Mature Idealism

The summer after my sophomore year of college I stayed on campus to work on the conferences and events team. We made beds, hauled supplies and were continuously “on call” for the many groups who used the university’s facilities between May and August.

One large group proved to be especially challenging for our team. Between their ever-increasing demands and our inability to meet them, frustration mounted quickly on both sides. As we approached the boiling point our boss called an emergency meeting to determine next steps. We were worn out, frustrated and short on ideas about how to meet this client’s demands.

The boss asked us for our ideas and I blurted out, “They just never should have come.”

I’ve seen some withering stares in my life but the one I received from my boss that day tops them all. Incredulous, he moved on to someone else, someone with something useful to say.

The danger of youthful idealism is that when things don’t work out as you believe they should, an immature response seems all there is to offer. It’s a place of victimization rather than agency, one of stagnation rather than creativity.

A mature idealism suggests that our highest aspirations are always tempered with the acceptance of reality, with respect for the vicissitudes of change. From that place we can responsibly say, “”We knew this was possible. It’s not what we wanted, but we knew it was possible. What’s the best we can do in this moment?”

That’s a position of possibility, an opening up to what the moment has to teach us and a chance to practice the resilience necessary to make the most of it.

As the saying goes, the only way to survive keeping your head in the clouds is to have your feet firmly planted on the ground.

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.



Scattered Thoughts On Creativity

Starting here: I recently watched the film, “My Neighbor Totoro” by Hayao Miyazaki. It was recommended by a friend following a conversation on creativity. A children’s film, such as it is, I settled down with my two daughters last Sunday afternoon to check it out. Interestingly enough, the movie centers on two sisters who are adapting to a move to the countryside. As they explore their new home the power of their imagination brings to life magical creatures and incredible happenings, the most significant of which is an enormous tree sprouting from their yard in the middle of the night. In reality they had simply planted some seeds. In their imagination (fueled by their insistence on immediate gratification) the tree erupted from the ground, filled the sky and became their new vantage point on the world around them.

Creativity starts with “rootedness.” A grounding in something solid and well-defined. Seeds are planted, roots move into the earth fed by nutrients and pulled by gravity, preparing for an upward push towards the sky. The tree is simultaneously moving into the earth as it extends itself into open space.

When I weave in Andy Goldsworthy’s idea that “change is best understood by staying in one place” the image of the tree as a metaphor for creative thought and action takes on another layer of meaning. The tree is stationary; growing down to grow up. It is a keen observer of the world around it and it uses this awareness to adapt and to grow. Stay with me here…

Let’s personalize it: I am the tree. If I am well-planted, well-rooted in my beliefs and values; if I am willing to stand firmly in reality, aware of who and what is around me and committed to continuous learning about them, I create the conditions for creative possibility. As I stretch myself upward, I do not do so at the risk of losing my “groundedness,” I do so because of it. My confidence is fed by the core truths at my base; the steady supply of food and water.

Change is a certainty. It is the wind that topples the shallow-rooted tree. Learning, creativity and adaptability are a must in the face of change. And they are only possible when the conditions are right, when the roots are deep.