Be the difference · Leadership

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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Letting go · Surrender

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!)

 

 

Be the difference · Letting go

“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.

Being vulnerable · Embrace the present moment

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

Be the difference · Smile at fear

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

Letting go · Radical acceptance · Smile at fear

Dragging the raft

There is a Buddhist parable concerning a man trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. He faces great uncertainty and danger by staying on his side.  And he soon realizes he must cross the river to find safety.

Alas there is no bridge or ferry for crossing.  So the man decides to construct a make-shift raft from logs, branches and vines. Eventually he is able to paddle himself to the other side.

The Buddha then asks the assembled monks a question: What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river, said to himself, ‘Oh, this raft has served me so well, I should take it with me as I continue my journey on land’?  The monks replied that it would not be very sensible to cling to the raft in such a way.

The Buddha continued: What if, instead, he lay the raft down gratefully, thinking that this raft has served him well, but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore? The monks agreed that would be the proper attitude.

If you are anything like me, you may find yourself clinging to beliefs, techniques and practices that once served you well but were meant for an entirely different set of circumstances.

If you are anything like me, you may hold on to the familiar–the comfortable–despite ample evidence it is no longer working.

If you are anything like me, you may be carrying around the proverbial hammer in search of the next nail.

Many of us have some version of a raft we continue to drag behind us.

Maybe, with the passage of time, we will find ourselves in the exact set of circumstances where that raft will turn out to be exactly the thing we need.  Maybe.

But there is so much freedom, so much speed to be gained, so much possibility to be claimed, in simply letting go.

This post originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

Do the work · Letting go of ego · Radical acceptance

They’ll see it eventually. Or not.

When we believe another person is unable to see the harsh reality of their words or actions it can particularly frustrating. When those words or actions affect us directly by activating our own worry, shame, sadness or pain, it can be especially difficult. Even traumatic.

Maybe we want to change their perception of past events.

But then again “truth” is a relative concept, often simply held in the eyes of the beholder.

Perhaps they can’t let go of a something we’ve done in our history together.

Yet the idea that we can magically make their feelings go away by our well reasoned arguments is a fool’s errand.

Maybe we don’t like their choice of friend, lover, job, outfit, hair style, the book they are reading and on and on.

But it’s probably worth remembering that it’s their life and most of the time their decisions have little or nothing to do with us. It’s also worth reminding ourselves that much of the time we rarely have the full picture anyway.

Maybe we want them to see us fundamentally in a different light, to focus only on our good parts, or forgive us for past ills we’d prefer they ignore, or just simply extend us more grace and compassion.

Yet their journey is their journey. And our is ours.

Things will unfold in their own time, despite our attempts to jam the accelerator to the floor.

Hope is not a workable strategy. Acceptance is.

In the absence of a fully functioning time machine (which, by the way, I HAVE added to my Christmas list) we can only start where we are.  And we can only work on what is within our control and, whether we like it or not, that’s our stuff, not theirs.

It may well be that the other person is in denial, or using poor judgment, or making a terrible mistake. It turns out this is what we humans do.

And eventually they’ll see it. Or not.

Either way, OUR work is the same.

The longer we stay in judgment, blame or resentment toward the other person, the longer we make ourselves miserable.