From the Outside In

Real change begins at the edges, never at the center.

The center is dogmatic and certain. The edge is open and curious, the gateway to possibility.

To work from the outside in for your team, your work group or even your family, you might consider a series of small but potent actions in service of your highest aspirations:

  • Small gatherings of like-minded colleagues marked by a commitment to knowing the people for who they are, not just by what they do,
  • Brief but sincere check-ins on values and culture to lead off every meeting or meal,
  • Brief but sincere recognition offered at the end of every meeting or meal,
  • “Below the line” conversations with customers about who they are, what they care about and how we can help them achieve it,
  • Common sense support for healthy distance from work after hours, on weekends and on vacations,
  • Regular, rich, candid and mutual conversations about performance that make “performance reviews” irrelevant
  • And how many more can you think of?

These acts do not require permission, nor do they require authority. They require initiative.

These acts, over time, lead to a more open system, a system that is learning how to learn and therefore, learning how to change.


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At Ease

It is a difficult truth of the human condition that to feel at ease, to be filled with a sense of peace and calm, is to actually be on the edge of another thought entirely: how soon will this leave me? When will I feel “normal” again, anxious, uncertain, doubtful…easy prey for the vicissitudes of the voice in the head?

I won’t say that it doesn’t have to be this way. We have already lost that battle. Millions of years of inherited protectionism have guaranteed that.

Instead, I suggest that in those brief moments of relief, when our defenses have momentarily dropped away and we feel ourselves as whole and alive, we take a picture and put it in a scrapbook titled “possibility.”

That way, we have proof that we were there, an invitation to return again and again.


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On the Great Wall – June, 2002

Your Natural Best

It’s Wednesday. You’re busy. Your week is flying by and you don’t have time to read this post.

Pause.

Take a breath. (Count to 4 on the inhale and 4 again on the exhale. Repeat if you so desire)

D  e  e  p       b  r  e  a t  h.

Ok, then, just a quick thought experiment before you get back into the mix. Do you have just another moment for that? Here it is:

  1. Who are you at your “natural best”?
  2. Have you been at your natural best this week?
  3. If so, how did that feel?
  4. If not, what’s in the way?

You and me? We’re both much happier and we’re certainly more engaged when we’re operating at our natural best.

Something to consider, here on a busy Wednesday. Because, of course, none of this will ever work as well as it can if we’re all busy doing impressions.

Time for the real thing. Time for you and me to shine.


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HT to the ever thoughtful Andy Wong.

Declare What You Want

Yes, you have to do good work and build a reputation that precedes you.

Yes, you have to build a strong, vibrant network of people who want you to succeed and for whom you pay it forward.

Yes, you have to stay humble, keenly self-aware and dedicated to continuous learning.

All of those things, yes!

And I will never succeed at defining which matters most or which, among the many things I haven’t mentioned, should also be considered just as important but here’s the thing that stands out to me as central to deeply meaningful professional success:

You have to declare what you want.

You have to stop saying YES to everything in hopes that you catch something that satisfies your heart’s desire and you have to start saying NO to everything that most certainly does not.

This is especially hard early in a career. This is especially scary when launching your firm. “Sure, I can do that!” I’ve said more times than I care to admit, so often to discover that I had agreed to work that I simply did not want to do.

What if we say instead, “This is who I am at my best. This is how I can provide you with the most value while also bringing me the most satisfaction (and, as a pretty great bonus, the money that I am worth).”

I believe to the depths of both my heart and soul that when a person declares who they are and what they want, the universe gets in motion to help make that possible. I have no other way to explain what has come to me when I have had that conviction and what has eluded me when I have not.

I believe that other people are deeply attracted to that clarity and want to help it become, not only real, but also wildly successful. I believe that when we have the courage to say, “This is it!” we shouldn’t sheepishly prepare for nothing to happen but instead, strap ourselves in for the trip of a lifetime.

At the beginning of this year, I made two clear declarations. Relying on the power of those declarations to say no to some other commitments, I had space for some new, very specific things to show up. In only a couple of months, that’s exactly what happened.

I will share more detail in the coming weeks but the wheels are in motion for an exciting new professional endeavor largely because I cleared the way for it to find me.

It is frightening to claim what we want. How terrible to do so and risk the possibility of failure. On the other hand, in the face of that fear, how wonderful to do so and discover something greater than we had dared to dream.


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Saturday Morning

Sunday: “They preferred the name of the tree
to the taste of the apple.” (from Among the Intellectuals, Tony Hoagland)

Monday: Put out into deep water. Go to the depths that frighten you. Find there, in the shadowy darkness of the water, a revelation of who you are.

Tuesday: Whole people with whole lives are here today, including myself.

Wednesday: …a reminder of the ways I allow myself to stay stuck in “good enough” when just one small action would open the door to an even better way to live.

Thursday: “The concept of praxis . . . refers to our participation in the shaping of the world in which we live.” (Denis Edwards)

Friday: It is imperative that we acknowledge, finally, that the prison cell we have created is not locked, and it never was.


It is both a pleasure and gift to sit in the cool, quiet air of a September Saturday morning and reflect on the week that was.

I celebrated this week, taught this week, traveled this week, coached this week, consulted and conversed. I had full days of comings and goings and quieter days of reflection and planning.

The week began with the celebration of a wedding anniversary and ended with the celebration of the life of a friend’s mother.

This week I experienced the universal in the particular, the bumpy and uncertain ways each of us is navigating our experience, imperfectly attempting to reconcile ourselves to the unknown by holding on to what we know.

The current of life flows and flows and flows. It is always happening. It is always happening right now, another chance in an unknown number of chances to choose the deeper water or the safety of the shore.


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Stuck

When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t find the dog.

Rita usually sleeps in our room, upstairs, but will just as likely be found on the landing or, given the warmer summer evenings, downstairs by the couch.

This morning, she was in none of her usual spots, which is when I remembered something that happened earlier this summer.

My son, home from college, works an evening shift most nights and gets home after 11:00. Rita is not one to miss the chance to hang out with a non-sleeping person so she keeps him company until his much later bedtime, sometimes in the family room and sometimes in his bedroom. One night, forgetting she was in there, or perhaps thinking she wanted to stay, he shut his door and went to sleep. When I couldn’t find her the next morning I finally popped his door open to find her sitting there quietly, both hopeful and resigned.

Again, this morning, there she sat. And once released from the confines of Duncan’s bedroom, she headed straight outside for a much-needed breath of fresh air, among other needs.

Hopeful and resigned, she didn’t whine or bark. She made the best of it, sitting and waiting for her chance to get out, dependent on someone else to take action to change her circumstances.

I admire her patience, but it’s her resignation that makes me uncomfortable, a reminder of the ways I allow myself to stay stuck in “good enough” when just one small action would open the door to an even better way to live.


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Looking Back to Look Ahead

My writing this past week began with a reflection on my path – my long and uncertain path – to vocation.

With that groundwork laid on Labor Day, I moved into a variety of explorations of the inner life: the leader’s commitment to continuous learning; the freedom that that kind of deep personal awareness creates to liberate others to their full potential; the painful truth that we too easily and too often hide the very best of ourselves from the vulnerability of exposure; and the deep and very challenging necessity to confront our pain and transform it into possibility.

With the benefit of hindsight and reflection, I see now that this week has been an exploration of my most important value: freedom.

And by freedom I mean, the earned right to be my own authority, to be released from the tyranny of the unexamined life, one that operates reactively instead of purposefully. Freedom is the transformation of pain into possibility. Freedom is equanimity under stress, where the old triggers – though always present – will not be squeezed.

As I enter into a period of profound change in my professional life, while continuing to navigate the sacred responsibilities of marriage, fatherhood and friendship, it is no wonder that this theme is surfacing so strongly. It is a time for reflection because it is a time of change.

Writing is good therapy, a form of self-coaching, that helps me to understand where I am, while casting a faint but persistent light on the path ahead.

Thank you for reading.


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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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This is the World

Welcome to the world of reality — there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth — actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested… True heroism is you, alone, in a designated work space. True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care — with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.

David Foster WallaceThe Pale King


It’s Saturday morning. You’re resting up from a long week of work, getting the kids back to school (maybe getting yourself back to school). You might even be getting ready for work right now, to finish up what the work week was too short to contain, or maybe a second job so you can pay for school.

It’s Saturday morning and you’re feeling, in some way, the painful truth that David Foster Wallace articulates with such heartbreaking accuracy: no one is interested. No one, that is, but you.

And also everyone who loves you, those who are cheering for you, and those who want nothing less for you than all that you have earned and deserve.

The problem, the very serious problem, is that it just doesn’t feel that way so much of the time. The problem is that it is so, so hard to remember that, so much of the time.

Because of that, this Saturday morning, I simply want to say,

You’ve got this.

Keep going.


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