Playful Responsibility

I see my life as the gradual integration of two separate selves. There’s the playful, joking, attention-seeking, naive, risk-taking, laughing, entertaining youngest of six children. And there’s the serious, controlling, responsible, (hyper)sensitive, brooding, melancholic man who always seems like the oldest guy in the room.

Neither of those is a person I’d like to take a long road trip with. The combination, however, has some enduring appeal.

I think that each of us intuits a “native” self that is in a lifelong conversation with our adaptive self. Our job is to tune into that ongoing conversation, like the way we once could lift the handset of a landline and secretly listen in, only this time we make our presence known.

That conversation is the work of my life, and maybe the best work any of us can do. It is to become a whole person, to consciously and continuously uncover and piece together an integrated self.

I don’t imagine there’s an ultimate destination or place of arrival. Rather, there seems to be a maturation, through attentive stewardship, into a greater sense of ease; a belonging to myself in a way that fits like a favorite jacket, inspiring both comfort and confidence.

I see myself practicing “playful responsibility” in my work and at home, and I like what happens when I do. I also see myself revert to one or the other of my separate selves and it’s a splash of cold water to the face when I recognize the regression.

It is and always will be an imperfect conversation. And it goes on.


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.

How to Win the Game

I like Scrabble because its an excellent model for a fulfilling life.

The board has both clear boundaries and directions but remains open to whatever you can create with the resources you have.

Those resources are randomized and limited and your ability to make something valuable out of them depends on two critically important variables:

First, your own creative and experiential know-how. You have to use your head.

Second, how you apply that know-how in a connected and generative way. You have to use your heart. 

In Scrabble as in life, the greatest satisfaction comes from combining resources to create something otherwise unattainable.

Yes, it’s competitive. And, healthy, positive competition among trusted colleagues challenges us to rise to our potential, to test our limits and to grow. In other words, it can give us safe and meaningful ways to bring head and heart together in service of something larger than ourselves.

That is and always will be a winning combination.

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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.

Becoming a Person

I don’t want to start a philosophical or theological debate about this so let me offer a caveat at the outset: when I distinguish between a human being and a person I am distinguishing between the common accident of birth all Homo sapiens share and how some turn that accident into an intentional, conscious life. In my experience there is a vast difference between the two.

In my case, I don’t think that I became a person until I was 35 years old, because up until that age, even though I had done so many wonderful, beautiful things and faced so many deeply challenging circumstances, I had not honestly confronted my lack of consciousness about my self…my person.

You could argue that what I’m getting at here is more a question of maturity than personhood but I don’t find that word satisfying since it implies that if you live long enough you’ll get to self-awareness; again, the accident argument.

To become a person then, requires a conscious choice to venture out and away from the self in order to fully and wholly return to it. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey, which begins:

“One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –“

That bad advice?

“Don’t do it! Don’t go! Stay here in the pleasantly familiar, entirely predictable pattern of a semi-conscious life. Don’t realize how you have allowed your circumstances to rob you of your freedom to choose how you will live.”

And (even more desperately now),

“Don’t remind me of my own fear, my own shame, my own self-satisfied stuckness by confronting your own!”

To become a person is to leave behind the relationships that hold you down – including the one with yourself – and take on the ones that build you up.

What is it, though, that gets you to the place where “you knew what you had to do and began.”?

For some, it’s tragedy; surviving an illness or a disaster, or grieving someone who did not.

For some, it’s the advent of anger that persists in unexpected, irrational ways. This can emerge in a new marriage or at the arrival of children, deep tears in the fabric of the familiar.

For others, it’s meeting a person of considerable influence who will not be bound by our rules of engagement, who hits us right between the eyes with the feedback we always knew was true but could never willingly hear.

And for others, it’s the revelation of childhood trauma, the awareness that their vulnerability was victimized by someone who knew better but still succumbed to their worst inclinations.

Whatever the source, our inner dynamics always find a way to emerge and provide us with a choice: will I remain constructed in this way (human) or will I set out to reconstruct myself into a person, by stepping into “…a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.” (again, The Journey.)

There is no path to becoming a person that is not littered with risk, real or imagined, which is why many people choose not to walk towards transformation.

Once again, I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian. Rather, I am a student of the human experience, as practiced through executive coaching and organizational consulting. My domain of interest and influence is organizational life and how it can be made richer, more positive and more productive for every human, indeed, for every person who participates in it.

This is, then, a request to all leaders to take the steps necessary to become a person. Until you do, your human leadership is a roadblock to the positive, productive richness that your people both deserve and crave. For yourself, for them, please walk out into that wild night, leaving the voices behind and “save the only life you can save.”

Here’s the poem in full:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

– Mary Oliver


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.

Timing is Everything

Not Here

There’s courage involved if you want
to become truth.  There is a broken-

open place in a lover.  Where are
those qualities of bravery and sharp

compassion in this group?  What’s the
use of old and frozen thought?  I want

a howling hurt.  This is not a treasury
where gold is stored; this is for copper.

We alchemists look for talent that
can heat up and change.  Lukewarm

won’t do. Halfhearted holding back,
well-enough getting by?  Not here.

– From Soul of Rumiby Coleman Barks


The adamancy of this poem is startling, when I stop to think about it. Rumi gives no quarter. “It’s all or nothing,” he seems to say. And a huge part of me agrees with him, trained as I’ve been in, and inclined as I am, to the practice of disclosure for the purpose of developing greater intimacy and deeper connections.

But, not so fast.

Not so fast for everyone, that is.

My urgency to “go deep” is not always aligned with your willingness to enter those waters. And there are times when I catch myself in a judgmental state for your lack of willingness to meet me there. This is the truth as I know how to tell it.

It is not a stretch to say that where my family is expressive, my in-laws are not. I am not suggesting that we ritually descend to the absolute depths at every possible opportunity, but we are practiced at getting to the heart of things in a very emotional way, productively or otherwise. It’s who we are and what we do.

My in-laws are the other sort. Lots of fun, lots of laughter, but a rather certain sort of even keel prevents the kind of emotional verisimilitude that pervades so many of my family’s gatherings.

Until this past weekend, that is.

In the very best way and in a manner, thanks to my wife’s genius, perfectly appropriate to her brood, there was an outpouring of expression on the occasion of her father’s 90th birthday.

We are blessed that Bob, at 90, is a healthy and happy man. This is quite a gift, for him and for us. Appropriate to that good fortune, Theresa invited all of those assembled (and many from afar) to write a letter to him of both congratulations and appreciation. Documents in hand, and immediately following a glorious prime rib dinner just two days removed from the Thanksgiving feast (I married well!) we sat around the dinner table and read to Bob our expressions of love.

The tears flowed. Generously, genuinely they flowed. From sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and this son-in-law, they flowed freely and well. It was a beautiful and sacred space made possible by Theresa’s initiative and the willing participation of the assembled clan.

My point is only this: we dare not assume what is present in the hearts of those near us. We dare not assume their willingness or ability to express it. What we can only assume is that if we, if I, am patient and thoughtful and lovingly present, that the right amount of expression, in the right way, and in the right time will find its way to the surface and become a blessing that will never be forgotten.


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.

A Midweek Thought Experiment

Imagine that it’s five years ago. If you could meet yourself on October 10, 2013 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) express more, more often.

Imagine it’s five years from now. What advice can you give yourself today that will help you wake up on October 10, 2023 satisfied that you lived the last five years with intention?

My advice to my future self is the same: (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to separate my present and future selves. It’s a tough thing to be objective about. Or maybe it’s that, having landed on these themes, I recognize that the work 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?


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.

What do you wish you had learned in school?

I was a fortunate college student. I had parents who didn’t care what I studied, maybe because I was set on Political Science and seemed to have myself sorted out, or perhaps because I am the youngest of six kids and concern over the choice of a college major was dwarfed by the real challenges of adult living.

Whatever the case, “Poli Sci” didn’t last long and I ended up in something even less marketable, “Humanities.” I can’t imagine a degree program any more broadly defined or open to my interpretation and application. It was a dream come true for someone who has an enormous appetite for both variety and learning.

I took language courses: Latin (to stretch the vocab) and Russian (cause I was going to help Ronald Reagan take down the Soviet Union. I was late to that party though my roommates and I did manage a toast to the fall of the Berlin Wall with some St. Pauli Girl).

I took history, literature, philosophy, theology, cinema, debate, music theory, a few poli sci classes for good measure and my favorite of all, art history. Art history was this magical, even combustible combination of visual beauty, historical/political intrigue, and biographical complexity. I ate it up.

For all of that diversity of subjects, teachers and disciplines, it seems a little crazy that I could have a “What I wish I had learned” list but I do. So here goes…

I wish I had studied psychology and human behavior. And that’s not just because of my current professional life. It’s because of this human being thing I keep running into every day.

I wish I had learned to do less, but better. I thought involvement was the key to a happy college experience but I overdid it, burned myself out and suffered academically. Which leads to…

I wish I had learned to value time with my professors and with the really smart students. I didn’t have to go far. I had a number of friends who were expert at balancing the work and the fun. I was capable but intimidated, so I just didn’t ask.

And I wish I had learned to trust the process, that “success” looks different for different people. I was hard on myself from about 22 years old all the way up to (almost exactly) my 35th birthday. Because I just couldn’t figure it out! And all those smart students I was busily avoiding seemed to be certain of their paths: medical school, law school, Peace Corps, grad school…look at ’em go!

I needed more time…for the yeast to activate, or the top to brown, or some other awkward baking metaphor. But I didn’t know it could…or even that it usually did work that way.

No regrets, truly. But I wouldn’t mind having some of that energy back. The energy I spent on worrying, doubting, kvetching…and the unkind way I “shared” some of those feelings with people who were in my corner and on my side.

Over time, probably right on time, I learned those lessons. And maybe, had I had them earlier, they would have been wasted on my younger self, as so much mature wisdom is (says the father of a college freshman!).

I keep learning and I hope you do too. And maybe the point of the exercise is to simply acknowledge that we’re never quite done; that “What do you wish you had learned in school?” can be better asked as “What do you want to learn today?”


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.

 

It’s four letters and it starts with “L”

I attended a wedding on Monday afternoon.

Monday afternoon is not a typical “wedding day.” Monday afternoon is the time when most of us are at work, the time when we have shaken off the weekend and placed our noses firmly, if not reluctantly back to the grindstone. But there we were, on a Monday afternoon, in a church, at a wedding.

And it was peaceful and intimate. It was sincere and lovely. In fact, it was the expression and experience of love itself.

In that church on Monday afternoon, feeling displaced by the difference between a “typical” Monday and this particular Monday I started to wonder why we work so hard to separate feelings and experiences that are more powerful when joined together.

Why do we work so hard to separate love and work? Our workplaces can and often do facilitate deep and extraordinary relationships between people gathered together in common cause. These are relationships of trust and dependence, of mutual respect and concern, of help and collaboration. We should be celebrating this for what it is (LOVE) rather than euphemistically calling it “teamwork” or “partnership” or, and it pains me to write it, “synergy.”

But that’s what we do because it’s “appropriate” and “conventional” and allows us to forego the hard work of expanding our definition of “love” beyond our present and limited understanding. (The Ancient Greek’s had six words for love – it’s a good place to start!)

And as I continued my reflection I realized that we have begun to wrestle with this question in contemporary terms. I remembered Tim Sander’s 2003 book, Love is the Killer App. I remembered Herb Kelleher, the visionary founder of Southwest Airlines saying, “A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear.” And I remembered this piece from Virgin.com, Does love have a place in business?

And I thought, there should be more Monday weddings! And Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday weddings as well. We need more reminders that a workplace – and a church – that is filled with love is vibrant, alive and full of possibility. And one that is not is just another building.


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.

Change One Word

Think about your job, your commitments, your responsibilities.

Have all of that in mind? Now, say to yourself: “I have to do this.”

Ok. How does that feel?

Keep thinking about all of those things you do every day.

Let’s replace one word and try it again. Say to yourself, “I get to do this.”

What do you think? What’s the difference for you?

Please comment below and let me know.

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.