What to Say

The next time you are asked to give career advice to a young professional, please just provide them with this quote by the late, great James Michener:

“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.”

Come to think of it, you might just consider making up some cards so you always have one handy to give away.

Come to think of it, you might read the quote again and realize that it’s even more appropriate for you – that refreshingly pesky divine irrelevance phrase – than for anyone you might share it with.

Perspective is a priceless thing. As is curiosity and experimentation and the relief that comes when we stop comparing ourselves to everyone else and choose to follow our own path.


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Culture

Culture is not mission, vision, values. It is not architecture, design, product or snacks. It is also not the lighting, furniture, games, attire, or flextime.

Mistaking any of these things for culture is to confuse the map with the territory.

Culture is how you and your colleagues come together to solve problems under the pressure and stress of change.

If any of the items above help you to do that well, use them. If they don’t, let them go as fast as you can.


person holding outlined map

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No Qualifiers

How about this?

How about you stop explaining what you are about to ask or say or state?

How about you just go ahead and say it?

I’m projecting that onto you because it’s a huge development opportunity for me.

And I’m already getting better.

Because I decided to. And because I have a good friend helping me.

Be direct. Be clear. And don’t go it alone.


blue sky blur clear sky color

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Simultaneously Whole

“Nothing in the cosmos operates independently. We are all holons, which are simultaneously whole in themselves, and at the same time part of a larger whole.”

– Ilia Delio, Center for Action and Contemplation, 2014


I was just wondering how it might shift someone’s perspective about another person if his or her starting assumption is that that person is whole.

What would it do for a team if the leader’s starting assumption about that team is that it is made up of whole people who come together to form a larger whole?

What would it do for an organization, regardless of how large, if its value system centered on the inherent wholeness of each individual as central to the wholeness of the enterprise?

This is not whole as “complete” or “finished.” This is whole as in an independent entity that is connected to and integrated with every other independent entity.

I think there would be more respect and more reliance. I think there would be more generosity and more reciprocity.

I think it would both scare us and thrill us to learn how much is possible when we embrace the depth of our connection.


pattern abstract close up view colourful

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Shipwreck
{Kay Ryan}

I was shipwrecked beneath a stormless sky 
in a sea shallow enough to stand up in.

Fernando Pessoa

They’re laughable 
when we get there—
the ultimate articulations 
of despair: trapped 
in a tub filling with 
our own tears; strapped
to a breadstick mast
a mouse could chew 
down; hopping around 
the house in paper shackles
wrist and ankle. It’s
always stagey. Being
lost is just one’s fancy—
some cloth, some paste—
the essence of flimsy. 
Therefore we 
double don’t know 
why we don’t take off
the Crusoe rags, step
off the island, bow 
from the waist, accept 
your kudos.


ship wreckage

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Unique Human Needs: Contribution

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Contribution.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 6: Contribution

One of my clearest childhood memories is of riding along with my mom as she delivered food to the elderly and shut-ins in San Francisco as part of her volunteer commitment to Meals-On-Wheels. I remember that one of our stops was adjacent to a market from which I always got a few cellophane-wrapped sesame candies. I remember the smell of the food as not exactly enticing but certainly distinctive. I remember feeling purposeful, that we were doing something important.

Thirty years later I was looking for a way to engage my 6-year-old son and our family in some community service and I came across a Meals-On-Wheels flyer at our church. Those memories of Saturday mornings along 19th Avenue in San Francisco came rushing back and I saw the gift of being able to establish that same tradition with my own child.

I’m proud of the fact that we’re still making those deliveries thirteen years later. Duncan is off to college now and his sisters have since taken his place as co-pilot and navigator. It’s a Berry Family “thing,” a small but important piece of fabric that binds us to one another and to our community.


Tony Robbins classifies the core human needs of growth and contribution as the “needs of the spirit.” What I can’t stop thinking about regarding this final installment on contribution is that it carries within it the possibility of satisfying all of the other needs as well.

To make a contribution is to experience the pleasure of helping others avoid pain, or at least to alleviate it just a little bit.

It is also the manner by which we can immerse ourselves in new circumstances and conditions in order to satisfy our need for uncertainty.

Giving back is clearly a way to feel special and needed, and what better way to achieve that than in service of others?

It is also a means for us to satisfy our need for connection and to express love. To make even a small sacrifice so that another person’s life might be better is a pretty good definition of the everyday goodness of love when you think about it.

In addition to satisfying these core needs there are some other very real rewards of giving back. Among them are happiness, good health, cooperation and gratitude.

It may feel out of place to think of making a contribution as personally rewarding, that we should only give from a place of self-sacrificial concern. But that intention is so idealistic that it becomes restrictive.

What if we could just agree that making a contribution, giving of ourselves freely and generously is the most potent and compelling way to satisfy the needs that we all share?


IMG_5689

Unique Human Needs: Growth

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Growth.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 5: Growth

When I first went to see a therapist my cover story was pretty thin. To her inevitable opening question – “So, what brings you here?” – I gave her my well-rehearsed reply, “As a professional coach I think it’s important to tend my own garden so I can be most helpful to other people.”

This was a valid intention, just not an honest one. “I’m doing it for them” has a noble ring to it, its thin veneer a convenient way to mask the truth that I was in a lot of pain. And being in pain, I was afraid to talk about it because I knew I would have to feel it more before I could feel it less.

That pain was a tangle of old and unresolved stuff, mainly about abandonment, that reared up in full toxic force in the first years of fatherhood. I experienced deep feelings of anger toward my young son, feelings that both frightened me and filled me with shame. I knew that I had to figure out where all of that negativity was coming from, my initiative newly motivated by the fear of a future estrangement.

Thankfully, at that time I was in the company of new colleagues who were relentlessly encouraging of my growth and who had the insight and experience to normalize the idea of therapy as a powerful tool for meaningful change.

In the list above, Tony Robbins describes Growth as an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding. 

Through my work with a therapist I came to understand capacity as having room to consider the needs of others from their perspective rather than through the lens of my own. In other words, I had more empathy because I had more emotional space.

I came to understand capability as an enhancement of my ability to notice more about myself and others. I was sharpening my lens, getting better and better at anticipating and responding to my internal impulses while more quickly attuning to the externally expressed needs of others.

I came to appreciate understanding as an awareness of the complex dynamics that are always present in team and organizational settings. Seeing more allowed me to be more helpful and productive in all domains of my life.

My growth through therapy helped me to become a better team member, a better leader, a better coach and consultant and, most importantly, a better husband and father.

As it turns out, the garden metaphor was an apt one, especially from the perspective of preparing for the winter months. In that case, a hard pruning is required before any new growth can appear. It can feel brutal to employ the shears so aggressively but until it happens the old growth will remain as a barricade to the new growth that finally emerges.


closeup photo of sprout

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Unique Human Needs: Connection & Love

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on “Connection and Love.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 4: Connection & Love

To write about needing connection and love is a little bit like writing about needing food and water. What more is there to say about what is so inherent to our shared human experience? And yet, why is it that I am so often, so tempted to go it alone?

In the summer of 2015 I decided to work with this question in a direct and consistent way. I took a 100-day project challenge to explore my complicated feelings about connection, choosing to take a photograph each day that represented connection, posting it publicly with some brief comments about its meaning.

At the conclusion of my 100-day project, I wrote the following post to summarize the experience. I am proud of how I expressed my learning at that time and not at all surprised to learn that it is even more applicable today.

Small Moves: 100 Days of Connection
September 13, 2015

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 father 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. Its 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 coolly 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.


photo of night sky

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Unique Human Needs: Significance

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Significance.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 3: Significance

I may have backed myself into a corner on this one. When I first had the impulse to do a series on these unique human needs I didn’t anticipate the kind of reflection it would ultimately require. I also didn’t think through the hard truth that sometimes, perhaps a lot of the time, I/we might need some of these needs a bit too much.

It’s not much of a stretch to envision someone needing too much certainty. We recognize that kind of person as being a bit anxious about new things, a bit more conservative in their decision-making. It’s also easy to imagine the person for whom uncertainty is the primary source of satisfaction. We recognize them as going out of their way to test limits and take risks, perhaps without consideration for other’s tolerances. While we tend to romanticize that person, they often end up oversimplifying their identity by holding on too tightly to one way of operating in the world.

For me, for a very long time, that was all that could be said of my relationship with significance. And while “significance” is a concept that I both admire and enjoy considering, the additional descriptive of feeling important or special hits home in a less admirable way.

Being special was always my hiding place, an overcompensation for all of the ways I felt unwanted, unoriginal and inauthentic. No one made me feel that way; it was just my version of an adaptation to the harsh realities of a broken family. That adaptation got expressed in lots of positive forms of “standing out” but it also made me quite vulnerable to those who weren’t up for heaping on the praise. I paid little attention to those who sincerely admired and believed in me, and focused all too much on those who seemed indifferent or even critical.

Overcoming my addiction to specialness – getting back to significance – has been, with no exaggeration, the most challenging and important developmental gateway of my adult life. It took me years of focused work to reorient myself, to understand that it was okay to need to feel significant, just not okay to need to feel so damn special all the time!

Today, what I most recognize and enjoy about significance is that others – be they students, clients, friends or family – are more than willing to celebrate my efforts when those efforts originate from my best or higher self. That higher self is focused on creating value for others through the particular contributions I am uniquely qualified to make.

When I operate from that place, significance takes care of itself.


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