Don’t Act Your Age

If you’re trying to learn something new, do it like someone more experienced, more mature, more qualified would do it.

My daughter, a middle schooler, is taking voice lessons. Her teacher challenged her to sing like a high school student.

She wants her to get a mental image of a more mature sound that she can live into. She’s asking her to stretch her mindset as much as she’s asking her to stretch her voice.

It’s commonly said that if you want the next job you should just start acting like you have it in your current role.

Most people would say, “I’ll sing like a high schooler when I get to high school. Or, “I’ll do what’s required of the next job when I get it.”

Most people would say that. But you don’t have to.


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.

Becoming a Person

I don’t want to start a philosophical or theological debate about this so let me offer a caveat at the outset: when I distinguish between a human being and a person I am distinguishing between the common accident of birth all Homo sapiens share and how some turn that accident into an intentional, conscious life. In my experience there is a vast difference between the two.

In my case, I don’t think that I became a person until I was 35 years old, because up until that age, even though I had done so many wonderful, beautiful things and faced so many deeply challenging circumstances, I had not honestly confronted my lack of consciousness about my self…my person.

You could argue that what I’m getting at here is more a question of maturity than personhood but I don’t find that word satisfying since it implies that if you live long enough you’ll get to self-awareness; again, the accident argument.

To become a person then, requires a conscious choice to venture out and away from the self in order to fully and wholly return to it. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey, which begins:

“One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –“

That bad advice?

“Don’t do it! Don’t go! Stay here in the pleasantly familiar, entirely predictable pattern of a semi-conscious life. Don’t realize how you have allowed your circumstances to rob you of your freedom to choose how you will live.”

And (even more desperately now),

“Don’t remind me of my own fear, my own shame, my own self-satisfied stuckness by confronting your own!”

To become a person is to leave behind the relationships that hold you down – including the one with yourself – and take on the ones that build you up.

What is it, though, that gets you to the place where “you knew what you had to do and began.”?

For some, it’s tragedy; surviving an illness or a disaster, or grieving someone who did not.

For some, it’s the advent of anger that persists in unexpected, irrational ways. This can emerge in a new marriage or at the arrival of children, deep tears in the fabric of the familiar.

For others, it’s meeting a person of considerable influence who will not be bound by our rules of engagement, who hits us right between the eyes with the feedback we always knew was true but could never willingly hear.

And for others, it’s the revelation of childhood trauma, the awareness that their vulnerability was victimized by someone who knew better but still succumbed to their worst inclinations.

Whatever the source, our inner dynamics always find a way to emerge and provide us with a choice: will I remain constructed in this way (human) or will I set out to reconstruct myself into a person, by stepping into “…a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.” (again, The Journey.)

There is no path to becoming a person that is not littered with risk, real or imagined, which is why many people choose not to walk towards transformation.

Once again, I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian. Rather, I am a student of the human experience, as practiced through executive coaching and organizational consulting. My domain of interest and influence is organizational life and how it can be made richer, more positive and more productive for every human, indeed, for every person who participates in it.

This is, then, a request to all leaders to take the steps necessary to become a person. Until you do, your human leadership is a roadblock to the positive, productive richness that your people both deserve and crave. For yourself, for them, please walk out into that wild night, leaving the voices behind and “save the only life you can save.”

Here’s the poem in full:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

– Mary Oliver


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.

There’s Room at the Table

In 1936 Dale Carnegie proposed that there are “six ways to get people to like you.”

Here’s his list:

  1. Be genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember people’s names.
  4. Be a good listener.
  5. Talk in terms of other’s interests.
  6. Make people feel important and do it sincerely.

– from How to Win Friends and Influence People

Not on the list?

  1. Share your accomplishments.
  2. Demonstrate your worthiness.
  3. Take yourself seriously.
  4. Describe your competence in detail.
  5. Act self-important.
  6. Tell an anecdote that makes you sound interesting.

Is this all self-evident? Is it obvious that humility and curiosity are the benchmarks of likability and therefore the cornerstones of connection? Most people would say so but I still see behaviors – and even notice impulses in myself – that contradict that sentiment.

The need to prove our worthiness seems to me the single greatest impediment to the establishment of mutually generative relationships. The drive to make sure “they know what I’ve done and what I can do” disallows the flowering of our natural interest in others because it keeps us bound by the disabling trio of comparison, competition and scarcity.

When we seek to connect, to build trust, to establish meaningful relationships we do not have to prove our merits or establish our bona fides. We simply have to remember three things:

  1. Each of us has an offering to make.
  2. Each of us has a ‘best’ way to make it.
  3. There is plenty of room at the table.

I have learned to trust that the better I get – the more focused, the more thoughtful – at making that true for others, the more others will make it true 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.

The Facade of Competence

If you are experiencing difficulty connecting with your colleagues in a meaningful way, it’s possible that you are leading with your competence.

It’s possible that your investment in looking like you know what you’re doing is getting in the way of your being in relationship with the people who can help you do what you need to do.

I was once called “arrogant” after three weeks on the job because I couldn’t stop proving my “competence.”

I was competent. And I was the only one who didn’t think so.


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.

Better Questions for a Better Year

I meet with a small group of trusted friends – fellow travelers – once a month for the purpose of connection that surfaces learning and deepens insight. We create a space of mutual respect and loving friendship because we want to, most importantly, but also because our work as leaders, consultants, teachers and coaches demands that we expand our capacity proportionate to our desire to be of service.

For our most recent conversation, Alia Fitzgerald composed the following questions to help our reflections on the past year shape our aspirations for the year ahead:

  • What are the six words that best describe 2018? What would you like those words to be in 2019?
  • What were you a part of last year that you’ll remember for the rest of your life? What do you take away that you could apply to your wellbeing and success this year?
  • What commitment if achieved tomorrow would give you the greatest feeling of contentment, satisfaction or success?

There is too much to do and too much at stake for any of us to go it alone. Trusted friends and powerful questions are still the best recipe for setting the intentions that allow us to do our very best work, the work that is ours alone to do.

[HT to Molly Davis and Alia Fitzgerald]


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.

Follow the Breadcrumbs

Every time you speak and in every way that you act, you are telling us who you are, what you care about, how you are made. Consciously or not, you are always dropping a trail of breadcrumbs for yourself and others to follow that will lead to a deeper understanding of you.

I didn’t realize until just this week that for months now I have been using words and actions in a wide variety of ways to express my desire for more physical, literally hands-on expression. Planting, cooking, constructing, washing, assembling, painting and a yearning for the physical challenge of playing an instrument have all been clues to this mounting somatic desire.

A sharply focused lens on my words and actions these last six months would have made this obvious but I needed time to realize that there is a larger question emerging about how I will satisfy a need my body already understands but about which my mind is just becoming aware. Those breadcrumbs I’ve been dropping allowed me to follow the path back to myself.

This is worth discovering for yourself. A way to do so that is both revealing and connective is to find a trusted partner or small group and ask each person to respond to a provocative question: “Tell us a story about when you were at your best?” or “Describe an experience that challenged you and how you responded to it?” or “What’s something about you that is true today that you never imagined would be true?”

Once the question is answered, you might follow-up with, “And how is that relevant for you today?” or another inquiry that brings the insight forward.

The listener’s job in this conversation is to spot the breadcrumbs that emerge in the response and then feed them back to the speaker, asking what they make of having left this particular trail.

The breadcrumbs aren’t an answer in themselves, but they are a pathway into a larger conversation full of “questions that have no right to go away.”


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.

[Author’s Note: “…questions that have no right to go away.” is the final line of the poem, Sometimes by David Whyte.]

Come Back to the Pack

I can get pretty enthusiastic about a new idea, approach or strategy. I feel the surge of positive energy that comes with knowing that “this” is for sure a better way and I can’t wait to get it in place as fast as I can.

And then I run into a harsh reality: other people, the ones who will help me implement the new idea or who will be responsible for owning and implementing it themselves, don’t share my enthusiasm. In fact, they don’t have any enthusiasm about it because they have no idea what I’m talking about!

I expect them to be right there with me, to somehow see inside my head and heart and magically transfer my passionate understanding of this great new concept to those locations in their own bodies.

And I remember that I have to take a few steps back to explain myself, to make my case and to remain open, somehow open, to their ideas about my new idea. I have to remain open to the likelihood that they will want to change, tweak, adjust or build on this thing that is already so perfectly formed! Alas, they might even reject it out of hand.

Maturity as a leader or a team member requires us to embrace our energetic enthusiasm for what’s possible while holding it just lightly enough so that it may be made even better by the wisdom of those we are privileged to call colleagues and friends.


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’s a Decision

Do you work within an organization, division, department or team that you would describe as valuing ‘competence’ over ‘connection’ by a wide margin?

This is an environment that you might describe as static, procedural, technical or hierarchical far more than it is dynamic, connective, open and human-centered.

You might even say that it’s an environment fueled by fear rather than by love.

If this sounds familiar to you and you feel limited, stifled, stuck or afraid you have a few options:

#1. Wait for “them” to change it.
#2. Change it yourself.
#3. Leave.

If it’s a truly toxic environment, option three is the best bet for your longterm health and well-being. Yes, it’s risky but it’s a strong job market and there are plenty of good leaders building healthy and meaningful organizations that also perform.

As for number one? You already know what I’m going to say but you’d rather not hear it. A hero is not about to come riding in on a stallion to save the day. Unless the place is about to go under and those with real power demand radical change, the place is going to keep operating as is. This is because human beings are addicted to the status quo, even when it’s the worst thing in the world.

So, on to number two. This is where you come in. And you can, you most definitely can change it yourself. Not the whole thing, and maybe not even a large part of it, but you can change the area that is one, maybe even one and a half concentric circles beyond yourself. It’s just a decision. Here are some ways you might act on that decision:

  1. Get to work early. Be there when your colleagues arrive and greet them warmly to start the day.
  2. Check-in on your teammates. Ask about their work and stuff going on at home. Just listen. No judgments, no advice.
  3. Check-in on your boss. Find a few minutes once a week or so to say hello and ask how things are going.
  4. Offer to help. Where it makes sense and respecting context and boundaries, of course. Small things matter a lot. Be the person who picks up that slack.
  5. Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, read, see friends, hug your family.
  6. Never, ever contribute to negativity. Know and live your personal values. Know and live the values of the organization even if nobody else is doing so.
  7. Do your best work. No one knows what that means but you.

I predict that if you do most or even some of these things, you will feel better about yourself, your work and your workplace. What’s more, others will start to emulate your behavior and your small part of the enterprise will take on an energy that is envied by others. As long as you’re going to be there, why not control what you can control and make it the kind of place you want to be?

In summary:

Option #1 = Fantasy
Option #2 = Possibility
Option #3 = Escape hatch

It always was and always will be your 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.

The Scoreboard

For the better portion of my adult life I was convinced that there was a scoreboard and that I was always on the losing side.

I allowed the scoreboard to enable my perfectionism. This meant that I didn’t try things I couldn’t be great at right away; I didn’t create things for fear of criticism, comparison or being found out as a fraud.

I spent so much time staring at the scoreboard that I didn’t have any time left to look at myself. I had no idea how to do that.

And then a confluence of events created an opening for another way; a challenging professional opportunity and lots of difficult, necessary feedback put a crack in my facade, the one I had constructed to make up for my losing score.

That difficult feedback and the crack that came with it also came with an invitation for the kind of rigorous support that can repair the crack or at least contain its spread. Mentoring, counseling, friendship were made available to me in abundance for long enough that I could finally learn to mentor, counsel and befriend myself.

Here’s what I know: there was no scoreboard. There was only an adaptation to feelings of shame that led me to believe that I would not be, could not be, good enough.

But I was, and I am.

And so are you.

If you’re busy watching the score, please try to remind yourself that it’s not real; that there are good mentors, counselors and friends who will stand with you if you let them, and who will help you train your gaze on something much more worthy of your attention: your whole and healed self.


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.