As You Like It

I attended college just about 100 miles north of my hometown, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Arriving on campus in 1988, I met my wife Theresa during those undergraduate years and we return to the area with our family a couple of times a year to visit our friends, also met and married through LMU, who live just down the street from campus.

This weekend, we are here to celebrate his birthday, in part by visiting campus last night to picnic and enjoy an outdoor presentation of Shakespeare’s, As You Like It. The production was musical, light and refreshing, as summer should be. And yet, within it, Shakespeare pointedly inserts the character of Jacques, known through history as one of the Bard’s most famous melancholy characters.

The play rollicks along as we good friends, having first met at 19, celebrated weddings in our 20s, children and budding careers in our 30s, veterans now of the maturing realities of our 40s, sip wine into the long June evening. Into that scene of our own authorship, supported as it is by the very place that first brought us together, strides Jacques to remind us of where we’ve been and where we’re going:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

{William Shakespeare – As You Like It}

Without putting too fine a point on it, I suggest this: whatever and whomever “Los Angeles” or “Loyola Marymount” or “our dear friends” is for you, go back there as you are now to celebrate who and what you were, who and what you are and who and what you are becoming.

Jacque’s “melancholy” is not sad, it is instructive. The time to play this part is now. So play it.


Do or Do Not, There is No Try

Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.
{William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida}

Yes, I blatantly stole an epic quote from the Star Wars pantheon as a title for this post. Between Yoda and Shakespeare it’s tough to go wrong and I prefer to save my energy rather than fruitlessly attempt to improve upon their genius.

In both cases they are extolling us to make the shift from a passive to an active approach to life.

Passivity is a practice, a habit, that is employed to soften the blow.

“I will try to make it to your event” is what you say when you have no intention of attending but don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.

“I will try to learn how to play the piano” is what you say when you are scared that you actually won’t be able to…or won’t have the fortitude to stick with it when it get’s hard.

Why does it seem so bold, or callous even, to say “I will not attend the event. I have other priorities right now”? It’s true, it’s honest, and it allows the other person to clear the mental space that is otherwise spent on a bunch of “Will she or won’t she?” energy.

Why does it seem so bold, or brazen even, to say “I am going to learn how to play the piano”? It speaks of commitment to a clear choice that removes the mystery of “Will I be able to?”  and replaces it with “I’m going to find out.” And, if it’s really not your thing, now you know and you can move on and stop wondering about it. More mental space opened up…what a relief!

No discussion, even a brief one, of passivity is complete without mention of passive aggressive behavior which in classic ironic fashion ends up feeling even more aggressive to the recipient – a hundred tiny daggers – than if they just aggressively said their piece – one swing of the sword. It’s yet another example of passivity being employed to soften the blow and filling up our available mental and emotional space with needless anxiety.

Be clear, be open, be bold. Other people can handle it, including yourself. Your assumption that they cannot – that you cannot – is no longer worthy of you.

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 Body Count

Othello doesn’t kill Desdemona because she has betrayed him. He kills her because he believes she has betrayed him.

Some basic investigation and direct communication would have resolved the matter quickly. Instead, the bodies pile up.

There will always be an Iago, sowing doubt and fear out of his own inadequacy. Paranoia is not the answer and neither is ignorance. Be watchful, be direct and do not play the fool.

Shakespeare was not writing for 16th century England but for the modern day corporation.

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.