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.

What Came Before

There’s a pretty good reason we don’t drive around in Model T’s, listen to music through phonographs, talk to one another on “party lines,” use wooden golf clubs or tennis rackets, or plow the field with a horse.

We don’t do those things or use those things anymore because we figured out a better way.

Of course, we didn’t figure it out all at once. A lot of people stuck with the horse and buggy, didn’t have a telephone installed or purchase a TV, and refused to play with aluminum rackets or steel golf clubs. A lot of people held out until the model was “proven” and even then resisted making the change.

Change does not discredit the value of what came before. It acknowledges that people who care about what came before – be it in transportation, communication, crop yield or play – have a vested interest in improving upon that experience. And that interest, under the best circumstances, cultivates a spirit of curiosity and learning that moves things forward.

This applies to the human experience as well. As a teenager I was a raw jumble of energetic passions expressed through choir, musical theater, student government, athletics, pep rallies, you name it. I once bought a bicycle so I could compete in a bike race. I rode in the race and never got on the bike again. I was trying things out and it was a lot of fun. But as growing up will do, I bumped up against the larger world and learned that my widespread passions needed to be refined and directed in order to become something I could rely on.

I could look back at that time of my life critically and say that there was a foolish kid who didn’t know what he wanted or how to get it. Or, I could look back and say that I was exactly right for that time and place in my development and learning. If I had gotten stuck there and never figured out how to become more than a hummingbird of flower-to-flower exploration, I would not have lived into the possibility of my future self.

But I didn’t get stuck. I figured out how to live into that possibility and most definitely not in a linear or steady way. It was bumpy, jagged, backwards and tear-filled. I was not an “early adopter” of my own experience! It was a long letting go of what once had been in order to make space for what might be. But it happened, and continues to happen as I continue to decide to learn and grow.

We need where we’ve been to remind us that growth is always possible. That learning is always available. And that change is the natural human condition.


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.

What falls away

 

Here in Southern California you’d be forgiven for missing the memo that fall is here. In this monochromatic land of perpetual summer, the natural world provides only subtle indications. We are helped along in our perceptual understanding by the roadside pumpkin stands and the oddly sporadic harvest and (premature!) Halloween decorations.

Nonetheless, I’ve had a few moments of simplification recently that are either coincidental to the season or representative of a subconscious biological attunement to its central theme: what falls away makes room for the new.

The first came a few weeks ago when I realized my email subscriptions had superseded my ability to keep up with them. I started hitting “unsubscribe” with relish. A few minutes of pruning brought my attention to what I care about most. And, practically, it is saving me time each day by allowing me to be fed, rather than stuffed, by my choices.

I also led an incursion into my closet and dresser, discarding items now rarely worn. All of a sudden a handful of lonely hangers as well as a sock drawer organized so that I can see, well, my socks. That was a particularly gratifying harvest.

These simple, concrete actions feel like practice for more substantive opportunities. They remind me to consider the clutter in my own heart and mind and how it might fall away to make room for something new.

Forgiveness not yet given?
Opinions too strongly held?
Perceptions frozen in time?
Assumptions too easily made?
Vulnerability not yet expressed?
Habits ready to be broken?

There’s more than enough to work with. More than enough to consider as I move deeper into a season whose demands are the required down-payment on all future growth.


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.

No End In Sight

I have this feeling that 30 or so years from now, should I still be kicking around, I’m going to be wrestling with the same existential crisis: the joy and the dread that learning never ends.

The dread: How is that I’ve come this far and still have so far to go?

The joy: How is it that I am so lucky to have the opportunity, the invitation, the opening up, the chance to live into an even more complete understanding of my experience?

No one, not a single person, said it was going to be easy. Just that it would be possible.

And no matter how uncomfortable it is to admit it, they were right.


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 Next Right Thing

“The purpose of life is not to maintain personal comfort; it’s to grow the soul…’The work’ does not need to be grand, only fitting. It is guided by asking ourselves over and over: What is the next right thing?”

~Christina BaldwinThe Seven Whispers: A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These

My daughter auditioned for a high school theater production yesterday. This cannot be classified as “typical” or “expected” behavior. As she grows up she leaves behind some old fears about risk, exposure and failure. It is her “next right thing.”

My son moved into his dorm today and starts class on Monday. This is his “next right thing.”

A friend says “yes” to a call to serve his church. His “next right thing.”

A client turns his belief system into concrete actions for his team. His “next right thing.”

A friend commits to a daily writing practice. She’s going strong a month and a half later. Her “next right thing.”

As for my next right thing…something fitting…I am trading, piece by small piece, “competent composure” for “human presence.” It sounds abstract but it’s concrete as can be. It means to feel what I’m feeling instead of lifting the shield.

It means that when I am terribly sad and reach for the phone seeking consolation via text message, I say instead, “I’m terribly sad and I am just going to feel it.” That feeling has something to teach me and my challenge is to learn.

My life is not a competition to be won through sheer force of will. It is not a race to be run at full sprint.

It is a quest to grow my soul by asking over and over again, “What is the next right thing?”


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 Child Again

cropped-dsc08616.jpg

“Getting Out of Our Heads” – David Berry, 2011

…See with every turning day,
how each season makes a child
of you again…

– from Coleman’s Bed by David Whyte

“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 asked my students, third and fourth year undergraduates, if they considered themselves creative. They do not.

I disagreed.

I said, “It’s impossible to be alive and not be creative. Living is the purest act of creativity there is.”

They stared back at me.

I said, “Living equals learning. Learning equals creativity. Therefore, you are creative.”

Some nods. A lot of blank faces.

They don’t see themselves as creative. Few mature people do. At around 7 or 8 years old our spontaneous creativity dries up and we learn to devote more time to comparison than to creation.

And, the great news? The great news for every enterprise that needs to evolve, shift, change and grow to survive and to thrive? (That is, all of them.)

The great news is that the 7 and 8-year-old version of every single person you meet is still there, right there inside of them.

And your job…my job…as teacher, leader, parent, supervisor…is to help them reconnect to that kid and activate his or her inherent creative genius.

They will fight you. Maybe even vigorously. Because that pure creative expression is a scary kind of power. It’s chaos unleashed. But only for a little while. Only until you learn how to work with it again. And then, like all good positive disciplines it becomes an extraordinary, reliable source of opportunity and possibility.

Become a child again this weekend. Go get dirty. Go build something, paint something, construct something, play something, learn something. Forget “good enough.”

Your creativity is an alarm clock with no snooze button and it’s going off right now.

Wake up!


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.

Duc in altum

In my ongoing effort to attract a hip and progressive audience to my blog I decided to finally employ the aggressive outreach strategy of using latin phrases as post titles.

I know, I know, I’m way behind the curve on this one but I figure better late than never.

So what about it? What about duc in altum?

It means, “put out into deep water.”

The story goes that Jesus not only hopped into Simon’s fishing boat (referencing Jesus is also a crowd pleaser, by the way…) but that he started giving orders. And once they were under way he said something like, “Look, Simon. Here’s the deal. If you want to do this. If you REALLY want to do this, hanging out along the shore line is not good enough. You need to go all in. And going all in means taking on all the risk so you can receive all the reward.” (That’s not a direct quote.)

I think about the time we took our daughter’s fishing at a mountain lake. It wasn’t going well. And a man saw that it wasn’t going well and offered to help. He said, “Your bait is fine, you just need to put it where the fish are.” Surprise, surprise, they were in deeper water.

I think about the time a boss said to me, “If you want to become a good coach, you should really consider going to therapy.” So, I did. At first for him but soon enough, for me. Much deeper water.

I think about how I stayed on the fringes of our church community. Not a Roman Catholic, but doing a good impression. Our new priest asked me to join and I said, “I’ve thought about it a lot but I have too many questions, too many concerns.” And he said, “I’d like you on the inside to help us wrestle with those questions and confront those concerns.” And so I joined. And I was in much deeper water. And, with each devastating heartbreak, it keeps getting deeper. And I’m sticking with it.

I think about a conversation with my wife, Theresa, on the eve of our wedding anniversary: What’s going well?, How are we stuck? What do we need to do differently?” We took a deep breath and swam out to deeper water.

And I think about my friend, Jim and his beautiful vessel, Shamrock, that lies directly in the path of Hurricane Florence. He has her anchored upriver but he tells me, “that will not provide any assurance that she will weather this one unscathed.”

In deep water, there are no assurances. There is only the truth that until we go we will never 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.

 

What do you wish you had learned in school?

I was a fortunate college student. I had parents who didn’t care what I studied, maybe because I was set on Political Science and seemed to have myself sorted out, or perhaps because I am the youngest of six kids and concern over the choice of a college major was dwarfed by the real challenges of adult living.

Whatever the case, “Poli Sci” didn’t last long and I ended up in something even less marketable, “Humanities.” I can’t imagine a degree program any more broadly defined or open to my interpretation and application. It was a dream come true for someone who has an enormous appetite for both variety and learning.

I took language courses: Latin (to stretch the vocab) and Russian (cause I was going to help Ronald Reagan take down the Soviet Union. I was late to that party though my roommates and I did manage a toast to the fall of the Berlin Wall with some St. Pauli Girl).

I took history, literature, philosophy, theology, cinema, debate, music theory, a few poli sci classes for good measure and my favorite of all, art history. Art history was this magical, even combustible combination of visual beauty, historical/political intrigue, and biographical complexity. I ate it up.

For all of that diversity of subjects, teachers and disciplines, it seems a little crazy that I could have a “What I wish I had learned” list but I do. So here goes…

I wish I had studied psychology and human behavior. And that’s not just because of my current professional life. It’s because of this human being thing I keep running into every day.

I wish I had learned to do less, but better. I thought involvement was the key to a happy college experience but I overdid it, burned myself out and suffered academically. Which leads to…

I wish I had learned to value time with my professors and with the really smart students. I didn’t have to go far. I had a number of friends who were expert at balancing the work and the fun. I was capable but intimidated, so I just didn’t ask.

And I wish I had learned to trust the process, that “success” looks different for different people. I was hard on myself from about 22 years old all the way up to (almost exactly) my 35th birthday. Because I just couldn’t figure it out! And all those smart students I was busily avoiding seemed to be certain of their paths: medical school, law school, Peace Corps, grad school…look at ’em go!

I needed more time…for the yeast to activate, or the top to brown, or some other awkward baking metaphor. But I didn’t know it could…or even that it usually did work that way.

No regrets, truly. But I wouldn’t mind having some of that energy back. The energy I spent on worrying, doubting, kvetching…and the unkind way I “shared” some of those feelings with people who were in my corner and on my side.

Over time, probably right on time, I learned those lessons. And maybe, had I had them earlier, they would have been wasted on my younger self, as so much mature wisdom is (says the father of a college freshman!).

I keep learning and I hope you do too. And maybe the point of the exercise is to simply acknowledge that we’re never quite done; that “What do you wish you had learned in school?” can be better asked as “What do you want to learn today?”


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.

 

Put Out Into Deep Water

Casting-Net-Maintenance

Each one of us has a net in which we capture an understanding of ourselves. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net in the shallow end of our experience, catching and re-catching what we have long known about ourselves, hoping that this time the limitations of our understanding won’t hold us back, won’t prevent us from getting closer to our heart’s desire.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who you are. Only then will you be equipped to determine what serves you and what must be thrown back. 

Each one of us has a net in which we gather the collective force of our connection to others. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net on the surface of our experience, keeping our relationships at a safe distance, rarely risking bringing them closer and almost never including someone new. We falsely believe that this distance protects us, reducing the risk of being known for who we truly are.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who loves you, just as you are. Only then will you be equipped to close the difficult distance between the fear of loss and the exponential truth of full relationship.  

Each one of us has a net in which we collect all the learning of our adult life. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do so very often, if ever. Instead, we toss our net in the shallow waters of what is known, comforted by the embrace of the status quo, keeping a wide territory between us and the edge of the new with its persistent threat of exposure, embarrassment and failure.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of new learning. Only then will you be equipped to say “I am, and always have been a beginner.” 

Each one of us has a net. It is large and strong. It works fine along the shore but it is built for deeper water.

It cannot throw itself.


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.

 

Ode to Not Having a Clue

Last night after class a student posed this question:

“If accounting majors become accountants and finance majors work in finance, do management majors become managers?”

It’s such a pure and literal question, and it was posed with a wonderfully perplexed sincerity. I could see the wheels turning…”I’m hearing these words come out of my mouth and I know they don’t make much sense but I don’t know how else to ask this and I really want to get this figured out!”

As I was processing just how funny the observation within the question is, I said “No, it doesn’t really work that way…and good for you for asking. What makes you ask?”

Which is how we got to the bigger question lurking behind the scenes: “How do I figure out what I’m supposed to become? How will I know?”

And that question, more like a plea, sent me back in time a couple of decades to my own period of fruitless confusion about the road ahead.

I first wrote about this in 2010. I’ve reprinted it below for your consideration.



When I was in my early 20’s, I was searching. When I was in my mid-20’s, I was searching. When I hit my late 20’s and early 30’s, I was still searching. What was I supposed to “do”? What was I supposed to make of my life? How is this thing going to go down? I really didn’t know and, though I started to piece it together bit by bit, I lacked the confidence to “go boldly in the direction of my dreams” because the dreams were fuzzy and the path ahead was definitely a scary one.

One of the things that helped get me through the great unknown (or that portion of it anyway) is the following brief essay by James Michener. Shared with me by a dear friend at a crucial time, it became a close companion on the journey. It helped me to realize that my exploration was “normal” and “creative” and that I needed to trust the process. Today, having found my path and the confidence to walk it more purposefully every day, I relish the opportunity to pass the essay along to those who may benefit. Please read it and do the same.

The Lost Years

We all worry about wasting time, about the years sliding past, about what we intend to do with our lives. We shouldn’t-for there is a divine irrelevance in the universe that defies calculation. Many men and women win through to a sense of greatness in their lives only by first stumbling and fumbling their way into patterns that gratify them and allow them to utilize their endowments to the maximum.

Actually, I wrote nothing at all until I was forty. This tardy beginning, one might say, stemmed from the fact that I spent a good deal of my early time knocking around this country and Europe trying to find out what I believed in-what values were large enough to enlist my sympathies during what I sensed would be a long and confused life. Had I committed myself at age eighteen as I was encouraged to do, and as we all are encouraged to do, I wouldn’t even have known the perimeters of the problem, and any choice I might have made then would have had to be wrong. It took me forty years to find out the facts.

As a consequence, I have never been able to feel anxiety about young people who are fumbling their way toward the enlightenment that will keep them going. I doubt that a young person, unless she wants to become a doctor or a research chemist, in which case a substantial body of specific knowledge must be mastered within a prescribed time, is really capable of wasting time, regardless of what she does. I believe that you have until age thirty-five to decide finally on what you are going to do, and that any exploration that you do in the process will, in the end, turn out to have been creative. Indeed, it may well be that the years that observers describe as wasted will prove to have been the most productive of those insights that will keep you going. The trip to Egypt, the two years spent as a runner for a bank, the spell you spent on the newspaper in Idaho-these are the ways in which a young person ought to spend her life-the ways of waste that lead to true knowledge.

Two more comments. First, I have recently decided that the constructive work of the world is done by an appallingly small percentage of the population. The rest simply don’t give a damn or they grow tired, or they fail to acquire when young the ideas that would vitalize them for the long decades. I am not saying that such people don’t matter; they are among the most precious items on the earth. But they cannot be depended upon to either generate necessary new ideas or to put them into operation if someone else generates them. Therefore, those men and women who do have the energy to form new constructs and new ways to implement them must do the work of many. I believe it to be an honorable aspiration to want to be among the creators.

Second, I was about forty when I retired from the rat race, having satisfied myself that I could handle it if I had to. I saw then that a person could count their life a success if they survived, merely survived, to age seventy, without having ended up in jail because they could not adjust to the minimum laws that society required, or having landed in the booby hatch because they could not bring their personality into harmony with the personalities of others.

I now believe this without question: Income, position, the opinions of one’s friends, the judgments of one’s peers, and all the other traditional criteria by which human beings are judged are for the birds. The only question is-can you hang on through the crap they throw at you and not lose your freedom or your good sense. I am now sixty-seven and three-quarters and it looks as if I’ve made it. Whatever happens now is on the house and of no concern to me.

~James A. Michener
Author of Hawaii, Centennial, The Drifters, Adventures in Paradise, and other works.


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.