Tourist or Explorer?

I took a risk with a client the other day and did not stick the landing. It got a little messy because I was unclear, following a hunch in the moment and sowing confusion from a place of good intention.

The saving grace is that my client is gracious and understanding, willing to stay with me as I hobbled through an effort to take the work to a new place. Our ensuing conversations brought forth a new level of candor which resulted in a new level of understanding and learning. I’m thankful for the way it worked out. I’m glad I followed my hunch and I will be better for it the next time I am inclined to take that risk.

There are times I’ve been a tourist in my work, painting each interaction by number and “meeting expectations” as so many performance review forms blithely state.

There are also times when I’ve been an explorer, attempting to reach unknown places with no map, a hunch and a flashlight.

I will keep pushing myself to explore because every time I do, no matter how dark or stormy or uncertain, something better comes of it. And because good people are always there to help me find my way back home.


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.

Whatever moves you

Our neighbor’s house sits below street level. They put lights on it this year, on the side facing away from the street.

The neighbor below them, on a flag lot down a long drive, put lights on their home, also.

We live on the corner lot of a quiet street; Main Street compared to our neighbors but a very quiet street compared to most.

We put lights on our house, too.

What moves us to do this? We know that few if any people will see our lights yet we put them up just the same.

It must be that we do it for ourselves. It must be that as much as we want our neighbors and those few passers-by to delight in our offerings, it is our internal desires that are most satisfied by these displays.

It must be that we do it for ourselves. We do it because it moves us.

I’m not sure, but I think this has something to do with the true self; that hidden, best part of us only seen by the precious few who also understand the risk and opportunity of being known.


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 I Learned Today

Everyone I know who trusts me enough to be honest with me is a little bit crazy.

Everyone I know who trusts me enough to be honest with me also feels at least a little bit vulnerable about being a little bit crazy.

There seems to be an opportunity in there somewhere.

The nexus of trust, honesty, crazy and vulnerable is a powerful, scary and liberating place to be.

I’ll hold the light so you can find it. Will you please hold the light for 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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Regularly, Deeply Embarrassed

“Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun.”

– Alain de Botton


The post office was a mess today. Because, well, December 14.

I knew it as soon as I entered the parking lot and someone swooped into the spot that was clearly mine. That’s right! Mine!

The line for counter service was out the door and the line for self-service was shorter but disorganized and chaotic. A man leaving the store started blathering about how even though he’s a proud liberal democrat he still hates the government, his post office experience wringing out the last of his tolerance.

I didn’t even need to be there. Not really. The post office is located next to the library, a place I did need to go today and since I was close by I stopped in to mail an oversized envelope and buy some stamps. Nothing urgent and a big mistake.

One of the things that defines my own craziness is my flat refusal to bail out on lost cause situations like this one. I finish things, even when it makes no sense to do so (from a common sense, maintaining sanity perspective,  that is). The thought of having wasted the trip, the time, the energy…to park, to walk, to wait…it annoys me so much that I just don’t and won’t.

And the recorder in my head plays out the same call and response soundtrack every time: What is everyone’s problem? Why are you doing this to yourself? Why is everyone so awkward, slow and unprepared? Take a breath, welcome the opportunity for patience and understanding. I would happily be patient and understanding if this place weren’t a complete mess. I should just go. I’m not leaving until I get what I came for, etc.

This stubborn “stick it out at all cost” attitude isn’t my only brand of crazy, of course. I’ve written recently about my compulsion to make sure my car is pointed in the direction I’ll be going next; I must have the dishwasher loaded a certain way, my shirts folded a certain way; and for all of that anal retentiveness I will regularly complete things so quickly (so efficiently I tell myself) that I make and miss easily correctable mistakes. Yes, “regularly and deeply embarrassed.”

This is a great time of year to get in touch with your own crazy. Every anxiety is heightened, every situation more compressed, every responsibility hard up against the clock that tells us that the year is done. It’s a perfect time to take stock, feel a little embarrassed by our self-importance (not ashamed, mind you, but embarrassed) and have a self-deprecating laugh at it all.

I know that self-knowledge comes at a steep price. It is never found in the discount bin or the holiday close-out pile. It is always marked at full MSRP and it never, ever, includes free shipping or free returns. That’s the bad news.

The good news it that it’s always a perfect fit and is worth every penny you pay for it.


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.

 

It’s Still Burning (until it’s not)

I share my home with a few very capable Girl Scouts. One thing they know, that seems so easy to forget, is that a fire is still a fire until it is completely out.

I think it’s the human condition to “put the fire out” quickly using immediate but insufficient measures. We pour some water on it, kick some sand over it, cover it up somehow and assume that being doused or starved of oxygen the fire no longer has a life. But we know that even if only one ember remains there is still a chance that in the right conditions it will come back to life. If we have convinced ourselves otherwise, that resurgence is a most unwelcome, often very dangerous surprise.

I see this play out where I spend most of my time, in organizational life in interactions with leaders and teams.

The quick fix of a shift in responsibilities, a new assignment, or a new reporting line is often the equivalent of that quickly tossed bucket of water. It seems like real change, but the burning underneath is still very real, undaunted by the cosmetic overhaul. When we fail to address the true source of the heat, we fail to address the true nature of what’s occurring.

So often those surface level changes are made from a place of good intent, a belief that in new circumstances old behaviors will diminish or even disappear. Sometimes they do, but most often it’s a temporary shift that satisfies us in the short-term, only to disappoint us further down the line.

That last burning ember doesn’t give up easily. It’s still burning even when it looks like it’s not. Our job, the leader’s job, is to make absolutely sure.


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 Redwood Life

IMG_6001“The tree which moves some to tears of joy
is in the eyes of others only
a green thing which stands in the way…
As a man is, so he sees.”

William Blake


As this semester drew to a close I decided to share with my students some images from a recent trip to the Humboldt Redwood State Park here in California.

I wanted to share my childlike enthusiasm for these magnificent trees. I wanted to inspire them to seek out wonder and awe in their lives.  I wanted them to remember that in the field of “management” (which is what the course tells us we are studying) we do well to remember that it is first and always a human endeavor.

I wanted them to believe my admonition that a profound sense of awe and wonder – an appreciation for the spectacular miracle that is any living and learning system – is essential if we are to appropriately honor the very real human beings present in our workplaces, responsive to our decisions, trusting of our intentions.

I then took it a step further. I encouraged, even challenged them to choose to be redwoods in their own communities. I suggested that such a choice comes with great risk because a redwood outside of a redwood forest would be seen as a peculiar, if fascinating anomaly. I then suggested that living a “redwood life,” conspicuous though it might be, might just inspire others to do the same, and that we might just create an entire forest of people fulfilling their potential for growth and impact. In fact, it would be the only way for them to survive.

Redwoods are shallow rooted, a shocking realization given their massive size. Instead of deep roots to support them they use their upper limbs to make contact with their neighbors and together form a dense network of mutual well-being.

Stand tall, reach out, help one another. Live a life of wonder and awe at the gifts of living and learning.


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.

Confirming Humanity

In further evidence of my idealism, or perhaps my (un)realism, I subscribed to another email newsletter, this one promising encouragement and inspiration for the transition from this year to next.

Once I hit ‘subscribe’ I was taken to the “Confirming Humanity” page, that now familiar landing-place where the computers filter out other computers in favor of humankind.

Having satisfied the computer’s request for said confirmation, I thought about every other real-life, in the moment opportunity I have to confirm my humanity. And I thought about how routine it is for the computers to ask that of me but how often I forget to ask that of myself.

It seems that the computer programmers built a function that obeys the basic laws software architecture: when this button is hit, this confirmation is requested.

It would be tempting to observe, given my occasional faulty outputs, that my programmer wasn’t nearly as reliable. Of course, that’s not the case. I have been programmed for “FULL HUMAN CONSIDERATION,” also known as “LOVE.” It’s just that my programmer included a ‘kill switch’ called selfishness, defensiveness and avoidance of potential future pain.

It’s funny that this was included since it seems so blatantly oppositional to my primary programming mode of LOVING CONSIDERATION, aka CONFIRMATION OF HUMANITY. And then I remember, as I so often do, that once I’ve rebooted my system after another ‘kill switch’ moment, and the generosity of FULL HUMAN CONSIDERATION takes its place at the front-end of the algorithm, I feel better for having falling down and gotten back up again.

It seems that the programmers have given us forgiveness as well.


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.

Do It Anyway

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
― Elie Wiesel


It’s a huge risk to love. Do it anyway. Do it completely, fully, unabashedly. Fall head over heels in love with being in love.

It’s a huge risk to create. Do it anyway. Do it with no regard for failure or comparison or regard for the opinions of others. Do it because you just can’t help it.

It’s a huge risk to believe. Do it anyway. Do it with kindness, confidence and respect; do it in anticipation of the meaningful conversations people of deep beliefs can and should have with one another, regardless of something as easy as ‘agreement.’

It’s a huge risk to live. Do it anyway. Do it with vigor and presence. Do it out loud and quietly. Do it with intensity, lightly held, and generosity, freely given. Do it because this is the time you are alive and everything, everything depends on you doing so as fully as you can.


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.

You Are Not a Falling Tree

IMG_4703Can you imagine being present on the day when a massive, shallow-rooted redwood tree came crashing to the earth, splintering into enormous jagged shards of timber?

Can you imagine the sound, the grotesque violence, the shredding and grating of the collision as one falling tree snapped over the back of one that had previously fallen?

Can you imagine one member of a silent forest slowly toppling over and remaking everything in its downward path?

Can you imagine what would happen if we collectively realized and acted upon the fact that there are people in our workplaces – in our communities and families – who feel that same kind of chaos within themselves every day?

We cannot and should not rely on our leaders alone to recognize and prevent our coworkers from struggling with significant, debilitating challenges. We can and should expect our leaders to work with us to cultivate environments where it is possible to intervene, support, protect and account for the very real human needs that every one of our teammates brings with them to the workplace each day.

Our workplaces, just like our forests, will always bear the marks of the very real challenges that occur there. Unlike our forests, however, our workplaces can and must be places where the falling are caught, loved and brought back to wholeness however possible.


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 Week of Thanks: Day 7

I am thankful for my family.

I am thankful for my family even though they agree that in the fictional scenario in which we are prevented from ever leaving our home again because of a cloud of toxic gas that has settled over our town, and must now rely only on a mysterious underground infrastructure that provides daily supplies of food; that in the ensuing claustrophobic conditions, complicated by the lack of electricity or WiFi, that sooner or later would make us all itch with a little bit of crazy and lead us to contemplate and plan on getting rid of one or more members to preserve the sanity of the remaining members…I would be the first to go.

I brought this on myself. First, because I’m the one who brought it up in a weird after dinner conversation early in our present vacation. And second, because I’m the one who moves within the family universe with the most dramatic orbit; from composed and serious, even melancholy, to genuinely connective and intentional, to animated exuberance that becomes silly (funny!) and annoying. It can be a lot to take and it makes my relegation to the toxic wasteland of our town an understandable, if hurtful, decision.

I am a lucky man, well-loved and provided the chance to love and care for an extraordinary group of people. If my orbit is wide and unpredictable, Theresa’s is consistent and reliable. She tempers my extremes with straight talk and practicality and I’m pretty sure I have helped to unlock some of her goofiness. More than that, I just like to be with her (and she with me, though the fictional scenario results are concerning); she’s exceedingly creative, full of ideas and is the most generous and well-respected person I know.

We brought three pretty great humans into the world and I am still processing how different they are from one another and how eerily familiar they seem as they evolve into beings wholly their own. It’s really fun to watch. Also scary. And heartbreaking, too. Like when they go to college or otherwise prove their independence. I feel exceedingly proud of them and also unworthy because the true task of fatherhood often feels like too tall an order to fill. But then again, so do the callings of work, marriage and friendship. And, now that they’ve agreed that I’m first to go, maybe I don’t need to worry as much about all of that!

Finally, ‘family’ is ill-defined if I only mention these four fine people. My mom is the epitome of the spirit of youth and will never stop fighting for the joy that sensibility brings her. My five older siblings are each a loving presence in my life. I am grateful for what each has taught me and for how our adult relationships continue to form and grow. And Theresa’s family I consider as my own. They have only ever been welcoming and generous to me, connections now over 28 years in the making.

It’s easy to be thankful for my family. They keep my feet on the ground so that I can more easily reach my head…my dreams, my aspirations… into the sky. And though they seem a bit too willing to sacrifice me for their personal sanity and survival, at least I am clear on their intentions and can get to work building that subterranean man-cave I’ve been dreaming about.

Anything for my family!


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.