No Qualifiers

How about this?

How about you stop explaining what you are about to ask or say or state?

How about you just go ahead and say it?

I’m projecting that onto you because it’s a huge development opportunity for me.

And I’m already getting better.

Because I decided to. And because I have a good friend helping me.

Be direct. Be clear. And don’t go it alone.


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Not the Same

Today did not go how I thought it would.

When I went to bed last night, I had a clear idea of how the day would unfold. It did not go that way.

When I woke up at 3am I tossed and turned about how today would go. It did not go that way.

On my walk this morning I knew just how the rest of the day would go. It did not go that way.

It never does.

Professional people understand this and accept it.

They understand that no plan, however well-imagined or articulated, survives contact with reality.

Plans are a useful, if temporary reservoir for our anxiety about the unknown. Reality is the landscape on which we learn and grow.


 

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Unique Human Needs: Growth

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Growth.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 5: Growth

When I first went to see a therapist my cover story was pretty thin. To her inevitable opening question – “So, what brings you here?” – I gave her my well-rehearsed reply, “As a professional coach I think it’s important to tend my own garden so I can be most helpful to other people.”

This was a valid intention, just not an honest one. “I’m doing it for them” has a noble ring to it, its thin veneer a convenient way to mask the truth that I was in a lot of pain. And being in pain, I was afraid to talk about it because I knew I would have to feel it more before I could feel it less.

That pain was a tangle of old and unresolved stuff, mainly about abandonment, that reared up in full toxic force in the first years of fatherhood. I experienced deep feelings of anger toward my young son, feelings that both frightened me and filled me with shame. I knew that I had to figure out where all of that negativity was coming from, my initiative newly motivated by the fear of a future estrangement.

Thankfully, at that time I was in the company of new colleagues who were relentlessly encouraging of my growth and who had the insight and experience to normalize the idea of therapy as a powerful tool for meaningful change.

In the list above, Tony Robbins describes Growth as an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding. 

Through my work with a therapist I came to understand capacity as having room to consider the needs of others from their perspective rather than through the lens of my own. In other words, I had more empathy because I had more emotional space.

I came to understand capability as an enhancement of my ability to notice more about myself and others. I was sharpening my lens, getting better and better at anticipating and responding to my internal impulses while more quickly attuning to the externally expressed needs of others.

I came to appreciate understanding as an awareness of the complex dynamics that are always present in team and organizational settings. Seeing more allowed me to be more helpful and productive in all domains of my life.

My growth through therapy helped me to become a better team member, a better leader, a better coach and consultant and, most importantly, a better husband and father.

As it turns out, the garden metaphor was an apt one, especially from the perspective of preparing for the winter months. In that case, a hard pruning is required before any new growth can appear. It can feel brutal to employ the shears so aggressively but until it happens the old growth will remain as a barricade to the new growth that finally emerges.


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Fill in the Blanks

I am reminded again and again that the people who turn change into opportunity demonstrate three specific qualities:

1. They have a strong and positive self-concept.

“I feel best about myself when I                                .”

2. They have deep humility and regard for what others have to teach them.

“Someone I admire and why:                                .”

3. They consistently seek the learning that is only available outside their comfort zone.

“My last big risk and what I learned from it:                                 .”


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Just As They Are

There is a compelling irony in the truth that when we accept people as they are we  create the conditions for them to pursue meaningful change.

Acceptance is not weakness or acquiescence, but a baseline offering of dignity and respect from which another can freely, loosely, and playfully experiment with their own version of becoming.

If our acceptance can help unlock that discovery, and we choose to withhold it, that says far more about us than it does about those being held to standards they are not yet equipped to meet.

In the powerful dynamics of human influence we are either catalysts for one another or we are roadblocks. There is nothing in between.


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At Ease

It is a difficult truth of the human condition that to feel at ease, to be filled with a sense of peace and calm, is to actually be on the edge of another thought entirely: how soon will this leave me? When will I feel “normal” again, anxious, uncertain, doubtful…easy prey for the vicissitudes of the voice in the head?

I won’t say that it doesn’t have to be this way. We have already lost that battle. Millions of years of inherited protectionism have guaranteed that.

Instead, I suggest that in those brief moments of relief, when our defenses have momentarily dropped away and we feel ourselves as whole and alive, we take a picture and put it in a scrapbook titled “possibility.”

That way, we have proof that we were there, an invitation to return again and again.


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On the Great Wall – June, 2002

Onward and Awkward

I gave a keynote speech yesterday on the topic of “Leading Change.”

After my talk, an attendee approached me and shared that an old boss of his used to advise his team to keep moving “onward and awkward.”

There is no change or learning or growth without the uncomfortable feelings that attend us into the unknown.

Those feelings are a reliable early warning system that it is time to pay close attention to ourselves and our surroundings, a time to be more connected to others rather than less, and a time to fully embrace a beginner’s mindset.

That’s a lot to juggle all at once and doing so will always feel awkward.

But isn’t that awkwardness, even when it lasts longer than we think we can stand, a far better alternative than giving up on learning?

Your ego and your expertise and all of your lived experience – everything that draws you back to the safety of the status quo – will survive the truth that there’s still so much to learn.


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Monday Morning Thought Experiment

Imagine that it’s five years ago. If you could meet yourself on October 14, 2014 what advice would you give yourself for the coming five years?*

Five years ago, my advice would have been (1) trust yourself; (2) open yourself; (3) move towards aliveness, always.

Imagine that it’s five years from now. What advice do you give yourself today that will help you wake up on October 14, 2024 satisfied that you lived the last five years with a clear purpose?

My advice to my future self is the same: (1) trust yourself; (2) open yourself; (3) more towards aliveness, always. 

Is it a cop out to focus on the same things, evidence of a lack of growth or ambition? It’s tempting to think of it that way, but I choose not to. I choose instead to recognize my “advice to self” as an acknowledgement that my core developmental themes will always resist being “fixed” or “solved.” These themes represent a very large part of the work of my life, work that never really ends.

I suppose that could be frustrating, even defeating. But I find it inspiring, an invitation to keep learning.

And what about you? What did you discover?


*Suggestion: conduct this experiment out loud, with a friend. Make a commitment. See what happens.


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To Belong

“A community is a union of persons…who share in mutuality their most precious possessions – themselves.”

– John Powell, S.J.


Today, I conclude my exploration of John Powell’s “five essential steps into the fullness of life.”

Part 5: To Belong

Where do you call ‘home’?

What and whom do you belong to that you consider your community?

Is it your family and your private home? Is it your professional colleagues and your workplace? Is it your fellow parishioners and your house of worship? Is it your fellow volunteers and your community organization?

Perhaps it’s a combination of all of these.

My earliest feeling of community, of belonging, came through being part of my church youth group. I was in middle school and we had the chance to spend a lot of time together doing fun activities, singing, eating and being kids who shared the common cause of our faith.

I was on a few sports teams before and during high school but none of them created the kind of belonging I felt as part of my high school choir. The common cause of music, the mixture of all ages and other elements of diversity, a caring and demanding director, and the fact that we sounded great (at least I remember it that way!) made for a very special home away from home.

When I learned that I had been accepted into my college’s choral music program I highly anticipated the continuation of this feeling of community but even more intensely given the increased freedom and adventure I assumed college would offer. To my astonishment it completely exceeded my expectations, beyond any other group experience I had as an undergraduate. I know that we were good, outstanding even, and something about being called, encouraged and cajoled to that mountaintop by both our director and our shared standard of performance, helped us to a level of esprit de corps I have not experienced since.

I am so grateful for these early experiences of community because they helped me create a standard of expectation that has remained a consistent part of my life. In the 27 years since college I have been fortunate to find a version of it in a few work scenarios, in a church music group and, most especially in my own family.

What I have learned from each of these is that there is no possibility of personal aliveness without the support of an enduring community. There is a reciprocal relationship that exists in community in which the community fuels my aliveness and my aliveness – each person’s individual aliveness – in turn fuels the community.

It is the very nature of this reciprocity that begs the question of each of us who is committed to being fully human and fully alive: are we prepared to do the real work of accepting ourselves, being ourselves, forgetting ourselves into loving, and believing in something larger than ourselves so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labors, the chance to revel in the gift of belonging?

There was a time when I would have answered from a purely cognitive place: “Of course! Who wouldn’t want that?”

But to answer from the heart – informed by the careful curiosity of the mind – is a much riskier enterprise. It is one that promises to lay us low, as we learn to let die the smaller version of our self who so vigorously attempts to convince us that he or she is the real thing!

The smaller self, the less than fully human/fully alive self, is merely a container, intended to house us for only a brief time, one whose diminished size tempts us into seeing just a fraction of our potential for living into a much larger and extraordinary life of freedom.


I sincerely hope that this week of reflections on John Powell’s illuminating work serves as a source of insight into your own experience of aliveness. As we become more alive, more human, to ourselves we cannot help but do so for those with whom we are privileged to share our lives. This alone makes it an endeavor worth our sincere and faithful attention.

If you are interested in revisiting any of the previous posts, you can find them below.

Monday: To Accept Oneself
Tuesday: To Be Oneself
Wednesday: To Forget Oneself in Loving
Thursday: To Believe


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