more stories we tell ourselves

28 oh my

The stories the speakers told were amazing and challenging.

I found myself feeling glad and guilty at the same time, admiring and resentful, and the question in my head: “So, what are you doing?”

There’re stories we tell ourselves which can stir up the mess from the past we carry around: we’re stifled, suffocated, even paralysed by this.  I found myself reflecting on what I was experiencing.

‘Why are stories this way instead of all the other ways they could be?  I think that problem structure reveals a major function of storytelling.  It suggests that the human mind was shaped for story, so that it could be shaped by story.’*

We’re both immersed in stories and producers of stories.  To put it another way, stories happen to us and we make stories happen.  This is a creative, generative tension of the life we find ourselves in.  Because there are so many stories coming at us, we need to become masterful tellers of our own story.

On the one hand, Dan Ariely iterates how we’re comparison creatures, ‘always looking at things around us in relation to others.’**  On the other hand, we’re capable of doing, making, or living something which is incomparable:

‘Art is a leap into the void, a chance to give birth to your genius and make magic whether was no magic before.’^

If I know my own story then I can be open to the stories of others, not being submerged beneath them, but receiving them as gifts to inform my story through their challenge and inquiry.

Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright identify “tribes” of people they find in the workplace, each having a mantra: Life sucks, My life sucks, I’m great, We’re great, Life is great.  Each of these is a story people are telling themselves.  The authors believe we can move from one experience to another, we can move from story to better story.^^

As I the speakers and their stories, I couldn’t help but think people are amazing.

(*From Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal.)
(**From Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.)
(^From Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception.)
(Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright.)


27 never mind

Or, organising our lives to dare greatly.

I love David Marquet‘s dream:

‘But wouldn’t it be amazing if we could somehow encourage acts of greatness?  Not order them, but create an environment where people feel they can embrace the superhero within and achieve great things.’*

Marquet suggests we tend to overestimate what our instincts nudge us to do and underestimate what our environments push us to do.

Whilst I believe we can learn to listen to and empower our whispering instincts far more than we do, Marquet is absolutely right about the power of environment and context.  How these work together for us is critical.

‘Let me start with a fundamental observation: most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.’**

‘In short, regardless of genre, if there’s no knotty problem, there is no story.’^

Two important suggestions for creating environments.

Dan Ariely points to a positively loaded environment opens up what people are able to see and imagine for themselves.  Jonathan Gottschall identifies what is necessary for us to be engaged in a story – a problem becomes the context for the age-old Human struggle with adversity.

Gottschall refers to a form of writing which is boringly disengaging: hyperrealism aims to present life as we live it.  But knotty problems will always be with us, we can reframe or storify the way we see and understand our lives to be the superheroes Marquest imagines.

Those who write or present TED talks or give their lives to a cause are all environmental and context people we can benefit from to shape new environments for ourselves and for one another.

Characteristics of storifying include faithfulness to unlock our talents and resources, perseverance as the key to grow our connection to others our world and our dreams and to recognise our enough-ness, and, wisdom as the way of actioning courage and generosity: the right things done for the right people for the right reasons in the right ways at the right time.

You can begin storifying your life today by picking up a book, watching a TED talk, or connecting with someone to dream together.  Respect the process:

‘The process is the voice that demands we take responsibility and ownership.  That prompts us to act if only in a small way.’^^

(*From 99U’s Make Your Mark.  Another good source for nature and nurture working together is David Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us.)
(**From Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.)
(^From Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal.)
(^^From Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)


26 you've got to 1

There is more to you than meets the eye.

‘The human heart is a theatre of longings.’*

Perhaps the deepest of all Human longings are for honour, nobility, and enlightenment.

We want to be known as trustworthy and loyal, compassionate and giving, with what we know and how we live being one.

I’ll have the opportunity to recognise the dignity of each person I meet today, if appropriate to open my heart to them, and, even to do something for them – something Nipun Mehta names giftivism: the practice of radically generous acts which change the world.’**

Recognising the dignity of another and acting compassionately towards them allows hope to be awakened or reawakened – not only in our world and in the world of another but also in myself.  These are quiet virtues but they are threatening to the way things are.  Ignoring the voices of judgement, cynicism, and fear, we move from being blind to someone to noticing them, from being indifferent towards them to connecting with them, and from being protective to being generous: hope will be born.

If we think we are coming upon an answer, we’ll be disappointed.  When we determine to live in this way, questions proliferate.

In noticing, we begin to ask Why?  

When we draw close to what, we see we ask What if?  

When captured by hope, we ask How?

The alternative requires less effort and enthusiasm, of course, but who wants a world which stings with judgement, cynicism, and fear?

I’m reminded how the Hebrew word for wind ruach can also mean courage.  Perhaps the whispers of our deepest longings, coming from within, are little courage breaths.

There is more to you than meets the eye.  Listen for the whispers.

(*From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(**From Nipun Mehta’s TED talk Designing For Generosity.  He outlines four movements being necessary to this: consumption to contribution; transaction to trust; isolation to community; and, scarcity to abundance.)

more communities of knowing

2what we can

One of the homes we find is the one of being truly who we are:

‘The starting place for change is accepting oneself and taking interest in one’s inner world.’*

This is not about individualism; it is about embracing our individuality, an individuality we can take into, and contribute to, community.

‘Individualism is the enemy of individuality.’**

A second home we find, then, is one which calls us to stretch and develop who we are and what we do, including who we are and what we do together.

This is our community of knowing, a group of people who perceive and value life similarly, sharing a focus and intent to birth a better future.  Whilst members are at ease with one another because they don’t have to find or win an argument over some or other perspective, they voluntarily live within a mutually generated discomfort: each challenging the others to learn more, to love more, to do more.  If one of their number is considered to be the group’s leader – to whom the others defer, then they know the community is ailing.  This person will elect to leave or everyone will launch into a new chapter of individual development.

These communities embody what Warren Berger has called connective inquiry.  Not rushing to fast answers, they test ideas which emerge from the deeper questioning of Why?, What if?, How?  They aim to fail early in order to fail fast so they might try again because they know their early attempts are really questions, not answers.

This gamefulness allows them to re-engage their imaginations towards courageous and generous action.  You will often hear individuals say how thought they knew who they were until they engaged in a community of knowing, but they go on to admit, they didn’t really know themselves at all.

These communities are growing up in many places, with many shapes, and fecundity of focus.

David Marquet writes about everyone has an ‘everyday superhero within,’ but, ‘Unfortunately, fear, intimidation, posturing, and deception suppress the desire for people to embrace their potential.’^

Finding a community of knowing  begins to level the field.

(*From Edward Deci’s Why We Do What We Do.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(^From 99U’s Make Your Mark.)

the future is better than the past

24 forget his past

Here’s a case for being future-orientated in our lives.

The future saves us from fundamentalism – ‘Fundamentalism laments the absence of the time when everything was as it should be’* – with its unwillingness to explore and its insistence on a limited way of perceiving truth.

Whilst we may quickly bring to mind examples of religious or political or ethnic fundamentalism, the reality is we are all fundamentalist about something somewhere in our lives or society or culture.  Future-orientatation frees us from this and from ever saying again, “We’ve never done it this way before.”

Being future-orientated will also produce new communities, emerging out of shared rhythms of life around a common sense of purpose – in ways communities from the past cannot, which more often than not require we fit in and conform.

Focising on the future offers us the opportunity to ask better questions, to tell better stories, and to understand how failure is the fastest way to move forward when we learn and try again: ‘Failure shows us the way – by showing us what isn’t the way.’**

These three things are inextricably linked.  Questions open up more possible futures; our attempts to move towards these may fail, and fail again, but we’ll also learn fast and try again faster; and, the better stories we tell ourselves help us keep true to our goal and the obstacles we must overcome to reach it.

We know what we have been but what might we become?

(*From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes; his point is there has never been such a time.)
(**From Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)

closer to home

23 are we nearly there?

‘We must not cease from our exploration and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we first began and to know the place for the first time.’*

I first came across these words seventeen years ago.  They led me through a focused time, at the end of which I thought I’d explored and returned to the place of my beginning and did finally know it.

I was wrong.  I’m still exploring.  Whilst I’d come to a significant place, I’ve found myself continuing my journey.

Yesterday, I visited someone who’d voted for me to begin my vocational journey back in 1979.  I hadn’t realised this and couldn’t even remember where the meeting was, but he could.  As we spoke – he in his 90s and me in my 50s – I realised I’m setting out again in order to find my way home.

‘To come home to where you belong is to come into your own, to become what you are, to awaken and develop your latent spiritual heritage.’**

Over all these years, there were many things I thought were what I really ought to have been about – but they were not.  Recently, though, I’ve felt myself getting closer to home.  Everything on the way has been important.  Choreographer Twyla Tharp shares how she begins each of her projects with a filing box: she writes the project title on the outside and then she begins to fill the box with music and visuals and ideas.  I’ve been doing something similar, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.  Ideas and experiences, character and personality developments – all in the box.

I often find myself peering inside the box to see what I’ve gathered.  I’m especially intrigued by the new things I’ve been forced to try because everything else hasn’t worked.  I am hear because of my failures and blank ends, because of my stubbornness – even obtuseness – not prepared to give up.

Important to keeping going is telling ourselves stories about why the path we venture along is so important.  For me, this is about people being provided with every opportunity to flourish, with the hope of everything they touch also flourishing.

‘Only in struggling with the impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory – only by persisting and resisting can we learn war others were too impatient to be taught.’^

(*From T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(^From Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)

what we do not know we do not know

22 what we do no know

There are things we all know about life and the universe.

There are things some know but others don’t.

There are things we know we don’t know.

And then there are things all of us do not know we do not know.

What if there’s lot of what we do not know we do not know?

How do we even begin looking?

My best guess is we must keep moving forward, staying alert, and being ready for whatever may emerge: downsides as well as upsides.

‘The history of exploration is marked by tragedy.  Still, we explore.  Our deep compulsion to explain who and what we are will drive us.  We will explore the most distant points in space, probe the deepest oceans, map the mind, tinker with the human genome, and scan every other arena of curiosity.  We will turn over every microcellular rock in search of the meaning of the universe.  We will search the heavens for another Earth, for signs of life among the stars.  And, all along, what we are really seeking is the meaning of us.’*

We each find ourselves in these sentences penned by Alex McManus.  All of us are creating our maps of meaning.  Each perspective is important and may bring us to a greater place of knowing.  None of us can we say we have it all.

The leaders of our quest will be honest and accurate about where we are, they’ll discern ways and means of understanding in order to move forward, and they’ll be the most open to new discoveries – more of an artist than a traditional leader:

Artists and musicians and poets and scientists and engineers keep coming up with new perspectives, new ways of thinking, new ideas, new ways of understanding, and, always, new questions.

We all were artists once upon a time.  We simply forgot how to make our art.  We can learn again.

‘The artist trains himself; it can be no other way.Each artist is animated by a unique longing.  There are no outer ready-made maps for what the artist wants to create.’**

(*From Alex McManus’s Makers of Fire.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)

what will i live to see?

21 don't leave your

As Humans dream of leaving the shores of our world to find new worlds, across oceans of space, I wonder what I’ll see with my remaining years.

Things like this happen in the world about me.  I have no say or control over them and I watch and wonder.

But there are the things I can begin and watch grow, which depend on what I am willing to believe.

Whilst I will not venture to Mars and beyond, I do not have to wait for the future to come to me.  As a maker and hacker – we all are makers and hackers – I can shape a future.

This is not delusional on my part.  Each of us has more to be creative with and to give than we know.  If we believe this we will see it.

Edward Deci points out how people act if they believe their environment to be supportive of their autonomy:

‘They can elect from the social context more and more support for their autonomy.  Their personality and social context are synergistic, and together they affect people’s experiences and actions.’*

What we believe alters what we see.  Only when we begin to give and make can we  know all of what we have to use.

What will I live to see?

If I bring my dreams and skills and experience of the world and people together, and make something with all of this, there’ll be many things I will live to see.

This is the truth for each one of us.

(*From Edward Deci’s Why We Do What We Do.’

more questions and gratitude and stories

20 what are you doing

We need better questions.

With so much information in the world we don’t need more answers – we need the questions which will allow us to access all the information.

Perhaps what will emerge from our questions will be not so much answers as stories.

“If you don’t have that disposition to question, you’re going to few change.  But if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things – then change is something that becomes an adventure.  And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running.”*

By introducing the word adventure, John Seely Brown creates a story in my mind, which I enter through my questions.  Questions asked from the deepest parts of my life are the most intuitive: each of us can be an intuitive questioner.

Something else is taking place as I ask my questions.

The more I ask, the more awe and wonder I discover, the more grateful I become.

‘When gratitude does its greatest work within us we are able to celebrate who we are becoming even when we have passed through experiences we would wish on no one.’** 

Erwin McManus is writing a story.

Our entire lives are immersed in story; we wouldn’t be able to exist without story.  (Think about the meeting you’ve been in today and how you told yourself it’s important – a story.  Or someone behaves to you in an unexpected way, so you tell yourself a story of why this should be.)

‘Story changes your perspective about life.  You see the future, experience the present, and remember the past in a dramatically different way.’**

I swapped the word gratitude for story in the last quote.  When we create stories, we turn disasters into learnings, and failures into skill-building and more hopeful futures.  Whatever has happened to us, or whatever we’ve done, everything opens to more when we ask better questions.

If you could ask any question of the you of five years in the future, what would it be?

(*John Seely Brown, quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.  I asked the question of Google to find who John Seely Brown is – my question only had to be “john seely brown” and I had my answer in 0.36 seconds.)
(**From Erwin McManus’s in Uprising.)


19 when we stop

Do not hide anything from yourself.

There are things we’ve done, or had done to us, which we regret or bring us pain, but, these things may actually be treasure to us, defining us and declaring our way.

I don’t think I’d be doing the things I’m exploring and developing today if I hadn’t sought to understand and embrace the rejections I had.

If we do the hard thing we come to have an advantage:

‘But our worldview, by its nature, keeps us from seeing the world as it is.  A lifetime spent noticing begins to turn into the ability to see what others can’t.’*

Here’s what can begin to happen when you don’t hide anything from yourself: you trust yourself more – your skills and decisions; you become more innovative and creative as a result; it changes the way you see and treat others; it means you’re more open to what others have to share with you; and it will mean others will want to relate and work with you.

‘Loss always has much to teach us; its voice whispers that the shelter just lost was too small for our new souls.  But it is hard to belong generously to the rhythm of loss.  The beauty of loss is the room it makes for something new.’

(*From Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)