#25 – Take Responsibility for Your Learning

This is #25 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another good one.

Jia Jang is inspiring. He feared rejection so much that he decided to pursue it directly with the hope that he would learn to respond to it more positively and more productively.

He recounts his “100 Day Rejection Challenge” in a self-effacing, funny and sincere TED Talk. It’s hard not to smile along – to root for him – as he teaches us an extraordinary lesson.

In the end I felt like I was rooting for myself; to keep learning new things, to keep seeking new challenges, to keep opening my heart to new people and experiences. All of this takes risk and, as Jia so thoughtfully proposes, all of it leads to benefits far too richly saturated for the fearful mind to anticipate or articulate.

{You can also hear Jia talk about his experience on this terrific episode of the TED Radio Hour}

red apple

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#2 – Change Starts Within

Between now and March 22, I am happy to share “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”

If I could only write about one thing it would be this: all meaningful, sustainable change starts from within.

For so many years I blamed my parents, my bosses, my siblings, my friends, my children, and even perfect strangers for my inability to get, to be, to have what I most desperately wanted.

I blamed them because I was not ready to accept responsibility for myself. I was not ready to accept the truth that I was the only one standing in the way of becoming the person I knew I could be, feeling the sense of security, composure and equanimity I knew I could feel.

I blamed them because that was much easier to do than to accept the fact that my old patterns of compensation were no longer enough, no longer capable of supporting my facade of competence and composure.

As many have said, “You are not responsible for what you received as a child but, as an adult you are 100% responsible for fixing it.”

When I finally did, the world opened up to me as it never had before. I found possibilities and experienced freedoms I never knew existed, because I was able to put to rest the old hurts that kept me from becoming myself.

All meaningful and sustainable starts from within.

green mountains and flowing river

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When It Got Interesting

A brief summary of my 27-year career as told in single words and brief phrases:








Started a company.

Starting a company.

You know when it got interesting? Do you know when it stopped being a list of jobs and started being a career? Yes, of course you do. The day that I got fired was the wake-up call that changed everything. That day, motivated by my responsibility to provide for a young family and in spite of my lack of self-awareness, I took responsibility for my career for the first time.

I had a 7-week severance and I landed a new job in six. (Thank you, Cathy Earley!) And it wasn’t just a job; it was the first role that made it clear that there was a path for my interests and abilities. Getting fired and then hired into that role is why I could eventually start my own company. It’s why I am now ready to help get another new venture off the ground.

Remember Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air?

“Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it.”

A terrible cliche. A pat line, woefully inadequate to ease the pain of a person just fired from a job.

He also happened to be right.

white airliner wing on top of sea clouds

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That’s Not My Job


Imagine that your job is to paint the stripes down the middle of the road. And not just any stripes, but the double yellow ones that create a powerful visual safety barrier on a well-traveled two-lane road.

Imagine that you’ve reached the line that demarcates city from county and you are told to stop painting the stripes because “That’s as far as we go.”

Imagine that you look up and see that you’ve only got another 150 yards to the bottom of the hill.

Imagine how it must feel to not finish a job that in just a few more minutes of thoughtful effort would be so easily completed.

Do you finish your workday with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment? Do you go home and announce with pride, “I striped some of the road today! I made some of the road safer for the residents of that neighborhood!”

“What do you mean ‘some’?” comes the curious reply.

“Oh, well, we’re only responsible for striping the part of the road that is maintained by the county.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Then why do you do it?”

“Because the rest of the road is someone else’s responsibility.”

Look of disbelief.

Shrug of shoulders.


When we allow the red-tape of bureaucracy – be it in our government institutions or our private enterprises – to replace common sense, we also replace the qualities of autonomy and agency that make work the most noble human enterprise.

To be told that “almost” is “good enough” is an insult to the human spirit.


An Admonition

You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.

{Mary Oliver}

It is difficult, if not impossible to imagine feeling whimsical without also having a deep reservoir of personal responsibility.

Whimsy feels like freedom. A whimsical person is less interested in the judgments and criticisms of others and more concerned with seizing the present moment and making out of it what she can. That would, most often, mean to take what is and happily question, examine and play with the possibility of what it might become.

Personal responsibility is the best kind of maturity. It is to be the author of one’s own life. It does not require the validation of others, especially authority figures, though it gladly welcomes their support and acknowledgment of positive contributions made. Mostly it welcomes their willing efforts to knock down the roadblocks that prevent the exploration of new frontiers.

So many modern workplaces are starving from a lack of whimsy and responsibility, or in the language of business, “creativity” and “ownership.”

A whimsical person, a person who is responsible to him or herself through their commitment to self-authorship (see Do Your Work) does not choose to belong to an environment in which he or she will be led by those who do not demonstrate that same kind of commitment.

The whimsical, self-authoring employee sniffs out paternalism and the narcissistic impulses that feed its compulsion for hierarchy, rigidity and control. Like so many wild animals sensing and fleeing a coming storm, they are long gone before being lashed by what can be avoided.

The modern organization, then, has to reconcile itself to the truth that whimsy (creativity) and responsibility (ownership) will only exist if its leaders model and cultivate them in the most authentic manner possible. Leaders must be prepared for and promoted into positions of greater influence based on personal demonstrations of creative thought and the integrity of self-authorship.

The degree to which this is true of the leader is the degree to which it is possible for the team.



Because of You

If you’re a leader, everything you do and everything you say is being watched, recorded, memorized and replicated.

That may not be the most comforting image but it is the most accurate one.

Whatever you are seeing from your team; the energy, the focus, the camaraderie, the expense of discretionary effort…that’s because of you.

Whatever you are seeing from your team; the frustration, the disconnection, the avoidance…that’s because of you.

You have an extraordinary opportunity as a leader of a team. You get to create an environment that helps people bring the best of themselves to work every day.

What an incredible honor. What an awesome responsibility.

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.

Playful Responsibility

I see my life as the gradual integration of two separate selves. There’s the playful, joking, attention-seeking, naive, risk-taking, laughing, entertaining youngest of six children. And there’s the serious, controlling, responsible, (hyper)sensitive, brooding, melancholic man who always seems like the oldest guy in the room.

Neither of those is a person I’d like to take a long road trip with. The combination, however, has some enduring appeal.

I think that each of us intuits a “native” self that is in a lifelong conversation with our adaptive self. Our job is to tune into that ongoing conversation, like the way we once could lift the handset of a landline and secretly listen in, only this time we make our presence known.

That conversation is the work of my life, and maybe the best work any of us can do. It is to become a whole person, to consciously and continuously uncover and piece together an integrated self.

I don’t imagine there’s an ultimate destination or place of arrival. Rather, there seems to be a maturation, through attentive stewardship, into a greater sense of ease; a belonging to myself in a way that fits like a favorite jacket, inspiring both comfort and confidence.

I see myself practicing “playful responsibility” in my work and at home, and I like what happens when I do. I also see myself revert to one or the other of my separate selves and it’s a splash of cold water to the face when I recognize the regression.

It is and always will be an imperfect conversation. And it goes on.

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.


Small Voice / Big Voice

Small voice: There’s not enough.
Big voice: There’s plenty, and there’s more on the way.

Small voice: I’m pretty sure they owe me something.
Big voice: What can I do for them?

Small voice: I’m keeping score.
Big voice: I learn something new every time I play this game.

Small voice: I deserve better.
Big voice: I will keep working hard. The right things will come my way.

Small voice: Nobody cares.
Big voice: Somebody cares. I’m going to find them.

Small voice: I wasted my time.
Big voice: I made a choice.

Small voice: It has to be perfect.
Big voice: It has to be the very best that I can do.

Small voice: I’ll do it myself.
Big voice: Do you want to learn this?

Small voice: I’m embarrassed that I can’t do this.
Big voice: Will you please help me?

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.

Taking Responsibility

“We can’t trust ourselves to be perfect; we can’t trust ourselves to be the best at anything; we can’t trust ourselves to succeed; we can’t trust ourselves to never cause harm or hurt. What we can trust is our disciplined effort to get to know ourselves. We can learn to know our triggers, our habitual reactions, our strengths and weaknesses. All of this is possible – and essential – if we are to lead sanely in the midst of the falling-apart craziness.”

– Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be

From my lower self I ask: What’s wrong with them? When are they going to figure it out? When are they finally going to change?

From my higher self I ask: What’s going on with me? What is it about me that is leading me to respond this way? What shift can I make within to see, understand, comprehend, react to or confront this situation more effectively?

I commit to giving grace and forgiveness to the inevitability of my lower self.

I commit to giving fuel, encouragement and disciplined effort to sustain my higher self.

Always aim higher.

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.



Leadership and Fatherhood

Leadership and fatherhood: taking complete responsibility for teaching and supporting others to take complete responsibility; for themselves, for the welfare of others and for any cause worth fighting for.

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.