Unique Human Needs: Contribution

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Contribution.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 6: Contribution

One of my clearest childhood memories is of riding along with my mom as she delivered food to the elderly and shut-ins in San Francisco as part of her volunteer commitment to Meals-On-Wheels. I remember that one of our stops was adjacent to a market from which I always got a few cellophane-wrapped sesame candies. I remember the smell of the food as not exactly enticing but certainly distinctive. I remember feeling purposeful, that we were doing something important.

Thirty years later I was looking for a way to engage my 6-year-old son and our family in some community service and I came across a Meals-On-Wheels flyer at our church. Those memories of Saturday mornings along 19th Avenue in San Francisco came rushing back and I saw the gift of being able to establish that same tradition with my own child.

I’m proud of the fact that we’re still making those deliveries thirteen years later. Duncan is off to college now and his sisters have since taken his place as co-pilot and navigator. It’s a Berry Family “thing,” a small but important piece of fabric that binds us to one another and to our community.


Tony Robbins classifies the core human needs of growth and contribution as the “needs of the spirit.” What I can’t stop thinking about regarding this final installment on contribution is that it carries within it the possibility of satisfying all of the other needs as well.

To make a contribution is to experience the pleasure of helping others avoid pain, or at least to alleviate it just a little bit.

It is also the manner by which we can immerse ourselves in new circumstances and conditions in order to satisfy our need for uncertainty.

Giving back is clearly a way to feel special and needed, and what better way to achieve that than in service of others?

It is also a means for us to satisfy our need for connection and to express love. To make even a small sacrifice so that another person’s life might be better is a pretty good definition of the everyday goodness of love when you think about it.

In addition to satisfying these core needs there are some other very real rewards of giving back. Among them are happiness, good health, cooperation and gratitude.

It may feel out of place to think of making a contribution as personally rewarding, that we should only give from a place of self-sacrificial concern. But that intention is so idealistic that it becomes restrictive.

What if we could just agree that making a contribution, giving of ourselves freely and generously is the most potent and compelling way to satisfy the needs that we all share?


IMG_5689

Unique Human Needs: Growth

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Growth.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 5: Growth

When I first went to see a therapist my cover story was pretty thin. To her inevitable opening question – “So, what brings you here?” – I gave her my well-rehearsed reply, “As a professional coach I think it’s important to tend my own garden so I can be most helpful to other people.”

This was a valid intention, just not an honest one. “I’m doing it for them” has a noble ring to it, its thin veneer a convenient way to mask the truth that I was in a lot of pain. And being in pain, I was afraid to talk about it because I knew I would have to feel it more before I could feel it less.

That pain was a tangle of old and unresolved stuff, mainly about abandonment, that reared up in full toxic force in the first years of fatherhood. I experienced deep feelings of anger toward my young son, feelings that both frightened me and filled me with shame. I knew that I had to figure out where all of that negativity was coming from, my initiative newly motivated by the fear of a future estrangement.

Thankfully, at that time I was in the company of new colleagues who were relentlessly encouraging of my growth and who had the insight and experience to normalize the idea of therapy as a powerful tool for meaningful change.

In the list above, Tony Robbins describes Growth as an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding. 

Through my work with a therapist I came to understand capacity as having room to consider the needs of others from their perspective rather than through the lens of my own. In other words, I had more empathy because I had more emotional space.

I came to understand capability as an enhancement of my ability to notice more about myself and others. I was sharpening my lens, getting better and better at anticipating and responding to my internal impulses while more quickly attuning to the externally expressed needs of others.

I came to appreciate understanding as an awareness of the complex dynamics that are always present in team and organizational settings. Seeing more allowed me to be more helpful and productive in all domains of my life.

My growth through therapy helped me to become a better team member, a better leader, a better coach and consultant and, most importantly, a better husband and father.

As it turns out, the garden metaphor was an apt one, especially from the perspective of preparing for the winter months. In that case, a hard pruning is required before any new growth can appear. It can feel brutal to employ the shears so aggressively but until it happens the old growth will remain as a barricade to the new growth that finally emerges.


closeup photo of sprout

Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on Pexels.com

 

Unique Human Needs: Connection & Love

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on “Connection and Love.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 4: Connection & Love

To write about needing connection and love is a little bit like writing about needing food and water. What more is there to say about what is so inherent to our shared human experience? And yet, why is it that I am so often, so tempted to go it alone?

In the summer of 2015 I decided to work with this question in a direct and consistent way. I took a 100-day project challenge to explore my complicated feelings about connection, choosing to take a photograph each day that represented connection, posting it publicly with some brief comments about its meaning.

At the conclusion of my 100-day project, I wrote the following post to summarize the experience. I am proud of how I expressed my learning at that time and not at all surprised to learn that it is even more applicable today.

Small Moves: 100 Days of Connection
September 13, 2015

There is a powerful moment at the beginning of the movie “Contact” when young Ellie is calling out on her shortwave radio. She is trying to find someone, anyone, who might be listening on the same frequency. As her frustration grows her father implores her, “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.”

Finally, someone answers. A man from Pensacola. Ellie is so startled that she doesn’t know what to say.

The movie takes us from this intimate moment between a father and a daughter to a wormhole in deepest space. The story arcs from what is closest and dearest all the way out to an astonishing celestial frontier before curving back to the familiar ground of the here and now. It reminds us that as far as we might travel to find what we are looking for, the things – the people – we most want and need in our lives are usually very close at hand. Connection always requires small moves and in my experience those moves consistently lead right back to what we most need to learn.

This is my lesson after 100 days of seeking connection: I have been looking for something that was not lost. Connection is always one small move away. Its familiarity is the perfect hiding place.

Ellie is young when her father dies. What becomes her quest to discover life on other planets is really a search for a way back to her dad, a way back to what is familiar and comforting. Is it any surprise that when she does make contact with an “extraterrestrial” it takes the form of her dad, using the known to settle the confusion of the new?

An early, significant loss can make future attachment very hard. It’s just so easy to defend against the possibility of experiencing that old pain in a new way. In my experience it was easier to either smother another person to get them to reject me or to coolly keep my distance to avoid revealing my vulnerability. Of course, both responses left me disconnected and alone, reinforcing my belief that connection could only be attained through a perfect alignment of very specific variables. All or nothing is rarely a successful approach when it comes to matters of the heart.

I am just slightly wiser after these one hundred days. I am more awake to connection’s continuous presence and the deep satisfaction that comes with moving towards it each day. I am more aware of how small moves often feel insufficient in the moment, like breadcrumbs for a starving man. Through sheer redundancy of attention I also see that there’s no other way to do it. Ellie’s discovery of a message from outer space came from years of dedicated listening, one frequency at a time.

At the end of the film the alien who has taken the form of Ellie’s dad says to her:

“You’re an interesting species, an interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

My most recent 25 connection photos can be seen here.  Days 1-25 are here. And days 26-50 are here. Days 51-75 are here.


photo of night sky

Photo by faaiq ackmerd on Pexels.com

Unique Human Needs: Significance

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Significance.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 3: Significance

I may have backed myself into a corner on this one. When I first had the impulse to do a series on these unique human needs I didn’t anticipate the kind of reflection it would ultimately require. I also didn’t think through the hard truth that sometimes, perhaps a lot of the time, I/we might need some of these needs a bit too much.

It’s not much of a stretch to envision someone needing too much certainty. We recognize that kind of person as being a bit anxious about new things, a bit more conservative in their decision-making. It’s also easy to imagine the person for whom uncertainty is the primary source of satisfaction. We recognize them as going out of their way to test limits and take risks, perhaps without consideration for other’s tolerances. While we tend to romanticize that person, they often end up oversimplifying their identity by holding on too tightly to one way of operating in the world.

For me, for a very long time, that was all that could be said of my relationship with significance. And while “significance” is a concept that I both admire and enjoy considering, the additional descriptive of feeling important or special hits home in a less admirable way.

Being special was always my hiding place, an overcompensation for all of the ways I felt unwanted, unoriginal and inauthentic. No one made me feel that way; it was just my version of an adaptation to the harsh realities of a broken family. That adaptation got expressed in lots of positive forms of “standing out” but it also made me quite vulnerable to those who weren’t up for heaping on the praise. I paid little attention to those who sincerely admired and believed in me, and focused all too much on those who seemed indifferent or even critical.

Overcoming my addiction to specialness – getting back to significance – has been, with no exaggeration, the most challenging and important developmental gateway of my adult life. It took me years of focused work to reorient myself, to understand that it was okay to need to feel significant, just not okay to need to feel so damn special all the time!

Today, what I most recognize and enjoy about significance is that others – be they students, clients, friends or family – are more than willing to celebrate my efforts when those efforts originate from my best or higher self. That higher self is focused on creating value for others through the particular contributions I am uniquely qualified to make.

When I operate from that place, significance takes care of itself.


food colorful sweet bear

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Unique Human Needs: Uncertainty

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Uncertainty.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 2: Uncertainty

How fitting that this list begins with a contradiction so perfectly descriptive of the human experience! We don’t want certainty, we need it. And we don’t want uncertainty, we need it!

We need the known and the unknown, the predictable and the unpredictable, the reassuring and the exhilarating. All of this is subjective to our own preferences, of course, but the degree of need does not change the fact that we long to live in the world in two distinct and complementary ways.

When I launched my business in 2013 my son was 13 years old. I explained to him one day after school that I had quit my job and would be going to work for myself. He rejected the notion, explaining that I was “supposed to have a job.” I was stung at first, assuming I’d get an enthusiastic response instead of a rebuke.

What I didn’t appreciate until later is that my fairly sudden change of circumstance hit him as a wave of uncertainty. In the already uncertain period of adolescence he was experiencing, my career change was a threat to the stability and safety to which he had grown accustomed. At a time of dramatic personal change, my professional change only added to his stress.

What I remember feeling in those tentative early days of my new endeavor, and what my son helped to punctuate through his reflexive reaction, was the feeling of being wrapped within a paradox of both certainty – confident that I had made the right decision – and uncertainty – but, how exactly is this going to work out?

The tension between these two qualities continues to remind me of the early days of parenthood, certain of my love for each of my children and certain of my commitment to their well-being, with the exciting and unnerving uncertainty of all of the forces beyond my control.

This dynamic is also lived out in organizational life every day. Team members need the reassurance of a clear company vision, predictable resource availability, thoughtful plans and capable teammates, while also needing challenging assignments and new learning opportunities to feel fully engaged.

As I reflect back on my career what I notice is that I appreciate the experiences of certainty I was able to enjoy – steady income, long-tenured and trustworthy teammates, healthy economic realities – but it’s the periods and moments of uncertainty that had the most to teach me.

When I was laid off from an early job with a start-up, Theresa and I didn’t have much in the bank and our son was just a year old. I was provided a seven-week severance payout and was employed again in six weeks. And not just employed but given a chance to join the company from which I can draw a direct line to every professional opportunity that came after.

What I learned is to never be ashamed of my circumstances and to ask for help as quickly and openly as I can. Doing so opened up a path to that new role in a way that never would have happened if I had failed to let my network know that I needed their help.

A few years later, my aspiration to become an accomplished speaker tucked neatly and quietly into my pocket, the CEO of my company declined a speaking engagement and encouraged me to take his place. I heartily agreed, though my false confidence was reduced to abject fear when I learned that my audience was to be a group of Navy admirals and Marine Corps generals.

After flying cross-country to a prestigious executive education school and getting settled in my room, I called home to tell my wife that under no circumstances could I pull this off. I was overwhelmed with anxiety, barely able to sleep; completely certain that my speaking career would both begin and end on the same day.

Spoiler alert: I survived. And as the uncertainty I felt about my capability to deliver in a high-stakes situation receded in the coming days, I pocketed another degree of confidence and a deeper commitment to preparation. That would never have happened if I had demurred.

These stories remind me that the experience of uncertainty is primarily painful in the anticipatory stage and dramatically uplifting after the fact. In both cases, the drama of the circumstances led to the experiential knowledge that I could achieve outcomes I did not dare imagine being possible.

Today, at a time in my life where the allure of certainty grows only stronger, I am working hard to counter its influence. I want to try new things, learn new skills, meet new people, all of which will force me to confront the uncertainty of not having done it before, not knowing how to do it and maybe even meeting people who don’t think and act like me! Oh, no!

The thing is, I know I’ll be the better for it, just like I’ve always been.


night building forest trees

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Unique Human Needs: Certainty

Not long after I began my career in organizational learning and development, I came across a list of “unique human needs” compiled by Tony Robbins.

I remember thinking, “Well, there it is, the roadmap for my work with adult professionals.”

I felt a strong sense of assurance at 29-years-old that my unfolding career would always make sense, would always be “on purpose” if I could stay close to this list. That is, if I could assist leaders and teams in creating and sustaining environments in which these needs were consistently met.

Over two decades of work I know that I have stayed close to the list as a guide for my endeavors. What I don’t know, and what is so difficult to measure, is how effectively I have helped my clients to build and sustain those environments. We’ve known some clear victories, some painful defeats and, most of all, lots of that messy middle ground where we’ve bounced between the highs and lows together.

That the work has been full of challenges and contradictions is an understatement. That it remains rewarding beyond measure is a fact.

As I continue to move through my own experience of liminal space, I am energized to spend this week working with one element of Robbins’ list each day, and sharing a brief reflection on what it means to me.

Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Certainty.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 1: Certainty

My relationship to “certainty” today is nothing like it once was. Since I have dedicated my professional life to working with change I long ago catalogued certainty as simply a fantasy of the misinformed. Of course, I was wrong to think of it that way, but that impulse suggests something important about an old pattern of polarization.

There was a time when certainty – control – was the warmest blanket I could find and I wrapped myself in it as a shield against connection, pain and loss. That my work is so decidedly focused on the opposing aspiration – to thrive in the face of change – speaks to how deeply engrained I was in the old pattern and how I am still working to find comfort in the relationship between the two.

I remember feeling certain when I finally married my wife, Theresa. I am more certain of the strength of our relationship today than I have ever been.

I remember feeling certain about my commitment to my children, their birth days a revelation to me of the capacity for human love. I am more certain today of that love, through so many painful lessons, than I have ever been.

And I remember feeling certain nearly seven years ago, as uncertain as I was, that my new endeavor as a sole practitioner would not only be successful but would open doors I didn’t even know existed. On both counts I was right and it is such a pleasure to be able to say so.

The early days were interesting however in that the aforementioned Theresa had understandably gotten used to my biweekly paycheck. While she never expressed serious doubts, she occasionally voiced her need for reassurance that there would, indeed, be a check in the mail someday soon.

Finally, a couple of years in, when those checks were coming in repeatedly if not consistently, I suggested to her that she could feel certain that I was on the right path in my career and that we were on the right path as a family because of it. It was a moment in which I could say with confidence, this is working and will continue to work.

Today, I do not say that I am certain my business success will continue unabated because, in fact, it has not. And I do not say that I am certain of any specific future outcome regarding clients, family, health or anything else for that matter. To do so at any level would be wishful thinking at best.

What I am certain of has grown simpler; more refined, and sets the parameters for how I choose to live my life. Here’s a brief list:

I am certain that hard conversations lead to an easier life.
I am certain that exercise makes me feel sane.
I am certain that poetry helps me reimagine myself and the world in which I live.
I am certain that I can rely on a small group of extraordinary people I am blessed to call family and friends.
I am certain that I am not alone.
I am certain that I will always reload a poorly loaded dishwasher.
I am certain that I feel more fulfilled by holding a book than by holding a phone.

And I am positively certain that if I am going to be at my best for my clients, my wife or my family than I must always be at my best with and for myself.

Twenty more years on, I imagine it will be an even simpler list. For now, this.


cropped-fire-photo.jpg