Will this be on the test?

Every day, like the invisible oxygen that gives you life, the fear that holds you back from pursuing, attempting, realizing, challenging, seeking, risking, stepping, leaping, initiating, asserting, organizing, collaborating, questioning or any other word you can think of for getting after what you really want to do and who you really want to be – every day that fear is the one and only question on your test.

Every day – every long and exhausting day of living with the shadow of that fear – you will take that test.

Every day, that is, until you wake up to the truth that there is no test.

There never was one.

There was only a decision.


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.

A Great Battle

“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

{Attributed to Plato but it’s more likely Ian MacLaren}

I have always loved this quote and the way it challenges and evokes our empathy, our appreciation of the truth that most of the time someone else has it tougher than we do. I would not have imagined it could be improved upon until I stumbled across this “amended” version in a Portland card shop:

“They say that everyone’s fighting a hard battle.
But not a cool battle like with swords,
The kind that’s in your brain and you’re afraid of everything.”

Besides being great for a laugh it gets to the heart of things more directly and more explicitly. Wouldn’t you like to pull out a long sword and take your biggest fear down with a single blow? That would be pretty cool.

But we don’t get to do that. We can’t dominate our fear physically, we can’t dominate it cognitively, we can only face it – if we are willing to face it – with a disarmed awareness that is cultivated by the vulnerable act of naming it. By naming it we make it small, or at least bring it down to size, and that smaller size is something we can work with.

Eventually, not so scary after all.


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.

The Mother of All Fears

Below the surface of every negatively adaptive behavior there is a fear driving the action.

I took a job earlier in my career that I was incredibly excited to get but about which I was deeply anxious because I didn’t feel qualified. The first couple of weeks on the job, I got my hands into many different pots, trying to be as “helpful” and to “add as much value” as possible to defend against the inevitable discovery of my fraudulence.

By not staying in my lane I started frustrating the very people who just days earlier welcomed me with open arms. Little did they know I would try to run the place! Once I was redirected to my area of influence with a sharp dose of feedback I had the chance to consider what was motivating my behavior.

Below the surface, further down than just my fear of being “found out” was a much more painful feeling of having abandoned my family and a potent fear of the repercussions that would follow. I had worked from home for many years at this point, with all of the benefits of flexible scheduling that provides, and the abrupt change to a traditional 9-to-5 office environment 10 days after the birth of our third child left me reeling.

I assumed, wrongly of course, that I had to prove to my family that my decision was the right one and the only way to do so was to make a big impact as quickly as possible. It was an understandable if unfortunate adaptation to my circumstances and one that has been instructive to my personal awareness and the manner in which many people cope with the unseen force of an unnamed fear.

In the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, the protagonist comes to the aid of the King of the Danes who has been under attack by a monster called Grendel. Once Beowulf slays Grendel he discovers that his work has only just begun as he now must contend with the unnamed creature known as Grendel’s mother. To do so, he goes into the lake to her underwater cave and engages her in a fierce battle which he finally though barely wins.

If I had stopped my reflection about my negative behaviors on the job at the first or “Grendel level” – the fear of being found out – I would have been left with something useful but insufficient. Not until I confronted my primary fear at the “Grendel’s mother” level could I follow the bubbles back to the surface, stand on the shoreline and imagine a new way forward.


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.

 

Disproportionate Influence

If you are a leader, you have influence that is disproportionate to that of the people you lead. By definition, you have the responsibility to see and do that which is necessary to help your team members be successful.

You are tasked with establishing a vision, providing resources, negotiating roadblocks, offering guidance, recognizing accomplishments and setting both a behavioral and emotional standard from which all others take their cue.

It’s absurd to think that this kind of influence – this level of responsibility – can be achieved and maintained without an equally disproportionate commitment to continuous learning.

A leader of any merit knows this and acts accordingly. There is no more valuable currency than that of continuous 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.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning Moments
{Patricia Gale}

Gently my eyes open and I whispered
Thank you for I can see

My feet moving slowly one in front of the other
Though my body stiff from the labor of work
I replied… thank you for your mercy

My mind recoiling the tasks that require my attention
My heart seems to fill with the beauty of the day
And I praise you for what you have given me

The house is silent
No words are heard
Little feet that once sounded like an army
Now long gone and marching to independence and their own battles
I wipe a crystal tear and thank you for the love you placed within my life

In the coolness of an autumn’s morn
I sit a listen to the Sunday morning symphony
A gift from You created by your loving hands
I hear a soft gentle voice…” to everything there is a season and by My grace there is a reason”
Admiration and thankfulness fill my soul
My lips quiver with soft words, I am unworthy, but yet You love me
Thank you Father for this day


 

Somebody is Always Watching

It’s easy to believe, in a world of increased devotion to personal devices and a status quo of extreme busyness, that nobody is paying attention to what we do and how we do it.

Somebody is always watching. Creepy though that may sound at one level, it is an imperative reminder that the quality of our engagement – the dedication (or lack thereof) and attention (or lack thereof) we bring to our work – is noticed and evaluated.

This is especially true for leaders who, by title alone, are appropriately under constant scrutiny. In the same way we might say of a child that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” we can notice employees who understandably (if sometimes regrettably) use their leader’s behavior as a guide.

I notice it in the classroom; students who arrive on time, students who sit upright or even forward in anticipation of what’s to come, students who expect to engage and be engaged.

I notice it in service situations; employees who make an effort to connect, to be genuine, to bring something personal to the interaction, and those who go through the motions, perhaps with a smile but one that is practiced, not pleasing.

At my best, I notice it in myself; when I am present and connected and when my energy and attention is flagging. When I do catch myself at anything other than my “best” I either correct it quickly or let others in on how I am feeling. I assume that they’ve already noticed.

An appealing practice that I think would do a lot of good without a ton of effort is to call people out when we notice their thoughtful engagement.

This happened to me once and it was an exceptional moment. I assumed the worst was coming, that I was going to be highlighted as a negative example, but it was just the opposite and it made an impression on me that I will never forget.


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.

Do or Do Not, There is No Try

Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.
{William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida}


Yes, I blatantly stole an epic quote from the Star Wars pantheon as a title for this post. Between Yoda and Shakespeare it’s tough to go wrong and I prefer to save my energy rather than fruitlessly attempt to improve upon their genius.

In both cases they are extolling us to make the shift from a passive to an active approach to life.

Passivity is a practice, a habit, that is employed to soften the blow.

“I will try to make it to your event” is what you say when you have no intention of attending but don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.

“I will try to learn how to play the piano” is what you say when you are scared that you actually won’t be able to…or won’t have the fortitude to stick with it when it get’s hard.

Why does it seem so bold, or callous even, to say “I will not attend the event. I have other priorities right now”? It’s true, it’s honest, and it allows the other person to clear the mental space that is otherwise spent on a bunch of “Will she or won’t she?” energy.

Why does it seem so bold, or brazen even, to say “I am going to learn how to play the piano”? It speaks of commitment to a clear choice that removes the mystery of “Will I be able to?”  and replaces it with “I’m going to find out.” And, if it’s really not your thing, now you know and you can move on and stop wondering about it. More mental space opened up…what a relief!

No discussion, even a brief one, of passivity is complete without mention of passive aggressive behavior which in classic ironic fashion ends up feeling even more aggressive to the recipient – a hundred tiny daggers – than if they just aggressively said their piece – one swing of the sword. It’s yet another example of passivity being employed to soften the blow and filling up our available mental and emotional space with needless anxiety.

Be clear, be open, be bold. Other people can handle it, including yourself. Your assumption that they cannot – that you cannot – is no longer worthy of you.


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.

It Can Be Done Another Way

I find it easy sometimes to get stuck on how something should be done versus how something can be done. Preferences for certain actions can blind us to the fact that a chosen behavior is indeed preferential and not the only option.

We have some large palm trees in our front yard and occasionally a frond will snap and fall to the ground. These can be ten feet long and very heavy which means they need to be cut up to fit in our green waste can. I have a great hand saw that is perfect for the job while also providing a decent workout!

On one occasion I asked my son to do the cutting and he proceeded to plug-in an electric saw – not one intended for this kind of job – and carved up the branch without breaking a sweat. I remember saying, “That’s not how you do it! You’re supposed to use the hand saw.”

He gave me his best “Are you kidding me?” look with a hint of “Did you want this done or did you want this done your way?” I don’t remember exactly but I probably doubled-down with something like, “But that’s what the hand saw is for, not to mention it’s good exercise.”

That went about as well as you’d expect.

The fact is that he got the job done in a perfectly acceptable way and in a manner that was gratifying to him. Regardless of how I feel about it, that should be enough.

The leadership lesson in this is that if you hire highly qualified people and pay them highly qualified salaries you need to provide them the autonomy they need to do what you hired them to do. Creative and capable people will express themselves beautifully in the right conditions, and those conditions must always include the freedom to make their mark, to test ideas, to share their experience and to solve problems.

Breaking a sweat can be gratifying but it’s hardly ever proof of the best way to do the work.


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.

You Won’t Know Until You Start

“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
{Helmuth von Moltke}


I am a self-admitting and self-avowed starter of things. For good and bad, I have always been a catalyst. Once begun, the planning and sustaining need to belong to someone else, if what’s been started is going to survive.

What I know from my natural inclination to begin, and the reason I truly enjoy it, is that doing so informs me about what is actually possible, rather than what I might imagine to be possible.

My most visceral experience of this came on a cliff edge above the Pacific ocean. Strapped into a harness with my instructor, a large sail dragging on the ground behind us, I blurted out the question I was ill-equipped to answer: “How do we get up there anyway?”

“We have to walk off the edge of the cliff.”

Oh.

I had paid my money, signed all the forms, been provided with all of the safety instructions and equipment, and was accompanied by a guide. The planning was done and it was time for action.

The thing that mattered most – the relationship between ocean, wind and cliff – could only be harnessed by going out to meet it, by stepping off into the unknown.

Basil King said, “Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.”

Of course, make plans. But plan just well enough to inspire a first action. Allow that action to inform you and teach you. Use that learning to revise the plan and as a catalyst for a next action. And then? Repeat, repeat, repeat.


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.

Achievable Challenge

I started playing piano in early January. For the first month I did scales for 15 minutes a day to build up some strength and dexterity in my hands and fingers. But I didn’t decide to learn piano for the sake of scales so eventually I started messing around with some real songs.

My daughter recommended one of her early piano books in which I found a straightforward version of “Scarborough Fair,” the English tune made famous by Simon and Garfunkel. It’s been a perfect first test of my nascent piano skills. It requires me to get my left and right hands working on different things at the same time, has just enough changes to be challenging and is just easy enough – because a familiar tune – to be rewarding.

Well, just the other day my daughter sat down to the very same piece of music and played it in a way I had no idea was even possible. It was just beautifully interpreted, this simple piece of music so artfully rendered by her capable hands.

Immediately I had to try it just like her. And immediately I discovered that I couldn’t do it. Which is when I remembered an important piece of information: she’s been playing piano for 7 years and I’ve been playing for 2 months.

I believe that one day I will play the song like she did. And I also accept that where I am is good enough for now. The gap between here and there is probably pretty wide but it will shrink every day proportionate to how willing I am to do the work.

It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves, to go after things we’re not yet ready for. If we’re not careful that’s a path to discouragement and disengagement. The right mix, for ourselves and for our teams, is what I call “achievable challenge.” It’s got to be hard enough to keep our attention, inviting us to rise to the occasion, but well within our capability to actually accomplish.

{If you’d like to hear my version of the song you can do so here.}


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.