“I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached to my body.” But it is. And as much as we want to believe that our minds and bodies are separate things, they’re not.
It’s been found that judges make different decisions when they are tired and hungry than they do when their bodies are rested and fed. We know how suspense in a movie can make our bodies tense up, and our hearts race, even though it’s a fictional story that doesn’t involve us. And try to imagine solving a complicated math problem when you’ve just stubbed your toe hard and are in blinding pain.
So as much as we may want to believe that we can think our way out of any situation, and apply “mind over matter,” it just isn’t true. Our bodies have a lot more influence over what we think, feel, and do than we may realize. Ignoring the signs and signals that our bodies are sending us, and just living in our heads is no different from ignoring any other kind of data in business or in life.
To live a life with more clarity, a strong first step is to learn how to be aware of both what we’re thinking, and what we’re sensing in our bodies at the same time. To notice how the two relate to each other from moment to moment—and acting from that place of greater awareness.
23 September 2022
There are many times when well-intentioned people tried to tell me I had a choice. I could choose to quit my PhD. I could choose to find another career. I could choose to use my time differently. I could choose to be happy.
They were right. Yet, I felt like I didn’t have a choice. And I was right, too.
How can both be right, that I had a choice, and didn’t have a choice at the same time?
Because from the outside, it was clear that a choice was possible. From the perspective of the passive voice, the PhD program could be quit, another career could be found, my time could be used differently, and happiness was possible.
However, from my perspective, I couldn’t choose those things.
I didn’t have the skills, the capacity, or the perspective that I needed in order to make those choices. I couldn’t endure the loss of identity from leaving the PhD program. I didn’t have the confidence to try another career. I lacked the awareness skills I needed to use my time differently. And because I didn’t know how to be present in the here and in the now without distracting myself from the reality of what I was seeing, feeling, and sensing, I couldn’t be happy.
So, both were true. I had a choice. But I couldn’t make any other choice than the path I was on.
Until I developed enough skill, capacity, and perspective to make different choices.
If you feel trapped and that you have no choice, it’s worth stopping to notice what is keeping you from making that choice. And then seeing if there is a way to develop new skills, capacity, or perspective that can give you freedom of choice. It can take time, but I’m here to tell you that the new freedom you’ll gain will make it all worthwhile.
22 September 2022
It’s easy to get distracted and caught up in thought. Frustrations, worries, or even hopes, dreams, and fantasies can pull our attention away from what matters most to us in this moment.
Coming back to what is real, my self, right here, right now, is also easy. It’s as simple as noticing my breath. As the late Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh often taught, “Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”
It’s not a matter of pushing away thoughts, or trying to not think. That never works anyway.
It’s simply choosing to pay attention to the breath instead.
And then once we have agency over our attention again, we can choose where to put our attention next.
21 September 2022
Being numb and not feeling pain can sometimes help us to survive. When we’re under the surgeon’s scalpel, or the dentist’s drill, for instance, we want to be anesthetized. To not feel. Emotionally, too, there are times when we need to push through painful situations, so we numb ourselves to the emotional pain.
But we wouldn’t want to live that way forever. If our fingers were permanently numb, we’d miss the warning shock of a cut or a burn, and we wouldn’t enjoy the pleasure of touching a loved one or a fuzzy blanket.
There are many reasons we may have learned to be emotionally numb in order to survive. The problem is that, unlike after surgery, the numbness often lasts long after the danger is gone. This numbness then gets in our way of being able to feel with precision. To accurately detect dangers and opportunities. Living under a constant anesthetic—not feeling—interferes with our ability to enjoy our work, relationships, and life.
What we need, is to remember and cultivate how to life an aesthetic life—a life of deep feeling. Yes, we will feel pain, but we will also feel pleasure, joy, and everything else in between. All the experiences which make up a full and healthy life.
Our safety may have depended on us being numb at one time, but our well-being depends on our bing able to feel. It’s worth doing what we need to do to heal and to cultivate this very human ability.
20 September 2022
If we want any sort of change in our organizations, our society, or in ourselves, one of the foundational things we have to learn is how to be comfortable with discomfort.
As a species, we have evolved to want things to be predictable. We want to know where to find food and where to find shelter. We want to know about likely threats and how to defend against them.
Our sense of security and safety is rooted in our ability to know things. And the process of change, by definition, is all about the unknowable, and this is often scary to us.
In order to allow change to happen, we need to let go of what we think we know, and to open up to something new. This means we need to also learn to become comfortable with the discomfort, or even fear, of not knowing.
It’s not that there’s something wrong with feeling fear, or that we shouldn’t feel it. Quite the opposite. The fear is natural, and we should feel it so that we can stay open.
The invitation is to practice feeling the fear of the unknown, to see it, and recognize it for what it is, to be kind to ourselves around the fear, and at the same time, see what is causing it.
Because in the case of change, often the fear is coming from something new, something unknown, something unpredicted. A gift of the new change that is coming.
So in this way the fear is a herald, announcing that the change we’re looking for is coming.
So don’t kill the messenger. Don’t deny the fear. The invitation is to practice welcoming the fear in, and listening to what it has to say.
19 September 2022
This one is a bit of a mind-bender, but it’s true: when someone gets mad at you, it’s not about you. It’s about them. And when they praise you, it’s also not about you. It’s about them.
This may sound absurd, but the fact is, we all live in our own minds. What we “know” about the world, is really what we think we know. And that goes for people, too. When we say we “know” someone, what we really know is a version of that person in our own mind. And that version may be similar to, or quit different from, how the person sees themselves.
Often when someone gets mad at us, it’s because we did something that they didn’t expect we would do. So it’s really about their expectations, which is based on who they thought we were. And similarly when someone praises us, it’s often because our behavior happened to match their expectations.
It’s worth reflecting on this and remembering the next time you’re blamed or praised that it’s not about you. It makes it easier to take it a little less personally, and it also gives a chance to learn more about the person who is doing the blaming or praising.
18 September 2022
Traffic is stressful. Writing emails is stressful. Meetings are stressful. Conversations can be stressful, too.
It’s not that any of these things are big stresses, but little stresses. Little stresses that can pile up in the body.
We can’t avoid stress, but we can take moments throughout the day to check in with the body and feel these little stresses.
The little stresses might show up as tension in the shoulders, or tightness in the belly. They might shift the way we sit in the chair, or the way we’re breathing.
Take a moment to notice where stress is living in the body, and see if you can calm and ease the body. To get it back to a more relaxed state.
Feeling the body’s weight on the seat, or on the feet. Feeling a strong back, and a soft, open front.
Letting the body just be for a moment, for one, slow breath, before getting back to work.
Stress is a natural part of life, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it pile up in the body. Like brushing our teeth, we can make relaxing the body a regular hygiene practice, and notice if we feel any different at the end of the day.
17 September 2022
What’s the harm in asking?
Maybe it is true, and maybe it’s not.
We make so many assumptions just to get through daily life, often without ever realizing it, and sometimes those assumptions steer us the wrong way. So it’s worth asking, “Is that true?”
This isn’t to argue, but just to wonder. To pause to notice if it’s an assumption, or if there might be something we’re missing. And to create a space for another perspective or a more complete view.
What do you feel when you hear the question, “Is that true?” Curiosity? Or maybe defensiveness, or even anger?
If strong feelings come up with that question, where are they coming from? Is there a danger you sense from asking that question? A threat that you fear?
If so, it might be useful to look at that perceived threat and ask, “Is that threat true?”
Because if that threat isn’t true, then congratulations! You’ve just won yourself a little more freedom from fear.
So the next time you find yourself certain of something, it might be worth asking yourself, “Is that true?” and see where that question leads!
16 September 2022
I remember hearing this expression about being dead inside. And somehow I never recognized that it was describing me.
I had become so good at putting on a happy face, that I didn’t realize I was dead inside. I had become so good at doing what others wanted me to do, that I didn’t realize I was dead inside. I had become so good at pretending that my constant restlessness was because of my curiosity, that I didn’t realize I was dead inside.
My restlessness was because I never felt engaged with my life. Because I was dead inside, I couldn’t feel satisfaction, so I jumped around looking for satisfaction anywhere I could. I did what others wanted me to do because I was looking for approval. Because I was dead inside, I couldn’t feel self-worth and craved external approval to compensate for my lack of self-esteem. I put on a happy face because I was taught that expressing what I was really feeling was shameful. And so I became ashamed of my emotions and became dead inside.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Thanks to our bodies and minds being designed to heal, thanks to the people who cared, and thanks to a lot of practice, I’m still here today.
And thanks to still being here today, I can tell you that healing is possible, and that feeling (again) is possible.
It’s been a long journey, but I am filled with gratitude that I am now very much alive inside.
15 September 2022
I’m here to tell you that if you tried and failed at “fake it until you make it,” it’s not just you. It didn’t work for me, either.
If anything, trying to fake it just made things worse. I felt like more of an imposter, I felt less powerful, and in the end, when it didn’t work, I felt like even more of a failure. And these feelings seriously got in my way. They made it more difficult to do my best, to learn from my mistakes, to take risks, to be creative, and they undermined my self-esteem.
The thing is, “fake it until you make it” isn’t just about trying to fool others, it’s also about trying to fool ourselves. It relies on the same psychological trick as self-affirmations, and research suggests that self-affirmations are unreliable. They motivate some people, but de-motivate others.
One reason for this could be because self-affirmations only engage the our conscious mind, but for some of us, all the time that we’re “dressing for success” and “leaning in,” our unconscious is sending us messages like, “What a load of ****,” “You know who you really are,” “You’re such a loser,” or worse.
There is another way, though. Rather than faking it, or using self-affirmations, we can use self-compassion and self-acceptance—the opposite of pretending.
Self-acceptance is taking the time to see who you really are with the kind eyes of a trusted friend or family member. Someone who always assumes you have the best intentions and sees you in your best light. And yes, it also means seeing the parts of you that you may feel embarrassed about, or even ashamed of. But seeing those parts with compassion and the honesty of knowing that everyone has those parts inside. Every. Human. Being.
It means embracing all parts of yourself, good, bad, and ugly. And knowing that your are worthy as a human being just as you are. Just as every human being, no matter how loathsome their actions may feel to us, is also worthy as a human being.
This may sound all airy-fairy, but research has backed this up. When we can accept ourselves as we are, and have compassion for ourselves, we are much more resilient, persistent, creative, and successful at what we put our minds to.
So the next time you fall off the horse, maybe the answer isn’t to pretend that you meant to fall off. Maybe the best next step isn’t to immediately get back on with false confidence and bravado. What if you took a moment to clean and bandage your wounds, check in with your body, and then got back on the horse with calm attention and care? How might the next stretch of your ride go?
Chances are, eventually, you’ll fall off again, but the research suggests you’ll fall a lot less, and you’ll enjoy the ride a lot more.
14 September 2022
Action comes from purpose. We act for a reason. Maybe for survival, maybe to avoid something we don’t like, or to get something we want. Maybe we act because it makes us feel good, or powerful, or safe.
If we have built up a life for ourselves, purpose is already there. There are reasons why we made the decisions that we did, and why we continue to do what we do each day.
The question isn’t whether our life has a purpose. It has one, but we may not know it.
The question we need to be asking is: are we conscious of why we are living the life that we are living? Are we aware of the motivations that our actions came from and continue to come from?
Trying to “cultivate purpose” without this awareness is like trying to get to a destination without knowing where you’re starting from.
That awareness is step one. Can we become aware of what is motivating us to do what we do, without judging ourselves or trying to change anything (yet)?
Once we are aware of our motivations, of what our purpose has been, then we get to ask the question of whether that is a purpose that is aligned with our values—with the person who we want to be.
If not, then there is work to do to understand how to align our purpose with who we want to be, and then redesign our life, so that we are acting out of our new purpose. That’s how we get our actions to align with our values.
And it starts with taking an honest look at what unconscious purpose got us to where we are, and why we have continued on this path (for now).
13 September 2022
In a recent Washington Post article, Randall Monroe, author of the book, “What If?” says that kids ask the best “What If?” questions. He’s noticed that adults try to create a question “that they think will sound interesting and have an interesting answer.” But kids “just ask actual questions they want to know the answer to.”
For myself, I know I will often assume I know the answer to something so I don’t sound stupid, or maybe more so I don’t feel stupid. Filling in the blanks of my knowledge with educated guesses has become such a habit that I rarely even notice I’m doing it. Until someone challenges me and I realize I’m not standing on a solid foundation of understanding, and maybe feel a little embarrassed that I said something which I’m not sure is really true.
We were all kids once. So what happens to us that we start pretending we know the answers, rather than continuing to ask questions. Why do we stop just wondering about things out of curiosity without pretending we are all-knowing?
And most of all, how can we rebuild our connection to pure curiosity that is honest about what we don’t know, and cares more about learning than how we appear to others? Could we build a habit of questioning ourselves and our assumptions regularly, asking, “Is that true?”
I don’t have any answers, but I am curious!
12 September 2022
As we become more aware of our thoughts and feeling and notice the times when we get activated by something that happens, what then? What do we do after we notice that strong emotions like anger, fear, guilt, shame, or anxiety have come up?
My habit was always to think more. To analyze and figure out what caused them. What made those feelings come up all of a sudden? Where are those feelings coming from? How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?
What I’ve learned is that thinking in response to feelings doesn’t help me in the long run. Feelings want to be felt. So how do we work with these eruptions of strong feelings in a way that supports our long-term well-being? How can we relate to them if not by thinking about them and analyzing them? How do we feel the feelings without getting entangled deeper?
The approach that works for me is self-compassion.
Self-compassion lets myself feel the emotion while also acknowledging to myself that it’s hard to feel it. And that it’s natural to feel these things as a human being. And that it will pass (eventually). Just to be with the strong emotions with gentleness and kindness.
When I remember (which isn’t always), I start by taking a deep breath and try to create a little space. A little distance to be able to notice the feelings as something I am experiencing, rather than something that has taken over my whole world.
I notice the feeling and, while keeping attention on my breath, or my feet, or some other focus point in the physical world, remember that feeling these things is okay. It is part of what makes me, me. In fact it is part of being human. And that everyone has times when they feel strong emotions for one reason or another.
And, while still keeping attention on a focus point in the physical world, I try to speak kindly to myself. To comfort myself. To acknowledge that this is hard. That being human is hard sometimes. That living is hard sometimes.
We all know that eventually the emotions goes away. The anger you felt at another kid on the playground disappeared ages ago. It’s the same with every emotion. What I’ve found is that the more I can let go of thinking about these emotions, and the more I can learn to be with them with kindness, the more I can learn about where these emotions come from.
All the insights that I used to try to get from thinking about the emotions arise out of the same space of kindness. The difference is that I’m able to have these insights when I feel calmer and more settled. And the learning I gain comes from a place of kindness towards myself and anyone else who might have been involved.
And insights that come from a place of kindness, tend to generate more kindness. Which is what I want more of in the world.
11 September 2022
In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink argues that intrinsic motivation is a greater force than extrinsic motivation (once our physical survival needs are met), and that the three strongest intrinsic motivators are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Our schooling, and many of our workplaces, have already trained us to value and develop mastery, but not so much for autonomy and purpose.
We are taught to do what we’re told, for the reason of, “I said so.”
Or we may be told to “take initiative” but punished when we do the wrong thing.
Or we may be given a reason for why the work we do is important, but in our gut we either feel that the reason is bogus, or not aligned with what matters to us.
To thrive with these three intrinsic human motivators, we need to develop the inner skills. Inner skills of compassion to have resilience and keep going when acting from a place of autonomy fails. To worry less about failing and more about learning. Because the gift of failing when I’m acting out of my own initiative, is that I get to learn the most. I can see more of what happened—what went right and what went wrong—and I can take those learnings to my next attempt.
However, most of us weren’t taught to learn by failing. We were taught (and rewarded) to get it right the first time. Finding our way through failure takes some practice.
It’s the same with acting from a place of purpose. Most of us weren’t taught to follow our own inner compass, either. We were taught to do what we were told, and rewarded when we did so.
Finding our inner compass and learning to navigate with it also takes practice, and support from people who want us to succeed on our own terms, rather than on their terms.
Developing the skills and capacity to thrive with autonomy and purpose, as well as mastery, isn’t easy, but it can be done with commitment and a community of like-hearted learners.
If this way of working and living calls to you, the rewards are well worth the investment of unlearning the old say, and learning the skills we need for greater satisfaction and well-being.
10 September 2022
Have you ever experienced feeling alone or isolated even when you’re with friends, at a social event, or in a crowd? Do you notice what thoughts are going through your head?
I would bet that most of your thoughts are about judging or evaluating yourself or the people you are with. Maybe worried about how you look or how you’re acting? Or wondering what they think of you? Perhaps noticing how you don’t fit in, or even just focused on how you feel separate from them?
Sometimes loneliness doesn’t come from being alone, but from feeling separated from other people, or even from ourselves, whether we’re alone are not. It comes from not being able to feel love and respect for ourselves, as well as love and respect from the people who we are with.
This loneliness is a state of being in us. It’s painful and it can follow us around from place to place, and from social gathering to social gathering.
The question is, can we become curious about the loneliness we feel inside? Can we use self-compassion to be gentle with that loneliness and give it caring attention? Can we spend time with ourselves to learn how to relate to our own loneliness so that we feel more love and respect for ourselves, for others, and then, perhaps, from other people as well?
This is easier said than done. It’s often a journey of “two steps forward one step back” that takes time and patience.
But in the end, what loneliness needs most is attention. And the attention it most needs is not from friends, fame, or social media, but attention from ourselves.
9 September 2022
One of the most important skills I learned in music conservatory was how to listen. I still remember my teacher’s frustration when he said, “You’re hearing what you want the piano to sound like. Not what it actually sounds like.”
He had me put the music aside, and just play notes and chords of different qualities just so I could focus on listening. Hearing honestly what was coming from the piano. Relating my action at the keyboard with the sound I produced. However harsh or gentle, smooth or jagged, ugly or beautiful that sound was from moment to moment.
The exercise was to hear as accurately as possible. To stop imagining how I was playing the piano, but to clearly hear the music I was making so that I could respond to that sound and get it closer to how I wanted to be paying the music.
To be able to use my senses to close the feedback loop between my intention (the sound I wanted to make) and my impact (the sound I was making).
All these years later, I’ve found myself doing the same in my daily life. By developing my ability to be aware of when my thoughts are coloring my perception of reality, it has helped me to close the feedback loop between my intention and my impact.
To notice when I am seeing what I want to see rather than what is really there. To notice when what I am doing is creating a result which is not aligned with my values, and course-correct. And to notice the moments when the outcome of my actions creates something beautiful.
Not only does closing the feedback loop make it easier to bring my actions more in alignment with my values, it also makes my experience of life that much richer, deeper, and more satisfying. I may not always like what I see, but now that I see, sense, and feel life more clearly, I can respond to what’s there.
Because we can’t respond to life if we can’t hear it calling to us.
8 September 2022
As Seth Godin writes, constraints are a gift.
In addition to the reasons Seth gives, constraints also help us to focus our efforts on what we can do, rather than wasting time on things beyond our control.
After all, we can only do one thing at a time anyway. So isn’t it a gift when our choices are narrowed down for us by constraints?
7 September 2022
When I was stuck in the downward spiral of my career question, I only wanted one thing: the answer. The answer to the questions, “Who am I?” and “What is my work?”
I wanted to be able to craft an elevator pitch that could convey in 30 seconds just what I am about and why you should care. I wanted to have a test that could tell me in an instant if this job, or activity, or path would be right for me or not.
If I choose this door, will it bring me closer to who I am meant to be, or further away? Yes, or no?
What life has taught me is both simpler and more difficult than what I wanted. I never got my answer. Instead I learned how to keep asking questions.
My previous mindset came from what I was taught: set a goal (for example, becoming a university professor), and then do what I need to do to achieve that goal.
That works for some people. For instance, my father discovered at a young age that he truly loves the law. So he did what he needed to do to become a lawyer and practiced law quite literally until the day he died.
For many of us, however, things change. As we grow older, we get to know ourselves better. We learn new things about the world. And on top of that, we, and the world, keep changing.
Although I sometimes envy the directness of my father’s path, for many of us, it’s more important that we learn to see, sense, and feel ourselves, and our context in the moment. To know what is ours to do right now, and follow that next step towards our future.
As Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement address, we can connect the dots of our lives when we look backwards, but looking forward we can only look for our next step and trust that all the steps will connect.
Life has taught me to hold my “identity” lightly. To practice opening my mind for curiosity, my heart for compassion, and my will for courage so that I might see my next step.
At the end of the day, learning to see clearly what is here right now, and what is mine to do right now is challenging enough. And the reality is that my past, and my future, are just a long series of present moments. So it’s not my job to “figure out my life.” It’s my job to live in this present moment and stay open to what is here now.
Because as one of my teachers said, I will get to know who I am for the rest of my days.
6 September 2022
How often to we check in with our bodies and notice the stress and tension that is building up? Why don’t we regularly clear out that stress the same way we brush our teeth after every meal?
When I was driving home in the rain today, I tried an experiment. Instead of distracting myself by listening to music or a podcast, I tried listening to my body. I noticed where my body was tense because of the stressful drive, and let it relax.
Soon enough, my attention would get pulled away from my body again. I’d see something happening on the road, or I’d get caught up in my thoughts. But whenever I became aware again, I would notice any new tension in my body and try to relax it.
I went through this cycle many times: my attention being away from the body, back to noticing the body, to relaxing the body, and again away from the body. I tried not to judge myself about the tension, or about where my mind went. Just matter-of-factly relaxing my body whenever I remembered to, clearing out the stress that kept accumulating as I drove.
Not feeling bad about needing to repeatedly de-stress any more than I feel bad about needing to repeatedly brush my teeth.
What I noticed was that, despite the stressful drive, when I got home I felt okay. I didn’t feel the usual tension or frayed nerves that I usually carry with me into the house after driving in Boston. Especially in the rain.
It seemed that by taking care of the stress bit-by-bit as it came, there was very little left in me by the time I arrived home.
I encourage you to try this micro practice the next time you’re engaged with a longer, stressful activity, like driving. Find a way to pause from time-to-time, or just shift your attention to your body to de-stress as you go. What do you notice? Please share!
5 September 2022
(cw: suicide) This is a difficult topic to talk about, but we need to be talking about it: When does making a living become making a dying?
As I write this, it’s Labor Day weekend in the United States, and I just read about two recently completed suicides at workplaces. Two people, both at well-known companies, on opposite sides of the world from each other. One in her thirties, and the other, a CFO. While we don’t know all the circumstances, we do know that both were under extreme stress from their responsibilities at work.
Our work can serve multiple purposes for us, but for most of us one of those reasons is to take care of our physical needs. To earn money to pay for shelter, food, and clothing. Perhaps to pay for the same for our families, as well as transportation and education, with some extra left over. There’s more, of course, but the point is we work to earn money to pay for our physical needs for security, safety, and well-being.
We work to support our life. But when work is undermining our well-being, and the well-being of others, and of the planet, then something has gone upside-down.
This isn’t an original thought, or anything new, but I wonder what might happen if we spent more time asking ourselves the question: Are we making a living, or making a dying?
What would happen if we rebuilt our society from the assumption that work should support life, and not the other way around?
What is the first, smallest step we could take today, to start turning this around?
4 September 2022
If you feel scared to step into the unknown, that’s normal. Our bodies are wired to stay safe, so alarms go off when we know we’re taking a risk; when we’re about to do something where the outcome is uncertain.
Of course if you’re even thinking of stepping into the unknown, it’s probably because for some reason, staying safe doesn’t feel right anymore. Because you know that you have to move from where you are and venture out in a new direction. Maybe the thought is even exciting, but fear can still hold us back.
One thing that can help us to venture out even with this fear is being part of a community of like-hearted adventurers. A community of people who have each others’ back. People who don’t feel threatened by our leaving the status quo. People who are there to listen as we explore possibilities, navigate challenges, and work through fears. Maybe even people who can encourage us to keep going when things get really tough.
Like in a caravan crossing the desert, the ultimate destinations of the members of this community may all be different, but we can come together for a while to cross the more uncertain and uncharted terrain as a group.
Leaving the certainty of what is familiar to venture into the unknown is hard enough already. If possible, don’t try to do it alone. Find a community you can trust. There’s more safety in numbers.
3 September 2022
How much is enough? How many certifications are enough? How many promotions are enough? How much money is enough? How many friends are enough? How much prestige is enough? How much fame is enough?
What happens once we have enough and we do enough? Is it only then that we can finally be enough? Is it only then that we are worthy of love and respect? That we are a human being who matters?
What if we are already worthy of love and respect just because we are human? What if we already matter because we are part of nature? Because we belong to the Earth’s ecosystem, and every part of Earth’s ecosystem matters, including us?
If we are already worthy of love and respect, if we already matter, and if we already belong, then maybe that’s enough. Maybe what we do is a contribution from our generosity and gratitude for being part of humanity, part of nature, and part of the Earth?
If we already do enough, we already have enough, and we already are enough, what comes next?
That’s the question.
2 September 2022
A lot of self-help writers and speakers pride themselves on the power of their “tough talk.” Telling us in all different ways that we are the problem, we have the power to change our situation, and all was have to do is toughen up, make the hard choices, do the difficult work, and then we’ll get that pot of gold at the end of rainbow.
Putting aside the HUGE issue of structural discrimination, the role of luck, and other environmental factors that absolutely make things more difficult for some people and easier for others, there’s a fundamental flaw in “tough talk.”
Most of us who feel trapped and powerless in our situations know that there are things we have to do for ourselves. And yet, we also feel that for some reason we just can’t do what we know would help us get unstuck. This is one source of feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.
Platitudes like, “find your passion and the money will follow” sound great unless the whole problem is you have no idea what your passion is. Organization methods that guarantee you can get everything done and have time left over may work for some people, but for people who are struggling with organization, the challenge is usually not that they haven’t found the right “method.” There is a deeper block that is getting in the way. And telling people who feel lonely that they “just have to get out there and meet people” is insulting.
So much of the advice in popular culture is obvious, which is why we know it already. If browbeating people into doing the obvious worked, we’d all be doing it already.
Getting out of stuck situations is often more like trying to untie a complicated knot. It’s about taking the time to look at the knot from all angles, shifting a loop here and freeing up an end there, gently and slowly working the knot looser and looser until it can come undone.
With these kinds of knots, we don’t really know how we’re going to get it untied. We have to just work the knot, bit-by-bit, shifting, freeing, and loosening until somehow, by some path, we eventually get there, and the knot is gone.
The last thing you should do is pull harder on the ends in the hopes that the knot will just break free. You’ll only make it tighter and more difficult to undo.
Sometimes, if we hit just a little bump, some “tough talk” can give us a boost to help us keep going. But when we’re dealing with a knottier, older stuck place, what we need is usually the opposite.
We need compassion. We need to slow down and acknowledge the difficult feelings so they can be felt and seen more clearly, and allowed to move through us. And we need to gently look at our situation with kind eyes to question our perception with curiosity and begin to look for possibilities. We need space and support to help us shift our focus from our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness to instead focus on how we might be able to move little-by-little until we can get unstuck.
And just like with complicated knots, we usually don’t know how we’re going to get unstuck. We have to just take it step-by-step, until we discover that we’ve finally worked ourselves free.
Applying compassion to these feelings of stuckness is not only the kinder, more humane approach, in the end, it’s also a faster and more practical approach that does less damage than the more common, self-help alternative.
But don’t take my word for it. The next time you find yourself berating yourself for repeating a habit, or not being able to make progress, try some self-compassion instead, and see what you notice.
1 September 2022
For future possibility to show up, it needs space, emptiness, not-knowing, or some uncertainty about the present.
If you’ve decided that you must fly to Texas for a conference, then there is no possibility to do something else. If you feel you have no choice but to do that project with your brother-in-law, then there’s no possibility to say “no.” And if you’re convinced that the only job you’re qualified for is the one you’re doing, then you’re stuck.
The step before seeing possibilities for the future is to see our present situation more clearly. Why must I fly to Texas for that conference? Can I endure the discomfort of even thinking about saying “no” to my brother-in-law? And is it really true that I’m not qualified for any other job?
If we can create even one, small alternative to our situation, then we create a space where more possibilities and choices could arise.
What if I were too sick to travel? What if I found someone else to work with my brother-in-law? What if I a magic fairy paid me to do something I currently do for fun?
None of these possibilities may come true, but when we can imagine one path out of our current situation, it makes it easier to imagine more. And as we imagine more, there is the possibility to envision a step we can take from where we are that starts to lead us somewhere new.
Nothing in nature stays the same, and that includes us. Change is natural. Sometimes when we’re stuck, we just need to find a way to give ourselves a little nudge to get ourselves moving again.
How do you nudge yourself when you get stuck? Feel free to share so we can all learn from each other!
31 August 2022
Where I grew up, the person who talked more, who had more and stronger opinions, who could argue their case the best (whether they were right or wrong) got the rewards. So I learned to always have an answer. To extrapolate as far as I needed to from the few facts I knew so that I could “contribute to the conversation” and would be seen as engaged, valuable, and worthy of respect.
I got pretty good at this and could be very convincing with my made-up answers. Who knows, maybe I even guessed correctly some of the time.
The down side is that I began to lose track of the difference between what I knew, and what I thought I knew. Extrapolating facts just so that I wouldn’t look dumb became a habit. I lost confidence in my knowledge of myself and the world.
It’s taken a lot of work and commitment to undo that habit of guessing at answers. To practice noticing when I’m saying things that I’m not confident of. To endure the discomfort of saying, I don’t know. To learn to ask people to explain things instead of just assuming I understand what they mean.
The gift of practicing not-knowing is that I have rediscovered they joy of being curious. I’ve been able to feel more free as I worry less about looking smart or being right. And I’ve gained confidence in being able to better trust my ability to know what I know, and to know what I don’t know.
Because another way to say, “I don’t know” is, “I don’t know…yet.”
30 August 2022
The Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh was fond of saying, “No mud, no lotus.” One way to interpret that is to say that without the muddiness that is part of living an engaged life, the beautiful results of living an engaged life are not possible.
It’s the same with all the advice in business books, blog posts, and quote cards. What all those authors tend to describe is the result (or the lotus) that grows out of a long and messy process.
No matter how good the advice, we can’t follow it just because we know about it, any more than we can grow a lotus just by knowing what a lotus is. To be able to do what the authors are describing, we need to develop the skills and the capacity to be present and aware of ourselves, others around us, and our environment, from moment to moment to moment.
And when we develop the skills and the capacity to do that, then we don’t need anyone to tell us what to do next. We know what to do.
So at the end of the day, there is no progress without engaging with the process—the process of learning skills and growing capacity through commitment.
29 August 2022
When a fire is raging, it’s not the time to ask, “What’s happened?” First we have to put out the fire.
It’s the same when we feel overwhelmed and pushed past our limit.
Certainly, at some point we will need to look at how we ended up there if we don’t want to keep ending up in the same position.
But it’s hard to see anything clearly when we’re already completely maxed out. To see clearly again, we have to put out the fire.
One way to put out the fire in our mind is to stop, take a slow, deep breath in, and feel the body. Noticing the Earth under our feet, noticing the body breathing, and noticing any feelings in the body. It could be a headache, or tension in the neck and shoulders, a sour stomach, buzzing nerves, or something else. How does overwhelm feel in the body right now? And as we pay attention, does it change? Do the feelings get stronger? Weaker? Do they move or change?
Once the fire is out, and our body feels more calm, our mind is probably more calm, too. They’re both connected after all.
And once the mind is calm, we can start to think about how we might move forward without getting overwhelmed all over again.
How do you calm your mind, when you find yourself pushed past your limit?
28 August 2022
There’s a story about a man who was on his hands and knees on the sidewalk one night. A neighbor happened to be passing by and asked him what he was doing.
“Why are you crawling around on the sidewalk?” “I lost my keys!” “That’s terrible! So you remember dropping them around here?” “No. I think I dropped them back there near the door to my building.” “So why aren’t you looking for them back there?” “I can’t see back there because it’s dark. But there’s a streetlight here so at least I can see.”
No matter what age we are, we are full of experience, knowledge, and wisdom. Even if we feel we’ve lost our way, we have everything we need to know our next step forward. The problem is that even if “the answer is inside us” as self-help authors like to say, we don’t know how to find that answer.
So we look for the answer outside of us, learning from courses, books, experts, workshops… We consume more-and-more content, certain that somewhere out under the streetlight we’ll find the answer we’re looking for.
The one place we’re not looking is in ourselves, because it seems too dark. Because in school we were taught how to consume knowledge, not how to navigate the way into our own stores of experience, knowledge, and wisdom. We were taught how to search for answers in libraries and the internet, rather than in our own personalized knowledge base that we already have, that we’ve been building for our entire lives, and that is uniquely suited to answer our own questions. We were taught to trust teachers and thought leaders, and not to trust ourselves.
Like the man in the story, we often look for answers in all the wrong places. We’ll find the answers we need much faster when we learn how to see the answers where they are.
27 August 2022
Playing it safe isn’t always a bad thing. Most of us wouldn’t drive on the open road before passing a driver’s test. Nor would we cook a meal for company if we’d never cooked anything before.
Likewise, if we’ve never gone swimming before, we’re not a coward if we feel afraid. Our anxious thoughts and the fear we feel in our body are often natural protections. They’re a response to the risk we perceive. Maybe because we know we lack the skills, or the experience, or the information that we need to leap—whether we’re leaping off the diving board, away from a toxic job, or out of a life-long career into the unknown.
The hesitation, doubt, and fear we may feel is an invitation to look at what we are about to do, and see if we have what we need to make the leap.
Have we developed the emotional coping skills to work with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that will follow us through the unknown gap of the leap? Do we have someone, or a community, who can listen to us, support us, and remind us of why we decided to leap in those moments of deep regret? Have we practiced the route back to our inner self that wants to live fully with well-being, so we know where to go to restore our commitment?
It’s okay to listen to the fear when it’s warning us to take the time to learn to swim, and practice diving off of lower boards before climbing up to the high dive. The hard part is knowing when the fear is telling us there is more preparation to do, and when the fear is just trying to hold us back from the unknown.
Because the time will come when all the preparation is just keeping us stuck. That’s when it’s time to jump with the fear into the unknown.
26 August 2022
Humans are programmed to stay alive. With all the self-destructive choices we may make, in the moment, we do what we need to do to survive.
When we sense danger, our bodies do all sorts of things to make us stronger, quicker, and more alert than we normally are. If we hold our breath too long, our lungs try to pull in something, anything, to try to get more oxygen into our system (even if we’re submerged in water).
There are many examples of this, but one thing that most of them have in common is they are focused on the individual. It’s all about trying to keep me alive. This body. This human, without regard for other humans, or other life.
While this focus on the self can be useful in immediate emergencies, when it comes to more gradual emergencies like a declining business, a fragmenting community, or even the climate crisis, this focus on individual safety can make things worse for us.
Our evolutionarily designed survival instinct can cause us to focus on reducing individual, immediate risk while increasing collective, longer-term danger.
And the thing about “collective” is that it includes each one of us. Everything that increases collective danger also increases the threats to our individual survival. It’s just that we are not designed to react to collective danger the same way we react to individual danger.
This is where the skill of self-awareness comes in. When we can become aware of our reactions to threat—or what we think is a threat—then we have the opportunity to take an action that is aligned with our true well-being. One which takes into account that our well-being depends more on preserving this body in this moment, but on the well-being of us all.
It’s not easy to pause, to put the breaks on generations of evolutionary conditioning, but the better we learn to be aware of when we are reacting, to pause to see more clearly what true threats and opportunities may be around us, then we can make a conscious choice to build the future we want to live in.
And making these choices from moment-to-moment-to-moment is how we build that future moment-by-moment-by-moment.
25 August 2022
Why do we stay in a bad relationship, a dead-end job, or a town that we hate? What is it that makes it so hard to change, even when we want to?
There may be many reasons, and some could be outside our control. But one big reason that is within our control is that somewhere inside us, we know we’re not prepared.
We’re not prepared to cope with the feelings of loss, regret, sadness, or pain that change would bring up.
We’re not prepared to work with the feelings of fear and doubt that will pester us if we try to leave our familiar situation and step into the unknown.
We’re not prepared to let go of the predictability of the patterns we have lived with and respond with curiosity, compassion, and courage to the daily surprises that come with taking on something new.
These emotional challenges require skills to navigate with confidence, and most of us are out of practice. And somewhere deep down inside us we know that, and so we wisely stay put, rather than take the risk of embarking on a journey that we’re not prepared for.
But these are all skills that we have used at some time in our past. We’ve all had to deal with loss, regret, sadness, pain, fear, doubt, unpredictability, and the unknown at some point in order to get where we are.
So if we sense that the time is coming for change, a time when we’ll be called to leave behind what we know and hit the road again, we can thank the voice that is warning us that we’re not prepared. Because instead of reacting to the warning by deciding we’re stuck where we are, we can hear the warning as an invitation to start practicing those emotional coping skills.
We can choose to get back in shape now, so when the opportunity comes for us to take that leap, we’ll have the skill, strength, stamina, and flexility to get back on the road.
24 August 2022
Earlier today I was angry about wasting so much time. I noticed how fast the time was going by without my getting much done. I felt frustrated and berated myself for being so unproductive.
Now I notice how much time I have left before the end of the workday. It feels luxurious, like I have all the time in the world to finish my “must do” tasks with time left over to enjoy working ahead on some things.
I’m not sure that “earlier me” would have wanted to hear it, but in this moment I notice how much time is just a matter of perspective. And the questions of how much work I “should” get done by a certain time is an arbitrary measurement I put on myself, or someone else puts on me. It’s an opinion, rather than a fact. It’s a matter of values, rather than objective truth.
I value well-being and have learned that my true happiness doesn’t come from how much time I have or how much I get done, but from how much I enjoy working.
I still forget this more often than not, but I feel grateful that I can enjoy working now, even if I haven’t always enjoyed it the past, like earlier today.
23 August 2022
It’s natural to worry about the future, or regret the past. Some might even say it’s evolutionary. But what if evolution is getting in the way of your success and happiness?
Worrying about the future helps us to make choices and take actions which will support our ongoing survival. It helps us to go beyond short-term thinking. To make plans and consider consequences.
Regret helps us to recognize that we aren’t happy with some of the choices we made in the past. It gives us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and perhaps make choices which we will be more happy with in the future.
The tools of worry and regret have certainly helped us to survive and grow as a species. But as my children are fond of saying, when it comes to evolution, “Cs get degrees.” Evolution doesn’t always choose the best option, just a good enough option for the continued survival of the species.
But what if we want to do more than just “survive.” In fact, what if our individual fight to survive is creating longer-term risk for our own well-being, as well as the well-being of our societies, and the planet?
Because the fact is, we only exist now, in this moment. We don’t know the future yet, and we barely understand the past, if at all. We can’t go back in time to change anything, and we can’t jump into the future. All we have is what we know now, and what we can do now.
So the wisest thing we can do for our well-being, is to learn how to stop and be as present as we can. To be aware of all the information that is available to us now, in this present moment, and to be aware of what we can do now, in this present moment, that we believe will move us in the direction of our highest intention. And then to do it.
After taking that action, we stop again, notice what has changed, course-correct if necessary, and take another step.
This is how we walk into the future we want to create. Step-by-step, staying as present as we can be with each step.
The next time you notice being caught in worry or regret, try stopping for a moment to be present with your experience right now. Notice what you see, feel, and sense right now. And then ask yourself, “What can I do now, to go further towards my highest intention?”
22 August 2022
As workplaces have become more aware of the challenge of unconscious bias, it’s highlighted the question: “How do we see our own blindspots?” If we have a particular belief, if we see the world a certain way, how do we see our own belief, bias, or perspective not as fact, but as just one of many possible points of view? How do we see ourselves from the outside, like an observer?
One was to do that, is together. If we are in a group of people who have built up trust and skills of presencing with each other, we can see ourselves reflected in each others’ eyes. We can starts to see ourselves as others see us, and we can start to see the world we live in as others see it.
Not only does this help us see our unconscious bias, but also our blindspots around our own weaknesses and strengths. How well do we really know what we’re capable of, and how often do we hold ourselves back because of what we think we’re not capable of?
What could change in your life if you spent just an hour a week in a group like this, helping each other to see not only yourselves, but the world around you more clearly?
With all the money being thrown at collecting data, what might deep data like this be worth?
21 August 2022
Everything that is alive, grows, but not forever. Growth is part of life, but it’s not the whole story. Birth, growth, death, decay, and rebirth… life needs all of these and more.
Most organisms and ecosystems grow and shrink, come alive and go dormant, become more this and then become more that.
Nature is always changing, and rarely in a straight line.
So why do our business growth charts favor straight lines, trending in only one direction: up? Why do we try to force our businesses to do something that doesn’t happen in nature? To achieve infinite ever-accelerating growth?
What if the goal of business was to keep creating, rather than to keep growing?
What if we saw business as a creative force for the greater good?
Nature doesn’t infinitely stockpile a growing reserve of resources. When times are plentiful, it stores up for when times are lean, and when times are lean, it uses those stores. The goal is not an infinitely growing stockpile. The goal is to sustain and adapt thriving life through changing circumstances.
What if the goal of business, like the rest of nature, was for life to thrive? What if business were a creative force for the greater good—motivated by enlightened self-interest? What would our business ecosystem look like then?
20 August 2022
Often when we get lost on our way to going somewhere we make the mistake of trying to keep going. We try to remember which direction our destination is in and course-correct over and over again until we realize that we’re becoming more-and-more lost.
The best thing we can do whenever we feel lost, uncertain, or unclear is to stop. Stop, pause, and let our goal-oriented mind that is fixated on getting to the destination settle down until we can take a clear look around.
Sometimes this means being with difficult emotions. We may feel like a failure because we took a wrong turn, or didn’t plan our route well enough. We may feel angry that we were given bad advice or the wrong map. We may feel anxious about what the consequences could be for where we ended up, or for not reaching our destination (yet).
Once we allow ourselves to feel those feelings, to let them be seen and heard, and then let them pass away (which some scientists say takes only about 20 seconds if we don’t keep feeding them), then we can take a look around. What do we see? What do we notice? What can we learn about where we are?
Because it doesn’t matter how clear we may be about our goal. If we don’t know where we’re starting from, we’ll never figure out which way we need to go.
19 August 2022
There’a lot written about the power of how self-talk can build us up or tear us down. And we’ve all noticed how inspiring speeches always stress what is possible. They try to instill us with a “can do” attitude.
Yet with all this, I never really believed in the power of self-talk until my partner invited me to do an experiment. She invited me to say to myself, “I don’t have enough time to get everything done,” and notice how my body felt. Then she suggested I say, “I have so much time to get all this done!,” and notice if there was any change in my body.
This wasn’t about the truthfulness of the statement. The point was to notice what happens in the body. To notice my energy and my motivation. The question of “is there enough time” can have a tactical impact: data for prioritizing my actions, but also a psychological impact, inspiring me to keep going, or demoralizing me with feelings of futility.
We can try this experiment when we’re thinking about someone’s attitude about us (“My boss hates me” vs. “My boss is encouraging me to succeed”), or our own ability (“I keep messing up” vs. “I keep learning”), or even about possibilities for success (“I’ll never make it” vs. “I haven’t failed yet!”).
What was different about my partner’s approach is that rather than treating these as mental tricks like I’ve seen in self-help books, she suggested turning them into quick, experiential experiments. Literally feeling into my body, to notice that what I say to myself can create a physical change in posture, energy, and readiness to act.
This doesn’t mean we should lie to ourselves. But if we’re going to talk about the future—a future which we don’t know yet—why not say something that gives us the best chance of enjoying ourselves and doing our best work?
But don’t take my word for it. Try the experiment yourself and see what you notice!
18 August 2022
A tale of two emails: Two potential business partners who we’ve had conversations with. Two emails. Two very different impacts.
Yesterday one potential partner sent us an email that we knew he wrote from the heart. We could feel his enthusiasm, sincerity, and presence in the words. It wasn’t perfect or polished, but it didn’t matter. We felt seen and cared about, and were grateful to experience his human-to-human professionalism through the text.
Today another potential business partner sent us an email that he could have written to anybody. It was the archetype of the modern form letter, complete with “hip lingo” that he has never used with us in person, probably because of our age. (My using the term “hip lingo” should give you a clue of how old I am.) It felt artificial, unfeeling, and unprofessional.
The second email had more intimate and personal language, but the lack of caring in what was written left us cold. The language in the first email was more professional and focused on business, yet the caring it communicated felt warm.
All the tips and tricks in the world on “business communication” won’t help you if you don’t know how to connect with what you care about in the relationship. And chummy language doesn’t create connection on its own.
Businesses are built on relationships, and relationships are built on caring. We humans are remarkably sensitive creatures and we’ll know if you care, or if you don’t.
17 August 2022
I used to value being able to “define myself.” In my 20s and early 30s I was on a path that let me answer the two questions of “Who am I” and “What is my work” with the same answer: “I’m an ethnomusicologist.”
When I finally accepted that this label was not an honest answer to either question, I was left with the painful realization that I didn’t know who I was or what my work was. In the years that followed, I became obsessed with trying to nail down my “personal brand.” I read books and blog posts, wrote out lists of values, drafted mission statements, and crafted “elevator pitches” that could encapsulate my essence in 30 seconds.
I spent all my time reading, thinking, writing, and talking, and in the end it got me nowhere.
What I should have been doing was listening.
Everything I wrote became outdated from the moment I committed it to memory. “Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrap,” as the saying goes, and that was just as true for my personal elevator pitches. Not only am I a different person today than I was yesterday, my awareness of myself is always changing, too.
I’ve learned now that the point isn’t to craft the perfect statement, but to practice and hone my ability to listen to myself and to listen to the world. To notice how the world reflects back to me what I say and do, and to sense how I am showing up in the world from that reflection. To trust that if I’m meeting a person who is open and curious, what comes out of my mouth will be some version of the truth about who I am. And if I’m meeting a person who is closed and judgmental, then it doesn’t matter what I say anyway.
As I’ve practiced listening, I’ve gained a much better understanding of who I am and what my work is than I had when I let go of the label of “ethnomusicologist.” And I expect my understanding to continue to change and grow for the rest of my life.
I still get nervous when meeting people for the first time, and I still worry about what they’ll think of me. But I no longer try to get rid of that feeling by writing a script for a character who is no longer me. I accept the feelings as part of what it means to be who I am, and I ride on that emotion into the exciting unknown possibility of this new conversation.
Because every conversation has the potential of a gift of understanding if I can stay open, present, and fresh. Not only could I learn more about the world through another perspective, I could also learn a bit more about who I am becoming, today.
When are the times you notice who you are becoming? How do you keep current with yourself?
16 August 2022
I love to learn. You could call me “jack of all trades, master of none” but I prefer “renaissance man” or Emilie Wapnick’s term, “multi-potentiate.” A glance at my LinkedIn profile shows a variety of education and roles, and that’s only what I’ve felt are worth putting up there.
One reason my path has meandered is that I was misled by the adults around me when I was growing up. Nobody reflected back to me the person they saw, they only projected onto me the person they wanted me to be. This led to decades of frustrated searching as I thought that the future I was pursuing was where the world wanted me to go, but some part of me knew that I was going the wrong way.
Another reason is that I truly am a curious person. I’ve enjoyed learning to compose film music, to build pipe organs, to code simple programs in a dozen different computer languages, to write a chapter of a children’s book, to speak Korean, to consult on organizational culture, to self-publish an art photography book, to be a church music director, to create process architecture, and to teach ethnomusicology, organizational communication, piano, meditation, English as a second language, and emotional intelligence.
I also recognize that there are many times when my brain says, “Oooh! Shiny,” and wants to learn something new as a distraction. A way to move away from the discomfort of the now: the self-doubt when I can’t write my daily blog post; the the self-criticism when I have to undo a mistake and start over, or the fear that I don’t know enough to take the next step that I know I have to take. (The feeling of not knowing enough is a very strong siren call to go down the rabbit hole of learning.)
So I practice noticing when my attention is drawn to learning something new and I try to sense into my motivation. Is it genuine curiosity? Is it something I really need to learn myself (and can’t delegate)? Or am I looking for a distraction away from a path that is uncomfortable in the moment, but will lead towards the direction of my well-being.
Of all the tips and tricks for staying focused, noticing where my attention is (putting my attention on my attention) has been the best. And noticing my attention is usually all I need. If I can notice that I’m getting distracted or off-track, re-focusing and getting back on track happens almost automatically.
Or maybe I decide to take a break and have some fun learning that new, shiny thing! Sometimes that can be a good choice, too.
15 August 2022
“Don’t think about game design. Don’t read about game design. Don’t watch videos about game design. Just get to work and create 30 small games based on your gut instinct. Then you’ll start to think like a game designer.”
This advice I saw on Twitter got me thinking about my own journey with mindfulness, awareness practices, and emotional intelligence. All the books, trainings, and wisdom I heard sounded great, but didn’t help me create any real change. I thought I understood it, but now I know the difference between knowing something in my head, and understanding something so that I can act on it.
Knowing that I have the choice to let go of a failure so that I can learn from it is one thing. Understanding the experience of feeling the burn of failure, then moving to self-compassion and self-forgiveness, and finally opening the mind and heart so I can learn is something that takes time and repeated practice—and many failures as well!
Knowing that the person who cut me off in traffic might have an emergency and isn’t necessarily being selfish is one thing. Noticing the anger that flares up when it happens, being kind to my own anger so that it can calm down, and then remembering that the safest and healthiest thing I can do is to create more space in myself by breathing, and on the road by hanging back a bit has taken years of practice.
Knowing that whatever situation I find myself in is going to change is one thing. Understanding that what I am experiencing right now, good or bad, is only here in this moment and that in an hour, tomorrow, or next week things could be completely different has taken consistent noticing to have the insight over and over again of how much what I think will last, or what I think will happen, doesn’t. How the stuck project unexpectedly moves forward. How the rich, working relationship falls apart. How the step into the unknown that I was terrified of taking turned out to be a gift, once I mustered the courage.
There aren’t enough hours in anyone’s lifetime to read all the books with all the wisdom, and in the end it doesn’t matter. The only wisdom that is worthwhile is wisdom we can turn into action. And the only way to gain that wisdom is through learning by doing.
14 August 2022
Listening is not only a gift I give to someone else, but it’s also a gift I give to myself.
It’s true that when I listen generously to someone else, I’m giving them a gift. I’m showing them that they are worth my time and attention. They may feel that I care about them through my listening. My listening may also give someone the gift of hearing themselves differently when they speak out loud into the space between us.
However, when I listen deeply to someone else, I also open myself up to the possibility to receive gifts myself. I can receive the gift of learning new knowledge, perspectives, and wisdom. I could receive the gift of a light shining on one of my blindspots or uncovering some of my unconscious bias. And most of all, I receive the gift of a stronger relationship with the speaker as we weave our connection of understanding a little tighter.
Listening can certainly be motivated by a desire to be of service to another person. But perhaps if we notice that it is also in our own, enlightened self-interest to listen generously, it might encourage us all to create more opportunities to listen, and as a result, to create greater understanding and well-being in our relationships.
13 August 2022
“You better tell me you’re gonna work day and night on this.” “People are only motivated by two things: fear and greed.” “If you make this mistake I’m gonna slap you.”
Who might you think would say things like this. An abusive parent? A toxic sales manager?
What if I told you it was a “pitch coach” for green technology entrepreneurs?
After sitting through a two-hour jam-packed webinar where the coach literally had to struggle to catch their breath multiple times, my only takeaway is that there has got to be a better way to support entrepreneurs who are trying to create a more sustainable planet.
On the one hand, the presenter’s words said that pitches needed to be clear and concise to reduce the cognitive load on the listener. On the other hand, they were talking a million miles and hour to try to cram as much content as possible into the two hours.
At one point in the presentation, they bemoaned the lack of female venture capitalists, yet later they used a slide of a woman working under the hood of a car to illustrate the question, “Do you know what you’re doing?”
And by the end it was clear that this was a tactic to overwhelm all of us so we would feel that we need to take their course in order to learn all of this — yet all this two-hour pitch convinced me of was that I never wanted to be anywhere near this person ever again.
There has got to be another way.
If we are going to innovate green technology to turn around the damage we’re doing to our planet, we’re not going to succeed by doing it from the same take-make-waste mindset that got us here.
How is it sustainable to extract time, talent, and energy from people in order to maximize profit — even if that profit is going to support green technology?
How can we separate the well-being of the planet from the well-being of the people who are living and working on the planet — including entrepreneurs?
One piece of advice really stuck with me from the webinar: “If you want balance in your life, don’t become an entrepreneur.” Which leaves me with the question: “Are we really so uncreative that we can’t come up with another way?”
12 August 2022
If someone points a gun at me, that’s a threat. But if someone disagrees with me, is that a threat?
If I feel secure in my self worth regardless of whether I’m right or wrong, regardless of whether I’m productive or unproductive, regardless of whether people like me or don’t like me, then what is a threat?
When I feel excited that my idea was challenged because it’s a chance to learn, if noticing that I’m unproductive is a warning that I might be burning out, and if people not liking me is a signal that I need to work on my relationships, or that maybe I’m around the wrong crowd, then none of these things is a threat. They’re data.
And if we can notice those times when data feels like a threat, there’s an opportunity to see something in ourselves that needs care and attention. A place that may be hurt or neglected.
Learning to notice the difference between a real threat, and when we feel threatened is a powerful skill, not only for healthier relationships with others, but most of all, to strengthen our relationship with ourselves.
Can you think of a time when noticing that something felt like a threat helped you to learn more about yourself? What do you do to practicing noticing more?
11 August 2022
No one is an island, as the saying goes, but sometimes we feel alone. This can be for many reasons. Experiencing rejection in a relationship or a job. Frustration with repeated personal failure or not being able to reach a goal. Maybe it’s simply the accumulation of anxiety and social isolation that is making us feel alone.
There can be many reasons, but once we close up, shut down, and settle into our loneliness, it’s extremely difficult to reconnect to other people. In those moments, we need somebody to step into our loneliness from the outside, and be a bridge. To reawaken the feeling of connectedness in us and remind us that we are part of a larger whole of humanity.
In most cases, being a bridge doesn’t require any special skills or degrees. All we need is the ability to care and to feel compassion. To connect to that part of us that sometimes feels isolated and alone, and reach out to the person who is suffering in that moment. To say, “I see you. I’m here for you.”
All of us have the ability to be a bridge back to humanity for each other. All we need is to be aware, to reach out, and to be there.
10 August 2022
What if we have performance evaluations all wrong?
What if the way to excellence in an organization isn’t to focus on employee performance, but on employee qualities and character?
In her ground-breaking work on learning, Psychologist Carol Dweck discovered that student performance improved when success was acknowledged by praising the person’s effort rather than their results, and when failure was acknowledged by praising the person’s resilience rather than focusing on the failure.
In both cases, the focus is on the qualities or character of the person, rather than the results that they achieved.
In our results-oriented business world this may seem counter intuitive, but to get better results we need to separate our sense of self-worth from our performance. If we can support each other as unconditionally valuable human beings separately from our performance, then it frees us up to be more honest about results.
There’s no need to feel defensive or even cover up failure if it’s not personal. If success and failure are more honestly seen as a result of a whole system which includes me, us, and many other factors, then we can create a more psychologically safe workplace to support greater creativity, innovation, and collaboration.
It’s not easy to undo decades or centuries of human conditioning that has tied our productivity to our self-worth, but the sooner we can make that shift, the sooner we can work together with our full potential to innovate a world which supports the well-being of all.
9 August 2022
Musicians, artists, and athletes warm up before getting into their work for the day. They go through routines and exercises that prepare and check in with their bodies and minds — giving them a chance to notice anything that’s changed, such as a particularly sore muscle, a joint that feels weak, or that the mind is struggling more than usual to focus.
This helps them to adjust their expectations and also how they approach their practice, their art, or their competition this time.
It’s a recognition that our bodies and minds are always changing. Each time we show up, we’re a little bit different, so it’s worth taking some time to get to know who we are in this moment before engaging in our work.
Getting together for a meeting is no different. If the meeting is important enough to schedule time for out of everyone’s day, then it’s worth taking a few minutes in the beginning to check in — for each person to answer the question, “How are you arriving?” The idea isn’t for each person to tell a story about what’s going on with them, but simply a few words, no more than a sentence, to share the state of their minds and bodies as the meeting begins.
If a beloved pet is sick, just sharing, “I’m feeling a little down,” is enough. The reason isn’t as important as acknowledging to yourself and the group how you’re feeling so everyone can be a little more understanding. Someone else might say, “I’m celebrating today!” and we don’t need to know why, but now we know there are two very different feelings in the room. Telling the group that my back is sore, so I might stand up and walk off screen, but I’ll still be paying attention, lets me feel free to do what I need to do to not get distracted by my back pain, while also minimizing distraction for others.
With this kind of brief, popcorn-style “check-in,” the meeting begins with a sense of the whole from everyone’s voice being heard, even if some people hold space without speaking for the rest of the meeting. The “social body” of the group begins the meeting with a deeper awareness of itself, which can support more engagement, clearer communication, and less miscommunication, during and after the meeting.
But don’t take my word for it. If you’ve begun meetings with this kind of check-in, I’d love to hear what you’ve learned. And if you haven’t, give it a try and share what happens.
8 August 2022
Growing up, I was expected to eat whatever was put in front of me. Not only that, I was expected to say that I liked it so that our mother would feel good about herself.
The result was that as an adult, I didn’t have strong preferences for food. I could eat just about anything, and it all tasted “fine.” I couldn’t distinguish subtle flavors. An expensive restaurant was wasted on me. Food was food. It kept my body going.
When I hit a career crisis in my 30s, realizing that I could no longer lie to myself that I wanted a life as a professor, I started to explore the question of, “If not a professor, then what?”
I read books, worked with coaches, took courses, and tried my hand at technical writing, teaching piano, tutoring, coding, composing… I did everything I could think of to identify the work which I was meant to do. What was the path that I missed, and how could I get on it now?
What I didn’t realize is that just like with food, I also had no sense of “taste” when it came to the work I enjoyed. I had dulled my sense of likes and dislikes for so long that I could no longer feel what was meaningful to me and what wasn’t.
The step before the step of finding my work, was to stop and learn to listen to my self. To learn to sense and feel what really mattered to me. What I cared about. Where I could hear my inner voice answering the world’s call by saying, “I’ll do it!”
When I studied ethnomusicology, I had to train my ear to hear what was meaningful in musics that I didn’t grow up with: Hindustani raga, Korean sanjo, and Sephardic songs.
After leaving that field, I had to train my ear to hear what was meaningful to me. Random attempts at different careers did not help me find my work. What got me back on my path was a process of developing the skill and the capacity to be with myself as I am right now, let go of any ideas of what I should or should not care about, and learn to listen to what really matters to me right now.
I still have to practice listening, and some days I hear more clearly than others, but I’m grateful to be back on my path.
7 August 2022
Each of us can only handle so much.
So much anxiety. So much stress. So much frustration. So much pressure.
When we get together to complain, it feels a little better in the moment. We can each let some steam out of our own pot of challenges and reduce the pressure for a bit. But before long, the pressure builds back up again.
A more lasting solution is to pool our capacity together. To create a safe enough space where we can come together to slow down and share what we each see, feel, and sense in a way that creates a large, shared cauldron of experiences. A single pot that can contain all of our perspectives and that lets each of us see a bigger picture — a picture that we each contribute to.
And when we get together regularly to keep the cauldron going, we don’t have to be limited to the size of our own little pot anymore. We can call on the spaciousness and openness of the cauldron whenever we need to.
This world is too much for any one of us to handle. But together, not only can we handle it, we can use what we see, sense and feel in our shared cauldron to create a world that supports the well-being of all.
6 August 2022
Why do outside solutions fail?
One reason could be that the organization lacks the skills to execute on the solution. Just because we’re told what we need to do, doesn’t mean we have the capability or capacity to do it. All the tips and tricks in the world won’t improve my drawing. I have to put in the work, and even better, put in the work with others.
Another reason could be that the solution addresses only the symptoms, but not the deeper cause. If the dam is weak, plugging the existing holes will just create more pressure and new cracks will start leaking somewhere else. Sustainable results only come from addressing the structures and beliefs underneath the current challenges. Then new possibilities can be found and the old challenges will go away.
A third reason is that the solution doesn’t take into account understanding that is hidden in the current system. Challenges that customer service representatives have heard, but are afraid to tell their managers for fear of retribution. Pain that employees are feeling because of the culture, that the leaders are ignorant of. Or burnout in the C-suite which they don’t want to admit to themselves or to each other.
This is why most organizational challenges require a process to get to a solution. A process that includes a safe enough space to uncover hidden understanding. A process with tools that can see, sense, and feel beneath the symptoms to expose current beliefs and structures as well as possibilities for a stronger, healthier foundation. And a process which includes learning skills to grow the capability and capacity to create sustainable change in the organization.
What we call “problems” might just be opportunities to uncover what need our attention and action to create a solution together through a process.
5 August 2022
If you’re worrying about getting it done, then you’re worrying. You’re not getting it done.
If you’re complaining about your job, then you’re complaining. You’re neither learning more about what’s not working, nor are you doing anything to improve your work situation.
If you’re frustrated by not being able to make a decision, then you’re focused on your frustration. You’re not focused on finding more clarity so that you can decide.
All of these are natural states that we fall into from time-to-time. The invitation is to notice when we’re stuck and ask ourselves where our attention is. If our attention is stuck on feeling bad about the situation, can we apply some compassion towards how we feel, and gently bring our attention back to what matters most — finding a way through the current challenge?
Action follows attention, which is why knowing where our attention is in each moment is key to getting unstuck.
4 August 2022
How can you tell when a space is held well with a group of people?
You can tell by the feeling of safety in being able to speak up when something wants to be said, and by the trust that you feel that your silent listening is also contributing.
You can tell by the way ownership of ideas gets lost and by the shift in focus away from saying clever things or trying to “add value,” and towards asking questions out of genuine curiosity and making observations without an agenda or even knowing why you’re saying it.
You can tell by the sense that each contribution is landing in the center like a piece of clay added to a growing ball, and by experiencing how the individual pieces meld into a whole which is being sculpted by the group.
And after the space has closed you know it was held well when the urge to talk about what happened is eclipsed by a drive to act on the insights that came out of the space.
The world has many challenges that feel overwhelming and too big to tackle. A good place to start is in creating more spaces that are held well to create insight and inspiration to action. One community at a time.
3 August 2022
This summer we participated in a lot of business-to-business sales calls as a prospective client, and it was quite an education. Noticing how different vendors show up, how they describe their services and their process, and most of all, noticing how we respond in each conversation.
What we noticed is that those who spent all their time in those initial discovery calls presenting, talking, and persuading are the ones we crossed off our list of candidates first. Those who took the time to listen, ask open questions, understand, and then respond from that place of deep understanding are the ones we had follow-up conversations with.
Listening is a core power skill that would have helped all of the salespeople who failed. The salesperson who tried to guess at my former profession got it wrong, came across as fake, and lost my trust. However, if they had asked me about my former profession, they would have shown a genuine interest to connect.
Then there was a team who kept proposing we move the project in a different direction even after we explicitly said that wasn’t what this project was about. If they had been listening, they might have stopped to ask more questions. That would’ve shown us how they could collaborate.
And don’t get me started about the guy who lacked so much self-awareness that he wasn’t even listening to himself as he made the same point over and over, eating up our time and annoying us in the process.
Closing a quality sale doesn’t come from being clever, or authoritative, or even “adding value.” A sale is built on a foundation of a genuine connection. And you can’t make a genuine connection unless you’re willing, and able, to listen.
2 August 2022
Strengthening our ability to see clearly requires individual work. Learning to see all the internal influences we carry including our egos, our hopes, fears and other emotions, and the bias of our upbringing and experience is our own responsibility by necessity. Nobody can do it for us.
However, it is also work that we cannot do completely on our own.
We need other people to shine a light on our blind spots. We don’t know what we don’t know until trusted partners hold a mirror up to us so we can see. And sometimes we need support when we have to navigate treacherous terrain in ourselves.
Studies in neurobiology have shown that we are literally wired to work together. From our tone of voice to facial expressions, we have evolved to connect and communicate in ways that allow us to pool our capacity and capability — becoming more together than we are apart.
Just as we can share food with each other and carry a heavy sofa together, we can share and carry intangibles like information, emotional burdens, and inspiration. And by sharing and carrying together, we help each other to grow our capacity and capability for clarity.
And there’s a bonus. While growing our individual ability to see clearly when we do the work together, we also learn to see, sense, and feel together as a team. Together we can see even more clearly, more deeply, and more broadly. And from that greater clarity, comes the creativity and innovation we need to solve some of our greatest challenges.
So yes, we all have to do our own individual work, but by doing that work together, we open up a whole new field of possibilities.
1 August 2022
When someone comes to us with a problem, how often do we jump to give advice?
Even if the person says they want us to tell them what to do, is that the best way for us to help them?
Are we giving advice so we feel smart, or helpful, or maybe to get the conversation over with so we can get to something else? Is our giving advice about how we want to feel about ourselves, or about our own agenda?
Are we giving advice because they asked us to and we want to be a good friend, boss, or sibling?
Do you notice how all of the motivations in the last two sentences are about ourselves, not about the other person?
What if instead of giving advice, we gave time and attention? What if we asked questions? What if we simply shared what we see, feel, and sense without trying to influence them? Just shining a light another perspective that they may not have realized?
Holding an agenda-less space with someone isn’t easy. It takes discipline and practice to quiet our own ego and not tell the other person what to do. But there is magic in creating the conditions for the other person to come to their own insights, and their own conclusion about the best next step.
Because when the person can own what they see and feel as coming from themselves and not from someone else, they can own their actions as well. And motivation to action that comes from inside ourselves is the most lasting and resilient motivation of all.
31 July 2022
A few times recently, I’ve agonized over canceling or postponing a meeting only to find out that the other person was thinking of doing the same.
When I hear back that they also wouldn’t be able to make it, or that it would be better for them to reschedule, I sense a wave of relief that the feeling is mutual, while also noticing that the time and energy I spent trying to decide what to do was unnecessary. I could have just asked at the beginning.
We need to remember how much we don’t know. We don’t know if our car is going to break down next week, or if our dream client is going to call us today, or if there is going to be another pandemic in three months.
Most of all, we don’t know what is going on in another person’s life, their thoughts, and their feelings unless they tell us.
Conversation with an open mind and an open heart is the best way to create clarity between people. Asking questions with curiosity, and listening with compassion to hold a safe space helps us to learn about each other, and sometimes even to learn about ourselves.
But the step before the step is to keep reminding ourselves of what we don’t know, and to notice when we’re struggling with a decision by making guesses about another person, when we could just ask.
30 July 2022
The system isn’t broken. The current system, as it’s designed, is working perfectly. It’s creating the outcomes that it’s designed to create. The climate crisis, social divides, epidemic levels of loneliness and depression are all logical outcomes of the current system.
For those of us who want different outcomes, and have been trying to create a world which supports the well-being of all environmentally, socially, and individually, the question is, why is the system so hard to change?
One reason is that part of this system is inside us. It was planted there by our upbringing and our education. The skills, facts, and world views we’ve been taught have equipped us to work within and maintain the current system, not to change it. By design, we haven’t been taught how to build a different system.
This is why the step before trying to create change out there, is creating change in ourselves. Inner change that comes from learning new skills of being, belonging, and becoming what we imagine the world could be. Inner change that comes from building capacity to be with the fear of staring into an unknown future and taking a step forward anyway. Inner change that comes from making a commitment to showing up every day to do what is ours to do, to build a future for the well-being of all.
This isn’t easy work, and it isn’t glamorous work, and for many of us, we may never see the fruits of tending to the seedlings of the future, but what is the alternative?
The alternative is that the current system keeps going as it is.
29 July 2022
Part of creating a healthy, intentional team culture is choosing where to set boundaries around attitudes and behaviors which are expected or not allowed.
Clear, explicit, and firm cultural boundaries allow everyone to choose whether this is a team where they can do their best work or not. It allows us to accept people as they are, without blame or shame, while also being able to decide whether they will contribute to the health of the team, or detract from it.
Clear, explicit, and firm cultural boundaries also help focus discussions about “employee fit” on concrete concerns: “In our team we work like this, but you appear to work like that, so we would all be unhappy working together.”
(This is in contrast to, “We just don’t feel that you’re a good fit,” which is often used as a lazy way to cover up unconscious bias against the employee.)
And the boundaries have to apply to everyone. Nothing kills a culture more than having one set of expectations for the employees, and another for the boss. CEO also stands for Chief Example Officer.
How clear are the boundaries in your team? Are the expectations clear and consistent? If not, what small, first step could you take for a stronger, healthier culture?
28 July 2022
The words you’re reading were written in the past. But you’re reading them now. You’re experiencing them now.
The memory of that argument is something you’re experiencing now. The argument, the event, is over and gone. It’s in the past, but the anger, regret, or sadness you feel in your body is here now — an emotional response to the memory.
Does thinking about that upcoming lunch date bring up feelings of excitement or anxiety? Those feelings are happening now. The lunch is in the future. It hasn’t happened yet. But what you feel when you think about it is something you are experiencing now.
Our memory of what happened is only what we remember. Our perspective at the time and how we’ve changed since then are filters on our memory. There’s no way to be sure if our memory is accurate, but it is real to us in this moment. What we remember is our experience right now.
The same goes for the future that we hope or fear will happen. There is no way to know how much will pan out in reality, but in this moment, our hope and fear are real. We are experiencing them right now.
To be human is to stand in a river watching time flow by. As the future flows downstream towards us, the details become clearer until they pass by our feet and flow into the past, becoming more-and-more distant. Our mind can imagine what the future might be, or what the past might have been, but all we really know is what is, right now.
What matters most is being aware of what we are thinking, feeling, seeing, and sensing in this moment. All we know is what we know right now. And we never step into the same river twice.
27 July 2022
We all walk around with enormous amounts of information in our heads. Bits from books we’ve read, shows we’ve watched, observations from meetings, experiences with family — the list of sources is endless.
Not only do we have all this information on our mental library shelves, but it all has a particular spin that is unique to us. Our own lenses and filters that we’ve developed over years of influences give a particular flavor to what we know and what we think.
Every person’s head is like a private library with a particular awareness of the world in it. A bit of awareness which is both true (to the library’s owner at least), and incomplete.
When we listen to another person, we have a few options. One option is to compare what they are saying to what is already on our library shelves. If what they say matches a book we have, we agree with it. If it doesn’t, we disagree and reject it. We leave the conversation with our library unchanged. Our awareness of the world is the same as it was before.
On the other hand, if the other person says something that isn’t already in our library, we have the opportunity to add a new book to our shelves. Some new technical knowledge, or a biographical experience, or even a different philosophical understanding of the world. Just like in a real library, the books on our shelves may appear to contradict each other a bit, but at the same time, our awareness of the world has become broader, more nuanced, and higher resolution.
And if the other person also listened with an intention to add to their library rather than to defend it, then you both have a fuller awareness of the world.
Why does this matter? Because if we’re going to successfully solve the challenges of our world today, we have to do it together. And shared action requires shared awareness of where we’re starting from.
26 July 2022
There is a danger in the “growth mindset/fixed mindset” model. If we label ourselves as not having a growth mindset, we can become “fixed” in that belief. The model itself can create the situation which the researchers were trying to free us from. If I believe I have a fixed mindset, then I become more self-critical and focused on all the ways that I struggle to learn from my mistakes.
The danger comes from the world “mindset” which focuses on the individual. What’s missing is acknowledging the role of the environment. The quality of the space I am in can support my feeling more open to learn, or can encourage me to close up, protect myself, and retreat into a fixed mindset.
There’s an odd comfort in the fixed mindset. Things are what they are. Even my shortcomings are “reliable” if I don’t expect myself to grow and transcend my limitations. I can create rules and definitions for everything in my environment and eliminate unknowns when I hold a fixed mindset.
To have a growth mindset, I need to feel safe enough to not know. Safe enough to believe that I could do better. Safe enough to feel that my worth is unconditional. Whether I succeed or fail, my being has worth and value. And I am worthy of trying harder and learning to do better.
As children, we relied on the adults around us to create an environment of psychological safety where we would feel safe to fail and learn. As adults, we have two sources: the sense of safety and worthiness we develop inside ourselves, and the one we co-create with each other in our environment.
We are each individually responsible for doing our own internal work, but creating the conditions for a healthy, learning environment is our collective responsibility. If you notice that your team or organization is being held back by playing it safe, not taking risk, or not learning from mistakes, it’s worth taking a look at the level of psychological safety in your culture.
What might be possible if your people felt more freedom, not only to take risks, but also to learn and grow from their mistakes? What does a culture of learning look like to you?
25 July 2022
My life and work partner, Jung, has been advising people for over a decade to “go slow to go fast,” but what does that mean?
This is more than just “measure twice and cut once” — or avoiding mistakes by not rushing. Going slow means taking time to ask questions.
Taking time to look at what I think I know about a situation and asking, “Is that true?”
Pausing to take a deep breath and notice whether I’m reacting out of a thought or emotion, or if I’m taking a truly intentional action that’s aligned with what’s most important right now.
Creating time for my team to come together and refresh our sense of shared intention so our individual decisions and actions are moving us in the same direction.
Taking the time to skillfully navigate the road will get us to our destination sooner, rather than speeding headlong into a ditch because we missed an important sign along the way.
24 July 2022
In The Princess Bride, Humperdink challenges Wesley to a duel “to the death,” to which Wesley counters with, “to the pain.” He then goes on to describe all the ways in which “to the pain” would be a fate worse than death until Humperdink runs away just from the thought of it.
How often do we seek a similar quick escape from the psychological pain we feel coming from our own thoughts? Delivering bad news to our manager, tackling the assignment we’re sure we’ll fail, or even just trying to slog through our inbox.
There are many pains we encounter that might teach us something if we would allow ourselves to feel them rather than running away, but “staying with the pain” may seem as fooling as it did to Humperdink.
It’s not pleasant to keep feeling the pain, but if we could, and if we looked at our thoughts that are causing that pain, what might we learn?
Why do we fear bringing bad news to our manager? Are we afraid of getting punished for it, or the position we’ll put them in, or maybe that they’ll think we’re trying to sabotage them. Looking at those fears, how might we deliver the news differently? What other data might we want to collect, or who else might we want to talk to, or could we recruit others to deliver the news together?
In tackling the assignment that feels too difficult, am I underestimating myself, or could I do something to fill a gap in my skills?
And for slogging through the inbox, what does the pain tell me about that? What is my intention in going through it, and is there a way I can do it which aligns with what matters most to me so that it feels less like a duty and more purposeful?
To ask these questions we need to stay with our pain long enough to feel the real root of the pain. What is it that is bothering us at the core, and how can we respond to that in a way that brings relief and more life to our work?
Staying with the pain takes patience and compassion for ourselves. It’s not easy, but it gets easier with practice, and the payoff of having more clarity and choice in our lives, is priceless.
23 July 2022
Why is a clear intention so powerful? Because it unlocks at least three “must-haves” for success:
(1) Opportunity. There are a near-infinite number of opportunities within our reach all the time. The challenge is in seeing the opportunity we need. Intention acts as a kind of filter, helping us to ignore distractions and see more clearly the opportunity we need that is right in front of us.
(2) Motivation. Most of us have many demands on our attention all the time — demands that may all align with our desires and values, but which will keep us running in circles. Intention gives our attention focus and keeps us pointed in the right direction: towards the one thing that matters most to us in this moment.
(3) Partnership. The solo, heroic leader is a myth. None of us can accomplish anything alone. At the same time, just getting a bunch of people together, however well-meaning they may be, is a recipe for chaos. Shared action can only come from shared intention, focusing everyone’s attention in the same direction to see the opportunity that is ready and waiting for the group.
What is your intention for your work? Who could you share it with, to start building a shared intention for shared action?
22 July 2022
The bottom line on the balance sheet often implies profit. But what is the profit for?
Is the purpose of your work purely to make money, or are you trying to make a difference in the world? Does your enjoyment at work come only from how much you’re earning, or does it come from tackling new challenges, growing your skills, or the camaraderie of working together with people you care about?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, but it’s important to be clear whether you do what you do purely to make money, or if you’re making money to support what you do. Knowing your real bottom line will tell you where to focus your attention to do work you’ll feel proud of.
21 July 2022
How many connections do you have on LinkedIn? Are they few enough to be numbered, or have you broken the “500+” barrier?
The truth is, we all have more connections than we could possibly count. Every human on the planet is connected to each other, however distantly. We are connected through acquaintance, through commerce, through the air we breathe, through common genetic coding, through threads that are too many to be numbered.
Our challenge is not that we live in a disconnected world. Our challenge is that we forget how connected we are. The invitation is not to connect, but to remember our interconnectedness, and to practice acting on our interconnectedness.
To remember that our actions affect the people around us, people around the globe, and the Earth itself.
To remember that our thoughts influence our perception of ourselves, our perception of others, and our perception of the world around us.
To remember that it is up to us to choose to practice thinking, seeing, and acting with an intention to propagate well-being throughout the web of connection.
We are connected. What will you send out on the web today?
20 July 2022
Leadership is taking the risk of going first.
Leadership is allowing someone new to set the direction.
Leadership is making change with intention.
Leadership is daring to say, “I don’t know.”
Leadership is giving credit where credit is due.
Leadership is keeping an open mind and an open heart.
Leadership is standing up for what is non-negotiable.
Leadership is listening, and being willing to say what needs to be said.
Leadership is never forgetting that we all need each other to lead.
19 July 2022
Being true to who you are doesn’t mean that you behave the same way with your kids the way you do in the board room. And it certainly doesn’t mean acting however you feel in the moment.
Being true to who you are means you stay true to your values whether anyone is watching you or not, whether other people will approve or not, and whether you feel like it or not.
How you express those values, however, will depend on the context. If kindness is one of your key values, being kind to your children is different from being kind to a venture capitalist which is different from being kind to an employee who you need to fire.
Ice, tap water, steam, and clouds all have the same chemical makeup. They are all H20, expressing itself differently depending on the context.
What do you notice about how you show up in different contexts? When are you able to easily stay true to yourself, and when is it more difficult?
18 July 2022
If you are reading this, you are reliant on others. Just starting from what you’re looking at and working backwards, there are the people who designed, manufactured, distributed, and sold the device you’re reading on, the suppliers of internet access, those who provided electricity for your device to run, not to mention me, the writer of the words.
And that doesn’t even get into all the hands involved in the food you eat, the clothes you wear, and the myriad other products and services we rely on every day to live our lives. The impact of “supply chain challenges” on all of us is ample evidence of our non-self-reliance.
Even Henry David Thoreau, one of the more famous proponents of self-reliance, wasn’t entirely self-reliant during his two-year experiment, either. Friends helped him build his cabin, family delivered baskets of laundry and baked goods, and he was only able to do the whole thing because of his privilege, connections, and a wealthy friend.
It’s clear that we need each other to survive and thrive. So how much richer might our lives be if we turned away from the lie of self-reliance, and lived according to the natural law of human community?
17 July 2022
Have you seen how much advice there is for setting ourselves up for success by creating the right conditions for our work? Writers are told to get up early to get their writing in before the day begins. Runners, too. Meditators are pressured to create a dedicated space for practice in their homes. And this doesn’t even get into everything we’re supposed to measure from our time, to our steps, to how many new people we’ve talked to in a month.
Controlling our environment to create certain conditions around us may be effective for some of us some of the time, but how about creating conditions for success and well-being inside ourselves?
What if we could create the conditions inside to be able to focus on writing whenever we had time, or to take a moment of pause to remember what matters most before starting a meeting, or to pay attention to the body when walking between the car and the front door, or to bring our full attention to each bite of a meal and deeply appreciate what we’re eating?
There’s nothing wrong with trying to create a supportive environment, but trying to control the outside world is a lot more stressful than the pleasure of paying attention to ourselves and creating conditions inside us to work flexibly and with ease no matter what happens outside of us.
Learning to create the conditions that will support us inside, regardless of what the conditions are outside, is a free and portable superpower available to anyone willing to practice.
16 July 2022
Have you ever committed to do something but found it difficult to follow through? What did you feel as you struggled with commitment? Guilt for not keeping your word? Shame that you couldn’t do the thing that you thought was important to you? Maybe some deeper feelings of incompetence or lacking?
The challenge with commitment is that we often commit to things based on what we think we want, but true commitment only comes from deep caring about what we’re committing to. And in a society which sends us messages all the time telling us what we should care about, we can lose touch with the signals inside of us that are telling us what we really care about.
It takes practice and dedication to sense and feel those signals. To notice what our bodies and emotions are drawing us towards, or steering us away from. And ironically, it takes commitment to strengthen our ability to sense and feel those signals, so we can know what we are truly wanting, and able, to commit to.
What would life look like if we were better able to sense and feel what really matters to us, and could live in alignment with that, rather than living lives according to what we are told should matter to us?
15 July 2022
There is a common veneer of “being professional” which is nothing more than a shield for us to hide behind. To control the messiness of being human. To avoid the discomfort of vulnerability and human emotions. To escape into a fantasy of facts and figures where we can believe that decisions are rational and relationships are can be navigated through org charts and seniority.
This could be one reason why so many of us complain about “soul-less” organizations, or feeling dead inside at work. We have collectively created an environment where the expectation is for us to be less human. It may feel safer in some ways, but it’s not healthy, and it’s not good for business.
It’s not good for business because we’re not firing on all cylinders. It’s not good for business because it restricts our creativity and makes us less innovative. It’s not good for business because it keeps us from feeling safe to be open and honest about what we see, feel, and sense — the deep data that business needs to survive and thrive.
Another approach is to drop the act. To stop playing the game and pretending and instead of gathering around the flag of “professionalism,” to gather around a shared intention.
Why are we here? What is our work? What are we making? Who is it for, and what is it for?
If we could agree to work together towards a shared intention, and to practice kindness and respect towards ourselves and each other as we do it, we could drop the veneer of “professionalism,” be real with each other, and get to work doing business together with joy and sustainable well-being.
What if we spent our working hours like that — really making a living, instead of making a dying?
14 July 2022
The fun of a jam session is riffing off of others’ musical ideas. Each player taking the little melodies, rhythms, and harmonic changes that came before and doing something new with them. It’s like being handed a clay sculpture and being able to mold it a little differently to show what else is possible, before handing it off to the next person.
This only works if everyone can let go of what they create and hand it off with full permission to change it. To give “ownership” of any one musical phrase over to the process. No musician owns anything in a jam session. Everyone owns everything.
Any creative or innovation process is the same. Each person involved has to give up their sense of ownership. Ideas need to be free, their identities lost on the group process of molding and reshaping until something new emerges. Something that shares DNA with everything that was contributed, and yet does not belong to anyone or anything, except the process.
If your team is feeling stuck, take a look at the question of ownership. What would it take to build enough trust to let go and allow something new to emerge? What might be possible if you could?
13 July 2022
What if we didn’t try to be right, but we tried to learn?
What if I saw my win as your win, and your loss as my loss?
What if we valued listening as much as talking?
What if asking for a pause to let difficult emotions settle was the norm?
What if we remembered that we’re all breathing the same air, drinking the same water, and walking on the same planet?
What if we saw how none of us are free, unless all of us are?
12 July 2022
There is no negotiating with an organization, or dealing with an organization, or working with an organization.
It’s always people. People with names. People with friends and family. People with histories, likes, dislikes, personalities, moods, and emotions.
When we don’t see the people in an organization as people and try to relate to them as a function or role in the organization, we may find that we are treated like a role, too. A prospect, or salesman, or even a mark. Not a person with a name.
If we can relate directly to each other as people, not roles, and remember each others’ human-ness, then we have the opportunity to bring more human-ness into business.
Maybe, all we need to make business more human, is for two people to make a choice to see each other as fellow human beings, moment-to-moment.
11 July 2022
There can be many reasons why a project or initiative fails.
You ran out of time or money. Essential skills were lacking. It didn’t gather a critical mass of support. There was poor communication inside or outside the team. And the list goes on.
The thing is, most reasons for failure are solvable, if there is the will to solve them. Which is why the central reason a project or initiative fails is lack of commitment to a shared intention.
If everyone on a team agrees that the work matters and wants it to succeed because it connects to their own values in a meaningful way, then there will always be a way to continue to make some progress, even if it’s small.
A way to create quick, inexpensive prototypes to learn from. A way to barter for necessary skills. A way to spread the word drip-by-drip. A way to debrief communication breakdowns with honesty and vulnerability and make the changes that need to be made.
Where there is a will, there is a way. It may not be the way that you hoped for, but there is a way.
The question is whether there is enough commitment to a shared intention to find that way.
10 July 2022
Doing anything new takes time, attention, dedication, and practice.
You can’t learn to play the piano by watching YouTube videos. You can’t learn to speak French by reading a textbook. And reading the latest business book won’t help your career or your business.
The only way to get better at something is by doing it. Spending time, attention, and dedication at the piano keyboard. Creating opportunities to converse in French. And finding small ways to practice over and over again the recommendations in that business book.
To make this process easier, build a cohort: people to play music with, regular French conversation partners, or a small group at work who are dedicated to making things better together.
There are no shortcuts to making change, and nobody is going to do it for you. Change happens when you show up, and do the work.
9 July 2022
For years I have marveled at the reams of books on leadership, culture, and business. I don’t agree with all of them, but many of the more well-known books have great advice.
Advice like: The power of creating good habits. How deep listening can make us a better leader. Developing excellence by giving and receiving candid feedback.
So, if we say that we want to be a better leader, build a stronger culture, run a more successful business, then why don’t we follow all this solid advice every day? Why don’t we do what we know?
One reason is that this “advice” can’t be done. Not directly. What is being sold as tips and methods are the results of developing new skills and ways of being. Just knowing the results we want won’t get us there.
The un-sexy truth is this: We need to do is the hard work of practice to build the skills and capacity which will bring about the results we want.
When we practice strengthening our attention, we become more conscious of our behavior, which gives us more opportunities to choose what habits we want to develop. When we practice being together in an agenda-less space, we develop listening skills that make us a better leader. When we practice open curiosity and vulnerability with others, then we become better at giving and receiving genuine feedback.
It’s hard to sell books, workshops, and consulting engagements without promising quick results. But the faster the results, the faster they fade. The truth is that any lasting change takes time, attention, and commitment.
It’s not about what we need to do better today. It’s about how to build the skills and capacity to become who we want to be, together.
8 July 2022
This blog is a bit of an experiment with Seth’s Godin’s assertion that writer’s block doesn’t exist.
Can I fit writing a post into my already full days? Will I come up with an idea soon enough and write fast enough so that it doesn’t endanger my other priorities?
For the last 69 days the answer has been yes. But today I got stuck.
Here’s how I got free:
First I stopped and felt into the stuck place. What do I notice? What was I feeling when I abandoned false start after false start? I had a felt sense that I had made some rules for myself. Rules around what I should write. What someone might want to read. What would be of service to the reader.
All noble intentions, and yet they were keeping me from writing at all, so they had to go. And as soon as I dropped the rules, I noticed this post taking shape.
So it raised a question for me: How often do rules get in my way without my knowing? When I get stuck in a decision, or I’m not moving forward on a project despite knowing what I need to do next, could I ask, “What rule is stopping me?” And then try breaking it.
Rules are great at keeping us safe, but they can also hold us back when what we really need to be doing is taking a risk. Where do you feel stuck in your work? Are there rules that you set for yourself, that you could break?
7 July 2022
When I was in college, my depression that I had held under lock and key began to come to the surface. I had no idea what was happening, but there were times when I fell into very dark moods.
I remember that during one of these struggles with despair I decided to see if I would feel better if I went down to the basement of the dorm to practice piano. Soon after I settled in and started playing, I heard the practice room door open. My roommate came in with his books, sat down with his back against the wall, and started to study.
He said nothing, and I said nothing. I practiced, and he studied. When I was done we walked back up to the room together. I thanked him for being there, and he simply said, “Of course.”
There wasn’t anything to be said. I didn’t know what I was going through and neither did he. He didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know what I needed to hear.
In that moment, his presence was perfect. His presence told me that he cared. In that moment when I felt that it would be better if I didn’t exist, his presence sent me the message that it mattered that I did exist.
Living, working, and being human can be complicated and difficult. There aren’t always words to express what we’re going through, or words that can heal in the moment.
Beginning with the gift of presence is always a good first step. And sometimes our genuine presence is all a person needs.
6 July 2022
Reading the news it seems like the world is just getting worse and worse. From war to shootings to climate crises to human rights being taken away…
Not to mention whatever personal struggles we are each going through.
Is it possible to feel joy with everything that seems to be going wrong? Is it even okay to feel happy despite all of this?
It’s more than okay. It’s required. For those of us in the business of creating change for the well-being of all, it is our job, as professionals, to practice gratitude and joy every day. Noticing acts of kindness, witnessing the resilience of nature, feeling the parts of our bodies which support us in going about our day.
We develop our own inner capability and capacity for joy and the enjoyment of everyday living to deepen our connection to life. And we grow our caring for life so that we can stand up for what matters and do what we can to make things better for all of life.
It can be easy to get pulled into hopelessness and despair by present problems, but it is when things look the worst, that we need to practice joy the most. It’s joy that keeps us going now so we can do our part to co-create a better future.
5 July 2022
Today is Independence Day in the United States.
That phrase raises questions for me. What does it mean to be independent? And what does it mean to be independent and united?
What does it mean that when the country declared freedom from England, many of its inhabitants were enslaved? Or that the land the country founded itself was stolen from those who were here before? And that all the land would one day be seized, “from sea to shining sea.”
Can we survive and be truly independent? How large is the web of connection I depend on to sustain my own body and mind: providing me with food, warmth, clothing, transportation, employment, healthcare, and love? (Just to name a few of my needs…)
If freedom is the true goal, and not independence, what do we need from ourselves and each other in order to feel free?
4 July 2022
Most of us got to where we are by being good at what we do. And we’re better at what we do now than we used to be. There were times when we struggled, stumbled, and failed. But we learned, got better, and now we enjoy the fruits of our success.
But what do we do if our achievement grows stale, or we start to discover that what got us here can’t get us any further? Most likely we need to learn new skills, which means that first we have to get used to failing again.
Having achieved success and enjoying the feelings of excellence and mastery, it can be difficult to leave the comfort and security of where we are and venture out into the dark forest of the unknown.
Doubts creep in: How long will it take to gain mastery this time? Will I be successful? Can I even do this?
And if we manage to convince ourselves to leave the comfort of our castle, the initial excitement of new adventure quickly gives way to that awkward “learning how to walk” feeling which comes with learning new skills. We fail. Often. And failure rarely feels pleasant.
What makes it worse is that repeated failure can feel like a lack of progress. Each failure may reinforce the belief that we’re not getting better. We can feel like we’re just walking in circles.
This is when we need to remind ourselves of why we’re doing this. Why are we putting ourselves through the pain of being a beginner again? What matters to us so much that it’s worth dedicating our life to this path, no matter how difficult?
Remembering why we chose this path of learning, and that failure is part of learning, can strengthen our commitment to keep going through the unknown forest when what might sound better is to return to the comfort of our castle.
I invite you to pause for a moment of stillness and ask yourself what keeps you going on the path of learning, especially when you fail?
3 July 2022
Growing up everyone thought I was a great listener. I really wasn’t.
As the youngest child (by a significant margin), I learned that it was easier to keep quiet than to try to break into the verbal melee to be heard. So I retreated into my own thoughts — an imaginary world in my head where I felt more free than my body did being stuck at the dinner table with a bunch of people talking.
Later, I began learning how to listen in a way that contributes to dialogue. Supporting those who are speaking to hear themselves and each other in a way that inspires new insights. Insights that didn’t come from anyone there, but came from everybody there and the environment we created together. Insights that came out of the space between all of us.
This is one way to understand “holding space.”
If I hold my tongue, I’m simply not talking. In my mind I could be drafting an email, planning my dinner, or fantasizing about the weekend. If I’m holding space, then my full attention is on the dialogue, as well as the thoughts and feelings the dialogue may be bringing up in me. The only focus of my attention is on what I am noticing right here and right now. I’m not thinking about the past or the future. I’m not even thinking about what I could say. I am simply paying attention to what is being said, and not said, in this moment.
I want to add two more points:
One, this takes practice. After years of “spacing out,” I am still learning how to keep my attention focused in this way. The only way I’ve been able to stick with it is to be kind to myself when I notice that my attention drifted and simply start paying attention again without blaming or shaming myself for the lapse of focus.
Two, holding space is an experience which is difficult to describe. To be honest, I’m not completely satisfied with my description here, but I wanted to give it a try.
Have you experienced “holding space” yourself, or felt it when you were in space that was held well? How would you describe it? I’d love to hear!
2 July 2022
A favorite exercise of coaches and career counselors is to ask the client to think back to their childhood and remember what they loved to do before societal pressures and the need to earn a living intruded on their lives. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who hasn’t gotten anything from this, despite trying multiple variations on the theme.
The problem is that from the moment we’re born, we’re impacted by our environment. The people around us, their values and personalities, the kind of attention we receive or are denied, and the resources and opportunities that are available to us or not are just a few of the hugely influential variables that affect each of us.
Besides, everything we’ve learned and experienced since then has shaped us even further. We’re not even the same person as we were yesterday, let alone as a child.
There is some value in reflecting on how circumstances and the adults around us may have pushed us in one direction or another, but what really matters in this moment is who we are now. What is important to us now? What really matters now? What will motivate us to commit and persevere through difficulty now?
And how can we know that what we think we care about, is what we care about? In other words, how do we know that it’s coming from inside us, rather than from outside expectations of society or even our friends?
This “inner knowing” is not knowledge, but a skill. It’s not something we can capture in a weekend workshop, but rather a capability and a capacity that we can build over time by learning to listen to our own self. Noticing what we like and dislike, and being honest with ourselves about it. Investigating what we think we know about ourselves with the question, “Is that true?” Picking up on clues like how energized or tired we feel after an activity or conversation.
Growing up, most of us were taught to listen to our parent, teacher, and boss, rather than to listen to ourselves — to our own body and mind. So it can take time to relearn how to listen to what truly matters to us in this moment.
But it’s a relearning, because we were born with this skill. And each step we make towards understanding who we are, brings a little more joy into our lives.
1 July 2022
What is your body feeling right now? Does your posture feel comfortable? Does your body want to move a bit? Or stand still for a moment? Does your body need a drink of water, or a snack, or a bio break?
If the only thing stopping you from interrupting your current task and taking care of your body’s need in this moment is you, try doing what your body is asking you to do. Notice how it feels to just drop what you’re doing and attend to your body’s needs. Notice how it feels to come back to what you were doing after your body got a bit of attention.
On the flip side: if you notice yourself going for a drink, or a snack, or daydreaming about a nap, is that what your body is asking for, or are you doing it as a reaction to something in your mind such as boredom, stress, or anxiety?
This isn’t about shame or blame. The invitation is to simply become more aware of when we act on signals from the body, and when we don’t. When we ignore our body’s needs, or when we use our bodies (like with stress eating) to deal with something that would be more effectively dealt with another way (such as through journaling, conversations, and trying new behaviors).
Whatever you may be doing, or not doing, check in with your body regularly. What do you sense? And whose voice is it? Your body or your mind?
30 June 2022
Why we do something matters. Which is why the push to have leaders show appreciation to their people more is misguided.
If the reason for doing something (like showing appreciation) is to get someone to feel something (such as feel appreciated) then you’re trying to do the impossible. Although we can temporarily inspire feelings, such as excitement, anger, or fear in another person, we can’t genuinely make another person feel anything.
Long lasting feelings come from the person’s own lived experience. And humans are very good at picking up on something phony. Nobody is going to truly feel appreciated when what they really feel is that you’re checking off a box on your list of things leaders should do.
Why are there so many parodies of “corporate speak” and two-faced managers? Just because nobody calls you on it in the moment, doesn’t mean they aren’t seeing right through you.
Genuine appreciate is spontaneous, immediate, and relevant to the relationship. And genuine appreciation is key to building a healthy culture.
As we notice and express appreciation for what people do to make things better, even small acts, we’re saying, “What you’re doing is making us all better.” It encourages the person to do more of that, it gives a tangible example to others of who you could be as an organization, and it builds a better culture for everyone.
So practice appreciation, not to “build morale,” but to build a culture that everyone can appreciate.
29 June 2022
Conflict is a powerful force.
The polymath social scientist Gregory Bateson talked about the double-bind: what happens when life is faced with two, equally bad options. There is an invitation in the double-bind to uncover or create a third option. One which was previously unseen or unknown, but which frees us from the trap of double-bind.
Conflict can also clarify. When we’re not sure of our position on a topic, but we feel our body react with a visceral “No!” to someone, that clarifies where we stand.
Without conflict and tension, there would be little innovation because people generally avoid change. Change is uncomfortable and difficult. To get ourselves to change, the tension we feel around not changing has to be greater than the difficulty of the change. That tension, or conflict in our current situation, is the force that moves us forward.
However, conflict and tension can also be destructive. When our goal in an argument is to “win,” we stop listening for emerging insights or innovations, and simply listen for opportunities to put down our “opponent.” The truth and the relationship are both casualties of our ego-centric war.
When we see life as a zero-sum game where the more others have (whether that is money, power, or rights) that means less for me, then we engage in conflict that goes against our evolution as social animals. Our society — our ability to live and work together for mutual well-being — becomes a casualty of our ego-centric war.
And when it gets out of hand, ego-centric conflict can explode into wars of entire nations.
Standing our ground is an important part of creating the tension that activates the creative force. But we have to be clear about why we’re standing our ground. Is it for insight and innovation to serve the well-being of all, or is it because we want to “win” or don’t want to be seen as weak.
Because part of allowing conflict to do its work, is knowing when to let go of our old worldview, and step forward to embrace the new.
28 June 2022
Living in our own bodies and minds day in and day out, we become very familiar with many of our strengths and weaknesses. Maybe too familiar.
We may take our strengths for granted, thinking “everybody can do that” when the reality is that everyone cannot “do that.” Similarly we may underestimate the impact of our shortcomings on those around us, or we may become hypercritical and blow them out of proportion.
What holds us back even more are the blindspots in our self-awareness: those strengths and weaknesses that we don’t know about. To become aware of those, we need a mirror; we need another person to reflect back on us what they see in us.
It is said that “a monk cannot shave his own head.” Likewise we cannot see ourselves as others see us. The only way to become aware of our blind spots is to ask the people around us what they see, and then to listen to the answer with openness and vulnerability.
Who can you trust to be honest with you? And are they someone you feel ready to listen to, no matter what they say?
27 June 2022
When passions and voices rise in dissent, it’s usually because we care. We rarely get worked up over something unless some part of us feels it’s worth getting worked up over because it’s touching on something that matters to us.
What can get lost in the emotions, though, is why we care.
So when we notice ourselves getting worked up over something, there’s an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves what’s at the root of all the emotion. What is it that we care about enough to get so worked up about?
The challenge is that what we say in the heat of the moment, isn’t necessarily at the root of what we feel. So the question is whether we can be honest with ourselves about what we are feeling, regardless of what we may be saying.
It’s also an opportunity to ask ourselves whether there is something (or someone) else we also care about that we might be unintentionally hurting through what we’re doing and saying in that moment of heightened emotions?
And can we stand up for what matters without harming other people or the planet in the process?
It’s a lot to ask in the heat of the moment. Which is why pausing helps.
26 June 2022
Assuming you’re a human being, you live in a body. That body has needs.
Many of these needs support our physical existence, such as: food, water, and shelter. Others contribute to our sense of social belonging. And still other needs are in the realm of self-actualization — or becoming who we are capable of becoming.
One thing that all of these needs have in common is that they need to be filled in material, tangible ways. This is obvious when it comes to food, water, and shelter, but no less true for social belonging. Those needs are filled through such acts as conversation, physical touch, generosity — very real human activities.
Self-actualization also requires us to act with outcomes that are visible. Perhaps cooking a new dish, or getting better at coding, or running for public office.
Even mental health, much of which can be invisible, has objectively measurable impacts on the physical health of our bodies and our ability to meet our body’s needs.
From grappling with individual decisions to debating want kind of society we want to live in, we must never forget that we live in a material world. Everything we think and feel has the potential for very real outcomes on our human bodies, our social body, and the Earth body.
So the question is: what outcomes will best support the well-being of all? And what do we need to do to secure those outcomes?
25 June 2022
We’re wired for empathy. Our brains have what are sometimes called “mirror neurons” which light up when we see someone who is feeling joy, pain, anger, or sadness. The way they work, as I understand it, is that they use our own, personal experience of joy, pain, anger, or sadness to “mirror” what someone else is feeling. It allows us to experience someone else’s emotions as if they were our emotions.
What this also means, though, is that we need to have felt something ourselves, in order to feel it in someone else. In other words, if we push away our own feelings of loneliness, shame, fear, or anger, it makes it harder for us to feel it in others. It weakens our empathy.
There can be many reasons why we may not want to feel negative, uncomfortable, or even painful emotions. And working through those emotions needs to be done with care. But it’s also true that the existence of those mirror neurons is a sign that we’re meant to work through these things together. We’re meant to share these struggles so they can be a little lighter on each of us individually.
Our society lionizes the “strong, independent hero” type, but that’s not how we’re designed as a species. To be human is to live together, work together, feel together, suffer together, and celebrate together.
We’re wired for connection. And that connection is the secret of our strength.
24 June 2022
The ego is often misunderstood.
Talking about “big ego” as a bad thing or “lack of ego” as a good thing misses the point.
A healthy ego is essential for human survival and is a part of who we are. The ego is what motivates us to stand up for what matters to us. To defend our values, our friends, and our own bodies. To take care of our “self” and everything we see as being connected to ourselves.
The ego is part of being human. It’s no more of a problem than our need to eat and sleep. The problem comes when we become ego-centric and make everything about us.
It’s easy to look at someone who is always talking about how great they are and acting as if they are the most important person in the room as someone with a big ego. But what about the person who is always talking about how wonderful their friends are, or all the acts of self-sacrifice they make, or even proud of the fact that they are “egoless?”
Both of these people are acting in an ego-centric way. They act as if what their feelings, actions and opinions are more important than anyone else’s. They find a way to make everything about themselves, even when it seems like they’re focusing on someone else.
One consequence of ego-centric behavior is that it weakens our connection to other people. Relationships rely on a back-and-forth flow of connection, but the ego-centric person only gives what they want to give, and will take what they want to take, without considering the perspectives of those around them. They may say things that hurt other people without meaning to, and then defend themselves by declaring that they had good intentions. And that just sends the message that they don’t care what anyone else feels, except themselves.
Like all things human, it’s rarely this extreme or all-or-nothing. Sometimes we are more ego-centric than other times. When we’re under stress, for instance, it’s natural for our perspective to narrow and for us to focus more on ourselves.
The invitation is to notice. Notice where your attention is from moment-to-moment.
When someone else is talking, are you listening to what they’re saying, or what you’re thinking about what they’re saying? When someone tells a painful story do you jump in to tell a similar one to show “solidarity” (but shifting the focus to you), or do you simply listen and offer your support for what they are going through? When something bad happens, can you feel the impact on other people, as well as on yourself?
Notice also what happens in your relationships as you shift your attention from “ego” to “eco,” or from yourself, to the environment (and people) around you? Do you find people responding differently to you? Do you find yourself feeling differently about them?
Our ego is natural, necessary, and good. And if we want to have healthy relationships, it needs to make room for others, too.
23 June 2022
“The answer is inside you.”
That old chestnut of coaching advice is incredibly frustrating if we don’t know where to look inside ourselves for that answer. The answer may as well be halfway around the world. What good does it do having it inside me, if I can’t find it anyway.
This is why we need people to ask us questions, especially the questions we wouldn’t think to ask. So we can hear ourselves answering these unexpected or maybe “obvious” questions (so obvious that we wouldn’t think of them), and then hearing ourselves give the answer that we’ve been looking for.
Having a real human being ask us in real time is part of the magic, too, because we say things differently to another human being, than we would say to ourselves.
Yes, the answer we need is very often inside of us. But the question we need in order to find the answer may be in someone else.
Who do you know who could ask you the questions you wouldn’t think to ask, and create time and space for you to hear yourself answer?
22 June 2022
Can we have truly sustainable energy without sustainable business?
Can cleantech ventures be truly successful in reducing harm to people and the environment without clean business strategies?
As long as we live in a capitalist system, technology alone cannot create change. The technology needs to be embedded in a product or service, which is then embedded into a business. But what kind of business will create the change that we need for the survival of our species?
Didn’t we create this ecological crisis with the current winner-takes-all, race-to-the-bottom, ends-justify-the-means, extractive and exploitative approach to industry and business? One that puts profit and shareholder interests first? One which doesn’t care about the impact to humans or the planet of the unfettered use of fossil fuel and the careless dumping of industrial waste, as long as it makes the rich richer?
We need more than ingenious technology to save ourselves from our own destruction. We need a new approach to the businesses that distribute the technology.
One where the intention of business is to be a creative force for good, just like the technology. Innovative business that are environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable. Businesses that support the well-being of all, not only through their products and services, but also through their impact on all stakeholders — including customers, employees, partners, communities, society, and the planet.
Where do you see your role in wholly sustainable business? Are you ready to lead the way to a wholly sustainable future?
And if not now, then when?
21 June 2022
Our education system rewards us for having the answer. We’re conditioned that looking smart means shooting a hand in the air and saying what the teacher (or boss) wants us to say. For many of us, knowing the answer is what got us to where we are today.
However, if we’re in the business of innovation and responding to an unknown future, knowing the answers is much less useful than knowing the questions. What are the questions we’re not asking? We know what we know, and we know what we don’t know, but what are the unknown unknowns?
Where are the shadows in our understanding of the situation where we need to be looking?
What would it look like if your culture supported asking questions that probe the shadows, more than rewarding clever answers?
20 June 2022
If you asked my middle school science teacher how long a meter was, he’d hold out his hands a meter apart and say “about this long.”
His point was that he didn’t believe in learning the metric system of measurement by comparing it to the imperial system that we used in the United States. He wanted us to learn it as an independent system. We should feel the weight of a kilogram, measure with rulers in centimeters, and weigh a cubic centimeter of water and see that it was one gram.
He wanted us to get a fresh sense of the world directly measured in the metric system, rather than converting everything from our past experience, which would result in an approximation.
It’s natural for us to compare and contrast new experiences and acquaintances with those we’ve had in the past. This person’s voice reminds us of someone from a previous job, or this restaurant is noisier than that other one. When we compare and contrast it helps us to make sense of our experience of the world — for it to feel coherent and whole.
The downside is that it also colors how we experience the present moment by putting more attention on the things that relate to our past experience.
As an experiment, try noticing what happens when you describe a situation or person without comparing or contrasting, just as-is. What aspects seem most important?
For instance, notice how it feels to say, “This food feels comforting,” without giving a reason. To describe how it tastes without saying what else it tastes like, or what it reminds you of.
It can be the same when enjoying a sunset with someone, or a concert, the satisfaction of finishing a project. How might it feel to simply fully experience this moment as it is, without comparing it to any other time, person, place, or thing?
Comparing and contrasting is a very useful skill. But so is our ability to come to each moment with a beginner’s mind, and sense everything fresh.
What do you feel or sense in this moment, when you bring your attention to it, as if for the first time?
19 June 2022
We humans are sensitive to our environment. Even if we’re not conscious of it, we pick up little signals from everything and everyone around us. Especially from our fellow humans.
The hardness or softness of our tone of voice, a look that conveys gratitude or disapproval, a joke that uplift or that sting, our driving behind another car patiently or impatiently.
We can spread feelings like comfort, anxiety, anger, joy, belonging, and separation without any conscious effort. It just comes out of how we do what we do and how we are around others.
What takes conscious effort is choosing what we spread. Taking the time to notice our thoughts and feelings and how our thoughts and feelings influence our attention, words, and actions. And then making a conscious choice to listen, speak, and act in a way that reflects what matters most to us, rather than how we feel in that moment.
We can choose what we spread, but we have to choose again and again in each moment. And what we spread are the seeds that grow to become the world of the future.
So what will you choose to spread in this moment? It’s up to you.
18 June 2022
There’s more going on in the world than any one of us can keep up with.
Government in-fighting, societal unrest, unpredictable markets, climate crises, wars, displaced peoples, not to mention the drama in entertainment and social media circles.
It’s good to be aware of our larger environment, but we can spiral ourselves down into feeling hopeless and helpless when so much of our attention is on things “out there” beyond our grasp.
The fact is, there’s so much in our lives that we don’t know. And there’s so much that we can’t directly influence.
If you find yourself feeling hopeless and helpless, that may be a sign to mind your own business. In other words, to pay attention that what is within your reach. Where do you have direct response-ability — the ability to respond? What is the Work that is yours to do? Who are the people around you for whom you can make a difference?
There are things we can do as citizens of the world to support the well-being of all. And if we don’t each do the Work that is ours to do, and make a difference for the people around us, who else is going to do it?
If you’re feeling there is nothing you can do, try looking closer to where you are. What do you see?
17 June 2022
It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. Thankfully, humans are a very adaptable species.
Take opening a jar, for example. If we try to twist the top off, and it doesn’t come off, we try other ways. Maybe we use something that gives us a better grip. Maybe we run the top under hot water to get it to expand a bit. Or we might just ask for help from someone who is stronger than we are.
So if you’re not getting the desired results, maybe the answer isn’t trying to do better or faster the same thing you’ve always done. Maybe the answer is doing something different.
Maybe “this is the way we do things” is exactly the problem.
16 June 2022
One thing that makes “blind spots” and “unconscious bias” so difficult is that we’re not aware of them. It’s a belief we assume is true without thinking of questioning it.
When we’re aware that we don’t know something, then we know what to do: educate ourselves and learn.
But when we’re not aware that a belief is an unfounded assumption, then we may not even think of educating ourselves.
One way to uncover unknown assumptions is to look carefully at our lived experience, notice where our experience is limited, and then make choices to fill those gaps. This is a floodlight approach to expose ourselves to new perspectives which may illuminate some of the shadows cast by our previous lived experience.
Another way is to simply make it a habit of asking ourselves, “is that true?” This is a spotlight approach to shine a light on our various beliefs and look at the evidence. Often when we shine this light we will see that we have more than enough evidence to feel confident that it’s true.
But sometimes we will see that it is an assumption that we adopted and that we don’t know if it’s true or not. Then it becomes a “known unknown” and we have an opportunity to investigate and find out for ourselves if it’s true or not.
Try asking yourself often, “Is that true?” What do you notice? You might create some opportunities for learning and growing, as well as connecting at a deeper level with the world around you.
15 June 2022
Have you ever had someone “help” you in a way that wasn’t helpful? When someone jumped in as a “knight in shining armor” to “save” you, just to do something for you that maybe even made things worse?
The step they probably skipped was to have a conversation first.
To sit down with you and create space for you to reflect on and share what you’re struggling with. Not only to listen, but also ask questions that could help you uncover what would really serve you best right now.
We may think we need introductions to clients, but what we really need is help with our communications. We may think we need help with a plan, but what we really need is help in getting clearer on our intention. We may think we need help in getting more done, but what we really need is help in how to do less.
As social animals, often the first, best way we can help each other is to ask good questions, and to listen, so we can uncover what we really need in this moment.
And then act together from that place of shared understanding.
14 June 2022
If you get caught in a loop with the same thoughts going around and around in your head, try taking your thoughts out for a walk.
This could be a literal walk outside, creating some space for the thoughts by bringing awareness to the feet touching the ground, and seeing the sky above.
This could be a walk on paper, where you let your thoughts go straight to your hand and into written words. Let the thoughts spread out and travel to where they want to go without censoring. Write whatever comes out. Nobody will see this but you.
Or you could draw your thoughts, letting them walk in lines around the paper. What colors, shapes, or textures appear from your hand?
Sometimes the head is too small a space for our thoughts so they spin around and around like a dog chasing its tail. Notice what happens if you let your thoughts out from between your ears and give them some space to roam.
13 June 2022
There is no other way to lead, other than by example.
If your people see you consistently say one thing, but do something else, they won’t trust you and won’t believe you.
You don’t have to be perfect. That’s impossible. But if leadership matters to you, then when you make a mistake, especially when someone else points it out to you, you need to own it. And that can be hard.
But if you have the capability and the capacity to be with the discomfort, embarrassment, and even shame of not living up to the standards that you expect of your people, then you have an opportunity. You have the opportunity to talk about how what you did was wrong and what you will strive to do better. You have the opportunity to model how to handle making mistakes in a public way that builds trust and relationships. You have the opportunity to reinforce the culture’s values by showing, in word and deed, that they matter.
Making mistakes is unavoidable. It’s what we do next that matters. And whether they say anything or not, your people are watching.
12 June 2022
Most values exercises involve a long list of words and invite us to read through and pick those that represent our top values.
The challenge is that so many of them sound good! There can be so many we recognize expressing or acting on in the past, that it can be difficult to choose which ones are most important. It can be even more confusing if we’re having difficulty sensing the difference between what we truly value, what we’ve been taught to value, and what we feel we should value.
One way to try to get clarity is to sense into how you feel when a value is violated. How angry do you feel when someone crosses that value? Try to be specific and imagine particular scenarios when someone was dishonest, disorganized, impractical, unimaginative, inconsiderate, too slow, too fast, and so on. Go through each value that you’re having trouble deciding on, flip it to its opposite, and notice how much you would care about someone being or behaving in that opposite way.
Sensing your level of anger when a value is violated might help you to separate out the values that you simply agree with from the ones that are absolutely non-negotiable. Because we don’t get angry unless something or someone we truly care about is in danger.
11 June 2022
Nobody likes restlessness — that dissatisfaction with where we are in our work, or in life.
It’s natural to want to get rid of that feeling. Whether through distraction, or projects, or study, or travel, or something else, we try to find a way to get away from our dissatisfaction through doing. This the origin of the classic “mid-life crisis” trope, which can happen in any stage of life, before or after the supposed “middle.”
The problem is that none of these help with the restlessness. Usually all that happens is we get increasingly frustrated, on top of feeling restless.
The best relief from restlessness is not more doing. The answer is in the name.
Relief from restlessness comes in rest.
The source of restlessness is usually that our outside — what our work and life look like — and who we are inside are out-of-whack. And these usually go out-of-whack because we’ve lost touch with who we are. We’ve drifted from what is important to us. We’ve forgotten our own likes, dislikes, values, and goals under pressure from the world around us to be someone other than who we are.
If we spend enough years listening to other people’s suggestions and advice, no matter how well intentioned, it becomes easy to forget what matters to us. And so we lose track of our internal compass that keeps us on the path — aligning our outside reality with our inside reality.
A great first step to rediscovering that compass is to rest. Really rest. Don’t read books, or go to workshops, or spend nights and weekends filling out self-discovery worksheets.
Instead, learn to be still and quiet with yourself. Take the time to catch up on sleep if you need to. Pay attention to when and what you eat. Spend time in nature if you’re able.
But most of all, practice being quiet with yourself and notice. Bring your attention to your body. Notice how it feels and how those sensations change from moment-to-moment. Notice your thoughts: when they get caught in a loop, when they run off into fantasy, when the thoughts are happy ones, or sad ones. Notice what it feels like to be you, in this moment.
Notice when you judge or try to change things about your body or thoughts. See what happens if you let go of the judging, and don’t try to change anything, but just notice and be aware of your body and thoughts as they are right now.
Spend a few moments to practice noticing each day. And maybe one day, as you start to feel more at rest in your body, you’ll start to find the end of a thread that can lead you back to that compass you lost, and start to make changes around you that will make you feel more at rest in your work and life as well.
10 June 2022
René Magritte’s famous work, “The Treachery of Images” is a painting of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” or “This is not a pipe.” The point is that it’s a painting of a pipe, not an actual, physical pipe.
Culture is much the same way. We can describe it or influence it by writing out sets of values, guiding principles, and even policies or procedures, but at the end of the day, culture is what culture does.
It’s what people say and do that creates the culture. The habits, patterns, and unwritten norms of interaction. It’s how people behave under pressure, and when (they think) nobody is watching.
And it’s the little acts of care, and the little acts of disrespect that grow over time into a culture that is thriving, or toxic.
It’s absolutely worth taking the time to discuss and write down what kind of culture you want. But what’s even more important is paying attention to the culture you have. And reflecting on the gap between the two.
9 June 2022
How do you react to people bringing you bad news? When they let you know about the things that aren’t going well?
It could be a key supplier pulling out of a deal, or losing a major customer, or a product safety problem that requires a recall, or a damaging story hitting the news.
Do you get angry or blow up at the messenger? Or do you shut down and become cold? Or maybe push back and ask them to see it differently, as a “probletunity?”
Or do you say, “Thank you. I needed to know that. Now we can take care of it before things get worse.”
Because isn’t that the truth?
But in the heat of the moment, that’s easier said than done. We’d all rather get good news than bad news. Good news means we can keep going. Good news means we’re doing all the right things. Good news means our future looks bright.
Bad news means the opposite, and worse, that now we need to spend time and energy on an unexpected problem. And that maybe it’s our turn to share the same bad news with someone else.
Yet we all know that bad news is unavoidable. Nothing goes well all the time. So the best thing we can do for ourselves, our business, and the people we live and work with is to grow our capacity to be with bad news. To learn how to hear and accept the bad news as part of living, part of doing business. To practice taking the time to let the initial shock pass, so we can respond from a calmer, more grounded place.
Especially if you want to encourage the people around you to share what they know openly, honestly, and freely.
Because saying that you want to hear bad news doesn’t mean anything if you can’t act like it when it matters.
8 June 2022
We humans like to think of ourselves as rational, but when our emotions ramp up, like when we get in an argument, the centers of our rational thinking in our brains start to shut down.
If you’ve ever thought after an argument, “I wish I didn’t say that,” then that’s probably what happened. Once our emotions start to take over it can be hard to think straight, and we do or say things that aren’t really “who we are.”
The best way to avoid this is to call for a pause, or a “time out,” when you notice things getting too heated. To stop talking, and take a few deep breaths together. To hold silence and just feel the physical sensation of your breath, your feet, and your body.
After a few minutes of pause, try talking again. Pay extra attention to listening to the other person, and listening to yourself so you can both stay more aware of what is going on emotionally, as well as what you’re saying.
This isn’t about avoiding conflict or not having difficult conversations. This is about allowing our emotions to settle a bit until we can listen to the other person, and have the presence of mind to notice what we really feel.
Conflicts and difficult conversations can strengthen relationships, rather than damage them, if we create enough space and bring kind attention to ourselves and the other person. All it takes is a moment of pause.
7 June 2022
The key part of any business isn’t the business plan, or the product, or the balance sheet, or the organizational structure.
It’s the people. All of them.
The people who imagine and design the product. The people who make the product. The people who market it. The people who sell it. The people who buy it. The people who ship it. The people who appreciate it and talk about it. The people who balance the books. The people who make hiring decisions and firing decisions. The people who maintain the equipment. And many, many more.
The people who care for each other, for the customer, and for the planet enough to commit themselves to make things better by making better things.
So, if a business is made up of people, how strong are the connections between them? What is the condition of the relationships that make up the human network which keeps information and action flowing freely inside and outside your business?
And how much of your time, attention, and energy is focused on the people of your business? What would happen without them?
6 June 2022
Having grown up in the United States I’m used to the ritual greeting:
“How are you?”
Unless you have a close relationship with the other person, and time to get into the details, then you’re expected to answer, “Fine,” regardless of how you’re actually feeling, so that you can get on with (or over with) the interaction.
I think this underlies a deeper philosophy about life here, that the default of life is “fine,” rather than that life is hard — being an aware, feeling human being is hard. Feeling thirsty, getting wet in the rain, missing a deadline, our child crying, getting cut off in traffic, twisting our ankle running for the train, getting caught in an argument, getting sick, burning ourselves on the stove, bruises, mistakes, disappointments… Not to mention losing a job, or losing a loved one.
Navigating all the challenges of daily life along with societal pressures and the larger global realities is in fact really, really difficult, and how many of us are really “fine” unless we’re just numbing ourselves to all that?
And to say that life is hard isn’t to be negative, but to be honest. And kind.
It’s not to say that “life is hard, so deal with it,” but rather, “life is hard, so it’s okay to feel that it’s hard.”
It’s not to say that “life is hard, so we may as well not bother,” but rather, “life is hard, and I need to be honest about how hard it is, so that I can make a better life.”
It’s not to say that “life is hard, and if people suffer it’s just meant to be that way,” but rather, “life is hard for everyone, and we need to work together to make things better for everyone, including ourselves.”
The first step to shift from “Fine” to honest is building up our capacity to feel that life is hard, without giving up or becoming bitter. To develop the capability to feel that life is difficult, and exhilarating. That life is suffering, and joy. That life is painful, and beautiful. At the same time.
That these experiences of living fully are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually dependent.
Can we know exhilaration without difficulty, joy without suffering, or beauty without pain?
The more we feel, the more we feel. Of everything. It’s a package deal.
And from that feeling comes motivation, and from motivation, action to make life better. For everyone, including ourselves.
5 June 2022
When we feel that the life we’re living and the work we’re doing is not really ours, it can be like a shirt we’ve outgrown and has some holes, but we’ve gotten used to wearing. We have to face the question of, “If not this shirt, then what?”
The devil we know can be better than the devil we don’t.
And to find a new shirt that fits who we are, both inside and outside, we need to have a sense of how we would feel in that kind of shirt, and we have to go out and look for it.
Similarly, there are two parts to finding the work and life which is ours. One is that we have to go out and experiment so we have a chance to encounter something that fits us better, and the other is that we have to have the ability recognize what fits.
(Having the courage to take the leap of enacting the change is for another post. This is just about the search.)
There are a lot of opportunities through volunteer work, social events, as well as books, blogs, podcasts, and videos, to experience directly, or through others, all manner of work and ways of living.
The more difficult part is knowing: “What is mine to do?”
After spending a lifetime (so far) being and working as someone who is not quite ourselves, it can be hard to discern what really resonates with our core, and what doesn’t. In order to survive in a world that expects us, and rewards us, to be who they want us to be, rather than who we are, many of us shut off that part of us that yearns for a life and work which is ours. We had to ignore that calling so that we could keep doing what we were expected to do. And now we’ve forgotten what that call sounds like.
The ability to re-cognize, or know again, that which is ours is still within us, but we’re out of practice, and maybe we also feel a bit uncertain whether it’s safe to start using it again. Just as after being bedridden with illness, we need to rebuild the strength, coordination, and confidence to walk again, re-membering that part of us which once knew what was ours requires gentle practice.
Noticing what draws our attention and then pausing to ask ourselves, is that attraction coming from me, or is it something someone told me I should like? When I notice a particular feeling, or impulse, asking myself where that is coming from? Is it a habit I learned in order to comply, or is it coming from somewhere deeper in me?
And if I don’t know the answer, that’s okay. What’s important is that I take the time, each time, to ask the question. To start to shed the wants and ways of being that I learned from elsewhere, so that I can see the source more clearly, of who I am, and what is my work.
Take your time. Be gentle. Celebrate the small wins. Fix your gaze on living a life which is yours. And keep going.
4 June 2022
Helping the listener to hear is an underrated skill.
As speakers, we can start with choosing words that are easy to understand. Regular pauses allow the listener to digest what has been said. Using vocal techniques to vary the delivery makes a long talk less tiring to listen to, and selective emphasis helps the listener to understand what the most important points are that you would like them to remember.
Most of all, knowing who your audience is and what is important to them will help you know what to say and how to say it.
It’s presencing — being present with your audience — rather than presenting — talking at your audience.
At the end of the day, we want to be heard. So why not help our listeners to hear us?
3 June 2022
One stereotype of a leader is someone who is always positive. Who always sees the bright side of things. Who has a “can do” attitude. Who always tells their team that they’re doing great.
The problem is that this kind of constant positivity closes the leader off from being able to listen.
Leadership requires deep listening, which means listening with presence and openness.
The openness of curiosity, courage, and compassion.
What does this have to do with positivity? Well, there’s no curiosity without doubt, no compassion without pain, and no courage without fear.
In order to have curiosity, compassion, and courage, you need to allow yourself to feel doubt, pain, and fear. It’s not easy, but with practice, it’s doable.
And once you become skilled at feeling doubt, pain, and fear, and keep going anyhow, it will become a superpower.
Besides all that, if your team knows things are not going well, but you pretend that they are, they won’t trust you. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t tell you what you need to know.
It’s okay to say things as they are. And to trust that you and team can handle the bad times together.
There’s no need to be positive all the time. But as a leader, you do need to be present all the time.
And open to listen to what is.
2 June 2022
If I talk to you and you don’t listen, there’s no connection. And I can’t make you listen, either.
So the only way for me to ensure that there’s connection is if I let you talk, and I listen.
If we are serious about wanting to connect with another person, we must put our own agenda aside and listen with curiosity, courage, and compassion. We may not like what we hear, but if we can accept it is true for the other person, even if we don’t agree with it, then we have a chance of making a connection.
And with connection comes a chance of authentic communication, and even collaboration on making a change that matters, together.
And it starts with listening.
1 June 2022
In the United States our epidemic of mass shootings is getting worse, and we’re more divided than ever over what to do about it.
This is only made worse by our increasing inability to agree on facts, and our unwillingness to consider that our facts — the foundation of our reasoning — might be wrong.
Maybe it’s time to stop trying to argue the facts, and start feeling the pain and grief of these deaths together. Maybe the more productive and healthy choice for all of us would be to stop trying to solve this problem by arguing about it, and instead, to help each other to process all of these deaths regardless of our political opinion.
Whatever we may think about guns, we can come together as one human family around our shared grief for the lives that are being cut short by violence. And maybe if we can feel the grief together as one, a more sane path forward will emerge from us together. One we can all agree upon and move into action as one human family.
31 May 2022
Today is Memorial Day in the U.S.. A day of remembrance.
On this Memorial Day I feel a yearning to re-member our social body — to reconnect the parts that have been separated by anger, fear, aggression, and unnecessary death. To recognize and remind ourselves that we are connected to each other as humans, and we are all a part of nature as mammals.
I feel a yearning to re-member my own body which feels disconnected from others because of my own anger, fear, and aggression. To recognize and remind myself of my responsibility and my agency in the re-membering of our social body.
I welcome the sadness that speaks to me of the loss that matters to me. And I welcome the joy of having had something and someone worth losing.
30 May 2022
Many practicing photographers will tell you that the best camera is the one you have with you. The most sophisticated camera in the world is useless if it’s not there to take the shot.
Conversely, for much of my life I didn’t see the point of vacations because what I really needed to get away from was myself — my own nagging thoughts and feelings of emptiness. If anything, I felt better when I kept myself busy and distracted.
This is why learning to work with the breath for focus, for cultivating awareness, and for coming home to ourselves is so useful. It’s free, it’s ours, and it’s with us all the time.
The breath also encourages gentleness for those of us who may not want to come home to ourselves and face what is inside of us. The gentle rhythm of our breathing reminds us that we can take on the challenge of getting to know ourselves one breath at a time, wherever we happen to be.
29 May 2022
I heard a CEO talk about having to fire someone the other day, saying, “When I saw him berating a junior employee at the company, I knew he had to go. That’s not our culture here.”
There is vulnerability and power in owning the experience. Rather than only saying, “I had to fire him because he wasn’t a good fit,” he gave a specific details and opened himself up to judgement.
Because he let us know the situation, we could wonder, was the firing too harsh? Should he have given the guy a second chance? Maybe put him through some training first?
If he just said, “I had to fire him because he wasn’t a good fit,” then we don’t have anything to criticize. We have to just take his word for it.
On the other hand, giving a specific reason builds trust. Whether we agree with the firing or not, it doesn’t feel arbitrary or nefarious. It also tells us something about the CEO’s values. All these things help to build and strengthen the relationship.
And relationships are how leadership happens.
28 May 2022
Much of business culture still focuses on individual success. It rewards the superstar and promotes the highest achievers to higher-and-higher levels of leadership.
Which doesn’t really make sense, when you think about it.
Leaders need to excel at collaboration. They need to understand the social psychology of groups and how a team can be most creative and effective — together.
Phenomenal individual contributors make for great stories, but they don’t necessarily know anything about working together.
The success of an organization is much more dependent on its employees’ competence with real skills, than it is on the technical excellence of a superstar. And the stronger our real skills for working together, the stronger the organization.
With all due respect to Batman, humans are not meant to work alone. It’s long past time that our education system, and corporate training programs, spent more time focused on the real skills of working together, and less time on creating lone wolves.
27 May 2022
That’s the uncomfortable truth.
To do anything well takes skill that comes from practice. And practice takes time.
Although some approaches to practice are more effective than others, even the best practice regimen still takes time.
And the time spent on looking for shortcuts would be better spent practicing. Because eventually, that’s where you will end up if you’re serious about what you want to do. So you may as well start now.
26 May 2022
Profound human tragedy is hard for us to see. We can be tempted to look away. And sometimes for self care we need to.
But action requires awareness, and the shared action required to respond to human tragedy requires shared awareness. We need to look together and feel the pain together, in order for a shared intention to arise. An intention to make sure we do whatever we can to stop this from happening again.
Only by looking each other in the eye and feeling each others’ pain together, will we have a chance of working together to make a difference.
And staying with the pain of human tragedy takes courage, capacity, and the commitment to create a world that supports the well-being of all.
25 May 2022
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after the Physiological needs and Safety needs comes the need for Love and Belonging. Being felt, seen, and heard go a long way towards supporting a sense of Love and Belonging (as well as supporting Esteem and Self-actualization which are needs four and five).
The irony is that when people try to “help” us, they often skip the step of hearing us. They may see us struggling and charge in as a Knight in Shining Armor without understanding what we need. Without taking the time to ask questions and listen.
Often, we are all capable of helping ourselves. We just need someone to hold a space where we can feel felt, seen, and heard and activate the will within us to act.
To paraphrase Dr. Rachel Remen:
When I try to help a person, I see them as weaker than me. When I try to fix a person, I see them as broken. But when I aim to serve, I understand that their suffering is my suffering, and their joy is my joy, so I serve as an equal. A fellow traveller in life.
The truth is, deeply listening without acting is often more uncomfortable and more difficult than springing into action to “help.” And that more difficult act, of holding space to listen without acting, is what most of us really need from each other.
24 May 2022
Mistakes happen, and the longer a relationship goes, the more chances you have of making a mistake.
When this happens, don’t explain. Apologize.
Even if you meant well but your best intention ended up hurting the other person, don’t explain. Apologize.
Even if there’s a really good reason why you did what you did, don’t explain. Apologize.
When we hurt another person, it’s not about us. It’s not about our motivation or our reasoning.
It doesn’t mean we’re a bad person, either. It’s really not about us at all. It’s about the person who we hurt. And if the relationship matters to us, the correct response is to apologize for that hurt no matter what.
Because if we explain instead of apologizing, we make it about us. And the message we send is that we value our own ego more than the relationship.
So feel the pain of hurting another person, admit to yourself that you don’t like feeling that way (nobody does!), and apologize anyway.
If the relationship matters to the other person, they will forgive you. But only if you let go of your own ego, and apologize for hurting them — simply, clearly, and directly.
23 May 2022
Often when we get into a conflict, we can be tempted to react right away. The problem is, in the heat of the moment, we rarely understand completely what happened. We don’t have all the information we need to respond wisely.
Part of the problem is that there are often facts that we don’t want to admit to ourselves. Things about the conflict which trigger anger or fear and which we don’t want to look at directly. So we ignore this key information.
Taking the time to feel something fully is taking the time to get to know the situation more — including the parts that are uncomfortable to look at.
Taking the time to feel what we don’t want to feel can help us to get more of the facts before we act.
22 May 2022
If you discover that you are caring more than the people who you serve, then either you’re caring about the wrong thing or serving the wrong people.
You’re caring about the wrong thing, because what you are caring about is not what the people you serve are caring about.
Or, if you don’t want to change what you care about, then you need to find new people to serve — people who care about what you care about.
Either way, caring more than the people who you serve is is not serving anyone.
21 May 2022
Each of us is right in our own head. That’s why so many arguments don’t go anywhere.
I’m right. And so are you.
What if instead of arguing about this, we started by agreeing that we’re both right. And then compared notes.
How am I right? (What do I see?) How are you right? (What do you see?)
Listening with curiosity and empathy to what each of us sees, can we build a shared understanding? A shared map of the world we both live in? Can we see together something that neither of us could see alone?
And then from that shared understanding, sense what shared action we also see.
When we “agree to disagree,” it’s a cop-out. A way to avoid really listening to each other.
But when we agree to listen to each other without trying to change each other, real possibilities for collaboration can emerge.
20 May 2022
People are behind every decision to buy. Even if you do business-to-business sales, and even if a company is paying for your product, the decision to buy was made by people. Human beings with human needs, wants, fears, and aspirations.
Of course you want to sell something you can be proud of. A product you can stand behind.
But it’s not all about the specifications and the value you see in your product.
It’s about the person who is deciding to buy it, or not.
What are their needs, wants, fears, and aspiration? What do they believe? (It’s very likely not the same as what you believe.)
To make a sale is to make a connection — human to human. And to do that you need to know as much about the person you are selling to, as you do about what you are selling.
19 May 2022
You won’t succeed if you don’t try. Yes, it’s a truism, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Equally true is that you can’t avoid failure if you want to succeed.
When doing anything new, anything worth doing, you will inevitably fail along the way. Probably many times. Or in the words of Jason Mraz, you’ll “win some and learn some.”
The only way to avoid failure is not to try. And if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed.
It’s not “success or failure,” but “success and failure.” It’s a package deal.
18 May 2022
If you’re a human, then I’m willing to bet that at least part of your business involves people. And, because you’re in a people business, you may find it difficult to explain what makes the human part of your business special.
How is working with you different from working with other people? What do your clients and customers feel when they work with you?
No matter how many testimonials we have, it’s difficult to communicate the experience of working with us when all we have are words on a page. Maybe it would be better if we didn’t try.
Instead, find ways to show a potential customer what it might feel like to work with you. Create invitations for them to experience you in a webinar, through a video, or a podcast. Let them hear your voice, sense your personality, and feel for themselves if they would enjoy working together.
We really can’t tell someone whether we’re a good match. The best we can do is show who we are, and let them decide for themselves.
17 May 2022
“It’s not over ‘till it’s over.”
This may be a tautology, but most of us humans forget this in the heat of the moment.
In the moment of the big failure, we feel like our career, business, or lives are over, even though we have no idea of where this failure might lead us. We have no idea what will happen next in our lives.
In the moment of the big success, we may think that we finally made it, even though we have no idea where this success might lead us, and what will happen next.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t feel disappointed with failure, or feel happy about success. It’s important to feel what we feel, but beware the thoughts that come, telling us where this failure or success will lead.
Because the hard truth is, we have no idea what the future holds.
The best we can do is to do what we can with what we have, right in this moment.
16 May 2022
If we want to learn to ride a bike, it takes more than reading books, watching videos, or going to workshops. It’s a skill. And to learn, we need the courage to get on a bike to ride, fall, and ride again.
It takes practice, commitment, and just as importantly, a bike and enough space to ride in.
The same is true of leadership. Just like riding a bike, leadership is a skill. And it takes more than reading books, watching videos, or going to workshops to become better at leading. We need the courage to practice together with other people in a safe enough space where we can lead, fail, and get back up.
Leadership is not a thing we can have, but a skill we can develop, if we have the courage and commitment to practice.
15 May 2022
Rituals require attention. When we brush our teeth, we need to pay attention to the teeth we’re brushing, the force we’re using and how long we’re brushing to make sure we do a careful, through job.
This is something we do multiple times a day for our entire lives, and it can be easy to fall into “rote,” or just going through the motions. But then we won’t get our intended result: clean teeth.
It’s the same with interpersonal rituals. Things like greeting each other in the hallway, reading out the agenda at a meeting, or saying goodbye at the end of a phone call. If we say the correct words but do it in a perfunctory way, without really paying attention to the other person or the relationship, people feel it.
If anything, speaking by rote has the opposite effect. It sends the message that we don’t care about the person, the relationship, or the work that we’re doing together.
As an experiment, try to notice whether someone’s speech is rote or attentive. And notice how it makes you feel.
Then ask yourself, how do you want to make people feel?
14 May 2022
When we don’t know what to do, we often make a critical mistake.
We think the problem is that we don’t know which choice is best, or maybe we even think that all the choices are equally bad.
But when we feel stuck it’s often because we’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re not seeing all the possibilities. We only see a few.
The best way to see more possibilities is to get help. If I ask a trusted partner or three to sit together and sense into the challenge I’m facing, it gives me the chance to to borrow their senses and to widen my perception.
The trick is to ask that they not give advice, or try to fix the problem. Their job is to be my extra eyes and ears so we all see, feel, and sense more together, than I could alone.
Once I get a broader, higher-resolution picture of the situation, I’ll often know what to do.
If I know what’s possible, then I know what the best choice is for me to take. But that’s a big if. What I often lack is the awareness of all the choices that are available to me. That’s where I need help — to see, feel, and sense the whole. Together.
13 May 2022
Every one of us is a world. We each walk around with a unique version of the world in our heads.
So when we really listen to another person with an open mind and an open heart, we risk being changed. We risk that what we hear will shift something in us so that we never see, think, or feel quite the same way again.
This means we may learn that what we thought we knew is wrong. Or that we are not showing up as the person we thought we were.
So it takes courage to really listen to another person.
Because before you can really listen, you have to be willing to be changed by what you hear.
12 May 2022
It’s easy to shut down a project or business, or to end a relationship when everyone agrees that things aren’t going well. When it’s draining everyone’s resources without enough benefit.
It’s more difficult when some people are benefitting, but you aren’t.
Maybe it’s taking up too much time or emotional labor. Maybe you’ve learned everything you can and now you’re just going through the motions. Or maybe something new is knocking at your door and the only way to let something new come in to your work and life is to let go of the old.
But when you know that your letting go is going to let people down, it can feel like you’re stealing, or even causing harm. This is a very uncomfortable feeling, and we need to have the courage to feel it so we can let go of things that no longer serve us, even when they appear to be still serving other people.
The alternative is to deny ourselves and refuse new possibilities. This path leads to the same end as letting go of the project, the business, or the relationship, but it will take much longer and be much more painful in the long run.
So the question is: do you have the courage to endure the discomfort of letting people down now with gratitude for the past and excitement for a possible future, or will you hang on through a long, slow decline into resentment and apathy?
11 May 2022
The person who is the hardest for us to see objectively is ourselves.
We know too much of our own history, and we will tend to underestimate or overestimate ourselves more than anyone else. That’s why we need each other.
If I can see you clearly, and you can see me clearly, then we can help each other.
And the more mirrors the better. Each person brings a lens, a perspective, a way of seeing which is different from others.
So the more we can gather together and reflect back to each other, the more clearly we will be able see the truth about ourselves.
And from that clearer awareness comes better decisions and action.
10 May 2022
Culture is the way of being of an organization. The action and words of each member of an organization come out of that way of being and express the culture.
So changing the culture of an organization requires more than working groups and wordsmithing. It requires building new skills and capacity for this new way of being.
And building new skills and capacity takes time, attention, and practice.
All of this means that changing culture is not for the faint of heart. It’s a commitment to becoming a better organization which makes better things.
It’s worth it, but only if you’re in it for the long haul.
9 May 2022
Sometimes willpower is what we need to succeed, like when training for a marathon or studying for an exam.
But when we’re in uncharted waters, especially when doing inner leadership work in yourself or your team, then powering through with your will is a bad idea.
What you need is new skills, and to grow the capacity to use those skills.
What you need is patience and compassion to fail, learn, and fail again as you develop new competencies.
So it’s important to ask yourself, does this challenge need me to bring more will, or more skills.
8 May 2022
My piano teacher once told me there were three steps to becoming a better musician:
This is true for anything we want to get better at. Want to be a better speaker? Practice. Want to be a better listener? Practice. Want to become better at noticing your emotions before they get out of hand? Practice.
It takes commitment and consistent practice to get better at any skill. Which means creating lots of time and opportunities to practice, either on your own, or with others. Preferably when the stakes are low so you can push your edges, and learn from your mistakes without much consequence.
So the next time you’re tempted to spend time looking for new techniques, tips, or tricks, stop and use the time to practice the ones you know already instead.
You can thank me later.
7 May 2022
When we act, we are more aware of our intention — what we want the outcome of our action to be — rather than the impact — how the action is felt by others.
We focus on our intention, whereas people on the receiving end focus on our impact. Likewise, we focus on the impact other people’s actions have on us, and can only guess at what their true intentions were.
Because of these mismatched perspectives, when someone gets hurt by another person, there can be an assumption that the hurt was intentional. Or that the person who feels hurt should be understanding of good intentions.
The truth is that repairing a hurt relationship takes a little more work than that.
The first step to close the intention and impact gap is to trade experiences. To have an honest conversation, listening with an open mind of curiosity to share intention and impact with each other and see together what happened from each person’s perspective.
Then comes the hard work of apologies and forgiveness. This requires an open heart of compassion for ourselves, and for the other person. To take responsibility for actions that hurt, even if that was not our intention. And to forgive the person who hurt us, knowing that this happens in relationships.
The only thing which is guaranteed to make things worse, is pretending everything’s okay. If the relationship matters, then it’s worth going through the effort of listening to each other with an open mind and open heart to mend and move forward.
The bonus is that relationships which go through genuine and heartfelt hurt-heal cycles tend to grow stronger each time.
6 May 2022
When we notice something isn’t right, but don’t say anything, nine times out of ten it’s because of fear.
This is human, natural, and irresponsible.
Along with the awareness that something isn’t right, comes the responsibility to call it out. To shine a light on it. To make those involved aware of what we see, so that you can see it together and act together to make it right.
So what can we do when we fail to speak up? Look inside.
Investigate the fear, starting with self-compassion (because this fear is human and natural). Get to know the fear. Not the story of the fear, but the feeling of the fear.
Because just like breaking in a pair of shoes, the more we allow ourselves to experience the fear in a grounded way — walking with it — the more comfortable we become with it. Until we find that when it’s time to speak up, and we feel the fear, we can speak up anyway.
5 May 2022
It can be easy to assume someone knows how you feel about them. We may think that everyone at the meeting understands the purpose of the work we do together. It might seem like enough to have a list of company values prominently posted in the break room and on the website.
Until someone does something that violates the norms of the company, or team cohesion starts to break down, or psychological safety is lost.
Relationships require care and feeding, and one way to do that is through ritual.
It could be saying hello and goodbye to those in offices near yours. Or beginning each meeting with a reminder of why the meeting was called. Or reading a set of guiding principles at the beginning of each company gathering.
Little things that don’t take much time, but might feel repetitive or redundant. These little rituals are threads that knit a team and an organization tighter and tighter – one conversation and one meeting at a time.
What rituals might you create or stick to more closely in your organization to remind each other of why you are there, why your work matters, and that you belong together?
4 May 2022
Every person is a world. We each walk around with our own version of reality. What I see and hear is not the same as what you see and hear. We each have a perspective that is shaped by genetics, personality, and how we were raised. And there is no way for me to see and hear what is in your head, unless you tell me.
And yet, it’s almost impossible to get any work done unless we can agree on reality. We need to know where we’re starting from, if we’re going to be able to get anywhere together.
This is one reason that honest conversation, and listening with curiosity, compassion, and courage is so essential to teamwork. It’s such kind conversation that allows us to start aligning the worlds in our heads, until we are standing in the same place, looking at the same goal, and ready to take that first step in the right direction, together.
3 May 2022
There’s a difference between willpower and willingness.
Willpower is the power to will yourself to do something even if you don’t want to.
Willingness is the opening of the will to do the work that matters to you.
When we struggle with procrastination, we may think that we lack willpower. The question is, are we really willing to do what we need to do to get what we think we want. Are we being honest with ourselves about how we feel. About what we really want.
When we’re aware of our true wants and needs, our decisions and actions will naturally move us in the direction of those wants and needs. But if we’re unclear about what we want, or fooling ourselves about what we want, then we may find that we can’t push ourselves through the difficult challenges of doing the work.
That’s a big reason for why we procrastinate: we’re not being honest with ourselves about what we truly want.
It’s not the strength of our will, or willpower, that we need. It’s the openness of our will — our willingness to see, feel, and act on what we truly want — that carries us through.
2 May 2022
When we listen, we have the opportunity to create trust.
Trust that we care enough to spend time on strengthening this relationship. To put aside our ego, opinions, and biases and see things from another perspective. To allow ourselves be changed by a conversation.
But listening is more than not talking. To build trust, we need to give our full, open attention to the other person. This is a skill.
And every conversation we have is an opportunity to practice that skill, and to create trust, if we choose to.
1 May 2022
There are many forces that keep us stuck in our old ways of living and working, even when we know we want to change.
One of these forces is the people around us who expect us to keep acting the same way we always have. Some will be pleasantly surprised when we start to act more true to ourselves, but others won’t want us to change.
They may feel surprised, frustrated, confused, betrayed, and even angry if we break out of our old patterns, and start acting more true to who we really are.
Sometimes we need to make the hard decision to disappoint someone else, so that we can stop disappointing ourselves. That’s easier said than done, but we have to do it if we’re serious about our own growth.
And when the fear of disappointing others threatens to stop us from doing the right thing, we can keep going by remembering the wise words of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
30 April 2022
Fear can expand to control our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions. It has the ability to block everything else out of our awareness.
And resistance is futile. It will counter any argument we bring and laugh at any attempt to put a silver lining on it. We can’t fight it head on.
We need another tool that can get past fear’s defenses.
Curiosity is fear’s Kryptonite. Curiosity and fear cannot co-exist. Fear is the force that layers us in armor and locks the doors to keep us safe. Curiosity is what pulls us outside and opens our eyes and hearts wide to see and feel what is there.
If we can find a way to be even a little bit curious when we feel afraid, it makes a crack through which we can find our courage again.
29 April 2022