From Theory to Practice

Oh, what I would give to have my ideas show up on the page, in the speech, in the classroom, in the coaching session as beautifully formed as when they first took flight in my imagination.

Alas, it never happens that way. Not once, not ever.

So I persist, as you do, in taking the inspiration of that starting point and turning it into “good enough.” Understanding that “good enough” is more than just “something,” that it is everything. Because without it we are left with nothing.

And nothing is not an option. Not when there’s this much possibility. Not when there’s this much to do.


 

Every Superhero Has An Origin Story

Soon after I published my book, A More Daring Life, in early 2016 I was invited to take a daring new step of my own, teaching in the business school at Cal State University San Marcos. I had no idea what I was in for, no idea of the energy, enthusiasm and kindness of the students it would be my privilege to teach.

A few months ago, I started noodling on an idea built on the foundations of my book but specifically geared to soon-to-be graduates and young professionals. The outlines of a storytelling workshop, one that would teach participants to transcend the quantitative constraints of their resume by learning how to tell a more personal and selectively vulnerable story about their experience and qualifications, began to take shape in May. This weekend, planning and thinking became doing and I led the first one.

For the generous “yes” of those willing to be first I offer my deepest gratitude for trusting me, for being all in and for teaching me how to make it better. (Session 2 is next Saturday!)

To them and to you I offer a toast: “To a more daring life!”


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

This week’s poem is the song Most of All by Brandi CarlileI hadn’t heard of her until a friend showed me her epic performance of The Joke at this year’s Grammy Awards. I finally bought her most recent album – one that she describes as being about “radical forgiveness…an ugly but ultimately rewarding act” – encouraged that it would contain other gems. It does, this one among them. Enjoy her beautiful writing, and take some time to listen, also. I think you’ll find it to be a powerful meditation on love, presence and, again, forgiveness.


Most of All
{Brandi Carlile}
I haven’t seen my father in some time
But his face is always staring back at me
His heavy hands hang at the ends of my arms
And my colors change like the sea
But I don’t worry much about time lost
I’m not gunning for the dreams I couldn’t find
‘Cause he taught me how to walk the best that I can
On the road I’ve left behind
But most of all
He taught me to forgive
How to keep a cool head
How to love the one you’re with
And when I’m far into the distance
And the pushing comes to shove
To remember what comes back
When you give away your love
Give away your love
When you give your love away
Give away your love
I haven’t heard my mother’s voice in a while
But her words are always falling out my mouth
My mind and spirit are at odds sometimes
And they fight like the north and the south
But I still care enough to bear the weight
Of the heaviness to which my heart is tethered
She taught me how to be strong and say goodbye
And that love is forever
But most of all
She taught me how to fight
How to move across the line
Between the wrong and the right
And when I’m turned out in the darkness
And the pushing comes to shove
To remember what comes back
When you give away your love
Give away your love
When you give your love away
Give away your love
Give your love away
Oh, give your love away
And remember what comes back to you
Give your love away
Oh, give your love away
And remember what comes back to you
I haven’t seen my father in some time
But his face is always staring back at me
His heavy hands swing at the ends of my arms
And my colors change like the sea

61st Annual GRAMMY Awards - Inside

Photo Credit: Kevin Winter

 

Always Bet On Yourself

You are not going to get picked.

No one is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “It’s your turn. Right this way, please.”

There is no committee of “deciders” who will stumble upon your work, some fragment of your idea and fall so in love with it that they grant you permission to begin.

You have your track record, your value system and people “whose eyes light up when they see you coming.”

That’s enough. That’s everything.

Stop waiting for permission. Bet on yourself.


HT to HA & MW

The Benefit of Taking a Break

When I started playing piano in January of this year I had no idea how fast I would progress. I set two goals at the beginning of the experience; the first, to practice every day and the second, (my hoped for outcome as a result of the first) to be able to accompany myself singing a song by the end of the year.

Now that it is June, I have been at it for just about five months and I am feeling confident that I will meet goal #2 even though I recently had a major setback on goal #1.

My mid-May vacation to Whidbey Island was on the calendar for over six months and, once I started practicing piano in earnest, that block on the calendar started looming as “that week when I won’t be able to practice” and then, as the time approached, “that week when all the work I’ve done so far will come crashing down into a heap labeled ‘Nice try. You’re starting over.'”

And so off I went on vacation, partly happy for the break in my piano routine and quietly concerned about the coming setback.

On my first full-day home from the trip, I didn’t go near the piano. I was busy playing catch-up, of course, but I know I steered clear in part to avoid being proven right, my hard won gains lost to my eight day hiatus.

On the second day home, I put in a good practice but it wasn’t pretty. My wrist and finger strength were diminished and I fumbled my way through scales and exercises that I had already mastered. A little sore and disappointed, I tucked the bench back in, closed the keyboard and resuscitated some optimism for the following day.

On that day, and in the week or so since I’ve been back, I discovered just how important it is to take a break from learning. Aside from that awkward first practice when I was re-introducing myself to the piano, my sessions at the keyboard have been marked by feelings of ease and clarity. I am seeing the music and playing it in ways that I could not do before I left on my trip, which tells me that the only explanation is that I took a break.

Not only did I not lose any ground during my time away, I broke through to a new plateau of competency because of it. It’s such a joyful feeling to arrive at that new place that it’s difficult to adequately express just how satisfying it is.

The seduction of competence is that to attain it we must do more and more and more, and that we must do it ever faster and more intensely. We don’t talk much about the role of taking time off, about the necessity of allowing our brains, hearts and bodies to get synced up, about trusting what is happening in the background when we challenge ourselves to do something hard, something new.

We don’t talk about it because doing is so much more fun than not doing. It’s so much sexier, attractive and stimulating. But it’s only one part of the equation. That other part, the walking away, that’s when the magic happens.


 

 

Keep Going

There is no secret.
Keep going.

{@Oiselle}


It’s easy to chase the silver bullet, the guru, the program, the process, the event, the equation, the one missing piece that will bring everything together and lay before you the clear path on which you will glide through your life.

A couple of times each semester I bring in a guest speaker to talk with my undergraduate students. I bring them in because of their particular expertise, of course, but my secret agenda is to provide my students with more examples of non-linear paths to “success.”

Everyone I know who has achieved his or her definition of that word has done so in a way that defies logical explanation. They have done it for one clear and simple reason; they learned and decided to keep moving forward, to say “yes” to new experiences, along with an occasional “no” to what no longer served them.

In other words, they kept going. They keep going. And that’s what sets them apart.

There is a path for each of us. At its trailhead stands a marker and on that marker is your name. Along the way it is neither clearly marked, nor easily traveled. In fact it is often difficult, stretching out over terrain for which you feel ill equipped and unqualified.

And this is how you know it is yours.

Keep going.


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People Hugger

fullsizeoutput_2528My dad was a tree hugger. Not an environmentalist and not a demonstrator, but someone who so loved trees that he would occasionally depart the trail and hug one.

I find myself following in his footsteps. And while I may not be quite as demonstrative about it as he was, when I see one that wants to hug me back, I’m not going to miss the chance.

Sometimes, if we wander enough, explore enough, stay open enough, we get lucky; we stumble upon a reminder that the world, both natural and otherwise, is waiting to embrace us.

At that moment I can think of no better response than to step in and receive it.


 

One Minute

One minute is longer than you think.

In class today, my colleague and I had our students give one minute presentations. We put a selection of topics in a bag, had them each blindly draw one out and after a few moments of reflection, speak about that subject for one minute.

They talked about money, achievement, finals week, 5 years from now…, gratitude, confidence, networking, an embarrassing moment, etc.

What I learned is that in one minute it is entirely possible to effectively communicate an idea with the support of an example or a story.

As a concept I imagine this rings true, nothing earth shattering here. But as a practice, I encourage you to try it. See if, like many of my students, you can smoothly articulate an initial reaction to a subject and then support it with an example from your personal experience.

We wanted our students to feel both the pressure and the potential that comes with brief opportunities to be heard. It became obvious to me that developing this ability will make them not only effective networkers but excellent dinner guests, colleagues and leaders, too.

What to Remember in the Middle of Change

Given that we’re always “in the middle of change,” a better title for this post might be simply, “What to Remember.”

Here are three rules of thumb to keep in mind for when you find yourself feeling pressed, pressured, confined or constricted by the persistent discomfort of change:

Lighten up. If you’re like me, in the middle of change you might just be holding on too tightly; to the past, to the known, to your need for control. You might also notice, should you glance at yourself in the mirror, that your face is full of intensity and effort, that you are actually wearing the strain of your discomfort rather than a countenance of ease and openness. Exercise more. Get some more sleep. Consciously breathe more. Laugh at yourself, at least a little. All of this helps.

Make friends. Do the opposite of your instinct, which is to close yourself off and go it alone. You do not have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. (I do not have bootstraps and I doubt you do either.) That’s a bunch of bogus mythology intended to shore up the American fantasy of itself as “self made” rather than the less mythically appealing truth that we best deal with change by working together. (And by the way, exercise, sleeping, breathing, laughing…all better with friends.)

Stay curious. Learning is the only way. Open, attentive and ready to be surprised by the new is a radically vulnerable posture to take and one that is ultimately powerful. If only from a competitive perspective, whoever learns faster, grows faster. Beyond competition, it’s exhilarating to discover and actually explore new pathways and that very openness, right in the middle of change, will keep you light on your feet and ready to move.


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.

Create Another

Patti Smith: “I can’t do this. I don’t know what to say.”

Sam Shepard: “Say anything. You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.”

Patti: “What if I mess it up? What if I screw up the rhythm?”

Sam: “You can’t. It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.”

{Patti Smith, Just Kids, 2010}


I don’t know anyone who’s not at least a little bit nervous starting something new. Patti Smith had never written a play and here was Sam Shepard encouraging her to just fall into it, to let it happen.

That’s easy for a seasoned pro to say but for a newbie, that falling feels endlessly scary.

The ability to begin, again and again and again, is the privilege of the human species. Reinvention is the best of who we are…it is, quite literally, why we are here.

Patti Smith was young, energized and on the verge of a breakthrough when she was doubting herself to Sam Shepard. That’s an “easy” space within which to be doubtful. But decades later, this proven poet, rock star, and author performed for the Swedish Academy at the Nobel Prize ceremony for Bob Dylan.

And she screwed it up. Improvisation in the moment eluded her. So she attempted a different kind; she politely asked if she could start again.

She did exactly that, beginning and completing a beautiful rendition of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and the other laureates fell over themselves telling her how much they admired her for how she handled it.

Young or old, seasoned or new, we are invited to approach this moment as a beginner.
The only question is whether or not we will be willing to start again.


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.