Now. Here. This.

Every day – and I mean EVERY DAY – I spend some time thinking about and feeling the emotions related to the following:

1. Some event or person in my past that hurt me or that I perceive as having hurt me.

2. Concern/anxiety about the future. Will there be enough? Will I be able to provide? Will I have the courage to do what I most want? Et cetera, ad nauseam.

3. What I am doing right now that excites and energizes me, the contribution I am making, the purpose I am living into, the possibility I am fulfilling, the lives I am changing, starting with my own.

A good day is one in which numbers one and two are kept to a minimum and number three ascends with vigor. A bad day is when I let the past and/or the future determine the quality of the present. And, more importantly, my presence.

Replaying the difficulties of the past – especially by casting oneself as a victim of circumstance – as if doing so will yield a different outcome only robs you of the opportunity to create something new in the present.

Anxiously anticipating the future – especially through some story about insufficiency or inadequacy – when all you can control is your own behavior, your own choices, is energy lost to fear of the unknown.

There is nothing you can do to change the past. There is nothing you can do to predict the future.

What you can do is decide in this moment, at this place and with these people, that you will become as clear as possible about these things:

  • Who you are.
  • Where you are going.
  • The next step you can take.
  • And how much you are willing to love and serve the person in front of you right now.

Thanks to Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. who, in his talk with Krista Tippett referenced the musical “Now. Here. This.”

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.

The Messy Human Real Thing

“There is always an easy solution to every human problem: neat, plausible and wrong.”  – H.L. Mencken –

The journey from the age of machines to the age of meaning is proving to be a bumpy one. It’s telling, and not at all surprising, that the more complicated and pervasive technology becomes the more people seem to want to get out of the “cloud” and back on the ground. Our collective cognitive dissonance suggests that we believe we can get the meaning and connection we seek if only our technology continues to offer better, faster means of doing so. As that dissonance festers our only choice is to resolve it by either letting go of our need for authentic connection or reconsidering the role and purpose of technology. That’s not much of a choice.

In the age of machines people are treated like machines in order to build machines. In the age of meaning people are treated like people who are brought together by the common cause of creating something of value, machine or otherwise. There is a shared human need to connect to something larger than ourselves and while technological solutions can provide tools to aid that connection, to assist in that creation, it’s time to stop confusing that assistance as an end unto itself. It is, in fact, a terrible substitute for the real thing.

But the real thing – the messy human real thing – is precisely why we keep turning to technology. The clean landscape of ones and zeros tempts us to believe we can manufacture a more Disney-like version of the human experience. For too long we’ve been trying to outsmart ourselves and it’s time to get real about that. Despite our clever ability to build an even better mousetrap at some point we must learn that the path to freedom demands a humble reckoning with what has been denied: each heart’s deep longing to be seen, heard and understood.

When the organization becomes a place where that can be expressed freely, openly and with a strategic understanding of its relevance to the bottom line, the age of meaning will have arrived.

After the Harvest

I’ve lived nearly my entire life in the land of perpetual summer. The 84° forecast for Thanksgiving just something that comes with the territory. My storybook idealism longs for crisp air and cozy sweaters while my mature realism enjoys t-shirts and flip flops. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, at least not according to my more romantic sensibilities, it is still fall and the natural world continues it’s progression, if more subtly than elsewhere, according to plan.

You can miss the signs, to be sure, but they are everywhere. No amount of dry desert air can change the fact that the days are shorter, the nights are cooler (“cold” would be an overstatement so I will refrain from embarrassing myself) and growing has given way to rooting. No more tomatoes in the garden, no summer squash or green beans. We’re planting sweet peas now. We may even try some onions or carrots or broccoli.

I also see the change in our backyard grass, the last swath of green we’ve held onto in the face of persistent drought and escalating water bills. It browns in certain places, some seasonal weeds emerge, it’s less vibrant and certainly less hearty. I’ve never given this much thought before, accepting it as part of the cycle but then I wonder why we wouldn’t give the lawn the same consideration as the garden and help it take full advantage of these new conditions.  For the first time, then, I decide to overseed and as I appreciate the purpose and application of each step I realize that this process of revitalization and renewal is as crucial right now for my internal landscape as it for my external one.

Overseeding a Lawn – Overseeding a Life:

Step 1: Cut the grass low. This creates the space necessary for new seeds to take root. What needs to be trimmed away? What have I been paying too much attention to that’s taken me away from what I care most about? Symbolically, that might mean the ritual of giving away clothes I don’t wear or books I don’t read. What am I hanging onto that no longer serves me? I’m going for a mindset of simplification and preparation.

Step 2: Aerate. Most soil gets compacted preventing new seeds from getting established. I’m punching some holes in my thinking, allowing some air below the surface of my point of view. Considering ideas thoughtfully and tentatively. Testing them out again. Making them stronger by not holding them too tightly. I’m spending some time concentrating on my breath, my fitness and my stillness. I’m going to create more space. Two months ago I gave up on checking my phone first thing in the morning. Huge relief.

Step 3: Spread seed. Most new seeds don’t germinate so you need to spread a lot of it to get a good yield. I’m trying lots of things to see what sticks. Experimenting. Playing. Discovering. Listening to new podcasts, meeting new people, going to concerts, having new conversations, all in the name of affirming my commitment to those things I can’t stop paying attention to. I’m resisting the urge to jump at the first thing that seems right. I’m trying to wait, to trust that if it’s right it will still be there when I’m ready. Chances are the first thing is there to distract me from the real thing.

Step 4: Spread topsoil and fertilizer. The new seeds need both nourishment and protection. I’m finding support for my new ideas and intentions while remaining open to having them influenced. If “we are what we repeatedly do” then I’m going to do a lot of paying attention to what I have planted and trust that the right elements will emerge. And, those people who really care about my well-being, my success, my wholeness? I’m going to give them a chance to help. I’m going to ask for it. Because I don’t have to go it alone. And I know I can’t anyway.

Step 5: Water (plenty of water). Above all else, successful germination depends on water. Not too much and not too little. I’m attending to my intentions every day. I am practicing showing up and being present to them while also working very hard (and this is very hard work) to remain detached from outcomes. The rooting, the germination, takes time. This is a time of year for the patient appreciation that while so much is happening, so much of what is happening is happening below the surface. I will thoughtfully and energetically remain present in anticipation of what is, as yet, unseen.

Offered with thankfulness for all that has been and all that will be.

Joining Head & Heart: Leadership in the Age of Meaning

I gave the following talk this past Saturday to the newly inducted members of the Whitehead Leadership Society at the University of Redlands. It was a privilege to share these thoughts with them and I am deeply grateful for their enthusiastic response. I hope you feel the same.

I remain idealistic. I remain impatient. And I am ever more deeply convinced that it is our ability to act in the face of our shared uncertainty that will make our greatness possible.

Joining Head & Heart: Leadership in the Age of Meaning from David Berry on Vimeo.

Connection: Some Questions, Thoughts and Stories

“We have become postgraduates in the art of acquaintance and paupers in the art of friendship.” John O’donohue

The Dunbar Number – approximately 150 – is “the number of people you can have a relationship with involving trust and obligation – there’s some personal history, not just names and faces.” 

A Facebook “friend,” a person I knew in high school but by no means was ever friends with, died an untimely death last week. I have no knowledge of the circumstances. I have no details to share. I last saw this person in the spring of 1987. I am saddened by the news, of course, but in an indirect way. It’s a hollow feeling lacking the depth that comes from the experience of a personal loss. More than likely, the sadness I feel is a result of my projections onto the situation; a mid-forties parent leaving behind children and family, a person with so much more life to live cut down in their prime. How can I not see myself in that storyline?

In truth, I feel lousy that I feel so little. Even though I know the word “friend” has been appropriated I do not like knowing that I am “friends” with people for whom I feel no friendship. Perhaps the purpose is to remind me of my responsibility and desire to deepen my connection with those whose friendship needs no quotation marks.

On a family campout this weekend I was talking with a friend about the importance of connection and, of course, the irony of how little connection there is in our highly connected world. I am no Luddite but I am paying attention and this is what I see. More importantly, it’s what I feel. There we were, circled around a bunch of flashlights (No campfire. Too many wildfires.), connected through food and conversation, learning about one another, telling stories, sharing ideas. I made some new acquaintances this weekend. I also deepened some friendships. It was the point of the campout. It was good.

I forgot my bank card last week so had to actually go into the bank to deposit a check. I met Coral, the teller, and used my tired attempt at ironic humor when I expressed my “frustration” over the “unfortunate circumstance of actually having to deal with a human being.” I’m glad I did as it sparked a lively exchange. She proceeded to tell me that when her friends get together for dinner they put all of their “devices” in the middle of the table. The first person to reach for a phone has to pay the entire check. She said, “I eat a lot of free meals.” As I expressed my admiration for her restraint she continued, “well, why do I need it? I’m already with the people I would be calling or texting.” Score one for the good guys.

Yes, I want more “followers” and, yes, I want more “friends.” Is it crass or narcissistic to say so, to admit that I want more exposure for my ideas and more opportunity to grow my business? Conversely, is it crass to want access to the new learning and the new possibilities that emerge from my new “connections”? I don’t think it is. But my responsibility is to not be confused by which is which; to not be ruled by an abstraction of friendship, connection or relationship rather than by an individual, real experience of it.

I have 1,000+ LinkedIn “Connections,” I have 500 Facebook “Friends” and about the same number of Twitter “Followers.”

And there’s about 25 people I could call on the phone right now who would take the time to listen. I call them friends.