The Delight of Solitude

“Solitude is painful when one is young but delightful when one is more mature”
— Albert Einstein

For years now I’ve been contemplating why it is that I am increasingly comfortable with and even possessive of my time alone. It’s unknown territory for me, a long way from where I started.

Between the ages of 18 and 35, I could fairly be described as an “insecure extrovert.” I didn’t want to be around other people, I needed it in an unhealthy way.

I didn’t know how to be alone and it made me restless, anxious and uncertain when I had to be. Since this was still the pre-Smartphone era I didn’t have an easy form of escapism to dull the pain. I just had to feel it. And I hated it.

Other people served as a distraction from the unresolved questions in my heart and mind and the difficult feelings that accompanied them. In many cases I used other people to escape those feelings leading to unhealthy and short-lived relationships. It was a pattern broken by marriage but not resolved by it. In fact, had I not sought help in reconciling my inner life I’m sure my marriage would have suffered great damage, becoming an even more painful casualty.

Doing the work on myself not only made me a better friend, colleague, husband and father but it gave me the peace of mind and heart to be better with and to myself. That made it easier to be with myself and allowed me to transform from an “insecure extrovert” to a thoughtful and even loving one.

This is possible now because the time I spend in solitude refreshes me and heals me. It equips me to be more positive with and more generous to those I care about, instead of requiring them to feed my insatiable insecurity.

Increased comfort with solitude as we age makes sense because our experience of life is simplified. We’ve found our place and way in the world and the comfort of that leads to a quiet sense of security within the known certainties of change.

In my personal experience that increased comfort is also the equity earned from an investment in reconciliation; binding old wounds and enlarging my heart.

That’s something to be thankful for, today and every day.

alone autumn branch cold

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A Week of Thanks: Day 7

I am thankful for my family.

I am thankful for my family even though they agree that in the fictional scenario in which we are prevented from ever leaving our home again because of a cloud of toxic gas that has settled over our town, and must now rely only on a mysterious underground infrastructure that provides daily supplies of food; that in the ensuing claustrophobic conditions, complicated by the lack of electricity or WiFi, that sooner or later would make us all itch with a little bit of crazy and lead us to contemplate and plan on getting rid of one or more members to preserve the sanity of the remaining members…I would be the first to go.

I brought this on myself. First, because I’m the one who brought it up in a weird after dinner conversation early in our present vacation. And second, because I’m the one who moves within the family universe with the most dramatic orbit; from composed and serious, even melancholy, to genuinely connective and intentional, to animated exuberance that becomes silly (funny!) and annoying. It can be a lot to take and it makes my relegation to the toxic wasteland of our town an understandable, if hurtful, decision.

I am a lucky man, well-loved and provided the chance to love and care for an extraordinary group of people. If my orbit is wide and unpredictable, Theresa’s is consistent and reliable. She tempers my extremes with straight talk and practicality and I’m pretty sure I have helped to unlock some of her goofiness. More than that, I just like to be with her (and she with me, though the fictional scenario results are concerning); she’s exceedingly creative, full of ideas and is the most generous and well-respected person I know.

We brought three pretty great humans into the world and I am still processing how different they are from one another and how eerily familiar they seem as they evolve into beings wholly their own. It’s really fun to watch. Also scary. And heartbreaking, too. Like when they go to college or otherwise prove their independence. I feel exceedingly proud of them and also unworthy because the true task of fatherhood often feels like too tall an order to fill. But then again, so do the callings of work, marriage and friendship. And, now that they’ve agreed that I’m first to go, maybe I don’t need to worry as much about all of that!

Finally, ‘family’ is ill-defined if I only mention these four fine people. My mom is the epitome of the spirit of youth and will never stop fighting for the joy that sensibility brings her. My five older siblings are each a loving presence in my life. I am grateful for what each has taught me and for how our adult relationships continue to form and grow. And Theresa’s family I consider as my own. They have only ever been welcoming and generous to me, connections now over 28 years in the making.

It’s easy to be thankful for my family. They keep my feet on the ground so that I can more easily reach my head…my dreams, my aspirations… into the sky. And though they seem a bit too willing to sacrifice me for their personal sanity and survival, at least I am clear on their intentions and can get to work building that subterranean man-cave I’ve been dreaming about.

Anything for my family!

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.

A Week of Thanks: Day 6

I am thankful for friendship.

I have more than my fair share.

I tell people all the time that we are lucky in life to have just a few “closest” friends – the kind you can count on one hand – but I humbly realize that I have more than that, two hands full at least.

They are diverse and extraordinary. Some from childhood, some more recently formed. I’ve learned that true friendship is determined by the ability to have a real conversation with another person, and then to be able to see that person again within a few days or weeks and only feel more affection and appreciation. And then to add another real conversation, the quality of which becomes another band in the strengthening fibers of connection.

Great friendship is also light and fun, of course, but the best ones always circle back to meaning. Lightness and fun serve as vehicles to get back to what matters most. True friendship helps me live in that meaningful space in a way that is both sincere and playful, strong and vulnerable.

A couple of recent friendship highlights: three of us meet once a month by video conference. We take about 30 minutes each to share the highs and lows of personal and professional life and then provide some form of coaching and advising to support that person in thinking through their current circumstances. It is deeply trustworthy and encouraging and I am fortunate to benefit from their open hearts and wise counsel.

Another friend has recently invited a small group of men to a “Pints & Podcasts” meeting which he describes as “…a book club with a shorter time investment. And beer.” He appreciates, as I do, that strong male relationships are essential to our well-being and is looking for a way to satisfy that need. I am grateful for his initiative and looking forward to getting started.

As a longtime married person with children still at home, friendship is a tricky thing. It is easy to take a pass, to disconnect, to focus only on who is “here and now.” Sometimes it is a legitimate question of bandwidth, sometimes it is the lazy preference to stay close to home. As grateful as I am to be able to call my spouse my dearest of all friends, I recognize that it is only within the friendships of those outside my immediate circle that I stretch out far enough to be able to come back to the center with the equanimity and  perspective that benefits my family.

To my friends who continue to invite me into deeper and more challenging exploration I offer my deepest thanks.

I will strive to offer the same to you.

I am thankful for friendship.

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.

A Week of Thanks: Day 3

I am thankful for my body.

I am thankful for the way it carried me up and down the streets of San Francisco this morning in my search for an open corner store;

For how it frees me from the creative prison of my head when I am stuck, stuck, stuck on what to write next. And then, like a message from the deep a leg twitches, a suggestion to let the wisdom of movement do the work. Sure enough, a block or two, a mile of two later, an idea breaks loose and runs to freedom.

It is a body that at its authentic best loves to swing, twist, bend, contort, rhythmically and otherwise. It loves to dance.

It is a body that has achieved some milestones – a marathon on one occasion, a few lengthy hikes up some good-sized hills – but has never been truly tested in that regard. Rather, it is one that has allowed me to move freely, quickly, energetically and deliberately forward in the every day; up stairs (two at a time), on a busy sidewalk, through a tedious market, museum or mall. Ever faster. Let’s go! A body that has had to double-back more than once to collect the kids who have been left behind in an urgent march to ‘get there.’

It is a body that has provided the physical bridge, a somatic connection, to the love of my life, the embrace of my children, the warm hug of friendship. It is a hand-holding, arms interlocking, head resting on shoulder, leaning on sort of body. One that has conformed itself to both the huddled embrace of sadness and the exuberant ‘high five’ of joyful celebration. It is a body that has expressed the longing of the heart when words could not be found.

It is a healthy body, most of all. Not a ‘specimen’ mind you, but healthy. And is it ages, a bit less flexible here and there, a bit rusty here and there, I am ever more thankful for how well it has done its work. And I am ever more committed to taking care of it as long as it will have me.

I am thankful for my body.

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.


A Week of Thanks: Day 1

fullsizeoutput_1848I am thankful for the many “edge” experiences I have had in my life – some chosen on purpose, some chosen accidentally, and some thrust upon me. These are moments and commitments that shaped my experience, my perspective and my confidence. I can still feel the fear, anticipation and anxiety of each one. And I can still feel the blessed relief of coming out the other side in one (vastly improved) piece.

In high school, during our production of the musical “Camelot,” I strode out onto an extension of the stage – between the audience and the orchestra pit – that had me nearly standing in the front row. In the middle of the song I forgot the words and spun backwards as if doing so would make me disappear. It’s right there on film.

Driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Chicago after college graduation to start my first job. From the edge of the country to the middle. Unknown, vast, foreign. Friends along the way. New friends and experiences waiting for me.

Standing in front of a group of admirals and generals gathered for an executive education program on leadership and culture at which I was a featured speaker. Actually, the night before the speech when I was hyperventilating to my wife over the phone that I had no business being there, none whatsoever, and that I had no idea what I was going to say. But it wasn’t that, it was the fear that what I had to say wouldn’t be good enough.

Sitting across from a therapist because “this will make me a better coach.” Learning, over hundreds of conversations that the work was about becoming a whole person.

Standing on a bluff above the ocean, strapped into a harness and parasail, contemplating the stated fact that the only to go up was to step off the edge. And then, stepping.

Thank you God, family, colleagues and life itself. Thank you for the invitation and the push. Please keep inviting and please keep pushing. I will do my best to meet you there with a full and willing heart.

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.