First, get naked

Never let them see you sweat. Have all the answers at the ready. Don’t let those pesky emotions fog up your logic. Be impervious to the Sturm und Drang of every day existence. Know where you are going at all times.


We can’t ignore the need to pick a lane at some point.

We shouldn’t get stuck and spin endlessly as we mull over a sea of options.

We ought not to totally collapse in the face of challenges or throw up our hands in despair.

And yet…

And yet we should fight the urge to pray at the altar of a culture that values perfectionism over our flawed humanity, materialism over essentialism, quick and convenient decisions over considered choices that emanate from a deep understanding of ourselves and how we derive our passion and purpose.

When we are doing the work that matters the place to start is not borne out of snap judgment, reactivity or trying to sort out and conform to what other people think. And it’s rarely continuing what we’ve always done or what feels the most comfortable.

The place to start is to get naked; to strip ourselves of our worn out and tired stories, to give up the need to be right or in control, to eschew the habits that no longer serve us.

On our path to a life of greater love, kindness, passion and purpose we need to get raw, to experience our feelings directly rather than stuff them or try to navigate around them. We need to expose ourselves to the light. To be vulnerable. Laid bare.

Whether we are trying to figure out our next career move, how we wish to show up in important relationships or simply trying to decide how to best prioritize our time, I’ve found it’s worth digging deeply into three core questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I really want from my life?
  • How can I serve?

The answers that will keep us on our path aren’t likely to come easily or quickly. And they won’t come at all if we aren’t willing to get naked first.


h/t to Deepak and Sheepak for inspiring this post.


Prison break

In spiritual circles it’s common to talk about being “on the path.” The path to God (or however we may describe a Higher Power), the path to redemption, the path to awakening, the path to enlightenment.

And we are hardly lacking for guidebooks and maps. Addicts may employ the Twelve Steps to work through their spiritual recovery. Buddhists have the Noble Eight-Fold path to inform their journey. Other wisdom traditions have various rituals, methods and practices to light the way. An entire self-help industry exists to inspire spiritual exploration through books, seminars, retreats, podcasts, YouTube videos and more.

The journey along a path IS real. For most of us, it’s long, filled with twists and turns, peaks and valleys, glimpses of light, flashes of despair. We stumble often on our wanderings through the Dark Night of the Soul. We wish there were an express lane–an easier, softer way–but there is not.

Yet we can spend a long time hiding in our shadow, staring longingly through a window out toward the light. We can convince ourselves that spiritual growth is inherently complicated. We can obsessively analyze competing “truths” and run through countless gurus and teachers. We can get overly focused on arriving at some imagined perfect destination and entirely miss out on what is possible along the way–right here, right now.

The invitation is simply to begin, to emerge from the places and situations that keep us stuck, entrapped. But it’s hard to escape from a prison if we can’t see that we are a prisoner.

Yet, right now, we can in fact acknowledge that we are prisoners of our habituated, reactive thinking, trapped in a room of ego protection, a pathological desire to control and a failure to accept reality.

Right now, we can see the forks in the road, the profound choices we get to make moment to moment. Do we choose forgiveness over revenge? Compassion or judgement? Being open-hearted or walled-off from connection? Do we fundamentally embrace love or fear?

Right now, we can accept that so many of the answers are within us–and available to us–in the present moment.

Often, we witness other people peering into our prison cell, and we think (hope?) that they have the answers, that they will drag us out, that they hold the key to our freedom.

But more often that not, we have the key, we just don’t see it.

We need to see it. And we need to use it.

We need to open those windows and unlock the door. And then we need to walk over the threshold and out into the light. There the path becomes so much more clear.

And we can begin the journey with a lot less baggage.


Reasons to hurry

We dodge in and out of  traffic, roll through stops signs and pass aggressively on the right, all just to arrive at our destination a few seconds earlier.

We reflexively respond to a text, even while driving, despite the obvious dangers and the virtual certainty that the message is neither urgent nor important.

We sit in lines for days to be among the first to get a new iPhone.

We pack our schedules with mind-numbing activity, only to move from one meeting or event to the next, in a Tasmanian Devil like frenzy.

We eat most of our meals as if we were in some sort of qualifying heat.

We’re quick to interrupt.

And even faster to judge.

Just what exactly does all this rushing about and false urgency get any of us? An ego boost? A rush of adrenaline to make us feel more alive? A sense of importance?

Is there anything more going on in these instances but our pride or fear of missing out?

There are, of course, plenty of good reasons to hurry.

There are urgent and sometimes desperate situations which demand our attention right now. There are meaningful problems we all can help solve.

It may be as simple as calling that friend who needs to hear a compassionate voice.

It may be embracing forgiveness, rather than living in resentment and condemnation.

It may be tutoring an under-privileged child who needs help reading.

Perhaps it’s donating money to provide a safe place for victims of domestic violence to escape from their abuser.

The list of good and valuable reasons to hurry goes on and on.

And it doesn’t include cutting people off (literally and figuratively) or compulsively rushing to purchase some new gadget in the vain hope that it will truly make us happy.

But perhaps I’m too quick to judge?

What breaks your heart?

Everyday, if we allow ourselves, we are going to experience a full range of emotions; some intense, others minor and insignificant. And some of them are felt deeply and mindfully in true presence and awareness.

Others are reactions–habitual, triggered. And many them we experience in a flash. If we are not careful, we are dragged back into–and mired in–a regretful past; love lost, opportunities missed, silly mistakes, personal slights, envy and so on. On the other end of the spectrum we can easily be set adrift in worries of an impossible to know or control future. If you are anything like me, sometimes that means grasping the wheel that much tighter, radically overestimating our power.

At other times, when the feelings become too intense, we employ anger to mask them or turn inwards with deflection, self-loathing, avoidance and numbing. It often seems easier to occupy our worried, shame-driven minds by protecting our egos or distracting ourselves with mindless activities and pointless concerns.

If we’re feeling jealousy, the need to win, the urge to lash out, the desire to be right, there is a good chance we are in reaction, operating from a place of a wounded or needy ego.

If we find ourselves compulsively fascinated by reality TV, compelled to stay abreast of the latest comings and goings of celebrities, or merely repeating the same unworkable habits over and over, it’s likely we are avoiding the real work of the soul.

Once we go deeper, once we clearly see what breaks our heart, not in the romantic sense, but from a perspective rooted in understanding what substantively challenges our capacity to express our worldly unconditional love, extend compassion freely, act generously, live out our purpose joyfully and celebrate our shared humanity and connection.

When we comprehend what breaks out hearts we also get the keys to what lifts our spirits and drives how we truly wish to be in the world.

Whether we get upset by fighting things outside of our control (reality) or the random activities of people that have no bearing on anything substantive in our lives ( reality TV), the result is the same.

There is nothing wrong with accepting that this is just the human condition, the product of our past traumas, our monkey minds at work. Our hearts are not challenged, our egos are.

The key is to see it for what it is. Dance with it. Laugh at it and ourselves.

Then we get back to do the real work, the work of the heart and the soul, intentionally, with concentration, mindfulness and lovingkindness to ourselves and others.


What’s worth fighting for?

Unless we live in certain parts of the world we get to pick most of our battles.

So it’s probably a good idea to decide what’s worth fighting for?

On my best days, I realize my list is pretty short:

  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Generosity
  • Connection
  • Justice
  • Confronting my pain, fear and shame
  • Acceptance of reality
  • Living in the present moment.

Of course, despite knowing this, I often convince myself that other things are important. I strap on my emotional armor and fight the useless fight.

The battles with our egos are ultimately both the most seductive and most destructive. We fight to be right, to win, to avoid our failings, to medicate our feelings, to control uncontrollable outcomes, to protect us from getting hurt. And to what end?

Our desire can betray us. Merely knowing our vulnerabilities is not enough.

We need to understand there is a profound difference between a reaction and a choice.

And if we decide that something–or someone–is truly worth fighting for, we go for it. We make mistakes, we embarrass ourselves (full disclosure: as I’ve already done this morning) and sometimes we’re going fall flat on our face.

But if we’re truly fulfilling our heart’s desire, then we pick ourselves up, recalibrate and just keep doing the work–smiling at our fears and our imperfect humanity.


The 2nd worst thing to ever happen to a politician in a theatre?

This past Friday, after a day of business in Manhattan, I found myself in the enviable position of having scored a ticket to the smash musical Hamilton. Once I settled into my seat, the collective excitement grew as the clock inched closer and closer to the 8pm showtime.

Then, from a portal to the right of the stage, Vice President Elect Mike Pence and his phalanx of Secret Service agents strolled in.

And the audience lost its mind.

To be sure, there was a solid minority that stood and applauded, but for the most part, Governor Pence was greeted with sustained boos, several “you sucks”, as well as other far less polite suggestions which, as far as I know, are anatomically impossible. Just as Pence and his entourage hit their seats it was lights out and on with the show.

During the performance the audience leaned in hard with raucous applause when Hamilton and Lafayette sang “immigrants we get the job done!” And King George seemed to throw major shade Pence’s way during “What comes next?”, looking towards him as he sang “when your people say they hate you, don’t come crawling back to me.” The show momentarily ground to a halt as the crowd’s hoops and hollers drowned out the action on the stage.

Good times.

By now, you have probably heard that during the curtain call Brandon Dixon Victor (the actor who plays Aaron Burr) directed a short admonition toward Pence as he tried to quickly make his way out of the theatre.

And then the internet lost its mind.

Being a very minor part of this weird little slice of history was both exciting and profoundly depressing. It WAS interesting and fun to have a front row (and rather expensive) seat to this unfolding drama. But the reaction of the crowd–and the wider world outside the theatre–only served to underscore how divided we are as a people and provided a harsh reminder that a radical shift in perspective and behavior is required if we are to avoid endless duels, many of which are certain to end badly.

So with apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda, here is my version of the Ten Duel Commandments:

  1. If your skin is thin, stay out of the arena. There is such a thing as free speech. Don’t take everything personally. Learn the difference between hearing another’s truth and persecution or harassment. When in doubt, don’t post it on Twitter.
  2. Talk less, listen more. Our ego needs to be heard, to be right, to win. But projecting or amplifying our ego is the surest way to break connection. To build connection we must let the our “opponents” feel truly heard.
  3. Respect the other’s point of view. We don’t listen just to check it off our list. We listen to understand, to show respect, to challenge our own biases. But mostly to connect on a human level.
  4. There are few true enemies. Our perceived separation is not real. We truly are all in this together. I take no comfort from the hole being on your side of the boat. Most times it is our ego’s insecurity and isolation that causes us to create barriers and divisions that are not the least bit helpful. If there is a demon to be conquered it is most often our self-righteousness.
  5. Watch out for the belief test. When I find myself starting to decide whether I like or respect someone based upon whether they score well on my “good person” checklist all I know is I’m creating an us vs. them; I’m right, you’re wrong; I’m good, you’re bad, dynamic. That gives my ego a little hit, but it accomplishes nothing if I care about peace and progress.
  6. It’s okay to call bullshit. Just because we seek connection doesn’t mean facts aren’t a thing or that our strongly held beliefs don’t deserve being shared. Climate change is real, Obama was born in the United States, we really did land on the moon. Share THE truth and share your truth. Respectfully.
  7. Fear is a terrible engine and an even worse compass. There are times when fear keeps us from getting hurt or killed. However, most of the time our unconscious or irrational fear keeps us stuck in false beliefs that lead to self-flagellation, angry projection or both. If you are going to be dueling, best to understand your fear and not let it turn you into a bully or a heat-seeking missile. And if you can’t reasonably deal with your fear, best to take your finger off the trigger.
  8. Hyperbole is not the greatest thing ever. It’s hard enough to build connection when our fear is ruling the roost and when our differences are so pronounced and amplified. Stay grounded. Avoid catastrophizing and black & white thinking. When we go to extremes it tends to put others on the defensive. And the gap we need to close only widens.
  9. Put the hammer down. Lately it seems as if the only tool society has is a hammer and the nail we choose to hit over and over is the one that cuts the other side down. I’m hard pressed to find a time when that has worked. If you are are all about your ego and all about tearing down others, by all means keep swinging that hammer and keep pounding those nails. If you care about peace and progress, however, you might want to get some new tools.
  10. Rise up as necessary. On many issues, we must take sides. As Elie Wiesel reminds us “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Seeking connection and following the other suggestions above does not mean rolling over in the face of intolerance, racism, homophobia or other forms of injustice or unacceptable behavior.

I’ll see you in the arena.


h/t to Deepak Chopra

Does anger scale?

We live in an intensely angry world right now.

From the vast number of conflicts around the globe, to what we consider normal political discourse these days, to simple daily human interactions at work or on the road, so much of what we encounter is anchored in anger, drenched with hate.

We know that anger and frustration can be a catalyst, an accelerant, the fuel for action–big and small. And for me, anger most often comes in two forms.

It’s easy to see how anger at an unjust status quo calls us to action against systemic racism and related equity issues–or whatever the social impact issue might be. On the business front, there are countless stories of entrepreneurs creating new and better solutions to address areas of intense frustration. This first kind of anger, however motivated or pointed, is energizing and doesn’t involve a dangerous misalignment with ego. And it certainly doesn’t require hating or humiliating those who stand in opposition–or simply may not “get it.”

Then there is the anger of judgment, self-righteousness and one-upped-ness. The “I’m right, you’re wrong, and my ego is only going to be okay when I win and when I make you feel less than me (or even less than human).” We see this every day from Donald Trump and the “alt right“, from the road raging driver, from the religious zealot and, sometimes, in the day-to-day arguments with friends and loved ones. If I’m honest, I’ve been that guy more times than I care to think about.

This type of anger is rooted in fear. And fear rarely calls us to be our best selves. It often emerges from deep insecurity and generates a sense of false empowerment. It pushes people away. It makes connection impossible. It is devoid of compassion, generosity and basic humanity.

And it may work for awhile, but eventually it collapses under its own weight. And it certainly doesn’t–or shouldn’t–scale.

Bridges are better than walls. The bad driver is not going to change because I gave him the finger and leaned on the horn. I might feel better for a bit by “winning” the argument, but the possibility for lasting connection is lost and my reservoir of humanity is slowly drained.

In the battle between love and hate I know which side I’m taking.

Anger keeps us trapped, stuck, unconscious.

Love liberates.


The amount of work is the same

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” —Carlos Castaneda

Of course this is true of many things . . .

Encountering the world from the wound of hate or from the warmth of love.

Furiously protecting our ego or opening to connection.

Lamenting the past, worrying about the future or living in the present moment.

Fighting reality or choosing acceptance.

Constraining ourselves to the known or widening to an infinite field of possibilities.

Living in fear or cultivating peace.

Perpetuating the cycle of revenge or engaging in forgiveness.

Anytime we tell ourselves we don’t have a choice, we are lying.

Choose wisely. It matters.


The problem with being right

A few years ago, when I was still in the corporate world, my strategy and customer insight team did a huge amount of really insightful customer and competitive analysis. We dug into our internal customer data and executed several pieces of incredibly illuminating consumer research.

It became clear that the wildly successful customer growth strategy we had been pursuing was hitting a wall. We were only growing with our best customers through price increases. Other important customer segment metrics were deteriorating. Analysis of those weakening segments revealed that we had price, product and customer experience issues and that we were losing share to one competitor in particular. Not only were we missing revenue opportunities, it seemed to us that an economic downturn could prove devastating. The case for change seemed obvious.

As it turns out, I was unable to convince our leadership to make any substantive changes. And when the recession came it dealt a particularly harsh blow: sales fell more than 25% and profits halved. Only recently are the changes we envisioned being critical getting implemented. The good news is that they seem to be working.

So I must feel vindicated, right? Eh, not so much.

In my view there are three fundamental problems with being right.

The first is that you might well be mistaken. Thinking that one is right is not the same as being right. For years people thought the world was flat and that the Sun rotated around the Earth. Plenty of people have been convinced something was absolutely true when it subsequently proved false (I’m looking at you Trump).

The second problem is that a lot of times it simply doesn’t matter. Whether we like it or we think it’s fair, in business investors care about results. A really cool idea that does not get implemented might as well not exist. Ideas that are “right” are often, at best, only half the answer.

The third is the most pernicious. One of my character defects is falling into self-righteousness. When I “know” I’m right and I can’t get you to agree, I can become frustrated or angry. And when I get angry I take that out on myself or others. I get attached to the idea of winning. I become convinced that I am just one piece of scintillating data or cleverly presented argument or snazzy slide presentation away from getting you to see the worthiness of my point of view (and by extension, MY worthiness).

A life in self-righteousness is a terrible place to dwell.


This post originally appeared at