People of Reflection and Action

Praxis logo_0“The concept of praxis . . . refers to our participation in the shaping of the world in which we live. It is based upon the idea that we are meant to make a difference. We are called to be contributors, people of reflection and action. . . . This is our common human task.”

– Denis Edwards


 

It starts with an idea, a point of view, a model or framework.

It continues with the thoughtful consideration of how it might be activated in support of our purpose, in support of the employees, customers, and community members we exist to serve.

It flows into action, a living engagement of ideas and people joined together for purposeful impact.

It results in outcomes, maybe good or even great ones, and likely surprising or even disappointing ones as well.

It continues with evaluation, consideration and more thoughtful conversation, this time about what happened, the lessons learned, the possibilities that came to life, the ideas of what might come next, having attempted this thing in this way at this time.

Ideas are revisited, perspectives shared and challenged, new approaches proposed.

A next step is agreed upon. A new effort is made.

This is how we make our contribution. This is how change happens.


 

Stuck

When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t find the dog.

Rita usually sleeps in our room, upstairs, but will just as likely be found on the landing or, given the warmer summer evenings, downstairs by the couch.

This morning, she was in none of her usual spots, which is when I remembered something that happened earlier this summer.

My son, home from college, works an evening shift most nights and gets home after 11:00. Rita is not one to miss the chance to hang out with a non-sleeping person so she keeps him company until his much later bedtime, sometimes in the family room and sometimes in his bedroom. One night, forgetting she was in there, or perhaps thinking she wanted to stay, he shut his door and went to sleep. When I couldn’t find her the next morning I finally popped his door open to find her sitting there quietly, both hopeful and resigned.

Again, this morning, there she sat. And once released from the confines of Duncan’s bedroom, she headed straight outside for a much-needed breath of fresh air, among other needs.

Hopeful and resigned, she didn’t whine or bark. She made the best of it, sitting and waiting for her chance to get out, dependent on someone else to take action to change her circumstances.

I admire her patience, but it’s her resignation that makes me uncomfortable, a reminder of the ways I allow myself to stay stuck in “good enough” when just one small action would open the door to an even better way to live.


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Into Deep Water

Each one of us has a net in which we capture an understanding of ourselves. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net in the shallow end of our experience, catching and re-catching what we have long known about ourselves, hoping that this time the limitations of our understanding won’t hold us back, won’t prevent us from getting closer to our heart’s desire.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who you are. Only then will you be equipped to determine what serves you and what must be thrown back. 

Each one of us has a net in which we gather the collective force of our connection to others. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do it very often, if ever. Instead, we keep tossing our net on the surface of our experience, keeping our relationships at a safe distance, rarely risking bringing them closer and almost never including someone new. We falsely believe that this distance protects us, reducing the risk of being known for who we truly are.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of who loves you, just as you are. Only then will you be equipped to close the difficult distance between the fear of loss and the exponential truth of full relationship.  

Each one of us has a net in which we collect all the learning of our adult life. That net is strong, it can hold a lot. And testing that strength scares us so we don’t do so very often, if ever. Instead, we toss our net in the shallow waters of what is known, comforted by the embrace of the status quo, keeping a wide territory between us and the edge of the new with its persistent threat of exposure, embarrassment and failure.

Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water a revelation of new learning. Only then will you be equipped to say “I am, and always have been a beginner.” 

Each one of us has a net. It is large and strong. It works fine along the shore but it is built for deeper water.

Only you can throw it there.


Looking Back to Look Ahead

My writing this past week began with a reflection on my path – my long and uncertain path – to vocation.

With that groundwork laid on Labor Day, I moved into a variety of explorations of the inner life: the leader’s commitment to continuous learning; the freedom that that kind of deep personal awareness creates to liberate others to their full potential; the painful truth that we too easily and too often hide the very best of ourselves from the vulnerability of exposure; and the deep and very challenging necessity to confront our pain and transform it into possibility.

With the benefit of hindsight and reflection, I see now that this week has been an exploration of my most important value: freedom.

And by freedom I mean, the earned right to be my own authority, to be released from the tyranny of the unexamined life, one that operates reactively instead of purposefully. Freedom is the transformation of pain into possibility. Freedom is equanimity under stress, where the old triggers – though always present – will not be squeezed.

As I enter into a period of profound change in my professional life, while continuing to navigate the sacred responsibilities of marriage, fatherhood and friendship, it is no wonder that this theme is surfacing so strongly. It is a time for reflection because it is a time of change.

Writing is good therapy, a form of self-coaching, that helps me to understand where I am, while casting a faint but persistent light on the path ahead.

Thank you for reading.


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Start Within

“…the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.”

Jim Yong Kim
President, The World Bank


There is no team member, and certainly no team, who will surpass the commitment to learning and development that is established by their leader. If you are frustrated by the lack of growth, or the lack of commitment to growth, being demonstrated by your team, you must first look at yourself.

The act of learning in organizational life, and the feedback required to enable it, depends totally on the environment created by the leader, one in which he or she demonstrates a personal, living commitment to continuous learning. If there is a “secret sauce” to effective leadership, this is it.

Today, the onus on leaders is to start within, focusing first on their own improvement as a continuous exercise of genuine humility. This practice of humility creates a space for a deeper empathetic sensibility that can then be applied to the leader’s team.

When feedback comes from that place it demonstrates a universal commitment to getting better (We are all in this together!) while also reenforcing the most basic truth of leadership, that leaders go first.

If you are not willing to go first, you are not a leader. If you are not willing to learn continuously, grow continuously, question your personal status quo continuously, you are not a leader.

Once you do so, however, it changes everything. You will no longer dread the discomfort of providing feedback to your team but will instead relish the opportunity to be a catalyst for their growth. Once you normalize a persistent and consistent approach to learning for yourself, you will normalize it for them as well.

As ever, leaders go first.


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Labor Day

“Work isn’t to make money. You work to justify life”

Marc Chagall ~

When I was 17 years old I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I just didn’t know that it was possible to apply what came naturally to me to a formal educational and professional pursuit. And so began a 14 year journey to find what it was I was supposed to do with my life. When I finally landed on my vocation I was shocked to find that I had known the answer so many years before; that the answer had always been in me, just waiting to be unlocked and reintroduced to the world in a new and more profound way.

Of course, had I not wandered in the desert, searching in vain for the perfect fit; had I not been tested and molded by so many “roads to nowhere” I never would have found the road to somewhere. It was because of the work that was not my work that I was able to find the work that is.

James Michener wrote, and I’m paraphrasing heavily, that until we find our “thing” everything else we do along the way is creative. It’s all part of the process of learning who and what we are and how we are meant to use it in and for the world. Another sage, Joseph Campbell, said this:

“If the path ahead of you is clear, you are on someone else’s path.”

In other words, your path – the work of your life – is the one with all the obstacles. You have to fight for it, up and over, through and around; clawing, scraping, racing, pushing, pulling. This is how you know it is yours. And, in my experience, while all of that is happening you are deeply gratified by knowing that this fight is your fight, this labor is your labor; the work meant for you and you alone.

And what a joy it is to find that work. Truly, it is an exceptional thing to realize that this is my offering, my contribution. And with it comes a deep and significant responsibility to fully explore, fully realize and fully practice that which I am meant to do.

I am grateful on Labor Day to have found my work. More than that, I am grateful to have the resources, support, trust and well-being to fully express it.

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”

Albert Camus ~


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.

Yes, She is Smarter Than You

You were hired because you are smart (researcher) or funny (comedian) or clever (analyst). You were hired because of your insights (strategist) or storytelling (marketer) or interpersonal skills (sales).

And you feel good about yourself. And you begin to move among and learn about others in your field. And you quickly realize that there is someone (perhaps many “someones”) who are smarter, funnier, more clever, insightful, who tells a better story or who connects more easily with more people.

Does this mean you are an impostor?

No.

It means that you are hanging out with exactly the right people.

There’s always someone who has “more” or is more of whatever you most value. The sooner you accept that and choose to learn from those you admire, the sooner you can get back to doing what you were hired to do.


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Carl Richards, New York Times

A Few Questions

If you stopped editing yourself, what would you say?

When you are at your worst, what’s the fear behind that behavior?

When you float outside yourself, tethered to nothing but possibility, what gives you that lift?

You are at the edge of your seat, no facade to impress us, what got you there?

You keep going back to that thought, what is it that you cannot forget?

You’re traveling lighter these days, what have you left behind?

You can only take so much, what is your breaking point?

When you are at your best, what thought or trait or relationship makes that so?


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It’s ok to say, “Yes!”

At the Crater Lake gift shop my daughter said, “Dad, do you like these socks?”

“I do like those!,” I said.

“Would you like me to buy them for you?”

“No, honey, that’s ok. But thanks for offering.”

But as I browsed the stickers I kept thinking about those cool green hiking socks she picked out for me.

So I went over to the sock section and looked them over again. And I changed my mind.

I really did like them and she made me a kind offer so I let her know that I would accept, if that was still ok with her.

And she said that it was. “But I don’t have my money on me, dad.”

“That’s ok, we’ll work out later on.”

I’ve spent plenty of unproductive mental energy in my life wishing people would pay enough attention to me that they know what I like and then act on it.

On my better days I speak up for myself. I let people know what I want and, more importantly, what I need. On my worse days I get stuck in the wishing well, chants of “poor me” echoing off of its narrow walls.

My daughter noticed me and acted on it. I chose to receive her gift. I chose to say, “yes!”


The Pretense of Self Sufficiency

I like to fix things. I’m pretty good at it. I’m not a qualified auto mechanic or electrician by any stretch, but if you need your new TV setup or your phone reconnected or your files moved to the cloud, I’m a good guy to ask.

I like being good at fixing these small things because they are appreciated and they give my ego a nice dose of self-satisfaction. Also, they let me maintain a sense of control over my surroundings.

Over the last few years I’ve discovered that my daughter likes to fix things, also. She’s really good at it. Especially in the technical domain she’s a much better problem solver than me.

I don’t admit that easily (see, “maintain a sense of control” above) because for the longest time I wasn’t willing, when she said “I know what to do,” to get out of the way and let her do it. Instead, we would jockey for position and I would finally snap at her to just let me figure it out.

I still do that once in a while but not nearly as much. I’ve learned that her development depends on the ability to express and use her gifts and that my job is to give her the space to do that.

Instead of seeking that ego boost for these small achievements I enjoy watching her proudly play this role in support of her family and friends. I also enjoy the new reality that whatever needs to be done doesn’t have to be done by me.

It seems to me that this is what great leaders do, too. They learn to stop clinging to any pretense of self sufficiency, to not just admit that they need help, but to relish in the opportunity to give others the chance to be helpful.

That’s a pretty great thing to be able to do for someone. It builds esteem, confidence and connection. It creates teams of problem solvers who learn to rely on one another’s unique abilities to get things done.

Perhaps most importantly, it creates the widest possible feeling of ownership for whatever we have agreed to create together.

In your workplace today, is there someone you can do this for? Is there someone doing this for you?