‘Essential’ is a Choice

Most of us don’t meet the government’s definition of “essential” when it comes to working the front lines of the response to the novel corona virus.

Most of us, that is, are deemed “non-essential.”

And we who are “non-essential” have been given a very short and manageable to-do list: wash your hands, stay at home and/or stay six feet apart.

But none of the “non-essentials” I’ve talked to feel like that’s “enough.” Most of them want to and are doing more.

You’re seeing it everywhere: acts of service, compassion, creativity, problem-solving, and helping hands. Educators, musicians, civil servants, service workers, neighbors, kids, from all walks of life, giving of themselves in innumerable ways and with epic levels of generosity.

These acts and these efforts, in all of their forms, are essential because they lift us up, give us hope, and remind us in tangible ways that we are all connected.

When we get through the worst of this crisis, it will be because the first wave of essential workers fought heroic battles to stem the tide of a terrible virus. It will also be because a second wave of people, those who chose to be essential, contributed their best selves to the effort, reminding all of us just how remarkable and just how powerful it is to be human.

This is the time to be essential.

Being essential is a choice.

Please do what you can.


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#5 – Speak Your Aspirations

This is #5 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For”



Declaring what you want requires courage.

It takes a lot of vulnerability to name a goal, especially a big one. Once you do so, you’re on the hook to follow through, and that is the moment that separates fantasy from reality.

And no one can help you until you do.

And the thing it took me a very long time to learn is that people want to help. People will and do help once they know what you are hoping/trying to accomplish.  

Do you aspire to write a book? You can suffer in silence or you can spread the word. Telling people about it doesn’t free you from the responsibility to sit down and write, but it may unlock a community of support, a wealth of resources, a path through the maze of a difficult process.

And it’s the same for starting a company, turning pro, leading a team, running a marathon, inventing a product. The courage to name a goal like that is the courage to trust that once you do so, “mighty forces will come to your aid.” (Basil King)

But what if you let them down? What if you fail? What if change your mind? I can only offer what experience has taught me about that: you pick yourself up and move on.

You name your next aspiration, tell the world about it, and get to work.


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Ask for Help

When my daughter was in grade school, she had a tough time raising her hand in class to ask for help. She felt insecure about being exposed as “not knowing” and as a result didn’t get the support she needed when she needed it.

Once her teacher picked up on this pattern she suggested a strategy to help my daughter get more comfortable with the vulnerability required to ask for help. She gave her a rock to place on the corner of her desk, one side of which was painted green and the other of which was painted red.

When our daughter needed help with something, she would turn the rock to the red side, showing the teacher that she had come to a stop and needed help to get moving again. This allowed the teacher to quietly engage with her about the content and get her back on track.

The simple strategy of a painted rock gave our daughter a way to normalize her vulnerability and helped her learn that “not knowing” is precisely the “problem” that school exists to solve.

Sometimes, when I bump up against my own incompetence and the stubbornness that accompanies it, it would be a big help to have that rock handy.

I wonder if you would like one, too?


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Keep Showing Up

I have a few different “accountability” gatherings I participate in each month. “Accountability” isn’t a great word for them but it will have to do for now.

These are individuals and small groups with whom I have established an intimate and trustworthy rapport and from whom I receive both the space and the grace to rely on it. I expect and am expected to actually “show up” in these encounters, to enter into conversation that is revelatory for the purpose of personal learning and group cohesion.

We strengthen the integrity of our relationships one layer of authentic interaction at a time. And it is in that way that these are “accountability” gatherings. We are not looking for the best from one another, we are just looking to bring out what “is” right now and learn from it.

What I have learned in the 15 years of participating in these kind of conversations is that it is when I least feel like attending that I most need to.

Just last week, a few hours before one of these gatherings, I made a quick mental list of all of the reasons I could and should cancel. What I was struggling to admit to myself is that I didn’t want to talk about “what is right now” because I was feeling lost about what to do about it. I didn’t want to feel that lack of control in an explicit way so I considered going for the escape hatch.

But I didn’t open it and I am so, so thankful that I was able to right myself, show up as planned and receive the extraordinary benefit of a listening ear and some thoughtful questions.

Avoidance and resistance are the key ingredients in the recipe we call fear. It’s not one we have to make, tempting though it may be to do so. And to be reminded of that, yet again, by people who truly care about my well-being, marks another humbling step on the path of my life.


 

Help is on the way

Not only is help on the way, but it’s also surrounding us all the time.

In my experience, to find out for sure, you just have to ask for it.

Years ago, I longed to attend a leadership conference but the tuition was far greater than I could afford. I asked the organizers for a reduced fee and they said, “yes.”

Recently, one of my students cold-called a contact on LinkedIn and asked for an informational interview. The response was, “Sure, how about right now?”

I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to line up a speaker for one of my classes. She referred me to a colleague who, on short notice, said “Yes!” right away.

Maybe these are exceptions, anomalies in a cynical and selfish world.

Maybe not.

I believe that they are accurate representations of the truth that most people, most of the time will be of help if they are able.

Our job is to ask for it. And our job, when we’re on the other side of the equation is to be the ones who say “yes!”


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.

Learning to Ask For Help

Among the most important – and most difficult – realizations I had to contend with on my path to becoming a person is that of learning to ask for help. My life is littered with instances of persisting in a state of futility when engaging with someone else, sometimes something else, would have made the difficult thing an easier thing.

The roots of it have to do with perfectionism/fear of failure and a persistent voice in the head asking questions like, “What if they find out you are not as good as you think? What then?”

I have stood on a lakeshore for over an hour, fruitlessly trying to catch fish while everyone around me was having success.

I have gotten lost on a forested trail three days in a row because of my stubborn unwillingness to slow down and notice the actual signs that marked the way.

I have avoided sharing my written work with talented writers and editors whose thoughtful and helpful criticism might just sting too much.

And the list goes on. Or it went on until I turned a corner and began to practice, albeit imperfectly and sometimes haltingly, some alternative ways of engaging with the sources of help that surround me.

Most recently, I took up the piano. After years of avoiding a hard thing that would make me feel all the painful feelings of being a beginner, I decided it was time to get over it and get on with it. My daughter, an accomplished player at age 13, has been exceedingly helpful to me. My piano teacher, with whom I just recently had my first lesson, is genuinely interested in my success. I am saying “yes” to their quite visible forms of help.

I also spend time with two different peer groups on a monthly basis. These are people in similar fields and with similar aspirations for learning, growth and impact. Our conversations consist of inquiry, revelation and support and just being present with and for one another is a form of deeply important help.

My daily writing on this blog is another way I am seeking and finding a helping hand. Basil King said, “Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.” Though I sometimes doubt the value of sending yet another post into the dark void of the internet, I am reminded that the practice of doing so is less about where it lands and more about helping myself stay attuned to my own thinking and my own voice. It is a practice in self-help, I suppose.

One final example of saying yes to help: A few weeks ago as I was scrambling to get my things together and get out the door on time for my full day of teaching and office hours at the university, I asked my wife Theresa if she would make a lunch for me to take along. My campus schedule doesn’t allow me the time to get something between classes and on this particular day I didn’t have time to prepare ahead of time. She said yes, of course, and has done the same for me on each Thursday since.

It’s a simple and loving kind of help, the kind that can be taken for granted. But I don’t because it reminds me that I have someone in my corner who is ready and willing to help me as long as I let her know how. And that’s what makes it such an important example, that she – someone who implicitly wants to help me – can’t do so if she doesn’t know how. Which means I have to ask and risk the vulnerability of doing so.

These examples, large and small, remind me that in spite of a deeply rutted pattern of assuming that people will be judgmental or unkind or bothered – a clear projection of my vulnerability – there is another assumption, by far a more accurate one, to be made: that most people, most of the time, want to help.

The unknown variable in the equation, as it turns out, is me.


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.

 

 

Help is Everywhere

zl64K1MRT+2BepulRCRMtASometimes I over think things. Sometimes I miss the resources, the help that is available to me right here and go searching for answers when all I need to do is come to a stop and have a look around.

Help is everywhere.

I am reminded of this by the industrious opportunism of our resident hummingbird. She could have made her nest in any number of bushes, trees or covered spots on our patio. Instead, she made it not just near the feeder but on top of it! Bit by tiny bit, over the last week, she has constructed it from feathers and fur, spider webs and dog hair, all found in our yard.oltfTOwTQZ63st6KnNeDXw

It’s so easy to think that “this” isn’t enough. How can it be when it’s right here? “That’s too easy,” I say, “there must be something else, something more.” And the expense of doubt, time and energy begins.

Hummingbirds don’t have this problem. They work with what is and make the most of it. That’s all they know.

What if I could say of myself, “David doesn’t have this problem. He works with what is and makes the most of it. That’s all he knows”?


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.