The Blessing is Outside Your Comfort Zone

The title of this post is taken from an OnBeing interview with Ashley Hicks, co-founder of Black Girls RUN!. Buying new running shoes for her second marathon she tells the salesman that she is nervous and concerned about the upcoming race. In response he says, “Yeah, the best thing for you to remember is that the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.”

She continues, “Whenever I’m challenging myself to something new, I keep saying that. The blessing really is outside of your comfort zone. If you stay and do what you’re comfortable with you’ll never experience something new and incredible.”

When I agreed to teach undergraduate business school students last fall I found myself on a new edge, one that had me both frightened and energized. I have given hundreds of talks and facilitated at least as many classes, the longest of which was three days long. A semester’s worth of preparation and impact with something as important as a grade attached to it was brand new territory and I was concerned that I had the ability to sustain it. That concern was baseless. It came from my lizard brain and threatened to sabotage an experience that I knew could be extraordinary.

And it was, because the blessing is outside my comfort zone.

Earlier this summer, I agreed to teach a new class for the same college this fall semester. My lizard brain’s reaction was swift and startling. Despite two consecutive semesters of successful classroom experiences my default reaction was to resist and doubt myself in the face of the unknown.

The edge of possibility, the threshold of growth and blessing, is always attended by a voice of doubt. If it isn’t then the edge is not an edge in the first place! It is not my job to conquer it, to arrive at some plateau of uber-confidence where I never feel the twinge of fear. My good work is to feel its presence and use it to remind me that on the other side of that feeling is the version of myself I most aspire to be.

Fear has no chance in the face of a blessing.

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.

How to Build Capability Before You Need It 

In Seth Godin’s blog today he writes:

“Often, organizations don’t realize that they’re falling down the abyss until extraordinary efforts are required to make a difference. But it’s always easier to fix it today than it will be tomorrow.”

Last year I wrote about this by sharing 10 recommendations for how to build capability before you need it. If ever there was “evergreen” subject matter, this is it.

Thanks for joining me on a trip into the archives!

Lead well.

Source: How to Build Capability Before You Need It | RULE13 Learning

Why I Am Optimistic About Leadership and Change

Another way I might have titled this post: “Why a recent concentration of articles and videos about the higher possibilities of the human experience represents a welcome increase in the quality of the conversation about inevitable change.”

The following material landed in my inbox within the last seven days. Given my professional interests and tendency to oversubscribe it’s not all that surprising that I would receive these things. What has my attention this week, however, is that the frequency and quality of the material is increasingly focused on reconnecting to the basic considerations of empathy, contribution, attention and the leadership responsibility to change ourselves before asking anyone else to change.

A bigger conversation is emerging. Let’s help to move it along.

From Harvard Business Review: The Internet is Finally Forcing Management to Care About People

From Insead Knowledge: Restoring Humanity to Leadership

From Tony Robbins: The Leader as Practical Psychologist (watch the 2-minute video)

From Seth Godin: Why Do You Do It This Way?

From David Foster Wallace: This is Water

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.

The Bigger Self

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet 

“It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.” – Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander from The Art of Possibility

Once in a while it helps to remember that it’s all invented. It’s easy to lose perspective, to get wrapped around the axle of circumstances and conditions that are completely made up in the first place. (Think of things like grades or performance reviews being valued OVER learning and contribution and you’ll be in the ballpark.)

There are two things I easily forget and I bet you do, too:

1) I’m a great storyteller. Human beings are gifted with this lightning fast limbic brain that puts emotion before reason. When emotion leads the way, justified by the insistent survival mechanisms of the brain stem (Seth Godin’s lizard brain) we masterfully create fictions too rich for publication. Dragged into the light of day they crumble to dust but in the fantasy factories of our minds they couldn’t be more real.

2) It’s not about me. The world is not waiting with bated breath for my next move. The people around me are not extras in the film production of my life. Everyone is fighting their own battle, making their own way. The sooner I get to an attitude – and supporting actions – of making it even the slightest bit easier for others to make their way, the sooner I will receive the support I need to do the same. It is the cosmic truth of the universe.

With a little practice – and the discipline of self-awareness – we can turn these common pitfalls to our advantage. The great storyteller can tell a new story. That means investigating our assumptions about what’s going on and shifting our thinking to the possibility of the new story that can take its place. As for the second one, we can start from a place of humility (literally, coming to ground) that is born of a commitment to create space for others rather than take it up for ourselves. The fact is, if it’s all about you and it’s all about me and it’s all about him and it’s all about her then, by default,   it must be all about…all of us.

Chances are, when it all starts to feel like too much, when the overwhelm is creeping in and the window of opportunity appears to be closing fast, that we are telling ourselves an old story. That story is based on old assumptions and rooted in our self-centeredness.

Each of us can live into the possibility of a bigger self. In a beautiful paradox, that bigger self emerges only when we redefine “bigger” in a way that isn’t quite so big.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl

Essential Listening

Not too long ago I shared a list of books – fiction primarily – that I have found to be essential reading in my development as a person, a leader and a teacher of leadership. Since then, to my great satisfaction, I have discovered the world of podcasts; the world of essential listening. It has been revelatory.

The channels by which we can learn today (and by learning I mean: inspire our creativity impulses, give us confidence to pursue our ideas, give us space to laugh, think, cry and connect more readily with the broadest context of our shared human condition) are so numerous and useful that it is both energizing and, sometimes, overwhelming to figure out how to take full advantage. As I attempted to make sense of all that is on offer in this “new” space of podcasting I was fortunate enough to stumble across a site called Podcast Thing. They organize their podcast recommendations by category and recommend a “where to start” episode for each one. In that spirit, a few recommendations for you:

For Meaning:

On Being with Krista Tippett

Where to start: Seth GodinParker Palmer

For Storytelling:

This American Life with Ira Glass

Where to start: Hit the Road

For Mindfulness and Meditation:

Tara Brach

Where to start: Four Week Introduction to Meditation

For Science and Education:


Where to start: The Golden Rule

For Politics, Culture and the Arts (and a fun “insider” vibe)

Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin

Where to start: Jerry SeinfeldGeorge WillDavid Letterman

A final thought: education is being revolutionized before our very eyes…it is not even remotely farfetched to think  that with a reasonable investment of time and energy you could create both a curriculum and a community that would make some of our more formal and traditional learning avenues obsolete, or at least seriously antiquated. If you want to create, define and engage your own path to learning there has never been a better time to do so.

Feedback? Thoughts? Recommendations from your experience? Always invited and eagerly accepted…

Getting to 30: The Pursuit of Clarity, Brevity and Meaning

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.”

– Francois de La Rochefoucald – 

The last two weeks have presented me with the welcome challenge of getting clearer and more concise in sharing my message regarding the kind of leadership that leads to sustainable change. I gave a talk to a group of graduating seniors, business students eager for experience and application, and it went well enough but I can’t say I was elated about my efforts. The constructive feedback I received from the good friend who invited me to give the talk was that I was simply trying to do too much. It was a welcome confirmation of what I consistently notice about myself in those situations: my energy and passion for the subject is so high that I cram in as many ideas and angles as I possibly can. Part of that, of course, comes from not trusting that a simplified message, of course more powerful because more easy digested and more memorable, will not be sufficient to the task. That if I somehow manage to pare it down to its essence it will just not be enough. Rationally, I know this is a story but emotionally it’s a legitimate concern.

Fortunately I have two perfect opportunities in the coming few days to practice the power of clarity and brevity; a couple of 30 minute presentations that require me to deliver my essential message. This couldn’t have come at a better time because, a year into my adventure as an independent speaker and professional coach, it is obvious to me now what so many already understand: it is easier to say “yes” when you understand what you are saying “yes” to!

As this question and this process have been bubbling up and brewing within me I have been feeding it by taking in ideas and insights from a number of different sources: podcasts, articles, talks, fiction. Finally, with thanks to Krista Tippett’s program, “On Being” and her two outstanding interviews with Seth Godin and Parker Palmer, my thinking clarified and simplified.

Seth Godin reminded me that our shifting economy – and the shifting landscape within organizations – is less and less about the accumulation of “stuff” and more and more about opportunities for connection and meaning. The quote above and the others I have recently shared and written about all get to what I see as the essential leadership question of our time: in a connection economy doesn’t it make sense that we should have more connected leaders? And the leaders who are going to be more connected and connective are those who are not “disguised to themselves” or others; they are those who are willing to know themselves and be known.

Parker Palmer, in his interview, shared a framework developed by Marshall Ganz for organizing Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign for the presidency. In the two years prior to winning the White House the Obama Campaign organized a series of volunteer trainings called “Camp Obama.” The core of this effort was to teach and practice storytelling and it was done in this way:

1. Tell the STORY OF SELF: What is my heart connection with this work? The hopes of my heart that bring me to this place?

2. Tell the STORY OF US: How does the story of self connect to what is going on in the hearts of people in this society as I know them?

3. Tell the STORY OF NOW: What might be done in this moment that would help us advance our hopes?

As I heard this methodology described I felt for the first time a way forward in my efforts to create a personally compelling message that would withstand the limits of time and the challenge of trying to do too much. It is personal and therefore connective. It is inclusive and therefore energizing. It is an invitation and therefore an opportunity for others to rise to the occasion of our current challenge.

Most importantly, for me, it is a fresh way forward in the definition and delivery of what I care most about. I don’t have to share it all, just the part that earns me the right to continue the conversation.


Don’t Bite the Hook

IMG_0688Lately I have found myself collecting what I consider to be more meaningful and useful drive time material. This is, in part, thanks to a great blog post by Seth Godin, Can an audiobook change your life?, in which he relates the impact of listening to really useful non-fiction as a source of inspiration, motivation and, frankly, just good old fashioned brainwashing (the good kind). He began listening to “books on tape” when he was just starting out, allowing Zig Ziglar to wash over him continuously, supporting the fragile infrastructure of self-confidence and determination he was slowly, steadily turning into entrepreneurial success.

As I continue forward in my own new endeavor I find I am more open than ever before (please see my post on meditation for a really good example) to new ideas, frameworks and possibilities. (It’s really quite alarming to realize how “safety” and “certainty” work in opposition to new learning.) Finding myself in undiscovered country, “whatever it takes” has taken on a whole new meaning.

That said, I gobbled up Seth’s recommendations, starting with Pema Chodron‘s Don’t Bite the Hook. Chodron is an American Buddhist nun and the recording is a series of talks she gave during the course of a weekend retreat. It is truly a powerful teaching about our constant, all-too-human struggle with anger and resentment. Similar in many ways to David Foster Wallace‘s commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, Chodron challenges us to remember that even though we can only see it from our perspective, the world does not operate from only our perspective and, regardless of who or what comes at us, we always have a choice in how we respond.

She encourages us to see the hook that is dangling in front of us, temptingly loaded up with more bait than we know what to do with, and begin to practice new ways of both seeing it and responding to it; challenging us to end the cycle of anger and hurt rather than perpetuating it with yet another open-mouthed, instinctive lunge.

I knew right away that this was a recording that my wife and I should be listening to together, certainly for the sake of our marriage but equally for the sake of our parenting.  Our kids walk around with an arsenal of very large hooks and it’s our job to not take the bait; to respond to their anger and frustration with patience, calmness and loving rationality (permission to insert cynical laughter here). To have any chance of that happening more often (like baseball, 3 out of 10 times would be really good!) we first have to practice more consistently with one another.  So we started. Small. We listened to a bit of the recording together and, as a result, have taken to liberally repeating the phrase, “Don’t bite the hook!,” when the pull to react and retaliate grows strong.

My daughter asked what it means and as I explained it was obvious that she understood right away. As you can see, she’s a natural.