Ready the Way

Shovel in the dirt the day after a storm.
Saturated clay soil shot through with palm roots; not easy going.
Finally, just enough amended space to receive five gallon trees and shrubs.
I spread the mulch, kneeling down to smooth it around the thin trunks,
damp and dirty jeans seasoned by direct contact.
An act of prayer as rain clouds recede.
A season of waiting begins 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.

Earning the Delight of Solitude

“Solitude is painful when one is young but delightful when one is more mature” — Albert Einstein


It feels good to have more in common with Dr. Einstein than I realized.

For years now I’ve been contemplating why it is that I am increasingly comfortable with and even possessive of my time alone.

For a long time, more or less between the ages of 18 and 35, I could fairly be described as an “insecure extrovert.” I didn’t want to be around other people, I needed it in an unhealthy way.

I didn’t know how to be alone and it made me restless, anxious and uncertain when I had to be. Since this was still the pre-Smartphone era I didn’t have an easy form of escapism to dull the pain. I just had to feel it. And I hated it.

Other people served as a distraction from the unresolved questions in my heart and mind and the difficult feelings that accompanied them. In many cases I used other people to escape those feelings leading to unhealthy and short-lived relationships. It was a pattern broken by marriage but not resolved by it. In fact, had I not sought help in reconciling my inner life I’m sure my marriage would have suffered great damage, becoming an even more painful casualty.

Doing the work on myself not only made me a better friend, colleague, husband and father but it gave me the peace of mind and heart to be better with and to myself. That made it easier to be with myself and allowed me to transform from an “insecure extrovert” to a thoughtful and even loving one.

This is possible now because the time I spend in solitude refreshes me and heals me. It equips me to be more positive with and more generous to those I care about, instead of requiring them to feed my insatiable insecurity.

Increased comfort with solitude as we age makes sense because our experience of life is simplified. We’ve found our place and way in the world and the comfort of that leads to a quiet sense of security within the known certainties of change.

In my personal experience that increased comfort is also the equity earned from an investment in reconciliation; binding old wounds and enlarging my heart.


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.

Questions

At any given point in our lives, each of us has a question that, in the words of the poet David Whyte, “has no right to go away.”

These are questions that beckon us to consider who we have been, who we are and who we want to be.

This kind of question is less a problem to be solved than an ally on whom to rely in the midst of transition. It is a marker for our discernment, be that active or passive. It patiently works in and through us as we stand on the threshold between this version of our experience and the one that is taking shape before us.

Neither easy nor simple, these questions shape us by simply being present and by us being present to them.

Some I have heard recently:

Who am I now that this change has taken place?
What’s next for me now that I have reached this milestone?
What I am prepared to learn, eager to learn?
How can I use my gifts in new ways?
How do I stay attentive to the more challenging disciplines of my life?
How do I open myself to the risk and joy of greater vulnerability?
How do I let go of what no longer serves me? What will take its place?
What is ‘enough’?

These questions are like an unexpected knock at the door. At first they startle us but then we realize that we knew they were coming and that all we need to do right now is open the door and let them in.

Properly welcomed, they will take care of the rest.


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.

Optimal Conditions for Growth

As leaders learn to see themselves as planters and cultivators, they will grow increasingly well attuned to the optimal conditions for growth:

Container: the supportive container for your team members is the thoughtfully defined scope of their work. It is appropriately sized to their role, experience and your expectations. It is adjusted based on progress, conditions, and the inevitable changes that occur.

Resources: soil, water and light for your team members are the information they require about the organization and its plans, how they fit into those plans and easy access to the tools they need to be successful. It is context and perspective about how what they do is connected to the goals and vision of the organization.

Attention: for your team members, regular care and feeding is checking in, asking what they need to be successful, providing recognition, assurance, feedback and necessary course corrections. Too much and they will drown. Too little and they will starve.

Applied with discipline and with care, it is nothing short of a miracle what can occur when living things are provided with conditions that respect and expect the emergence of their inherent potential.

Growth is never a given. It can never be assumed. But it is always possible when the conditions are right.

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Plumeria seedling at three weeks. Photo by Davis Berry (2018)


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.

Does it pass the test?

Do you remember what you felt as a child when you were going to do something special?

Maybe a visit to the park? The movies? A sleepover at a friend’s house? The last day of school? A road trip to see relatives…favorite cousins?

Do you remember that feeling of anticipation, energy, happiness? That surge of possibility? Those pangs of being in love with life?

Do you remember?

Does your work feel like that? Does it pass the “child about to go to the park” test?

Yes? On most days? That is outstanding! Congratulations!

No? On most days? That stinks. I’m sorry about that.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Now here’s the tough question, the awkward one: what are you going to do about it?


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.

At the bottom of the stairs

IMG_5757I had some time between appointments this morning so I decided to head to the beach for a stroll. I haven’t had my toes in the sand for a while and on this beautiful October morning it seemed the perfect way to use the time.

I arrived at a favorite spot and began the long walk down the steps only to notice that the ocean seemed a lot closer than usual. And a lot louder, too. It was, indeed, high tide. And there was no beach to speak of, at least in the walkable sense of the word.

I stayed on the steps for a few minutes, watching a swarm of surfers make the most of an impressive swell. And then I turned to go.

But something made me pause and turn again. And I went down another flight of steps. And then another one. There, one short flight from the bottom, I encountered surfers leaving the water, having simply paddled up to the base of the stairs. That’s when I noticed, right below me now, the sound the water makes as it recedes over the rocks and back to the ocean.

Here’s a snippet, if you are so inclined to watch and listen:


I didn’t find what I was looking for this morning. I found something unexpected, a natural reminder that I don’t get to decide the conditions. I only get to decide how curious to be about what I find.


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 we expect from work?

Gimbel’s manager: “Why are you smiling like that?”

Buddy-the-Elf: “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.”

Gimbel’s manager: “Make work your favorite. That’s your favorite, ok? Work is your new favorite.


I recently spoke with a student about her career plans. She’s feeling the tension between her growing sense of direction and purpose and her family’s expectations of transactional practicality. They want her to get a well-paying job. She wants that too, but in a way that allows her to do what she loves.

Her father’s never been happy with his work and he never expected to be. He believes that work is only meant to provide an income and that satisfaction in life comes from the quality of his personal experiences.

We are overwhelmed by dualistic thinking in our society. And when it comes to the workplace it’s sad…heartbreaking even…how willing so many people are to make this trade-off.

Trading time for money is a trap. It’s the legacy of the old corporate ethos that employees are commodities meant to be utilized and operationalized in the quest for even greater efficiency. In exchange for being treated like machines the corporation provided steady employment, medical benefits and a pension fund.

As that era of the long corporate experiment takes its final few breaths we are not left with a clean break from the past but rather a muddied set of interpretations about what the “new deal” should be, or if there should be one at all.

In the face of that unknown, the old pattern of thinking about what work means, what it should feel like and the role it should have in our lives remains largely intact. In the absence of a clearly defined “better,” the human condition is to stick with what we know.

While there are many companies working hard to set a new standard and many firms in existence to measure whether or not they really are, I remain dubious. In part, because the “best places to work” industry feels like the corporate replica of the much maligned college rankings. It’s a game of putting a shine on something that might not be so shiny, after all.

It’s the anecdotal evidence of people like my student’s father that make me take pause. If so many companies are creating meaningful, human centered workplaces, why are so many people still so disenchanted with their work? I think it’s because they expect to be burned, because our faith in institutions remains at a historic low, and that it’s much easier to say “it’s just a job” than to invest that job with any level of personal meaning that, if compromised, would be devastating. Could this explain why, after all of the studies of employee engagement and all of the dollars spent to increase it, the numbers just won’t budge?

I don’t know and I’m not sure we’ll ever know. What I do know is this: it’s possible that “smiling is my favorite” and “work is my favorite” can coexist. It’s possible that our workplaces can foster and facilitate a more human-centered experience while also achieving extraordinary results. It’s possible that we can find employment that feeds our bank account as well as our emotional reserves. It’s all possible.

Will we expect it? Will we work for it?


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.

 

 

Inspiration for your aspiration

David

Photo credit: Cassandra Workman

For in it may be seen most beautiful contours of legs, with attachments of limbs and slender outlines of flanks that are divine; nor has there ever been seen a pose so easy, or any grace to equal that in this work, or feet, hands and head so well in accord, one member with another, in harmony, design, and excellence of artistry”.
  – Giorgio Vasari

Chances are you are not the Michelangelo of your profession. Most of us are not.

And, if you’re like me, comparing yourself to a master like him is the perfect way to kill creativity and destroy self-esteem. Instead, let’s choose to be inspired by him and see what we can learn from his genius to apply to our own work.

Consider this: Michelangelo carved “David” from a piece of marble that had been ignored for more than 25 years due to a repeating flaw in the stone.

The master craftsman’s legacy is defined as much by what he imagined was possible as by his ability to bring it to life.

He worked within the constraints of imperfection and used that limitation as a means of shaping his own capability.

Maybe the door through which you will access your next breakthrough is labeled “flawed” or “passed over.” And maybe that will provide the right conditions to awaken your sense of what’s possible and how to discover it.

Let Michelangelo inspire you. And when you’re done with that, go ahead and inspire yourself.


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.

Anchors, away

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Captain Jim teaches his deckhand the finer points of “anchor management.”

My friend Jim captains the beautiful sailing vessel, Shamrock, whose home port is the Masonboro Inlet near Wilmington, North Carolina. (Shamrock rode out Hurricane Florence a few miles upriver and both she and her captain came through unscathed.)

Last year, happily serving as a “guinea pig” for a sailing-based leadership program that Jim has developed, I spent a few days onboard. During our time together our small crew took turns playing various roles and learning and applying new skills.

One day, we anchored in a harbor for lunch and conversation and when the time came to get underway again Jim asked me to raise the anchor. He cautioned me that it was heavy, that the chain was long and that it would take a considerable effort to get it back into place. I strode out to the bow of the ship, took hold of the chain and gave it a good pull. Nothing doing. I repositioned my grip, more firmly now, and steadied myself for an even stronger pull. No chance.

Seeing my struggle, Jim throttled Shamrock forward to relieve some tension from the chain but this only increased the urgency of the moment as I had to get it up before it came in contact with the hull of the ship. I gave it all I had, with legs, back and arms fully engaged and finally, up it came.

I was thinking today about how I sometimes allow my higher aspirations – assuming the best, seeing the positive, building on strengths – to be anchored by the comforts of cynicism, negativity, and even well-intentioned realism.

I was thinking today that those comfortable attitudes keep me securely – much too securely – in place, defenses against the strong winds and rough seas that sometimes accompany my vulnerability.

I was thinking that, no matter how hard I pull to free myself from those defenses, sometimes I need a hand in getting aligned and ready to fully apply myself to the challenge.

I was thinking that there’s a good reason it’s not called “anchoring” or “harboring” or “motoring.” Shamrock, like all sailing vessels and like all of us, is built to harness the wind and cut through the water.

We are made to be free of our moorings and navigated out to the edges of our potential.


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.

The Next Right Thing

“The purpose of life is not to maintain personal comfort; it’s to grow the soul…’The work’ does not need to be grand, only fitting. It is guided by asking ourselves over and over: What is the next right thing?”

~Christina BaldwinThe Seven Whispers: A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These

My daughter auditioned for a high school theater production yesterday. This cannot be classified as “typical” or “expected” behavior. As she grows up she leaves behind some old fears about risk, exposure and failure. It is her “next right thing.”

My son moved into his dorm today and starts class on Monday. This is his “next right thing.”

A friend says “yes” to a call to serve his church. His “next right thing.”

A client turns his belief system into concrete actions for his team. His “next right thing.”

A friend commits to a daily writing practice. She’s going strong a month and a half later. Her “next right thing.”

As for my next right thing…something fitting…I am trading, piece by small piece, “competent composure” for “human presence.” It sounds abstract but it’s concrete as can be. It means to feel what I’m feeling instead of lifting the shield.

It means that when I am terribly sad and reach for the phone seeking consolation via text message, I say instead, “I’m terribly sad and I am just going to feel it.” That feeling has something to teach me and my challenge is to learn.

My life is not a competition to be won through sheer force of will. It is not a race to be run at full sprint.

It is a quest to grow my soul by asking over and over again, “What is the next right thing?”


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.