To Believe

“Fully alive people discover meaning in their lives.”

– John Powell, S.J.


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

Part 4: To Believe

If you’ve ever worked for a leader who exuded authentic belief in a cause, you were likely swept up in that belief as well. And in being swept up in that belief you likely felt, as I have felt, an energy, a sense of possibility, a dedication to positivity that carried your efforts forward even through the most difficult passages of the work.

You might describe yourself, feeling this way, as being fully alive.

Human beings long to be associated with causes larger than ourselves. We don’t always achieve this longing, however, because to be that fully dedicated to something comes with a long list of inherent risks. That doesn’t negate the desire, however, and if we’re lucky enough to find that kind of meaning, and associate with others who do as well, it can give our lives a definition and dimensionality that can otherwise not be found.

Growing up in the 1980s and having a latent passion for inspiring and energizing others, I was drawn to the dynamism and charisma of Ronald Reagan. I wasn’t mature enough in my thinking to understand him as a policy maker so my admiration was for the impact of his presence. What I observed in Reagan was somebody who was able to use the weight of his experience and training as an actor and pitchman to extraordinary effect. He made me feel a profound sense of possibility for our nation – the “shining city on a hill” – through the way he shaped his language.

As I began to see in myself an aptitude for performance, on stage and in student activities, I realized that I was inspired by Reagan as a model and encouraged to keep thinking about how to expand the quality of what I had to offer. I had come across my first inkling of meaning, what I would later attach to as the belief system that would drive my adult life: how leaders show up, literally what they say and how they say it, can absolutely change lives.

This realization caught fire in my imagination but only for a short time as it dawned on me that I had no idea how it could serve as the fertile soil of my future endeavors. I grew detached from it over time until I was challenged to confront my perfectionism in the form of some early career speaking opportunities. I see today that part of my discomfort with unlocking my natural, best self, came from believing that I could never match the “Reagan standard” and if not, why bother?

When my career twists and turns eventually led me to an employee and leadership training company – no accident, of course – I had more and more chances to articulate my passion for powerful leadership and the kinds of organizations it could create, the kind of energetic impact it could unlock. Teaching and training for that company, I rediscovered myself as an effective “performer,” that is someone who is able to command a room with both integrity and intention.

This unfolding built both my confidence and my point of view. It led to deeper and stronger feelings about the role and nature of leadership, as well as a deeper and stronger desire to impact those who choose to lead. As my clarity evolved, so did my energy. And as my energy evolved, so did my sense of possibility and these attributes – just like the leader I described at the beginning of this piece – became attractive to others. This attractiveness led to a new job that was a huge stretch for me, the experience of which set the table for me to eventually start my own firm.

The lessons learned in that endeavor, make it possible for me to now be in a position to help start another venture, all in line with my belief in cultivating the kind of leadership that makes our workplaces more fully human.

This is what I believe in and this is what I am here to do.


Tomorrow: Part 5, To belong

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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.

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Do you still get nervous?

I’ve been performing or presenting in some form or fashion since I was 14 years old. In choirs, as a soloist, a trainer, facilitator, or speaker, I’ve been getting “on stage” for 35 years now. Once I while I’m asked, “Do you still get nervous?”

My answer is always “Yes” and that answer is often met with a look of confusion. Like, how can you have been doing this kind of thing for as long as you have and still feel nervous about it?

What I found myself explaining most recently is what I think of as the difference between functional and dysfunctional nervousness.

My functional nervousness is a result of an energy surge that comes from having an opportunity to do something I care deeply about – be it speaking or singing – and my desire to do the very best job I can possibly do. That nervous energy reminds me that I care and I would be very concerned not to feel it in the moments leading up to the experience.

Dysfunctional nervousness on the other hand, comes from a lack of passion (I’m doing this even though I don’t want to and I hope they don’t notice), a lack of preparation or a lack of experience, and possibly a combination of all three.

Dysfunctional nervousness is the type that induces fear and the very real desire to run away as fast and as far as possible.

My recommendation for moving from dysfunctional or debilitating nervousness to functional or energizing nervousness is to do the following:

  1. Whatever it is, don’t go through the motions. Find your personal passion in the material and deliver it from there. If you can’t find that, what are you even doing there?
  2. Don’t wing it. Do your homework and be prepared. That way, you can put your attention on your audience – who very much want you to succeed – and create an environment of generous, reciprocal positive energy.
  3. Get more at bats. Say “yes” to more opportunities. There is no better teacher than experience and if you really want to feel functional nervousness you’re going to have to go out and find/create the opportunities to do so.

Not only does my being functionally nervous remind me that I care, it reminds that I am alive. That aliveness – that energized and activated presence – is the greatest gift you can give to those who have come to listen.


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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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Go Do It

This week I have written about industriousness, initiative, reinvention and responsibility. I have written about the way that human beings come alive when they feel free to take meaningful, appropriate, even obvious actions in support of necessary change.

In reflection I understand that these various expressions are all shoots of the same vine; each an attempt to manifest my personal understanding and expression of the truth that meaningful action is a balm to anxiety. 

We can commiserate, complain, kvetch and confer all we want but until we act we will feel frustrated and useless, no different than a damp matchbook is to our hope for a comforting fire. Or, as David Whyte expresses it in his poem Out On the Ocean:

“…always this energy smolders inside
when it remains unlit
the body fills with dense smoke.” 

We’d do well, all of us who are hungry to take meaningful action for change, to revisit and reconsider the words of Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive and go do it,
because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

This is the time and place in which you live.

This is the time and place to act.

This is the time and place to express what you are here for.

Go and do.


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Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Pexels.com

 

Threefold

The following passage is by Dr. Barbara Holmes from her book, Joy Unspeakable. I read it earlier this week in Richard Rohr’s daily email and its precision brought me to a full stop. I offer a few comments and reflections in bold italics. 

“The human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. (If “God” is too specific for you, think of this as our collective need to connect to and strive for something larger than ourselves. We are made to imagine, to create, to connect and to belong in ways much larger than our ability to understand. To say ‘yes’ to that is to express our yearning.)

Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. (Know yourself, know all of it, and use that knowledge to become a more humble and empathetic student of all that will transpire in your life. When you do that, you are a better person for others.) 

Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. (This is the call to learning, to an extension beyond the comfort of our place and point of view and out into a world that includes all of those we would rather not, on a given day, have to encounter. This is the only way that any semblance of ‘peace’, within ourselves and in the company of others can become real.)


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Earth Wall (detail), Andy Goldsworthy

 

Angle of Repose

angle of repose (n): the steepest angle at which a sloping surface formed of a particular loose material is stable.


I couldn’t resist lying down on Andy Goldworthy’s epic work, Wood Line, when we walked along it last Saturday. I am on vacation, a time of rest and relaxation, so I thought I would practice a little.

I wish I had stayed there longer. It was a perfect afternoon.

And since that afternoon I have thought that, had I done so, I might have just slipped away, the angle of my “loose material” overwhelming my repose.

Goldsworthy only creates that which will eventually return to the earth.

I think that’s what was happening to me, lying there even briefly. I felt pulled into myself, a jumble of loose material wanting to settle and be settled, wanting to reconnect to known and knowable things.

And yet, it was not to be. And I was up and walking again before I could slip away.

How necessarily, how painfully human.


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Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy – San Francisco

Why Stories Matter

“In the particular is contained the universal.”
{James Joyce}


We tell stories to create connection. We create connection because it builds trust. We build trust so that we can rely on one another. We rely on one another because we don’t – even on our most selfish, ego-bound days – want to go it alone.

Most of all, we tell stories because they remind us that our humanity is not only shared, but bound up together, inextricably linked for all time.


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Not So Fast

A couple of million years ago our predecessors, Homo erectus, survived through hunting and gathering.

About 350,000 years ago, give or take, Homo sapiens split off from Homo erectus and continued the hunter/gatherer model of subsistence, while slowly but surely evolving from a migratory to a stationary model. This marked, between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, the beginning of the agricultural age, when we learned how to plant, cultivate and harvest our own crops instead of surviving on what was freely available.

About 500 years ago, in the age of discovery, Homo sapiens began a surge of technological acceleration that led to globalization, the industrial revolution and the current information age.

Think about that for another moment:

  • 2 million years of community building through the shared responsibility of walking around to find food.
  • 10,000 years of community building based on growing our own food.
  • 500 years of global “community building” through technological advance.

Out of the last 2 million years we’ve been “technologists” for a mere 500, with the most significant advances happening in only the last 100 years.

For 2 million years everything about our existence was oriented to a means of survival that was based on community and connection. In other words, a shared purpose.

It is a hard truth to accept that we are physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally better equipped for hunting, gathering and farming than we are for automation and information.

Put another way, we are equipped for connection in service of meaning. That “meaning” was once the not-so-simple act of providing food and shelter. Today, it has more to do with solving the complex problems that plague our schools and workplaces as well as the institutions of government, religion, healthcare (to name but a few), the effective stewardship of which has become more crucial than ever.

To think that technology, still in its infancy, can supersede our genetic inheritance of connection as a means to even begin to address these issues is comically delusional.

But here we are, favoring disembodied and disconnected “solutions” for problems that only our best spiritual, emotional, mental and physical selves can possibly address.

However you define “this,” it can only be done together.


 

 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

The Seven of Pentacles
{Marge Piercy}

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.


With thanks to my dear friend, Alia, for sharing this poem with me.