Identity Beacon

Illuminating Possibilities

Identity Beacon - Illuminating Possibilities

What two weeks in Japan taught me about walls

My wife and I just returned from a two-week vacation IMG_4284in Japan. 

 

The trip took us from Tokyo through the Japanese countryside, where we stayed in Ryokans: the small, country inns that capture the traditional essence of rural Japan. A few days later, we wound up in Kyoto – our home for a week, as we made daily pilgrimages to various shrines, temples and other must-see sites.

Japan was mesmerizing in its natural beauty, extraordinary food, deeply-textured history, and a storied culture that revealed itself in so many ways. For all of its attractions, however, something was lacking…

One evening in Kyoto, we were sitting in a tiny, out-of-the-way restaurant. It had six small tables, each accommodating only two people. We looked blankly at the menu that was entirely in Japanese and which contained a few pictures of various dishes. Our Japanese neighbor to my left looked over, noticed our confusion, and smiled. He spoke a bit of broken English and attempted to guide us through the menu.

That seemingly unremarkable moment was clarifying. I realized then what had been missing: We could communicate a bit with the Japanese, mostly in fits and starts, but couldn’t hold a significant, even a casual conversation. I had come to feel detached; even at times alone, despite the bustle that surrounded me. I had encountered “the wall.”

In short, the human element was absent, apart from the rich and vibrant experience which was Japan. What I wasn’t aware of at the outset of our trip was that I had looked forward to being able to build a few relationships over the course of our two-week adventure. But the wall got in the way.

Walls come in many forms

As I considered my unforeseen predicament, I realized that walls come in myriad forms, not just in the form of language.

Indeed, there are “good” walls, such as the dams that serve the economic and health needs of communities. There are “good fences” – walls that make for “good neighbors.” There are firewalls that help us defend against hackers.

By their nature, walls are designed to keep things apart. On the negative side of the ledger, walls take their greatest toll on relationships. Specifically, they inhibit that uniquely human connection, which is so necessary to turning strangers into friends, silence into laughter, events into stories, and moments into memories. Absent that connection we can wind up being left in the dark: isolated and uninformed; simply less. The shapes of these walls are many and their outcomes, potentially, far-reaching:

  • There are emotional walls that can creep into the fabric of a marriage, making it difficult to stay “as one” with your spouse.
  • There are attitudinal walls that can spring up between well-meaning business associates, whose dramatically different personalities make it challenging to set priorities both people support.
  • There are ideological walls – think capitalism and communism – that make trust among nations nearly impossible.
  • There are physical walls – remember the Berlin wall? – that keep families and friends apart, tethered to political imperatives that have little to do with the hopes and aspirations of the individuals being held at bay.

What I came to see in Japan is that, on balance, walls make it impossible to see and to hear – to gain perspective and to learn. Whether visible or invisible, walls make it hard to understand and appreciate one another — who we are, what we care about, how we might find common ground, despite our differences.

What walls do you face?

Each of us faces walls every day, even though we may not be aware of them. They can show up in social situations, at work, or at home.

When you’re in the right frame of mind, take an inventory of the walls that may be part of your life. What impact are they having? How are they affecting your relationships? Most important, what can you do to break through them?

Dōmo arigatō.

What’s on your business card?

How do you present yourself to the world? Do you — can you — present your true self or do you present the traditional, expected “data?” — What you do, who you work for?

Here’s another approach for fashioning a personal business card that asserts your more powerful, more meaningful parts. Stay with me …

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to make a presentation to the Association of Career Professionals(ACP) here in Connecticut — a diverse group of career coaches and consultants, outplacement executives, and individuals in various states of transition. The session was entitled: My Brand, My Career: Building the Relationship of a Lifetime

While shaping one’s personal brand was the ostensible focus of the meeting, my intention was to take the crowd to a deeper place — a place that, once reached, would become the foundation of their personal brand, but also provide them a fresh perspective on how to build a life and legacy they’d be proud of. In short, their brand would become their authentic, distinctive, and sustainable center of gravity.

To get to this “deeper place,” we tackled a variety of questions ranging from who am I? and what makes me special? to where am I going?, who can I trust?, and what is my message? All of these questions, and others, were aimed at cracking the code on one’s essential identity as the starting point for shaping a truly meaningful brand.

Once you crack your code, you’re ready to get real. Put your personal brand statement on a business card — if you don’t have one, or only have a company card, have some made — you’re inviting people to get to know you faster and better. You’re inviting notable discussions, which could lead to a new job, or even a new career. (And, it’s a great conversation starter at cocktail parties!) You’re promoting what you’re really “good at” and what makes you unique. That’s what your brand needs to do.

What are you waiting for?

For the sake of humanity, join the Ubuntu party!

Politics has gotten in the way of our humanity and it’s time to change that. To borrow a phrase from the 1976 movie, Network, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

So, here’s my proposal: Let’s launch a new party — a decidedly unpolitical party — dedicated to celebrating the stuff that makes us who we are at our core, and that we can all get behind. Further, I propose we name that party the Ubuntu Party.

Ubuntu is a term meaning “humanity,” whose origins trace back to Southern Africa. According to Wikipedia, Ubuntu is often translated as “humanity towards others,” but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.”

One of the key markers of Ubuntuism is what is termed “extroverted communities” — the idea that there is sincere warmth with which people treat both strangers as well as members of an existing community. (Translated for today’s rabid climate, this refers to the people who don’t agree with me and the people who do).

There is an Ubuntu deficit in America today and we’re all suffering for it. There’s just too little appreciation of the fact that we are one, human community, our differences notwithstanding. This is not a political statement. I do not care which side of the political spectrum you lean into or who you voted for. I do care about how we treat one another, how we speak to and listen to one another, how we build communities that will be productive and self-sustaining.

According to a recent CBS News poll, 7 in 10 people — regardless of party affiliation — say the country is losing its identity. The article opens with these words: “We can’t even agree what it means to be an American.” That may be the case. But can’t we at least agree what it means to be human? I’d like to think so.

We’d do well to bring a little more Ubuntuism into our lives.

 

What do you believe? (v.5)

Whether the state of the world today leaves you feeling desolate and fearful, or elated and excited, no doubt you hold strong beliefs that fuel those feelings. Consider this posting your opportunity to express some or all of those beliefs. 

Below, you will find 12 fill-in-the-blank statements — one for each of the 12 days of Christmas. There’s also a blank statement in each category for you to use as you wish. Fill in some, or all of them with whatever comes to mind.

Instead of being random in my picks, I’ve organized my list of ideas into two categories: What is topical and what is timeless. Why? Because one of my beliefs is that these two categories elicit very different kinds of emotions in us and are best considered, separately. Here you go …

What is topical:

I believe globalization ________________________

I believe race _______________________________

I believe WikiLeaks __________________________

I believe fake news __________________________

I believe The U.S. Constitution ________________

I believe social media ________________________

I believe ___________________________________

What is timeless:

I believe nature _____________________________

I believe music _____________________________

I believe justice _____________________________

I believe light _______________________________

I believe karma _____________________________

I believe hope _______________________________

I believe ___________________________________

Any other ideas? By all means, add them. Let’s see how your beliefs align with those of others.

“I wish I had loved you more.”

With all that is going on in the world, it can be hard to stay sane, remain hopeful, and indeed, remember our shared sense of humanity. My advice? Let’s all take a break from the craziness and focus on what really matters: the people in our lives who mean the most to us. For a moment, forget the politicians, the pipe bombers and the shooters, at least for now.

The other day, I came across an article in The New York Times that stopped me in my tracks. The title is Writing a Last Letter When You Are Healthy. The author is VJ Periyakoil a geriatrics and palliative care doctor. Dr. Periyakoil describes his experience with end-of-life patients who express regret about not telling the people who mattered most to them how they really felt; among them: parents, sons, daughters, friends, and teachers.

My father died unexpectedly when I was 25. I had no time to tell him anything, let alone write a letter expressing my feelings. Neither did he. That experience has made me appreciate Dr. Periyakoil’s work on a deeply personal level. When I think about that moment, the difficulties that color our world today recede in my mind. I am left feeling clear-eyed about what matters most.

As if the first article weren’t enough to bring you back to what truly counts, here’s another one that grabbed my attention recently. It is entitled Stubborn Grudges Yield Little. Time to Change Your Investing. No, not necessarily your financial investing; your emotional investing.

Written by Carl Richards, a certified financial planner and regular contributor to The New York Times, the piece talks about how holding a grudge can slowly eat away at your soul, draining you of your humanity in small incremental amounts.

In the end, writing “last letters” is about more than affirming love, making amends, or offering, or asking for forgiveness. It is about freedom. The freedom to let go of what haunts you, to release yourself from unspoken burdens of the heart, from regret. It is about finding the personal integrity we all need to feel, well…fully human.

Politicians, bombers, and shooters will be with us no matter what you do, or don’t do. The people who matter most may or may not be.

Write that letter.

The problem with “identity” (Fixing it is up to you)

Do you know what the word of the year was in 2015? It was ”identity” according to Dictionary.com.

Why has identity become a hot topic today? Why was “identity” the word of the year in 2015? Chalk it up to the new individualism — a world where we’ve become keenly aware of, and more vocal about what defines us, thanks to the opportunity social media has unleashed to publicly assert yourself. (Ironically, despite its many blessings, social media has contributed to the problem by enabling people to create “identities” which may have nothing to do with who they really are.)

Why does personal identity matter? Because it fuels not simply a sense of who you believe you are, but as a result, the choices you make such as where to work, whom to call a friend (or enemy), and indeed which political candidate gets your vote.

Taken together, our identity-centric lives are coalescing into potent, new communities demarcated by beliefs, both spoken and unspoken, that increasingly influence how well society functions — or doesn’t — economically, socially and politically.

So, what’s the problem?

For all the attention this “identity trend” is receiving, it reinforces an impression that actually diminishes rather than expands upon what it means to be fully human. Indeed, the notion of “identity politics” undermines the deeper meaning of human identity.

The actual ‘problem with identity’ may be a matter of meaning. As the word of the year in 2015,identity’ suggests the timeless fact that we all long to belong. We yearn to tie ourselves to a group, a tribe, a community we can call our own. But that isn’t the deepest meaning of the word.

What I’ve learned over three decades is that your essential identity – your distinctive, value-creating characteristics – springs naturally from the core of your being – a place that is blind to classifications, transcending gender, ethnicity, religion, and every other label we adopt as a way to locate ourselves in the world. You are simply you: unique and powerful in your own right.

With this in mind, identity’s 2015 “word win” may reflect the sobering fact that it was the most used, least understood term out there.

When your definition of identity is based upon a descriptive label rather than the special contribution you’re capable of making as an individual, you short-change yourself, those you care most about, and society as a whole. Why? Because, to paraphrase a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, you leave your music inside.

How you can help fix the identity problem

It’s pretty simple. To borrow another quote from Holmes, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Don’t let the pull of labels or social media distract you from tapping into and applying your innate identity to your life. Everyone will benefit including your co-workers, your friends, your children, your spouse or partner and, most of all, you.

At bottom, having a clear sense of identity is the key to shaping a life marked by authenticity and integrity –- knowing what to do, what not to do, and why.

Here’s one more quote to take away. It’s from British artist, illustrator and teacher, Evelyn Mary Dunbar: “We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.”

I hope you agree.

 

 

 

Can kids learn the joy of giving?

We live, as the Chinese saying goes, in “interesting times.” Wild politics. A fragile global economy. A fundamental shift in the distribution of wealth. It’s hard to navigate these treacherous waters no matter who you are. Taking rather than giving seems to be the underlying mandate. The unspoken theme? “How do I hold onto what I have … or get more of it if that’s even possible?”

That’s mostly “adult talk.” So, what about the children? How do we prepare them to navigate these waters? I vote for kindness; more specifically, I vote for teaching our kids about the joy of giving rather than taking.

The other day, I came across a wonderful article on how we can help our kids understand — and practice — the joy of giving.

The article names five practices for parents; in brief:

  • Be intentional — Make a point of talking to your children about giving and charity
  • Think beyond your family — Let children know that they’re part of a larger community; even that they are “global citizens”
  • Involve kids in decisions — Include your children in discussions about to whom something should be given and why
  • Gift outside the box — Consider the value of giving experiences not just things
  • Include the art of receiving — Learning how to receive gifts gracefully and with gratitude is as important as giving

This deceptively simple piece, and the wisdom it offers, might just renew your faith in what it means to be human. It did for me.

If after reading this intriguing article, you’re moved by its insights, share it with others. Our future depends on it. Let me know what you think.

 

But, what about the bird?

It’s almost spring and here come the birds, back from their southern migrations.

Ever wonder how birds get around, how they are able to fly? They use their strong breast muscles to flap their wings to give them the thrust they need to move through the air. Further, birds use a swimming-forward motion to get the lift needed to fly. 

Naturally, both wings need to move in unison to achieve lift-off and sustain flight. It doesn’t take much to imagine the flight path of a bird whose wings are working against each other, pulling (or pushing) in different directions, or flapping at different speeds. The chance of actually breaking a wing (or two) becomes a distinct possibility. 

Welcome to America.

Today, we have a Right Wing that is stretching as far to the right as possible. This Wing is advocating attitudes and preaching policies that are fueled by fear, my-way-or-the-highway injunctions and exclusionary imperatives.

We also have a Left Wing that is stretching as far to the left as possible. This wing is advocating attitudes and preaching policies that are delusional in their idealism, economically impossible and polyannaish to a fault. 

In the midst of this turmoil, I keep asking myself: But, what about the bird? What about America, the nation? The institution? Is it really all about the wings?

America “the bird” is in the throes of a full-blown identity crisis. Its’ wings are broken and its’ flight path is indeterminable and dangerously out of control. The notion that America is, in fact, in the midst of an identity crisis has been widely acknowledged for years. (Just Google America identity crisis and see what comes up.)

Politics, in my view, is a desperate game. I find it ironic that politics is killing the very body that it purports to represent. If you know of a candidate, a party, that is more interested in protecting the bird than its wings, let me know. He or she will get my vote. And my prayers.

Hillary is not just “Clinton!”

This political season is a wholesale rejection of convention…of dynasties, of DC-as-usual. If I were Hillary, I’d dump my last name and talk to people simply as Hillary Rodham.

Who is she absent the “Clinton?” Now, that would be interesting, refreshing, and would fit far better into this current political climate. I wonder if she has the wisdom and courage to “go there.”

What do you believe? (v.4)

It’s that time of year again — the ‘believing’ season: a time when little kids and big kids alike, from 8 to 80, surrender just a bit to the warmth and wonder of the Holidays.

This time, I find that experience to be especially challenging, given the insanity going on in the world today. But, that’s life. So, this year, I invite you to tell me and others what it is you believe about a variety of topics — some comforting and others clearly bot. Here you go:

I believe Donald Trump ____________________

I believe compassion ______________________

I believe family ___________________________

I believe wealth ___________________________

I believe truth ____________________________

I believe freedom _________________________

I believe ISIS ____________________________

I believe denial ___________________________

I believe America _________________________

I believe evil _____________________________

I believe good ____________________________

Got your own idea? Fill it in here _______________

Want to lead? Make work personal

I’m not a fan of politics or politicians. It and they are slaves to party lines and desperate measures designed to ensure election or re-election. Yet here we are, getting into the thick of the presidential race, so it’s tough to avoid the climate of politics that surrounds us, today.

The good news is that the race has led me to wonder about the future of leadership, generally. What it will look like, what it will take to be a truly successful leader. Want to lead? Stay with me, here.

I let my curiosity take over and dove into a variety of resources that have been studying the future of leadership: Hay Group, The Center for Creative Leadership, Google and numerous others.

In short, what I found were a bevy of attributes, which when distilled down, sorted into five major categories: Collaboration, Individuality, Authenticity, Integrity and Communication. Consider these leadership imperatives for the future.

Taken together, they got me to see that the future of leadership is all about the personalization of work as the foundation for change. In short, it’s about humanizing relationships, honoring the individual inside the employee, tapping into the whole person (beginning with you), motivating from the inside, out.

From what I learned, I believe that the personalization of work can become the ‘new efficiency,’ driving productivity and, potentially, greater employee engagement. I like that. It flips the traditional model of assembly line efficiency on its head, by celebrating the “making” of the individual rather than the making of the product.

It’s about time.

What’s funny about change (and what isn’t)

Louis C.K is considered by some to be America’s top comic. So, when he started riffing on our obsession with the minutiae of social media technology, I decided to listen in. It was a rainy afternoon in Denver and I was sitting in my hotel room, looking for a little diversion.

Louis C.K. described how we get our noses out of joint when a text we’re sending doesn’t go through immediately. Or, how in the “old days,” when telephones came with rotary dials, we became impatient if a particular phone number had too many zeros or nines, meaning we’d have to wait as the rotor circled all the way back, before we could dial the next digit. His point wasn’t just that we’re spoiled instant gratification junkies; it’s that we’ve become change junkies: Enough is never enough. Fast needs to be faster. What’s new is not as cool as what’s next.

As I took all of this in, I looked out of my window. What met my gaze were the Rocky Mountains. They presented a stark contrast to what now seemed to be trivial, insignificant bitching about nothing — to our obsession with change.

For all our craving for change, I was struck by the contrary idea that we are our own Rockies — inviolable mountains with cores that defy change.

When it comes to change, here’s my conclusion: In the end, we love most what doesn’t change: nature, the Rockies, the essential character of the people we care about, which hopefully includes ourselves. Yet, change is inevitable. So, what’s the solution?

My advice to you is to embrace the identity paradox: the ability to change from a changeless foundation.

Every individual and organization has at their center an immutable core — an identity — that makes them who they are. If you embrace this core, you can “change” how you express yourself without upsetting the apple cart. You can remain authentic while staying relevant. This is the power of the identity paradox. 

One more thing: The next time a text takes a few extra seconds to go through, don’t sweat it. Just give thanks for the miracle you hold in your hands.