Leap and a Net Will Appear

If you feel “ready,” you’ve waited too long.

That’s my takeaway from volume one of Shelby Foote’s three-part narrative of the Civil War.

It’s oversimplified, to be sure, but the biggest difference I can see between the Union forces in Virginia, commanded by McClellan, Halleck, Pope et al, and the Confederate forces under Lee in the first 18 months of the war is that the Union refused to act until the conditions were “just right” and the Confederates acted when opportunity presented itself.

If you subscribe to the sentiment, “fortune favors the bold” you can understand why this approach kept the Confederacy in the driver’s seat in those early months of the war.

It’s quite discouraging to read about the number of opportunities the Union squandered that would have brought the conflict to an early and victorious end. Even knowing how things turned out I find myself in the thrall of Lincoln’s despair, shaking my head that the war ever ends up moving in the right direction, much less victoriously for the north.

What then of our own resistance to act until the time is just right? How many times have you said some version of, “As soon as THIS happens…” or “If I just had more of THIS or THAT I would be willing to get started?”

And what hangs in the balance for you? What idea or purpose or effort will be delayed or even sacrificed to the dustbin of history if you should continue to forestall the action you want to take, not in spite of but right alongside the reasons not to make a single move?

There will always, always be an excuse to wait. (“Stonewall” Jackson regularly led his troops into battle in the rain, while his Union counterparts regularly refused to do so!) Disaster, catastrophe and total ruin notwithstanding – all terrific inventions of our fertile imaginations on most occasions – you are better to act with enough  information, enough opportunity, and enough support.

If you feel “ready,” you’ve already waited too long.


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What to Remember in the Middle of Change

Given that we’re always “in the middle of change,” a better title for this post might be simply, “What to Remember.”

Here are three rules of thumb to keep in mind for when you find yourself feeling pressed, pressured, confined or constricted by the persistent discomfort of change:

Lighten up. If you’re like me, in the middle of change you might just be holding on too tightly; to the past, to the known, to your need for control. You might also notice, should you glance at yourself in the mirror, that your face is full of intensity and effort, that you are actually wearing the strain of your discomfort rather than a countenance of ease and openness. Exercise more. Get some more sleep. Consciously breathe more. Laugh at yourself, at least a little. All of this helps.

Make friends. Do the opposite of your instinct, which is to close yourself off and go it alone. You do not have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. (I do not have bootstraps and I doubt you do either.) That’s a bunch of bogus mythology intended to shore up the American fantasy of itself as “self made” rather than the less mythically appealing truth that we best deal with change by working together. (And by the way, exercise, sleeping, breathing, laughing…all better with friends.)

Stay curious. Learning is the only way. Open, attentive and ready to be surprised by the new is a radically vulnerable posture to take and one that is ultimately powerful. If only from a competitive perspective, whoever learns faster, grows faster. Beyond competition, it’s exhilarating to discover and actually explore new pathways and that very openness, right in the middle of change, will keep you light on your feet and ready to move.


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.

What You Already Know

My coaching clients, regularly and repeatedly, react with the same kind of understated agreement when I share the feedback I have gathered from their peers and colleagues.

What they learn is no surprise. They are, in fact, underwhelmed by the process because it confirms what they already know.

The privilege of my work is to provide them that information in a way they haven’t heard it and within a process that allows us to take action on the feedback.

What do you already know? Who will help you do something 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.