#27 – Mature Idealism

This is #27 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another, just for fun.


The summer after my sophomore year of college I stayed on campus to work on the conferences and events team. We made beds, hauled supplies and were continuously “on call” for the many groups who used the university’s facilities between May and August.

One large group proved to be especially challenging for our team. Between their ever-increasing demands and our inability to meet them, frustration mounted quickly on both sides. As we approached the boiling point our boss called an emergency meeting to determine next steps. We were worn out, frustrated and short on ideas about how to meet this client’s demands.

The boss asked us for our ideas and I blurted out, “They just never should have come.”

I’ve seen some withering stares in my life but the one I received that day tops them all. Incredulous, he moved on to someone else, someone with something useful to say.

The danger of youthful idealism is that when things don’t work out as you believe they should, an immature response seems all there is to offer. It’s a place of victimization rather than agency, one of stagnation rather than creativity.

A mature idealism suggests that our highest aspirations are always tempered with the acceptance of reality, with respect for the vicissitudes of change. From that place we can responsibly say, “We knew this was possible. It’s not what we wanted, but we knew it was possible. What’s the best we can do in this moment?”

That perspective allows us to open up to what the moment has to teach us and gives us a chance to practice the resilience necessary to make the most of it.

As the saying goes, the only way to survive keeping your head in the clouds is to have your feet firmly planted on the ground.


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#17 – Root for other people’s success

This is #17 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one that I like a lot.


Have you felt the twinge, maybe even the jolt of resentment, jealousy, frustration, or anger when someone else, usually a close friend or family member, breaks through to a new level of success?

Have you slunk into the rut of envy, wondering why they got so “lucky” and you’re just as unlucky as ever? Have you ever asked yourself, “After all the work I’ve done, and all of the ways I’ve been there for them, who are they to get this exciting, career defining, life-altering opportunity??”

Some version of that, perhaps?

I know I have. And it tastes like poison dripping down the back of my throat.

The antidote to this toxin, I finally learned, is a two-part cocktail: (1) Cheer them on, root for them, offer support, vigorously and consistently. And not just them but anyone you encounter who catches a break, gets a new chance, or makes a big move. Be their biggest fan. (2) Get to work on what you care about. Put in the hours and the sacrifice to create the momentum that often, though not always, generates it’s own “luck.”

This is what my “lucky” friends have in common: they care about other’s success and they put in the work. The two feed off of one another, creating a virtuous cycle of positive energy and opportunity.

It’s too easy to be the victim, the unlucky one. That’s a hiding place and a crowded one at that. Far better to step into the light of day, a source of energy for others and a source of inspiration for yourself.


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#2 – Change Starts Within

Between now and March 22, I am happy to share “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


If I could only write about one thing it would be this: all meaningful, sustainable change starts from within.

For so many years I blamed my parents, my bosses, my siblings, my friends, my children, and even perfect strangers for my inability to get, to be, to have what I most desperately wanted.

I blamed them because I was not ready to accept responsibility for myself. I was not ready to accept the truth that I was the only one standing in the way of becoming the person I knew I could be, feeling the sense of security, composure and equanimity I knew I could feel.

I blamed them because that was much easier to do than to accept the fact that my old patterns of compensation were no longer enough, no longer capable of supporting my facade of competence and composure.

As many have said, “You are not responsible for what you received as a child but, as an adult you are 100% responsible for fixing it.”

When I finally did, the world opened up to me as it never had before. I found possibilities and experienced freedoms I never knew existed, because I was able to put to rest the old hurts that kept me from becoming myself.

All meaningful and sustainable starts from within.


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I Don’t Know

“The human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. ‘Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,’ it invariably says. Most people who think they are fully conscious or ‘smart’ and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.”

– Richard Rohr


If you want to encourage more compassion, start with “I don’t know.” Your vulnerability will signal to others that their vulnerability is ok, and normal. The other day, not knowing what to say to a sick friend, I somewhat shamefully Googled, “what to say to a sick friend.” It turns out that there are some very compassionate people in the world with more practice than me in being in those tough situations. My “I don’t know” led me to the help I needed.

If you want to establish a stronger community, start with “I don’t know.” You will become an invitation for others to share what they have to offer. The best leaders I know consistently and sincerely ask for their team’s ideas on how to address the endless supply of opportunities and challenges they face. This may sound obvious but the need to be the smartest person in the room drives many leaders to disconnection and isolation, the opposite of community.

If you want to discover more wisdom, start with “I don’t know.” A momentary pause leaves space for more thoughtful consideration, for a deeper learning to take place. Early in my work as a leadership coach, I felt self-conscious pressure to fill in any gaps in the conversation. I have learned to pause and allow brief silences to serve as catalysts for my client’s inherent wisdom to emerge.

It’s tough to remove the manhole cover. There are lots of days when it’s just too darn heavy. But I do have many encouraging examples of ways I have learned to let go of being right, to let go of being in control, and I am at my best when I let those examples help me to rise above myself.

I am reminded, again and again, that they all start with “I don’t know.”


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A Few Steps More

Just a few steps after I wanted to give up, to turn around and head back down the hill, the trail flattened out, an unexpected stretch of grace and ease that allowed me to keep going.

I really wanted to be done, to acquiesce to my limitations, and if not for this change in the landscape, that’s exactly what I would have done. But, right on cue, there it was, the breather I needed to support my flagging confidence.

I kept walking, in no way because of some special resolve, but because the circumstances allowed me to do so. This was a gift, plain and simple.

The lesson is not to grind it out at all cost. The lesson is to appreciate that sometimes, with a few extra steps, we may be lucky enough to discover that the world has turned just slightly in our favor.


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It’s in Your Pocket

In a recent talk, Tara Brach shared the following story:

“A master thief waited his whole life to acquire the most valuable diamond in the world. When he heard it had been purchased, he spent three days trying to steal the rare jewel. He failed.

Finally, the thief walked right up to the owner and asked, “How did you hide this precious jewel from me?”

To which the owner replied, ‘I placed it where I knew you would never look—in your own pocket.'”

That thing you’ve been looking for, that you’d be willing to steal, that thing you have convinced yourself is too far out of reach, have you checked your own pocket?

Chances are, it’s already there.


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The Lightest Touch

The Lightest Touch
{David Whyte}

Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests your whole body,
steeling you for revelation.

In the silence that follows
a great line
you can feel Lazarus
deep inside
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands and walk toward the light.

I have never felt stronger about my belief that the role of leaders is to create environments in which the fullest, messiest and most productive qualities of the human experience can be safely expressed and harnessed for the good of the organization. To do so takes courage and vulnerability and fortitude and I have dedicated my professional efforts to fulfilling that vision.

While my sense of purpose remains clear, the quality of my intensity in bringing it to fruition is changing. That intensity no longer takes the form of impassioned, even heroic efforts at conversion (“If only they would just listen to me, they would understand!!”).

I am discovering, as all great influencers (and poets) know, and perhaps as a byproduct of age, maturity and experience, that I can trust the power of a nudge, a word, a moment, a pause to bring my vision to life. I can trust, most of all, that consistency, far more than unbridled passion – a daily regular presence, a living each day as if it that future state is already here – is how the entrance to the cave is finally freed of its stone.


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The Agenda

The organizational agenda is to plan, execute, measure, quantify and produce.

The human agenda is to love and be loved, to be seen, heard and understood.

Organizations are populated, organized and led by humans.

How can this be?

We hide our deepest longing because it is abstract and seemingly, frighteningly unattainable.

We acquiesce to, and even abet an alternative agenda for the perceived sanctity of an equivocal certainty.

We work at cross purposes because integration seems beyond our reach.

If we reach out a little further, we just might grasp it. The trick is in believing it is there to be grasped.


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Which 15%?

I recently shared an idea with a group of 20 people.

Three of those people affirmed and encouraged it. That’s 15%.

Three of those people rejected it. That’s another 15%.

I did not receive a response from the other 13 people, the remaining 70%.

Now, the decision is mine: do I fixate on the 15% who rejected it or the 15% who encouraged it?

I am hardwired to do the former. We all are.

But no dream of creation ever came into being because it was hardwired. Sometimes all we’re given is the tiniest shred – far less than 15% – and our job is to take that sliver of possibility and breathe it into life.



DOUBT
{Kay Ryan}

A chick has just so much time
to chip its way out, just so much
egg energy to apply to the weakest spot
or whatever spot it started at.
It can’t afford doubt. Who can?
Doubt uses albumen
at twice the rate of work.
One backward look by any of us
can cost what it cost Orpheus.
Neither may you answer
the stranger’s knock;
you know it is the Person from Porlock
who eats dreams for dinner,
his napkin stained the most delicate colors.


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Under Cover of Darkness

I have an enduring memory from childhood that both frightens and comforts me.

At about 5 years old, I woke one morning to discover that I could not see. Disoriented and afraid, I stumbled to the hall and felt my way to my parents’ room where I cried out in fear of my blindness.

My mother calmed me down by applying a warm washcloth to my eyes. I had gone to bed congested and through the night the discharge of that congestion covered my eyes and sealed them shut.

Slowly, the warm cloth broke through the barrier and I was able to blink my way back to sight.

From peaceful sleep to the terror of my unexpected blindness to the relief at its swift dissipation I traveled a long road of revelation in a very short time.

It was not for my 5-year-old self to make sense of that revelation, of course, but it remains the life work of the person who types these words. To be blinded by the discharge of unseen forces working under cover of darkness is to awake to the terrifying reality of no control.

I am not afraid of the dark, but I am sometimes afraid that when waking into blindness I may not be able to summon the mother within myself, the part of me that knows where to find the washcloth, to soak it in warm water and to hold it to my eyes with persistence and care.

When trapped in darkness, will I acquiesce to fear, or will I bring myself back into conversation with the light?


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