Seth Godin, sends an email to me most days (presumably he emails millions of other people as well). And, almost unfailingly, I marvel at his ability to simplify important and meaningful concepts into a couple short, manageable paragraphs (a good skill for someone who often writes about marketing).
If you know me, you know that I often balk at business principles and talk of efficiencies and the dehumanization of the workforce, and so you might wonder why I am
interested in receiving content about business. But, if you know Seth Godin, you know that his work is riddled with questions and musings concerning organizational design, development, marketing and health and that he is quite humane in his approach. Which is great, since businesses are filled with people--they are the way that many of us spend our days, they are the result of people dreaming and doing together, and they have tremendous capacity for doing incredible communal good or making our lives miserable.
His work is funny, insightful, incisive, and often surprising. He is having a different conversation than most people who are concerned with "the bottom line." I would tell you to subscribe to his email, but If you have no desire to get one more thing in your mailbox (hey, I get it!), just take a look at the few paragraphs below from his most recent email:
"Okay, you don't like what your boss did yesterday or last week or last month. But today, right now, sitting across the table, what's happening?
Narrating our lives, the little play-by-play we can't help carrying around, that's a survival mechanism. But it also hotwires our feelings, changes our posture, limits our possibilities.
What does this human feel right now? What opportunities to make a connection, to grow, to impact exist that we've ignored because of the story we are telling ourselves about them?
The narrative is useful as long as it's useful, helping you solve problems and move forward. But when it reinforces bad habits or makes things smaller, we can drop it and merely be present, right here, right now."
This is a similar refrain that I often use when talking about the personality. We have certain characteristics, and certain stories we tell ourselves, and they are helpful, until they stop being helpful. But, when they stop being helpful, what are we left with? Presence to what is right in front of us. But somehow that isn't natural for most of us.
The narrative, the story, is different for all of us. We have particular attachments to certain parts of ourselves, particular attributes that are "mine" or actions that "represent who I am." For me, the story is often, "I'm special, unique, authentic, creative, and different." Nothing inherently wrong with this story--in fact--it is true! The challenge is when I have to leave the present moment to fight to keep that story alive--when my life is consumed by a story that is no longer helping me live.
Reminding myself of who I am serves me until I can't be discerning about what I share because "authenticity" means saying whatever I feel whenever I feel like it, until I want to be MORE special than someone else, until I can't do the dishes because someone like me shouldn't have to concern themselves with such a mundane task, until I'm overtaken with envy about what someone else's life looks like.
This isn't everyone's story--and, honestly, it doesn't have to be mine, though it often is. My uniqueness, authenticity, specialness, et cetera doesn't disappear when I stop narrating it to myself. But I am afraid of presence. Who will be left when I stop the narration?
Our stories are limiting because they don't concern themselves with what is happening right in front of us, and they predict a result when there isn't an obvious one. Presence to what is here means new chances to discern, to rise to the occasion. Who's to say we can't take on new characteristics? Learn something new? Teach an old dog new tricks? To say we "can't" do that, is to refuse to be present as our real selves, with all of our idiosyncrasies, conflicts, and capacities.
Culturally we are now often calling this "showing up." And it's a phrase used a number of times in this inter-generational On Being conversation between Courtney Martin and Parker Palmer (facilitated by one of the people I'm most thankful for in our world, Krista Tippet). I've listened to this a couple times over the past year, and I think it's brilliant and captivating. It's called "The Inner Life of Rebellion" and it was presented at the 2014 PopTech Conference.
The conversation weaves together themes like efficiency, inner wisdom, social action, technology, Thomas Merton, and rebellion. But a major theme is this: It is an act of rebellion to be present to what's happening inside of us and outside of us--and to hold hope while we show up. For me, and others I know, holding hope means letting go of the stories, those constructions designed in our head to keep us safe. What is here is the real story--and that story is good, juicy, and whole.
Showing up isn't always comfortable, but it's certainly necessary as we move towards what Merton and Palmer call "a hidden wholeness." Beneath the surface of things, beneath the story that comes to mind when we talk to ourselves about ourselves, there is more, a larger story, one to which we have to be present if we are to participate creatively in its unfolding.
But, seriously, watch this video. I think it's going to be a yearly gig for me.