We’re never ready

Oh sure, maybe we’re ready for the easy stuff. Ready to leave for work, make dinner, hop in an Uber, do the laundry, pay the credit card bill.

But the work that matters, that enlivens the spirit, that changes us, our tribes and the world around us? That’s another thing entirely.

Naming our fear is helpful, because it is our fear that keeps us stuck.

Letting go of any notion of perfection–the right time, the right skills, the right conditions–is useful as well.

Being willing to get started–to accept that the only way we can ever really know that we are on the right path is to start walking; slowly at first, but faster and faster as we gain confidence–is essential.

Because here’s the thing…

The conditions will never be perfect.

I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future. And neither do you.

Chances are you already have everything you need to take that first step.

And sure it might not work.

Like it or not it’s later than we think.

The fact is we’re never really ready for what really matters.

But we can still start.

What better time than now?

This post was simultaneously posted on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com


Holy stuckosity Batman!

“Stuckosity” isn’t a real word. It can’t even be found at Urban Dictionary. Well, at least not yet.

But certainly most of us are familiar with the quality of being stuck. Perhaps you’re feeling it right now.

We get stuck telling the same old stories about ourselves that are familiar, but serve no useful purpose.

We get stuck trying to solve problems with the same level of thinking that got us into trouble in the first place.

We get stuck defending the status quo, even when we know it’s not working.

We get stuck in self-righteousness, which almost never changes the other person’s mind or behavior, but frustrates us to no end.

We get stuck fighting reality, re-litigating the past, trying vainly to predict the future.

We get stuck striving for perfection, when perfect is both impossible and, ultimately, only a recipe for suffering.

We get stuck waiting for precisely the right time and to be fully ready, failing to see that those exact conditions will never ever come.

We get stuck in relationships because we fail to speak our truth and ask for what we want and need.

We get stuck unleashing our full potential because we wonder how other folks will judge us if we were to go out on a limb.

And on and on and on.

The key to getting unstuck is to first see it for what it is. And most of the time our stuckness is merely our habitual reaction to an irrational fear; to a fundamental misunderstanding of risk.

Once we become aware that staying in our fear–and being unwilling to let go of our story, our need for control and our desire to be right–is actually the most risky thing we can do, the door is cracked open to change.

Once we we accept that our behavior is simply habit, the debilitating result of a lifetime of bad conditioning, we can work to establish new, more healthy and useful ones.

Once we are committed to take action, we are finally free. Free to start before we are ready. Free to embrace failure as a natural outcome of growth. Free to be okay with our imperfection.

And that’s good thinking Robin.


This post also appeared on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

Until we’ve started

Before we’ve started, it’s all just theory, concepts, wishful thinking, big talk, hopes and maybe a dream or two.

Before we’ve started, we are time-tripping, living solely in a fantasized future, instead of a realized present.

Before we’ve started, nothing is truly on the line.

Before we’ve started we can’t fail. Of course, it’s worth noting that we can’t succeed either.

But the goal is not to avoid failure–it’s to fail better.

I’ve had all sorts of brilliant ideas that never moved past a rhetorical flourish or even emerged from the confines of my mind. I’ve written a lot of great blog posts in my head. I’ve imagined quite a few heroic deeds, game-changing new ventures, noble journeys and wrongs I’ve made right.

The Resistance is real. Naming it is the first step. Confronting it is the second. Slaying that you-know-what is the third.

Thinking is great. Planning is quite helpful. Starting, however imperfectly, is better.

And there’s no better time than now.

Until we’ve started, I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t count.

The magical mystery powers of gratitude

For a long time the power of gratitude eluded me.

Sure, there were times when the position of privilege I was born into, or had attained, was obvious. I could appreciate a trip I took, a fancy new thing I bought, a great meal. I’d say “thanks” for a gift or a job well done or some little bit of kindness extended to me.

I suppose I mostly saw gratitude as transactional.

But if I’m honest, much of the time I was focused on what was lacking. The sense that I wasn’t achieving my potential at work and in my life was a near constant. My internal monologue was consumed by thoughts that I should possess more and sexier stuff, dominate my to-do list, achieve greater status, be in better shape, have everyone like me and on and on. I was feeling more than a wee bit entitled. I was rarely, if ever, satisfied.

In 2009, when I was still in the throes of a personal crisis that had rocked me to my core, the therapist I was seeing patiently listened as I recited yet another tale of woe. As I got to one of my favorite (and by then oft-repeated) complaints, he stopped me.  In that somewhat condescending voice all psychologists seem to employ he said “Steve, I wonder if would you be willing to tell me 30 things that you are grateful for right now, at this moment?”

I pushed back. “3o things? I don’t think so.” He encouraged me to just start.

The first few came easily. I had a nice house in a safe neighborhood, a decent amount of money in the bank, a great family. A few more things trickled on to the list with a bit more reflection.

When I stalled at about 8 or 9, my therapist made a few suggestions. “What about the way Charlie (my dog) greets you when you come home? How about the knowing smile on your daughter’s face when you make one of your dumb Dad jokes? How about the fact that you don’t have to worry for even one second whether you’ll have safe water to drink?

He paused to let that sink in. My throat grew tight. “Keep going” he said.

And I did. Spoiler alert: I had no trouble getting to 30.

I left that session feeling better than I had in months. I came, albeit slowly, to see how gratitude is the antidote to my habituated negative thought patterns, the kryptonite to feelings of emptiness and loneliness. I adopted “I have enough, I do enough, I am enough” as a mantra.

My list of things that I’m thankful for is now much greater than 30. The list also includes a lot of actual human beings. It turns out gratitude is relational.

It also turns out gratitude has the power to heal. It turns out that extending gratitude to another person fosters connection–and we all need more of that. It turns out that just waking up today is reason enough to be grateful.

I wish someone had told me that earlier, but I got here as fast as I could.


On this day when many are celebrating Thanksgiving I’m grateful to my friend Seth who generously shares his Thanksgiving Reader. Check it out.

I’m also thankful that I have one friend in my life who will tell me the truth even when it hurts and who constantly challenges me to be a better person. And I’m grateful that I’ve been willing to (finally) tell her how much that means to me.


The minor fall, the major lift

“It is not the weight you carry but how you carry it.”  – Mary Oliver

Somewhere along our path things aren’t going to go our way. And when the inevitable happens the effect can be anywhere from mere annoyance to outright devastation.

As we encounter a loss of any consequence–death, loss of physical or mental capacities, a job, our home, even a highly anticipated and hoped for future–grieving comes into play. And while we all experience grief differently, there is no going around it. We must go through it.

When we are early in a setback, big or small, if often seems like there is no way out. That all hope is lost.That no light can make it through the cracks.

If you are anything like I am it’s easy to minimize the pain and suffering that so many of us have endured or had thrust upon us. Often avoidance and denial can seem like the smartest way forward. That is, of course, until we turn to drinking or drugs or sex or shopping, or other forms of numbing, to escape from our harsh reality. It turns out that only makes things worse.

If I’ve learned anything from my sometimes torturous journey it’s that things are never as bad as they seem. Most falls, taken in the long view, are in fact minor. And it’s how we respond to them, carry them, how we lift ourselves and allow ourselves to be lifted by others, that ultimately makes the difference.

If you are reading this, the fact is you’ve survived everyone of your worst days and your worst moments.

This, too, shall pass.

We all have a lot of work to do.

Let’s get started.



The crazy cult of never giving up

Over the years I’ve noticed that a fair number of people subscribe to the notion that one should never ever give up.

While I employ a proactive thinning of my social media herd, I still encounter various motivational messages with a hashtag that essentially suggests that bailing on a project is the mark of the weak. That deciding to quit makes one a loser.

In fact, there is a whole sub-culture of authors and motivational speakers that extol the virtues of sticking with anything and everything we start with the dogged determination of a Kardashian seeking the media limelight. Just Google “never give up” and see what I mean.

Now I’m all for working hard and with determination. Grit and perseverance are surely desirable traits. But there is no question that giving up is often the absolute smartest thing we can do. Quitting is underrated.

If we value change we MUST deliberately choose to start things that we understand might not work. And that, by definition, means we begin knowing that quitting at some point is not only a real possibility but in many respects a desirable outcome, as it frees us up to pursue more productive and impactful paths.

If we subscribe to a strategy rooted in innovation, failure must be an option. While being unwilling to start in the first place is the biggest barrier to successful innovation, reluctance to give up on something that isn’t working is a close second.

When we know that our goal is desirable and that our path is clearly the best one, by all means we should do the Rick Astley thing.

But if we are honest, we’ll discover that many times we are lying to ourselves and we are merely afraid to fold on a losing hand.





Where have all the blacksmiths gone?

For quite a long time being a blacksmith was a pretty good gig. Creating tools and other items from metal, as well as repairing them, was in solid demand for centuries. And, as it turns out, learning to forge, draw and bend wrought iron, bronze or steel is no easy task.

As we moved through the 20th century being a blacksmith didn’t get much easier. Sure, there were some technological advances but, by and large, it was a craft that required considerable skill and perseverance.

You might have noticed that aren’t many blacksmiths around these days. In fact, my guess is you’ve never even seen a working blacksmith shop (though you might know a hipster or two who have taken it up as a hobby).

Of course, the blacksmiths didn’t disappear all at once. But as new technology and substitutable products emerged–and began to achieve widespread adoption–the demand for blacksmiths waned. Eventually, the once common vocation became an anachronism.

I’m left to wonder how many blacksmiths saw it coming? How many realized they were doomed to extinction? And if they had that foresight, how many had the fortitude to let go of their once tried and true identity to forge (heh, heh) a new path?

I also wonder who are today’s blacksmiths? Could it be me? Could it be you?

And if it were, do we have the courage to leap into something new?



It’s later than you think

Last year a close friend of mine died tragically and unexpectedly–though I suppose every death is a tragedy, anticipated or not.

He was only in his early forties, with a lovely family and a thriving business he had built from scratch after having the courage to make a major career shift more than a decade ago. In his chosen new profession he profoundly touched the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of people. He generously and compassionately helped people at a level that’s impossible (at least for me) to explain.

What I know for certain is that he was essential to my getting through two extremely difficult periods during the past few years. In fact, he may very well have saved my life–for which I shall be eternally grateful.

In my mix of grief and gratitude two important lessons emerged.

First, and most obviously, depression is a very real and serious issue for so many people, and our tendency to look away or to minimize–or to label sufferers as “weak” or “lazy”– is not only wrong, it’s hurtful.

The second is that it’s later than we think.

The notion that things will unfold the way we want, at a time and date largely of our choosing, sits somewhere between utter delusion and misguided fantasy. The idea that I will be better able to start the important stuff tomorrow–or, better yet, maybe next week once things settle down at work–is just one of the oft-repeated lies I tell myself.

Things are often moving faster than they seem. We have to expect the unexpected. And whether we like it or not, at some point the clock stops in some way, shape or form on everyone and everything…

…the window to launch that new business

…the time to write the book we’ve been talking about for ages

…the opportunity to forgive

…the ability to shift from fear, anger and revenge to open-heartedness and compassion

…the space to tell someone what they’ve meant to you

…the chance to say “I love you.”

In so many ways it’s later than we think. And my guess is that we all have plenty of catching up to do.

Living a life of meaning and purpose in the present moment is ultimately the only choice we have.


It’s almost always easier to do nothing

Let’s face it, there are days when getting up off the sofa and heading out the door feels like a big deal.

But finishing that draft, shipping your project, abandoning the usual in favor of the innovative, exposing a new concept to the world? Well, that requires fortitude, vulnerability, risk, the willingness to smile at fear.

I’ve been part of management teams that observed, studied and endlessly re-worked their plans while the competition sped past them.

I’ve become stuck in a swamp of procrastination, worried about abject failure or even the chance that people might see the (many) chinks in my armor.

I’ve sat at the bedside of a dying parent, afraid to tell them what I really felt for fear that I couldn’t handle the overwhelming emotions.

It’s almost always easier to do nothing.

Until it isn’t.


Technique is overrated

Technically, Bob Dylan isn’t much of a singer. Neither is Jay-Z or Kanye. If Courtney Barnett turns out to be the next big thing it isn’t going to be because of her range or perfect pitch.

Kurt Cobain was certainly no Andres Segovia. Jimi Hendrix played his guitar upside down, backwards and strung “the wrong way.”

Not one of the Beatles could read sheet music. Neither could (or can) Duke Ellington, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, B.B King or Elvis Presley.

Growing up I can remember many times when my father would see some of the most influential Modern and Contemporary art and say “I could do that.” Perhaps he could. But he never did. Too bad, those millions would have come in handy.

Conventions, rules and technical standards obviously have their place. If you’re flying my plane or operating on my brain I’m counting on you to really know your stuff.

But for most of us, the work that matters doesn’t rely on a text-book approach, a finely tuned PowerPoint deck or a Board-certified anything.

The ability to evoke emotion, to connect, to create something meaningful, rarely requires mastery of an established protocol or any one tried and true skill or approach. The illusion that it does is what keeps us stuck.

If you’re waiting for perfection or just the right time, you’ll likely be waiting forever.

If you’re hoping that someone will tell you it’s okay to start, prepare to be disappointed. Chances are you’re going to have to choose yourself.

Do your research, study all you want and by all means, practice, practice, practice. Just know that you are going to have to start before you’re ready.

And if you really think you could do that, well then do it.

We’re waiting.