It always comes down to turnout

As the US goes to the polls today, it really doesn’t matter whether one identifies as a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or whatever. Whether we prefer Beto or Ted, Andrew or Rod, Stacey or Brian means precisely nothing if we don’t go vote.

It turns out that our strongly held beliefs and eloquently worded arguments on social media are just so much you-know-what if we never get out of the stands and into the arena.

It turns out that even with something as mundane as our shopping intentions, if we don’t traffic the retailer’s store or website the retailer has no chance of selling us anything. No traffic, no sale.

It turns out that in the face of devastating tragedy all of our expressions of “thoughts and prayers” do rather little to change the underlying factors that led to the event in the first place.

It turns out that when someone is suffering, sending a card or flowers is nice, but it’s our showing up for them–in compassion, vulnerability and authenticity–that truly matters.

I’m not at all sure that, as the saying goes, 80% of life is showing up. But I am rather certain that it’s impossible to make a real difference if our thoughts and beliefs never turn into action.

As it turns out, it’s always been about turnout. And those that care show up.

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The post was simultaneously published on my business and leadership blog.

Memories: Two kinds

At a basic level there are really only two kinds of memories.

For many of us, the first type are all too familiar–and the most problematic. We remember the pain of the past: a failed relationship, the promotion we didn’t get, the hurtful comment of a relative or friend, an apology we “deserved” and are still waiting for, any number of actions that somehow or other hurt our feelings. And on and on.

The other kind are those that lift our spirit: remembering the birth of our child, the feeling of first falling in love, hoisting that trophy, crossing that finish line (literally or figuratively) or, as we do in the United States today, honoring the memory of those who died in service to our country.

Until someone invents a time machine that allows us to go back and attempt to fix that which didn’t go as we would have wanted or planned, ruminating on negative memories keeps us stuck and limits our potential. At some point, as Lily Tomlin allegedly said, “we must give up all hope for a better past.” The only thing that allows us to move on is to forgive unconditionally and let it all go. Easier said than done, I know.

While it’s possible to get just as stuck on positive memories–and at this point you might want to sing an impromptu version of “Glory Days”–they still typically fill us with love, warmth and compassion. They remind us of what’s possible. They serve to put life in better perspective and sharper relief. They steep us in gratitude.

Most importantly, when we acknowledge the two kinds and are aware of the keen differences, we can more clearly see how getting attached to one set is not in our best long-term interest.

And then we get to make a different choice.

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This post was also published on my business blog.

Out of ignorance or fear?

There are all sorts of reasons we stay stuck, fail to take action on the things we tell ourselves really matter, spin on items big and small.

Whether it’s deepening (or ending) a personal relationship, finishing our book, quitting a soul-crushing job or starting that new business we keep talking about, there is an aspect of our evolutionary biology that holds us back.

Vulnerability is scary.

Bringing our ideas, wishes and dreams into the light risks criticism–or even ridicule.

All too often, The Resistance is real.

Half the battle in overcoming our fears is to accept the reality that we crave both growth and safety at the same time. Yet there is simply no talking ourselves out of the fact of our hard-wiring. Our job, then, is to learn how to quiet the lizard brain and press on.

Ignorance is a different matter entirely.

Ignorance is often a major contributor to stoking our fear and anxiety. One needs neither an advanced degree–or any degree at all–nor dedication of substantial time and effort to see how much our society is burdened by irrational fears borne largely out of misinformation, misunderstanding and verifiable mistruths.

The fact is, in the developed world at least, most people have plenty of access to all the information they need to be reasonably well informed. Most folks have the tools to apply a decent level of discernment.

If it matters to you and you don’t know, your ignorance is a willful act.

In fighting our stuckness, in being willing to put our art out into the ether, in exposing who we are to another person, in contributing to a better world, it’s important to understand what holds us back.

Fear is a dragon to slay. Ignorance is a choice.

 

This post was simultaneously published on my business blog

When the student is ready…

It turns out that just about every thing I have needed to become a more loving, happy and compassionate person has always been available to me.

For the longest time it’s been right under my nose, calling my name, knocking on my door, laid out like a freaking buffet of knowledge and wisdom. For years I didn’t see it, didn’t heed its call, didn’t open the door, didn’t pick up the fork or drink ravenously from its cup.

Yet there I was–for more years than I care to mention–wanting, hungry, starving…

…for connection…

…for love…

…for acceptance…

…sometimes simply to be seen and appreciated.

These are some of the uncomfortable and inconvenient truths of my past:

I was wrong a lot, but could seldom admit it.

I often didn’t know what I was doing, but faked my way through it, rarely asking for help.

I got overly invested in perfectionism, which drove me–and the folks around me–crazy. Spoiler alert: Despite all the worry and the polishing it almost never made a substantive difference in the quality of my work.

I sat in judgment of others while simultaneously doing a lousy job of scrutinizing my own side of the street and taking appropriate responsibility for my shit.

I spent plenty of time regretting a past I couldn’t change or fretting about a future over which I had little or no control.

I took just about everything personally.

I seldom felt good enough.

I tolerated inappropriate behavior because I prioritized staying in a relationship over my own most important desires and my genuine need for emotional safety.

I held on to resentments, unable to discern between disappointment and frustration, and often failing to see my own role in what had transpired.

I’d push my agenda and defend my particular version of reality, rather than try to see the other person’s humanity–their own moments of struggle and brokenness–and seek to discover their version of the truth.

Much of the time I’d rather be right than be connected.

I am keenly aware that most of my struggles pale in comparison to what so many face. Regardless, this all brought me to my knees more than once.

Career opportunities gone or missed. Serious health crises. Fractured friendships. Not coming close to showing up for my family in the way they deserved. Romantic relationships that I deeply valued now strewn upon the trash heap of history.

It still hurts, because it all mattered, even if I didn’t always know how to show it.

Here are some more truths, which turn out to be rather more convenient:

In recent years, I haven’t become a more open-hearted and compassionate person because a clinical trial needed to be completed or some new breakthrough book was finally published.

I didn’t start consistently choosing love over hate, forgiveness over condemnation, accountability over blame, because a new law was passed requiring me to do so.

I didn’t have some sort of medical procedure that suddenly allowed me to realize that I am good enough just as I am.

I didn’t start surrounding myself with people that were more spiritually and values aligned with me because I moved to a new neighborhood.

The books, videos, seminars and people I have learned so much from in recent years existed long before I ran into them, sought them out or had someone point me in their direction. But I had to be ready for their lessons.

The truth is always there if we are willing to look for it.

A different path is possible if we are willing to do the work.

It’s never too late to start. And I got here as fast as I could.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.

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Spreading wisdom instead of pain

In our daily lives we face some fundamental choices. Some are mundane, like deciding what to have for breakfast, which route to take to the office or which hashtag to attach to a social media post. Others, of course, are far more profound.

So isn’t it interesting how often many of us obsesses over the prosaic, yet respond reflexively or out of habit to those that make the most difference?

In the choice between practicing judgment or forgiveness, ownership or blame, humility or self-righteousness, many of us get it wrong time and time again. And in doing so we unconsciously choose spreading pain over wisdom.

In her TED talk “Choices that can change your life” Caroline Myss does a splendid job of laying this out. She reminds us that choice is the most powerful thing we’re born with–and that’s why it terrifies us. She reminds us that we hesitate to commit to a decision because then we might have to do something about it. She reminds us that the words we choose matter. She reminds us that three words are lethal: “blame”, “entitled” and “deserve.”

If you are anything like me you may get stuck in your own reactivity. You may find it challenging to overcome a life time of habits. You may find it hard to make a different choice, even when you know one path calls you to your higher self.

But deep down we all know it makes far more sense to share our wisdom than to perpetuate and spread our pain–or the pain of others.

Once we realize and accept that we have a choice, then we have the opportunity to make a different one.

h/t to “Shepak” for continuing to call me to my higher self, albeit from afar

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How much has to happen?

“I I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

– The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I’m pretty sure you must have noticed…

Millions of people and families living in poverty–far too many of them experiencing homelessness.

Leaders who regularly traffic in hate, intolerance and dehumunization.

A reckless and growing disregard for the truth, which can only characterized as a virtual epidemic of bullshit.

The unrelenting trashing of our environment.

A rising tide of deaths and horrific injuries from guns of all sorts.

And on and on.

So just how much has to happen before we truly start to see what this all means?

How much has to happen before we realize our silence and acquiescence makes us co-conspirators?

How much has to happen before we say enough is enough?

How much has to happen before we do something?

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The harder I swim the faster I sink

We’re told to never give up, that we can have whatever we want if we just work hard enough, smart enough, focused enough.

We’re encouraged to pray to a god of faster, better, cheaper.

We’re seduced into the notion that if we just keep trying different angles, polishing our approaches, maybe even saying it louder and more forcefully, everything we want–for our ourselves or a person we care about–is within our grasp.

It’s a trap. And problem is often in the grasping itself.

The more we attach ourselves to a specific outcome, the more we risk getting hooked on a false sense of our power and control. The intensity of our desire often leads to an intensity of effort. Sometimes that works. Other times we are merely deluding ourselves that we have some sort of magical powers.

And there is a good chance we make ourselves–and the people around us–miserable in the process.

There was a time in my corporate life that I acted as if I was always one clever PowerPoint slide away from persuading just about anyone to believe just about anything.

There was time in my personal life when if I didn’t get what I wanted there must be something wrong with me. And I sure as hell needed to fix that. Or fix the other person.

There was a time when if things weren’t going my way my default mechanism was to work harder, speak more forcefully, hold tighter to the strength of my convictions.

And all too often, the harder I swam, the faster I sank.

It turns out you should never teach a pig to sing. It won’t work and it only annoys the pig.

It turns out quitting is underrated.

It turns out that despite how hard we try, some things are simply out of our control.

It turns out sometimes the more we want something the better it is to slow down, to let it be and, as hard as it can be, let it go.

 

h/t to Julien Baker for the title inspiration (and for being one of my favorite artists discovered in 2017 (thanks Claire!)

 

 

“I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time.”

The best moment on television yesterday was clearly this.

The second best, in my opinion, was Jake Tapper’s CNN interview with White House adviser (and front-runner for the least likable person to grow up in Santa Monica) Stephen Miller.

For more than 10 minutes Miller spouted off irrelevant nonsense until Tapper finally showed him the door with the send-off “I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time.” If only more folks had the courage to take decisive action on the useless, the meaningless, the dishonest, the distracting.

We waste our customers’ time with undifferentiated products, boring experiences and one-size-fits-all marketing.

We waste our teams’ time with meetings that have no discernible goals or impact.

We waste our friends’ and followers’ time with posts that serve no purpose other than to prop up our egos.

We waste our own time by needing to be right, staying stuck in resentment, obsessing about things we cannot change, confusing busy with effective, and on and on.

Mary Oliver, probably my favorite poet, beckons us with the question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Great question.

Tick tock.

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This post was also published on my business blog.

Stay. Stay. Stay.

The amygdala is sometimes known as the “lizard brain.” It’s more or less a holdover from prehistoric times and its role is to activate our primal survival instincts such as aggression and fear. When we are faced with a perceived threat, it can reflexively kick us into “fight or flight” mode. Sometimes–typically when we get overwhelmed and flooded with stress hormones–we can bounce back and forth from attacker to avoider, from villain to victim. Or we can shut down entirely.

At work, the lizard brain can keep us from trying new stuff despite knowing we need to innovate. It can cause us to push back hard on challengers to the status quo because we fear being wrong or looking stupid. Or we can just get stuck, paralyzed into inaction.

In personal relationships, those of us who fear intimacy can push away those whom we love, despite our desire to be more deeply connected. Or we can bolt for the door just as we get closer to what we so strongly desire.

The Resistance is real. So is self-sabotage. But as Pema Chodron reminds us, “fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”

Clearly some situations are untenable and they deserve to be run from and put well behind us. Frankly, quitting is often under-rated.

Other circumstances require us to stand up and fight and say “enough is enough.” No one should endure tantrums or constant boundary violations or harassment or far worse.

Discerning the situations where we need to get in and rumble and get messy and walk through our fear is not easy. It takes real courage to remain in the arena when everything tells us to to flee. To engage when the fear comes up. To do the hard, uncomfortable work. To be neither victim, nor persecutor, nor rescuer, but an accountable adult, fully present, living in reality and owning our truth.

Our restlessness is part of the human condition. And the lizard brain can be easily activated–even more so if we have a history of trauma.

But like a dog being trained, we can learn to stay. Stay engaged. Stay focused. Stay patient. Stay accountable.

We can do the work.

The challenges are great, but so too can be the reward.

 

This post was also published at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

The wrong voices

We are surrounded by the wrong voices.

People who tell us that our idea won’t work because it’s been tried before.

People who are talking when they should be listening.

People who condemn out of fear, ignorance, hate and intolerance.

People whose minds were never open in the first place.

People who feel powerful only when they make others feel small.

No one is forcing you to heed their call.

It’s a choice to turn off your inner voice of doubt and walk through your fear.

You can follow your passion.

You can do what’s right.

You can make a difference.

We can make a difference.

Let’s get started.

What better time than now?

 

A version of this post originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com