Browsing Category Knowing Your Story

Choose Your Story

Picture this with me: a large elephant chained to a small post in the ground.

Maybe you’ve seen a similar sight? It’s a powerful visual. Why would a large and powerful elephant be held captive by something so small and insignificant?

It’s because of what that elephant has come to believe about himself and that post. If you tie an elephant to a post when he’s young, he can’t get away. If you do this regularly while he grows, he’ll continue to believe that he can’t escape, no matter how large he becomes.

If the world tells you the same story enough times, it’s hard not to believe it.

By the time he’s an adult he won’t challenge the power that a little post and chain has over him.

He accepts the fact that he can’t pull the post from the ground — even though he now can. He has a history with that post and remembers the power that it used to have over him.

But the fact is that he could break free if he wanted to— if he could believe that he was capable.

How often have you accepted something that was true in the past as being truth in the present? How many posts have you been tied to? How much would it take for you to break free?

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Degrees of Variation (a year in review)

In the beginning of September, a few friends put together a party for my wife and I. We gathered in a friend’s backyard with lots of great food, drink, and many of our favorite people. We called it a “baby party” because I had an aversion to the idea of a “baby shower” (though I’m sure it was similar in many ways). A few friends offered words of blessing and hope for us as we transitioned into parenthood.

One of those friends who shared had been through a very rough transition to parenthood. Her son was born prematurely and they spent the first few months of his life in the infant intensive care unit at the hospital. She talked about how we have hopes for what things will be like and that sometimes life offers variations between our hopes and the events that come.

And other times there are many degrees of variations between our hopes and reality.

Her words stuck with me because I knew her experience and I knew how she’d lived through many degrees of difference from the way she had hoped things would go.

Her words became even more poignant when less than one week later, with my wife 33 weeks pregnant, I was on the operating table as surgeons literally took my intestines out and put them back in (I still can’t even believe it).

This was very different from how I had hoped the weeks leading up to parenthood would go. There were many degrees of variation…

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Behind All Great Work is a Memory

Behind all great work is a memory:

  • A memory of a pain you’ve suffered.
  • A memory of a success you’ve had.
  • A memory of a kindness you’ve received.
  • A memory of a moment you wish you could repeat.
  • A memory of a joy you’ve experienced.
  • A memory of a love you’ve witnessed.
  • A memory of a hope you’ve known.
  • A memory of a suffering in need of alleviation.
  • A memory of an injustice you can’t shake.
  • A memory of words that stay with you.
  • A memory of thirst that’s gone quenched.
  • A memory of harm left unattended.
  • A memory of healing that you’ll never forget.
  • A memory of a freedom unlike any other.
  • A memory of a delight that still brings a smile.
  • A memory of relief that you didn’t realize you needed.
  • A memory of a presence who filled a hole.
  • A memory of a conversation that changed everything.
  • A memory of an object that brought comfort or change.
  • A memory of hospitality unlike any other.
  • A memory of being welcomed and affirmed.
  • A memory of feeling important and valued.
  • A memory of having someone in your corner.
  • A memory of being supported unconditionally.
  • A memory of having the right thing right when you needed it.
  • A memory of having more than enough.
  • A memory of being carried, even if only for a moment.
  • A memory of learning something new that changes everything.
  • A memory of teaching that new thing to someone else.
  • A memory of being thanked for something you didn’t realize mattered.
  • A memory of being caught up in a moment and losing track of time.
  • A memory of a feeling of spaciousness in life or even in your physical space.
  • A memory of a problem that was finally solved (FINALLY!).

The memory of an experience.

Do you know what those memories are for you?

My wife, Stacia, will tell you a story about sitting at an old piano in her grandmother’s basement playing Elvis songs from sheet music and singing her heart out. She’ll speak of the feelings she had and the things she was able to express in and through that music.

Today she’s a piano teacher on the cusp of launching a tool to help music teachers around the world. Why?…

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An Agile Approach to Life and Career Planning

You can’t plan your whole life out. It’s just not possible.

In his book Stumbling on Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert makes the point again and again that humans are consistently bad at predicting what will make us happy.

Isn’t that funny? We’re simply bad at anticipating in the present what we’ll want and what will make us happy in the future.

So even if you could plan out your entire life without any unexpected twists and turns, you’d have created a stagnant map to a moving target.

This is something I keep coming back to when it when it comes to career planning and your life’s work. For most people, your life’s work doesn’t change very much, but what will change is how you go about making that impact. You can say that your work is about helping people in a certain way, but you can’t necessarily be sure how you’ll go about doing that work 10 years from now.

Some of the difficulty in predicting and career planning is that at this moment you only know what’s possible at this very moment. Possibilities open and close in sets. What’s available and even imaginable to you right now is based on where you are and what you’ve been exposed to.

A recent study on successful entrepreneurs has shown that innovation is much more effective than market research and planning. In fact, they believe in the uncertainty of the future and know that they can’t predict it in any way.

Every step forward and every new experience opens another door into what you can imagine as possible.

There will be new possibilities available to you in the future that you can’t even imagine at this moment. How could you effectively plan for them?

You can’t.

The point of this work— of discovering more of what you have to give and the places that are most meaningful — is not to know every step of the journey, but to know the direction that you are made to travel…

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The Psychological Necessity of Breaking the Rules

“We see you as an artist,” he said. His hair was long, thick, and wavy. His face thin and defined. His gaze intense and gentle.

Sixteen of us sat around a big solid wooden table, eating a meal together. We were all part of an Artist Residency at the graduate school I attended.

Somehow I ended up among them.

I didn’t think of myself as an artist. Though I studied music composition in undergrad, I always felt a bit like I was faking it— everyone else had a much greater mastery of their instruments and musical concepts.

I thought my main focus for the week of the Artist Residency was going to be writing music. It turns out it was something much deeper.

His words to me around that table were part of shift in how I thought of myself. It may seem small from the outside, but on the inside it was big. And risky.

I didn’t spend time around artists in my younger years. My family didn’t have a category for them. None of us were artists. In fact, I don’t know that I could find a single artist in my family tree.

We’d go to art events, but there was always a sense that those people weren’t our people. They were misunderstood and called “artsy-fartsy”.

Artists may make pretty things, but they didn’t seem to belong in our family.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I began to embrace the fact that I really am a creative at heart, and that making is a big part of who I am.

Every group of people has rules.

Every group has a code of conduct for how you belong to it. Whether it be a family, an organization, a cult, or a culture, and whether they are spoken or unspoken, subtle or overt, they’re there.

Just look at communities and sub-cultures around you and you’ll quickly see them:

  • As sports fans, we wear the colors of our team. We chant the chants and idolize the players.
  • As citizens of a country, we sing the national anthem and place a hand on our heart.
  • As participants in a church and religion, we perform rituals and hold certain things sacred.
  • As member of a company, we fill out the report, go to the meeting, and get promoted for displaying and embracing certain qualities.
  • As members of a family, we act a certain way and have certain preferences that are particular to our family unit. Things like: don’t text at the table, always work hard, always be polite, never cry in public, etc. We do these things because “that’s what our family does.”
  • As members of a friend group, we act a certain way and have certain preferences. We laugh at the same jokes, share some similar interests, complain about similar things, spend our money in similar ways.

The rules draw a line in the sand, differentiating who is in and who is out.

To follow the code of conduct is to belong…

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