.

To work from the outside in for your team, your work group or even your family, you might consider a series of small but potent actions in service of your highest aspirations:

  • Small gatherings of like-minded colleagues marked by a commitment to knowing the people for who they are, not just by what they do,
  • Brief but sincere check-ins on values and culture to lead off every meeting or meal,
  • Brief but sincere recognition offered at the end of every meeting or meal,
  • “Below the line” conversations with customers about who they are, what they care about and how we can help them achieve it,
  • Common sense support for healthy distance from work after hours, on weekends and on vacations,
  • Regular, rich, candid and mutual conversations about performance that make “performance reviews” irrelevant
  • And how many more can you think of?

These acts do not require permission, nor do they require authority. They require initiative.

These acts, over time, lead to a more open system, a system that is learning how to learn and therefore, learning how to change.

time lapse photo of cliff coast during dawn

Photo by Zak Bentley on

On the Frontier

American mythology has long included the archetype of the “self-made man.” And no place is associated with that archetype quite like the American west. Think of covered wagons and remote outposts, think of cowboys and ranchers, think of miners and the Gold Rush. Think of the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood ethos. Think of Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, Walt Disney and Steve Jobs. For that matter, just think of Silicon Valley.

Pioneers, adventurers, trailblazers. Vigorous, steadfast and resilient. They set out to conquer some part of a vast, undeveloped territory and make it their own. The “self-made man” goes on a hero’s journey: he sets out to fulfill a vision, is forced to overcome both internal and external obstacles to achieve it, finds resources within himself that he didn’t realize he had and ultimately, against all odds, achieves his dream.

And he does it alone.

Here in the present day American west, and in the broader American culture, we still live in the shadow of this romantic legacy. We obsess over our jobs, our homes, our stuff. We carve out a small space – an eighth of an acre in most cases – and make it our castle. We preserve at great lengths the old story of individualism, what I alone can do, what I most dream of doing, in order to get our piece, our slice of the dream.

And this becomes the operating system of our neighborhoods, our “NIMBY” communities and our corporations most of all.

So many of our most prominent, influential corporations, through their failed performance management and reward systems, a relentless focus on short-term results, through lip service to vision and values, leadership development, social responsibility and employee engagement, are no more than temples of self-congratulation and self-worship. They are, all too often, simply a construct for the very few to accumulate as much as they possible can while the very many do the hard work to make that possible.

All of this you already know. What I hope you also know is that there are small and powerful exceptions. The inspiration for this post, in fact, came from the comments of a team member I worked with earlier in the week. We were in the midst of a conversation in which we were exploring the intersection of individual, team and corporate values. An expatriate from Brazil, he shared how much he appreciated this kind of interaction with his teammates because so much of his American experience is marked by the sort of individual compartmentalization described above. With familiar Brazilian enthusiasm he described his desire to be more connected, to literally be closer to his colleagues, in a culture that seems to work so hard to avoid that kind of intimacy.

I believe that what he is asking for, what he is seeking is a new frontier. And it is there for us if we are willing to take the steps. This new frontier is marked by a more purposeful kind of interaction, one that preserves a focus on the individual but in the larger context of how she connects and contributes to the larger group of which she is a part. It is a frontier of deep and challenging conversations about why we are here, and what we are meant to achieve. It is a conversation that calls on us to recognize that our actions have an impact beyond ourselves and that we are responsible for those outcomes, good or bad.

It is a frontier that demands us to wake up to the truth that everything is connected, that how we honor the person in front of us is how we honor all things.

The “self-made man” is a myth for one simple reason: no one does it alone.

green grass field during daytime

Photo by Ivan on

Don’t wait for your company to hire you a coach

When I started my company in 2013 my first leadership coaching client was an individual who paid for it out of his own pocket. He knew it was the right time and he was willing to make an investment in his learning.

I was inspired by that commitment and it still inspires me any time I have the privilege of coaching someone who makes the same choice.

Yes, most of the time it is the company who sponsors and pays for coaching services. But what if your company is not ready to do that and you are absolutely convinced it’s time to grow? You can take the path of convincing them to do so or the even longer path of finding a new employer who is willing to invest in you.

Alternatively, you can take on an even better question: if you know you’re ready; if you are eager to learn…eager to go the edge of your understanding of self, others and your leadership potential, what are you waiting for?

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.

A Week of Thanks: Day 1

fullsizeoutput_1848I am thankful for the many “edge” experiences I have had in my life – some chosen on purpose, some chosen accidentally, and some thrust upon me. These are moments and commitments that shaped my experience, my perspective and my confidence. I can still feel the fear, anticipation and anxiety of each one. And I can still feel the blessed relief of coming out the other side in one (vastly improved) piece.

In high school, during our production of the musical “Camelot,” I strode out onto an extension of the stage – between the audience and the orchestra pit – that had me nearly standing in the front row. In the middle of the song I forgot the words and spun backwards as if doing so would make me disappear. It’s right there on film.

Driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Chicago after college graduation to start my first job. From the edge of the country to the middle. Unknown, vast, foreign. Friends along the way. New friends and experiences waiting for me.

Standing in front of a group of admirals and generals gathered for an executive education program on leadership and culture at which I was a featured speaker. Actually, the night before the speech when I was hyperventilating to my wife over the phone that I had no business being there, none whatsoever, and that I had no idea what I was going to say. But it wasn’t that, it was the fear that what I had to say wouldn’t be good enough.

Sitting across from a therapist because “this will make me a better coach.” Learning, over hundreds of conversations that the work was about becoming a whole person.

Standing on a bluff above the ocean, strapped into a harness and parasail, contemplating the stated fact that the only to go up was to step off the edge. And then, stepping.

Thank you God, family, colleagues and life itself. Thank you for the invitation and the push. Please keep inviting and please keep pushing. I will do my best to meet you there with a full and willing 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.




Small Moves: 100 Days of Connection

“Because it is familiar a thing remains unknown.” Hegel


Day 100 – “My first 6th grade essay – piece of cake!”

There is a powerful moment at the beginning of the movie “Contact” when young Ellie is calling out on her shortwave radio. She is trying to find someone, anyone, who might be listening on the same frequency. As her frustration grows her dad implores her, “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.”

Finally, someone answers. A man from Pensacola. Ellie is so startled that she doesn’t know what to say.

The movie takes us from this intimate moment between a father and a daughter to a wormhole in deepest space. The story arcs from what is closest and dearest all the way out to an astonishing celestial frontier before curving back to the familiar ground of the here and now. It reminds us that as far as we might travel to find what we are looking for, the things – the people – we most want and need in our lives are usually very close at hand. Connection always requires small moves and in my experience those moves consistently lead right back to what we most need to learn.

This is my lesson after 100 days of seeking connection: I have been looking for something that was not lost. Connection is always one small move away. It’s familiarity is the perfect hiding place.

Ellie is young when her father dies. What becomes her quest to discover life on other planets is really a search for a way back to her dad, a way back to what is familiar and comforting. Is it any surprise that when she does make contact with an “extraterrestrial” it takes the form of her dad, using the known to settle the confusion of the new?

An early, significant loss can make future attachment very hard. It’s just so easy to defend against the possibility of experiencing that old pain in a new way. In my experience it was easier to either smother another person to get them to reject me or to cooly keep my distance to avoid revealing my vulnerability. Of course, both responses left me disconnected and alone, reinforcing my belief that connection could only be attained through a perfect alignment of very specific variables. All or nothing is rarely a successful approach when it comes to matters of the heart.

I am just slightly wiser after these one hundred days. I am more awake to connection’s continuous presence and the deep satisfaction that comes with moving towards it each day. I am more aware of how small moves often feel insufficient in the moment, like breadcrumbs for a starving man. Through sheer redundancy of attention I also see that there’s no other way to do it. Ellie’s discovery of a message from outer space came from years of dedicated listening, one frequency at a time.

At the end of the film the alien who has taken the form of Ellie’s dad says to her:

“You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

My most recent 25 connection photos can be seen here.  Days 1-25 are here. And days 26-50 are here. Days 51-75 are 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.

Rules for Making It Up As You Go…

It dawned on me as I reviewed my last post that I missed an opportunity to provide some perspective on just how you go about “making it up as you go.” Yes, yes, I appreciate that it is a contradiction to establish “rules” for such a thing but we must learn to love the contradictions! So, lets all rest easy and think of them as “guidelines” or “recommendations.” The larger point is that I do believe there is a method to the madness of living life without a playbook.

1. First, know thyself. To put it bluntly, there’s not much chance of you weathering the storm of isolation that comes with creating something new if you don’t have a firm hold on who you are. By that I mean the vulnerability and awareness that comes from stretching yourself to really discover what makes you tick; at your best, your worst and everywhere in between. Knowing this means you know what sets you off, how you react under pressure, how good you are when you’re really good, how you respond to and recover from disappointment, how much tolerance you have for ambiguity, uncertainty and the reality that the world is not going to roll over for you just because you’d like it to.

2. Stand on the shoulders of giants. Assemble the best group of supporters, mentors, teachers, coaches and friends you possibly can and use them as much as you can. What’s the point of having people in your life who truly care about your success if you’re not willing to ask them for help? Take stock of those you most rely on in your life. If this group doesn’t inspire, challenge and implore you, doesn’t push, cajole, beckon and admonish you in the best, least comfortable way (meaning, they actually tell you the truth) to be the person you are most afraid of being, well then, you’d better find a new crowd. It’s not happening without them.

3. Practice courage every day. You don’t have to win every day. You just have to practice. Small acts of well-placed, well-timed insubordination against the known and the expected are exceptional ways of reminding yourself that (a) you are, indeed, alive and (b) you can break away from the pack and plant a new crop of awesomeness in YOUR section of the field. I’m talking about mild and enjoyable insurrections like striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know or practicing a new discipline even though you are confident you will be terrible at it (meditation comes to mind). It might be starting a blog or volunteering to help kids or anything that requires you to get out of your own way, to get a little exposed and to wrestle with the unknown.

4. It’s not all about you. At precisely the time that it feels like it is all about you (you’re exploring the undiscovered country, right? you’re moving towards this big, scary risk, aren’t you? you’re well-being is on the line, isn’t it?) it is the perfect time to be reminded that it absolutely is not. It’s all about everybody else and what you can do for them. Deepak Chopra taught me the law of Karma and I am 1,000% certain he is right! In my family we like to say “give a little, get a little.” It means that the world is reciprocal and you’ve got to go first. No matter what. (Check out this article I just read in the NYT that discusses this at length.)

5. Go slow to go fast. My guess is that if you know you’ve got something important to create; some new possibility to bring to life that’s got you tied up in knots you have spent considerable time thinking about how big and scary it all is without doing much about it. You know, of course (because everybody does) that small steps, those seemingly insignificant acts (and funny, isn’t it that we tell ourselves that they are insignificant because they are “small” and “small” is just so undervalued in our culture even though any one – ANY ONE – who ever accomplished anything worth writing about will tell you that they started SMALL?) that are related, directly or indirectly, to your larger purpose, are essential to getting the snowball started. This may strike you as tired advice  – baby steps and all that – and perhaps it is. And, it’s funny to me how the “tired” advice is typically only tired for those who have never put it in play.

One of the best admonitions I have ever heard is that if the path you’re on is clear/smooth/straight/easy, you’re on someone else’s path. My hope is that you are on YOUR path and that these “rules” are helpful for the way forward.

Making it up as you go…

Inspired by a friend who occasionally decides that she’s a “real” artist and treats herself to the “good” paint.


The problem with life is that there is no playbook. You arrive on the field and, if you’re lucky, some nice people take care of you for a while and then, when you’re old enough you venture off to another part of the field and see what you can make of yourself. Still no playbook but thoughts of possibilities abound. And, after a while longer you figure out that in many ways it’s easy; that most people “get it” and, because they do they drive on the right side of the road, pay their bills and even hold the door open for you once in a while.

And then you decide to pursue one of those possibilities you dreamt up and you learn that it’s not so easy as you thought. Because now you’re operating outside of the accepted behaviors of the many. You’re hanging out on a part of the field that few if any have visited before. And this is where it gets interesting because now you have a decision to make: will you stay long enough to sort it out, to make it up as you go and normalize this place? Will you keep discovering new parts of the field or will you retreat towards what you know because, after all, it’s what you know? And, like most of those who have come this way before you decide to go back. And you feel pretty good about it because it’s predictable and understandable and it allows you to fit in with the rest of the gang who are operating from the same set of rules.

Until they’re not.

Because of course what you weren’t banking on is that the rules you accepted as a “given” can change with more impact and velocity than you can possibly imagine. And they will. And they do. And now you’re wondering which was the better deal: blindly expecting the known to remain the known so you can feel the false sense of safety you have learned to crave or risking the responsibility of defining a new set of rules in an unknown territory, scaring yourself to death by the possibility of utter loss but wondering if that’s not the point of the whole experience anyway.

The joy of life is that there is no playbook. You arrive on the field and, if you’re lucky, some nice people take care of you for a while and then, when you’re old enough you venture off to another part of the field and see what you can make of yourself. And you learn that you can create and so you keep venturing out, determining new rules as you go, experiencing new things, engaging new people, discovering new abilities and passions. And you begin to feel a powerful discomfort with the seduction of the known and you find yourself straddling two worlds; one beckoning you back, the other calling you forward.

And you get to decide. And it’s the most important decision of your life.

The Child Inside

At the invitation of Dr. Bennett Cherry I had the opportunity this week to speak to both sections of his “Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship” class at Cal State San Marcos. Dr. Cherry (@edgentrepreneur on Twitter) is an engaging  and natural teacher who aspires to both support and witness his student’s achievement in bringing new ideas to life.

It was a pleasure to join him in this endeavor if only for a day and I am honored that he would call on me to support his work and their learning.

I spoke to the students – mostly in their senior year and beginning to wrestle with the big question of what life will look like after college – about the importance of recognizing, nurturing and enlivening the child inside them; the child who is innately curious, who explores unceasingly, who is willing to take risks, who is unafraid of judgments or criticism. I implored them to recognize when they are playing it safe; when they are favoring the safety of the known over the perceived danger and uncertainty of the unknown. I assured them that their willingness and ability to challenge themselves to move towards their own personal “edge of possibility” will differentiate them as highly desirable employees in a world of organizations so desperate for meaningful evolution but so confused about how to actually make it happen.

And, as I was carrying on, I couldn’t stop thinking about a short movie featuring a young man named Caine Monroy (you can watch it here). His story is one of the most compelling examples I’ve seen of a child’s full expression of creativity and the absolute conviction that his creativity will lead to possibility. More than that, it is a story of how one person’s belief can inspire another person – even an older, “wiser” person – to do something powerful and unexpected.

For all of the students I had the pleasure to meet this week and to all of us who strive to create and contribute to something larger than ourselves, I hope you will find Caine’s story fuel for the journey.

Congratulations on moving towards your possibility.

Stranger in a Strange Land

“Traveller, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road
Only wakes in the sea.”

Antonio Machado

Being in transition feels weird. It feels incredibly odd to be in a completely new situation professionally and yet have all of my surroundings remain familiar. This is still my house; these are still my children; these are still my clothes; that is still my dog. And, yet it all looks and feels so different. Different because that is NOT still my job. That place I made tracks to and from every day for nearly eight years is no longer my place. Those responsibilities are no longer my responsibilities. Those politics are no longer my politics. Those victories, those losses; those aspirations and those complexities; no longer mine.

I am out of my body just a little bit. Just enough to feel the disequilibrium of the change. I walked away willingly and with purpose, but that doesn’t mean I am clear, confident or confirmed in my new venture. I am in progress. I am discovering that everything that is the same no longer looks the same because I am seeing it with new eyes. The eyes of someone who must see the world anew if I am to be in it in a new way.

I am in the world in a new way. I am a stranger to it and it to me. It is stunning to me how much possibility there is in a new beginning. That must be why I feel stunned.

I am a traveller on a new path. This is my path. These are my tracks.

Here I go.

Here I come.