I am thankful to walk among giants.
I am thankful for my teachers.
Only a cursory mental review yields too many to name, too many to count, even. The guides, mentors, instructors, influencers who have shaped my life, both head and heart.
Each made a mark at a key moment in my development that was some combination of generous, challenging, loving, corrective and insightful. Each made me stop and reconsider, often with deep resistance, but ultimately with appreciation.
Jim Shepard, my high school choral director, shaped my raw talent into something that I could offer as a soloist and, more importantly, as part of an ensemble. His kind encouragement prepared me for a very different kind of teacher, Paul Salamunovich, for whom I sang in college and of whom, at least in the early going, I was deeply afraid. Paul was demanding in a way I had not experienced it. He was also exceedingly generous because he lived in service of making the most beautiful music possible.
These early experiences as a team member were essential for someone whose learned inclination is to go it alone. They showed me what was possible when preparation, listening, attention, awareness, feedback and practice were fully lived. They gave me the tangible, concrete evidence I needed that any group of people, wholly committed to both the journey and the destination, can create something of soaring significance and meaning.
This learning in my teens and early twenties, was the ignition point for what would become my vocation. Jim and Paul co-planted the seeds that would bloom into not only a desire but a need to see the disciplines of choral music lived out in leadership and organizational life. I couldn’t have told you that then and I barely appreciate now how true a statement it is!
This is why the work of David Whyte found such fertile ground in me. I was prepared, having been shaped by music, to receive his application of poetry and philosophy to the corporate landscape in his book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. It so arrested me that I remember reading it and having my ‘Eureka!’ moment. “This is it,” I said to myself with the turn of every page. Like borrowing a warm winter coat when all you’ve got is a wind breaker, I took his teaching and made it my own. When I finally had the chance to meet him a few years later, I approached with caution as if trying not to break a spell. I handed over my copy of his book for him to sign and as I did, expressed as best I could just how much it had and was continuing to shape my work. It was a ‘coming full circle’ moment and his graciousness and appreciation lifted me even higher.
In the everyday work of inexpertly applying David’s ideas to my particular organizational experience, I was shaped by the guiding hands of a quartet of ‘advisors’ on whose intellectual and emotional generosity I feasted. Blake McHenry, Cal Harrah, Marlene Laping and Gary Heil kindly and earnestly pushed, pulled, cajoled, enlivened, and exasperated me. I can only imagine their own exasperation at once again encountering the face of my ignorance, struggling to catch-on and keep up. But they never showed it and were steadfastly kind and supportive. Whatever we accomplished in those years is directly attributed to the guiding hands of their influence.
All of this provided me with enough equity, eventually…slowly, to move on to the new experience of starting my own business. And is it continues to grow, taking on dimensions I did not imagine it could, I look back at just this short list of teachers – there are so many more – and offer my deepest appreciation for taking me by the hand and leading me to the deeper water.
I am thankful to stand among giants.
I am thankful for my teachers.
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.