Labor Day

“Work isn’t to make money. You work to justify life”

Marc Chagall ~

When I was 17 years old I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I just didn’t know that it was possible to apply what came naturally to me to a formal educational and professional pursuit. And so began a 14 year journey to find what it was I was supposed to do with my life. When I finally landed on my vocation I was shocked to find that I had known the answer so many years before; that the answer had always been in me, just waiting to be unlocked and reintroduced to the world in a new and more profound way.

Of course, had I not wandered in the desert, searching in vain for the perfect fit; had I not been tested and molded by so many “roads to nowhere” I never would have found the road to somewhere. It was because of the work that was not my work that I was able to find the work that is.

James Michener wrote, and I’m paraphrasing heavily, that until we find our “thing” everything else we do along the way is creative. It’s all part of the process of learning who and what we are and how we are meant to use it in and for the world. Another sage, Joseph Campbell, said this:

“If the path ahead of you is clear, you are on someone else’s path.”

In other words, your path – the work of your life – is the one with all the obstacles. You have to fight for it, up and over, through and around; clawing, scraping, racing, pushing, pulling. This is how you know it is yours. And, in my experience, while all of that is happening you are deeply gratified by knowing that this fight is your fight, this labor is your labor; the work meant for you and you alone.

And what a joy it is to find that work. Truly, it is an exceptional thing to realize that this is my offering, my contribution. And with it comes a deep and significant responsibility to fully explore, fully realize and fully practice that which I am meant to do.

I am grateful on Labor Day to have found my work. More than that, I am grateful to have the resources, support, trust and well-being to fully express it.

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”

Albert Camus ~


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.

How to Practice / How to Lead

I asked my piano teacher to help me create a practice plan. I have noticed that each day when I sit at the piano, after a few warm-up exercises, I find myself uncertain how to make the most of the time. I bounce around from this exercise to that song, from this chord pattern to that one, inevitably feeling a mix of satisfaction for having spent the time and uncertainty as to its greater value to my education.

She practically beamed at the question. It was one of those “when the student is ready” moments that is just the right approach for this adult learner.

Her recommendation, regardless of how much time I have to practice, is to break it down as follows:

  • 25% – Warm-up
  • 50% – Focus on songs I have chosen to learn
  • 25% – Something new, something fun

As soon as she mapped this simple structure for me I relaxed with the knowledge that comes with a coherent game plan. She gave me a container, a way to structure myself that allows me to proceed with more purposeful and directed action.

On the drive home I concluded that this would also be an excellent approach for the daily practice of leading others.

What if, each day, you “warmed up” by briefly checking in with each member of the team? You could ask how the previous day finished up for them, how their evening was and how they’re feeling about the day ahead. Just a few moments with each person to greet them into this new day and remind them that you are there, also, attentive and engaged in their success.

What if you then focused on your  most important projects and initiatives? This includes your desk work, responding to requests, organizing information, planning for and attending the necessary (and unnecessary?) meetings in which you establish and sustain the forward motion of the work itself. What would or could be different about this core part of your day if you begin each day with the “warm up” described above?

What if then, no matter how busy the day becomes and how aggressively it threatens to get away from you, you took the time to do something fun and/or something new? This could include that reading you’ve been putting off, some quiet reflection about a difficult question or situation, a walk outside with a colleague, a celebration of a team member’s or project team’s accomplishment, a team building activity to break up the mid-afternoon slump, or simply a “warm down,” checking in with your team members at the close of the day.

Perhaps you’ve already done the math on this idea and found that in a 9 or 10 hour day that’s over four hours of “stuff” that is very much not you sitting at a desk and doing the work itself. And with that realization you may dismiss this out of hand as pie-in-the-sky thinking that is out of touch with your reality.

I would gently remind you of two things: first, your job as a leader is to help the team be successful which means that you have to be with them an awful lot. And second, you have more freedom in the design of your day than you may choose to admit. When you recommit to your team’s success and reclaim your calendar you will find as I am discovering with the piano, that a thoughtfully applied “practice” plan allows you to relax into the work in both unexpected and rewarding ways.


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.

The Hardest Thing

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
{Seneca}


Sharing difficult feedback. Public speaking. Expressing empathy. Learning to play a musical instrument. Becoming fluent in a foreign language.

These are all “hard” things. And I have to put “hard” in quotes because right now you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t think ___________ is that hard?”

Maybe you play an instrument really well or love giving talks or have developed solid skills for giving tough feedback. You probably don’t see those things as hard anymore. You appreciate the work it took to get to your current level of confidence but “hard” no longer means what it once did.

My guess is that before you became competent you told yourself a story about just how hard it would be to get there. And that story – your imagination – depending on how richly it was detailed and how expertly it was crafted, stood in the way of your getting started.

I’m a beginner at the piano. I have not yet had a lesson (that’s coming soon) so I am using my daughter’s early lesson books for exercises to train my fingers and some “easy” songs to aid my learning. I have been at it for one month. In that short time my attitude has shifted from a lifelong belief that “piano is hard” (and therefore not for me) to a present sense of very pleasing satisfaction that I can already do things that I never imagined being able to do.

Until I decided to sit down at the piano for 15 minutes a day, I was living under the shadow of “hard” as an imaginative device to prevent me from starting. I now experience “hard” as an aspirational device to feed my curiosity and help me add one small brick at a time.

The piano is, of course, an objectively hard instrument to master, and mastery is the domain of a very few. But mastery isn’t my goal. Learning to play some songs I love is my goal. Connecting with my kids through music is my goal. Filling the house with Christmas carols is my goal. After six weeks of daily practice, those things no longer seem hard. They seem possible, exciting and a lot of fun.

What changed? I suppose I got old enough and just a little bit wise enough to realize it was time to stop suffering in my imagination and time to start succeeding in my reality.


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.

On whose example do you model your leadership?

A writer I admire said that the way to find one’s own voice as a writer is to imitate other writers. He said that by imitating them you allow yourself to write more freely because you have a model to follow rather than feeling the pressure to be an original voice. Because, of course, you can’t be those other writers but can only do a faint and probably poor imitation, what will begin to emerge is a version of the style you admire which you can practice and refine over time into one that is your own.

I had a similar discussion once with a mentor of mine who said in a discussion of leadership principles that “everything is derivative”; that we are always interpreting and reinterpreting the work, ideas and perspectives of the teachers who have come before us, those we have chosen to turn to as models for how to live, work and lead.

Again there is freedom is this thinking because it grants permission to build on the work of others – to stand on the shoulders of giants – instead of having to start out as giants ourselves.

If modeling is the path to leadership mastery, if it is the means by which you can ultimately claim your leadership “voice,” then there is one question you must answer as capably and responsibly as you can: on whose example do you model your leadership?


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.