To Forget Oneself in Loving

“Fully alive people learn to go out of themselves in genuine caring and concern for others.”

– John Powell, S.J.


Today, I continue to explore John Powell’s “five essential steps into the fullness of life.”

Part 3: To Forget Oneself in Loving

You can’t love somebody wholeheartedly if you don’t love yourself.

I did not know what I was getting into when I got married at 25 years old. I knew that I loved Theresa and that she loved me but I had no idea what that meant or what that required. It was a hunch, we were blessed with the wisdom to make a lifelong commitment and we continue to do the work to live into the wide-eyed sense of possibility we held over 24 years ago.

There’s a part of me that considers it a miracle that we’ve made it this far. Not because of any explicit trauma or challenge that occurred. Not because of the wedge three children can drive between a husband and wife. And not because the daily grind of life can steamroll even the most ideal of married couples.

The reason I sometimes consider it a miracle is because it took me a very long time to forget myself in loving my wifeIf you read my posts on Monday and Tuesday you have some insight into why this was true. In short, until I learned to accept myself and to be myself it was impossible to forget myself. In not forgetting myself, I could not “remember” her as an independent person whose individuality could become larger by our relationship instead of as a dependent person who would be subject first to meeting my needs.

In other words, until I learned to forget myself it was far too easy, too convenient, to treat her (and others) as a supporting actor in the movie called “My Life” instead of as someone worthy of a feature film all her own.

So, if the path to forgetting oneself in a way that leads to true empathy and full regard for another comes through accepting oneself and being oneself, how do you get there?

Partly, it’s through maturity. Sometimes you have to learn how to live a life by living it and, if you’re surrounded by enough good people they provide the checks and balances that help you grow. That’s a more passive approach but for some people, if those checks and balances come early and often enough, it can be enough.

In my case, the facade of competence I had developed in order to mask my insecurity was so well built that I required professional help. Not through my own courageous decision-making but on the indirect recommendation and encouragement of a mentor, I visited a therapist for the first time at 35 years of age. I went back once a week for 6 more years, long enough to finally know myself well enough to learn how to forget myself.

I know that that decision made the current quality of my marriage possible. By deconstructing myself I was able to see how what I had constructed was a barrier to authentic connection. The rebuilding experience was hard but not so hard that a loving and loyal partner would choose anything other than to be an integral part of the process.

Aliveness is a dynamic state of being, a continuous flow of energetic insight, evaluation, connection and compassionate correction. It starts within, of course, but has to include others, significant others especially. The gift of aliveness is in recognizing that this work to accept myself and to be myself is why I am ultimately able to forget myself in the embrace of another. There is no separation, only a sprawling network of connecting tissue that stretches out from the first decision to just be.

I know that this is getting long and I also know that some readers may rightly ask what any of this has to do with organizational life. I did, after all, commit on Monday to offering these reflections in that context and so far have spent the lion’s share of my time on high school achievements, college and early career insecurity and the triumph of my marriage over my selfishness.

The glib answer is that this has everything to do with organizations and the leaders who lead them! The math is pretty simple. If it’s tough in an interpersonal relationship to relate to someone who doesn’t accept himself, who is uncomfortable being himself and who, as a result, cannot forget himself in favor of a true commitment to the welfare of others, how tough is it on the employees who have to work for him?

Business is a human enterprise first and foremost. And each and every one of those humans who have chosen to lead must claw and scratch their way to aliveness if they are ever to become the leaders we deserve.


Tomorrow: Part 4, To believe

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

Photo by Jasmine Wallace Carter on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Partnership

fullsizeoutput_254fI don’t pause often enough to reflect on, much less comment about, the importance of my marriage to the success of my business or, more importantly, the success of my life.

While “success” is a subjective term, Theresa and I have done and will continue to do the work that helps us to live up to our core values, both as partners and as co-leaders of our family. I don’t know another way, certainly not a better way, to define success than that.

The simple, beautiful truth is that without her faithful dedication to me and to our family, I would not have the freedom or confidence I need to have the impact that I aspire to have each day.

Today, on our 24th wedding anniversary, it’s important to me to say “thank you” to the person who has been most quietly and consistently responsible for helping me to live into the person I have longed to become.

I couldn’t do it without her. I would never want to. And as I long as I have the privilege to do so, I will work very hard to make sure she knows that.


fullsizeoutput_2721

Gold Inside

Do you know the story of the Buddhist monks who, in an effort to preserve a revered clay Buddha statue, accidentally broke it open and discovered it was made of gold?

Do you know that the clay was meant to discourage an invading army from stealing the statue but that centuries later this information was lost and, upon rediscovery it was assumed that it was always and only made of clay?

Do you know that most people, most of the time do an excellent impression of that clay Buddha, keeping the best of themselves protected against being seen and being known?

If you’re not ok with this, and I hope that you are not, then I encourage you to remember that everyone’s clay facade has a crack somewhere. If you are truly curious and determined you will find it and, peering within, see that there is gold inside.

This discovery must, of course, start with you.

Go ahead. Have a look.

abstract art blur bokeh

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com


Love and Leadership

img-1802-1

If we choose to think of love as a “state of being…a state of grace…in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth” as James Baldwin challenges us to do, we place ourselves dangerously close to the realization that our capacity for love is proportionate to our capacity to lead.

What is leadership if not the ability to help oneself and others navigate the complexities of change? What is it if not the ability to live at the edge of our understanding and to help others function well in the discomfort of learning?

And what but love allows us to enter into the real conversations necessary to be in those places? What but love strengthens our vulnerability to stay in a place of not knowing long enough to let the next step emerge?

If you have been loved in this way, you have been led. And if you have been led in this way, you have been loved.

It is not only that “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” as President Kennedy said. It is that leadership and love are indispensable to each other and that learning is the fruit of that sacred tree.


Thank you, Carol Pate, for sharing this photo/quote with me.

 

Keep Showing Up

I have a few different “accountability” gatherings I participate in each month. “Accountability” isn’t a great word for them but it will have to do for now.

These are individuals and small groups with whom I have established an intimate and trustworthy rapport and from whom I receive both the space and the grace to rely on it. I expect and am expected to actually “show up” in these encounters, to enter into conversation that is revelatory for the purpose of personal learning and group cohesion.

We strengthen the integrity of our relationships one layer of authentic interaction at a time. And it is in that way that these are “accountability” gatherings. We are not looking for the best from one another, we are just looking to bring out what “is” right now and learn from it.

What I have learned in the 15 years of participating in these kind of conversations is that it is when I least feel like attending that I most need to.

Just last week, a few hours before one of these gatherings, I made a quick mental list of all of the reasons I could and should cancel. What I was struggling to admit to myself is that I didn’t want to talk about “what is right now” because I was feeling lost about what to do about it. I didn’t want to feel that lack of control in an explicit way so I considered going for the escape hatch.

But I didn’t open it and I am so, so thankful that I was able to right myself, show up as planned and receive the extraordinary benefit of a listening ear and some thoughtful questions.

Avoidance and resistance are the key ingredients in the recipe we call fear. It’s not one we have to make, tempting though it may be to do so. And to be reminded of that, yet again, by people who truly care about my well-being, marks another humbling step on the path of my life.


 

Nothing to see here

img_6409I’ve got this neighbor who drives a truck and tows a trailer behind it. Both the truck and the trailer are consistently full of random stuff, making him a kind of junk man. It seems that some folks have gotten the idea that all of that random stuff must equate to some kind of value because he’s taken to putting this sign up in the window.

When I noticed it this morning I imagined it as an incidental projection of the state of his self-esteem. And then I realized that what I was actually noticing was the darker truth that it reminded me about what was once the state of my own self-esteem.

It’s a stretch to say that I ever considered myself “value-less” but I have potent recollections of periods in my life when I put up a good front to protect against people finding out what little substance I had to offer. I remember a haphazard set of feelings that included confidence of having certain abilities but insecurity about not knowing what to do with them. And that not knowing compiled on itself until it became serious self-doubt.

For a long time it felt like a sick joke to know quite deeply how much I had to offer but to have absolutely no direction or comprehension about how to offer it. Because of some very good people who gave me some strong nudges in the right direction; because of some fortunate experiences that forced my maturity (like storing seeds in a dark cold place so that when they hit the warm earth and sun they only know to grow); because of some small risks I was finally willing to take; the not knowing turned into a hazy knowing which built some confidence which allowed me to own my gifts and start to employ them in ways that brought a sense of value.

Perhaps this is familiar to you. Or perhaps you recognize someone in your circle who carries themself as if they have nothing of value inside. More challenging still, that person may present a facade that is so well constructed that you have been convinced otherwise.

Whatever the case, it’s time for a strong nudge from someone just like you. For that matter, you might even have to break the glass. But do that and do it soon. The sooner they see how much you love, respect and value them, the sooner they will be on the path of offering that same consideration to themselves.


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

Posted on the bulletin board above my desk are three poems I intend to memorize. The first among them follows here. Do yourself a favor and read it aloud. Once, at the dinner table with the family, I did exactly that and my young daughter broke into tears. The language is that precise and that beautiful; the invitation to chase after what you love, that intoxicating.


The Song of Wandering Aengus
{William Butler Yeats}

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Just about a year ago I gave my girls a book of poetry from which the following selection is taken. They are both wise, each in their way, and I am privileged to support them as they grow into their inherent wisdom, adding to it one layer at a time with each new milestone, each new level of maturity.

That my children have a lot to teach me is a forgone conclusion. That I will pay attention, listen and learn, is not. We are preparing for much different futures, but we are always preparing.



Feeling Wise

A lady was quoted in the newspaper.
“It’s not so hard to feel wise.
Just think of something dumb you could say,
then don’t say it.”

I like her.
I would take her gingerbread
if I knew where her house was.

Julia Child the famous chef said,
“I never feel lonely in the kitchen.
Food is very friendly.
Just looking at a potato, I like
to pat it.”

Staring down
makes you feel tall.
Staring into someone else’s eyes
makes you feel not alone.
Staring out the window during school,
you become the future,
smooth and large.

{Naomi Shihab Nye, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls}


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.

Toward Weird, Toward Love

“We’re all a little weird, and life’s a little weird.
And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” 
{ Dr. Seuss }


How are you weird?

How is your life weird?

How is your partner’s, friend’s, colleague’s, boss’s weirdness compatible with yours? How about your workplace’s weirdness?

How have you joined up with them? How have you become a partner in the mutual weirdness affirmation society? How do you support their weirdness and how do they support yours?

Do you love your weirdness?

Do you love your weird life?

Do you love those people whose weirdness is compatible with yours?

Do you love your weird workplace?

Today’s as good a day as any to give a good think about who and what you love and to take one giant step in that direction.


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.

Someone Else Will

If you don’t give them a chance to show what they can do, someone else will.

If you don’t give them clear and comprehensive feedback about their performance, someone else will.

If you don’t paint a compelling picture of the future, someone else will.

If you don’t speak candidly about your own goals and challenges, someone else will.

If you don’t explain what you’re thinking and why, someone else will.

If you don’t share what you’re feeling and why, someone else will.

You don’t have have to do it “right,” you just have to do it.

Because in the age of connection and compassion, if you don’t, someone else will.


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.