Archive | 2013

10 Things I Learned In 2013: The Year Of The Existential Speedbump

It’s taken me the better part of a month to assess the past year and take in the learning. I re-read my 2012 review post and I’m rather unnerved by how it’s eerily similar to my initial thoughts on 2013: the importance of love, courage, and vulnerability.

Well, no sense beating around the bush: last year sucked. There really is no other way of putting it. For the better part of 2013, I was a nervous, anxious wreck. I was frequently visited by a sense of fear – almost bordering terror – that clouded my sense of self-worth. I was mired in a depression that was horrific in its depth. All of which led to some bad career decisions (and subsequent professional ass kickings) from which I’m still working to recover.

Yet, I am incredibly thankful for my experiences from 2013. Every single one of them. The few highs and the many lows served as a kind of existential speedbump that helped me to slow down and reassess my life, my choices, my expectations, my faith, my purpose.

Here are 10 things I learned (or at least learned how to appreciate) in 2013:

1. Take care for my health – both physical and mental. Recognizing my own long-time struggle with depression and anxiety has helped me to be a more compassionate advocate for all mental health issues. I’m starting to find the courage to be a voice for mental health and want to ease the stigma our society still has around mental illnesses.

2. Stop trying to have all the answers and start asking more interesting questions. I’ll always struggle with this. I found an early identity in school as The Kid Who Knew The Right Answers. That’s a shitty identity to assume, particularly when you get older and have to contend with the reality that there are often no right answers in life. I’m learning how to ask more questions and being comfortable with uncertainty.

3. Stop comparing myself to others and letting my Inner Critic beat me up with his horseshit. My Inner Critic looooves playing the social comparison game. He’s the LeBron James of his grotesque sport. And as I approach 40 years old, he relishes each opportunity to remind me that my life isn’t what it should be when so many other 30somethings have already achieved personal and professional greatness. Well, it’s all a load of steaming horseshit. It assumes there’s only one way to live a purposeful life. Some of us just take longer to figure out what that means.

4. Stop chasing. Did I ever chase the wrong rabbits this year. I chased money in a high-demand profession and for a company that was such a poor fit for me, my talents, my passions. And I not only did it once…I did it twice in one year. Why? See #3 above.

But if I can pull some positives away from these two experiences: both were my attempts to do things I had never really done before (business analysis and product marketing). So I can continue to take pride in my ability to take risks even when those risks don’t pan out (much like unsuccessfully starting businesses in 2012).

5. Stop settling. Settling is a Siren’s song. Sure, accepting a paycheck in exchange for doing work that doesn’t fulfill us sounds like a decent compromise, but the cost can be our soul getting smashed on the rocks. For me, I’ve discovered that I would rather live frugally and do work that improves the world than settle for a bigger salary that ties me to work that doesn’t matter. Does that sound idealistic? Fine by me.

6. Quitting a bad situation is sometimes better than sticking it out. No one likes a quitter, but there’s a certain idiotic futility that comes from not leaving a bad job situation. See #5 above. Life is far too short to do work that provokes panic attacks, causes us to doubt our competence, or simply isn’t bringing out our best self.

7. Failing is not an end but a beginning. As a recovering perfectionist, failing has never been easy for me to accept. Actually, that’s not true – if I fail, I’m more than happy to accept the blame. However, I’m trying to practice a different way of thinking. Failings are just data suggesting we make course corrections. They’re learning experiences. They’re guides toward better ways of working and living.

8. I am responsible for my own happiness. I can’t pawn this off on anyone else. If I want to live a happy, fulfilled life then I need to own it. It’s not going to come from wishing for better life situations (better job, nicer house, badass truck, etc.). That whole “I’ll be happy when…” internal dialogue is full of lies that keep us from embracing the changes we need to make in our thoughts and actions.

9. Self-compassion means accepting my weird quirks, embarrassing flaws, and contradictory thoughts. Self-compassion is one of the greatest gifts we can give our selves. It’s also one of the most difficult gifts to give. It means accepting and boldly claiming our own oddness and eccentricities. It means acknowledging that there are some folks that are just not going to get who we really are. It means being cool with our own innate contradictions because life is messy and non linear.

10. Don’t give up on finding my soulful work. Finally, never give up on the idea that our work can be meaningful and inspiring. For me, it’s coming to a place where I am choosing to go back to the work of the nonprofit sector. I left it several years ago largely for reasons outlined in #4 above. Since then, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of experience, skills, and insights in the for-profit world. I’m excited to bring my ideas, passion, and commitment to achieving great things to nonprofits that share a mission to create a positive impact in the world.

My sincerest hope is that at the end of 2014, I’ll look back on this post and remark on how it was a year of success, of growth, of courage and love and self-acceptance. And may it also be your greatest year, as well.


Video: Being Real, Telling My Story

A continuation of my last post on letting go. I was out for a brisk walk this morning and felt inspired to offer my thoughts on having the courage to share not only all the awesomeness in our life, but the sadnesses, struggles, imperfections, and everything in between. I feel called to Be Real in 2014 and hope you’ll join me.

What steps can you take to Be Real? Share them here or through social media using #bereal2014. I can’t wait to hear your ideas.

Love, Chris

P.S., Once upon a time, I would have been too self-conscious to do this. I would have worried over the lighting, sound, messy hair, shaky picture. And forgive the vertical resolution…I’ll remember to record horizontal the next time. Taking baby steps, though. Hope you can see through the imperfections to the deeper message.


On Letting Go and Letting In

Joseph Campbell Quote

I’m really not sure how to start this post. There’s a voice that is trying to convince me to delete it this very moment. My Inner Critic whispers to me in his most lovingly insidious voice, “No one wants to hear about your problems and fears. No one likes someone who is weak and vulnerable and struggles with life and career. No one wants to hire a man who is emotional, fights off self-doubt, bears his soul to the world and is an idealist at heart (besides, you’ll just get chewed up by hungry, focused, competitive, driven professionals that organizations want anyway). So, shut up and stop being such a damned martyr.” Yes, this is what that voice sounds like in my head. He’s a true bastard.

There was a point not too long ago when I would have ceded to this voice. It’s why I didn’t blog for months. It’s why I allowed myself to stay quiet and unassuming. Yet, I recognize now this was the lie of depression. Problem is, when you live with a voice for so long, you hear it softly lulling you into the supposed safety of smallness and inadequacy, it becomes a tough relationship to sever. And that’s where I am right now…trying to be at peace with this voice while allowing for other voices of purpose, confidence, humor, and compassion to emerge, as well.

My past few years have seen their share of ups and downs. They’ve also been full of heartbreaking struggle and it’s largely because I have clung so tightly to my past with its burdens, fears, guilt, and emotional anchors. I’ve lied about what I want from life and ignored my true self fearing the ridicule and judgment of others, particularly in my career. I didn’t want to be seen as weird, incompetent, unprofessional. I chased after work that didn’t fit my strengths, that didn’t excite my passions, that didn’t fill me with purpose but they were in-demand jobs that held the promise of money and prestige. Alas, these jobs didn’t last long and I fear these recent professional missteps – though I learned much in the experiences – could serve as my own scarlet letter in the future.

However, I am also waking up to recognize that all of this I have gone through has been preparation for something much bigger and much more important. I don’t yet know what this is…but I know as I approach 40 it is about emerging into a truer form of my self, one that this world needs right now. It’s about letting go of the past and unmet expectations and letting in the possibility of new beginnings. It’s about meeting whatever comes next with an excitement and a belief that what is emerging has the ability to be a force for good. It means choosing to live a heartful life and commit to work that truly matters. It means being free to be weirdly and soulfully me…and resting secure in the notion that while I may not fit every organization’s ideal model of employee, there are some organizations that are looking for all I bring to the party.

I hope that if you are finding yourself in a similar state of emerging as we move toward 2014, that together we can embrace the life that is waiting for us. If I can help you in your journey, reach out and let me know what you need. We’re all in this together.

Love, Chris

P.S., Special thanks to Licia Berry for inspiring this post.


The War On Play

Playground and treesWhy is there a war being fought against play?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while.

I hear it when I talk to friends about the near-constant stresses of their work. The fear of taking time off only to see the mountain of work upon their return. The endless cycle of meetings where conversation tends to focus on the tactical, on the execution, on the pressure to get shit done NOW. If I would ask, “But did you get to actually play today?” they would look at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. And for good reason…we’ve pretty much separated the ideas of work and play in our current economy.

But there’s a reason why I decided to call this site Bailey WorkPlay back in 2006. Because I truly believe we can and must reconnect work and play if our organizations are going to succeed.

Yes, it’s an uphill battle and the latest employee engagement statistics don’t offer much reason for optimism. Not to be a Dougie Downer, but we’re not exactly helping our kids see the connection, either. I witness this every day when my children bring piles of homework from school. Just this past weekend, my 14 year old daughter probably had four or five hours of personal time. The other remaining hours were devoted to projects, studying, and various other work. For her, play has become a luxury she can’t afford.

It’s almost as if our educational system is saying, “Get used to it kids. We’re preparing you for the real world where work is first. Life is just that thing that fills in the odd spaces.”

Why do we believe this is okay? Why have we decided that we need far less time to play, create, and wonder? Why do we regard learning as this intensely serious undertaking instead of the playful possibility it can be? Is this a reason we see so many more instances of depression and anxiety among adults and teens today?

Maybe it’s because as much as we like to believe we value creativity, we really don’t know how to handle it…in our businesses and in our schools.

What will it take for us to make play a vital tool in creating vibrant learning organizations?

Aeon Magazine: The Play Deficit

Slate: Inside the Box


Photo credit: eurodrifter


Reclaiming My Purpose…Oh, And Depression Sucks

Starry Night SkyIf we want different answers in our life, we need to learn how to ask different questions.

I’ve been playing with variations of this idea for the last month. Much has happened to me in 2013. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that much as happened in me in 2013. Far too much for me to describe in a single blog post, but perhaps over time I’ll be able to write more about my journey this past year. However, let me try and take a stab at it.

Though I have shared some things through my social networks at various times, I haven’t written much here in this blog. The very idea of opening myself up to the world through this site was terrifying. I was battling a crippling combination of depression and anxiety that left me wanting to simply get small and hide from the darkness that was both out there and within me. I did my very best to hide this darkness and fear from friends, family, and the world. Sometimes I succeeded. Often times I failed. All along the way, I kept asking, “Why?” Why is everything such a damned struggle? Why am I scared to do the important things I know I need to do? Why can’t I feel a sense of hope anymore? Why does my life seem without purpose?

That’s the terrible thing about depression. In hindsight, I see it clearly but when you’re neck deep in the muck and shit, you don’t see with the same eyes, hear with the same ears, and think with the same mind. It’s a rather horrific and lonely place.

What I needed was a way out, a way to wake up, and God presented me with just such an opportunity. But it wasn’t a nice, soothing wake up call that gently roused me from my slumber. It was the equivalent of a foghorn placed directly at the side of my head. Jarring and painful, but now wide awake to the fact that I was not caring for my mental health. Furthermore, I was definitely not living the Life I was meant to live and doing the Work I was meant to do.

Now, my question focused on, “Okay God, what are You trying to show me?” Different questions can yield different answers.

In the past 30 days, I have gotten the help I needed in the form of therapy and medication. I have discovered I am a part of loving, wonderful, supportive Church community. I have received tremendous comfort and caring among my dear friends and family. I know just how much I love and admire my wife for courageously helping me through it all. I have regained a sense of joy and curiosity that was lost for far too long.

And I’ve also been freed to ask new questions about the direction of my Life and Work. The answers are still a bit murky but clarity is beginning to take place. After all that I’ve been through this year, what I do know is that my Life has value and my Work must have meaningful purpose (more about this soon). I see my course is forward and my very best is yet to come.

I share all of this partly as therapy for myself, but also as words of solace to any of you who are struggling right now with your own demons of depression and anxiety. You are not alone. Your Life has value. Your Work can be a brilliant light in this world. Reach out for the help you need…and don’t give up until you get it.

Be well, my friends.

Love, Chris.


Busy Is The New Lazy

The word “busy” is packed with layers of meaning. I see it often used, as the author notes, as a way of communicating importance to the business and elevating professional status. And why not? When economic times are rough and fears of being laid off run rampant, we want some way of reminding the people around us – bosses and executives, in particular – that we’re invaluable and would be sorely missed.

That’s one concept of “busy” in the pejorative sense. But it’s just a word and we have the ability to re-construct its meaning in new ways.

Today, let’s consider new ways of what it means to work and to be truly busy:

  • When we say we’re “busy” what are we trying to communicate?
  • What fears or insecurities does “being busy” mask?
  • Does my sense of busyness include time to also think, reflect, create, wonder, and learn? To make connections with the people around me?

Source: Busy Is The New Lazy


Will Moneyball Analytics Kill Loyalty and Leadership?

On the heels of Om Malik’s recent post on the dangers of “soulless” data, I read this post from HBR. The answer to the post’s title is “Yes, if we allow the quantifiable to assume sole supremacy over all decisions.”

The concept of Big Data has fooled us into believing that data is only relevant when it’s quantitative. This could not be more wrong. Data is everywhere. It just takes time, patience, and an abundance of curiosity to see it.

Let’s not get so wrapped up in the numbers that we lose sight of the stories, the insight, the soul that give tremendous meaning to data and life.

Source: Will Moneyball Analytics Kill Loyalty and Leadership?


How To Piss Off Your Employees the Yahoo! Way

Let’s hope not.

Hot off a media scolding for selecting The Today Show instead of Good Morning America to announce the new Yahoo! home page redesign, Marissa Mayer is now going to have to deal with fallout of a very different nature. Apparently, it’s no longer acceptable for Yahoo! employees to work remote. Everyone is being called back to work in the office with no exceptions – even if your prior work arrangement allowed for a work-at-home situation.

When I first read the details from Kara Swisher at All Things D, my initial reaction was, “WTF is going on at Yahoo!?” A Silicon Valley-based tech company mandating an end to flexible work arrangements is like spotting a white elk…and then watch it charge you, ready to gore you on its antlers. It doesn’t happen very often and it when it does, it usually ends with a bloody struggle. We’ve entered an age when the old ways of working are no longer valid, where productivity and effectiveness are not measured by whether you’re sitting at your assigned desk, in your building.

Which is why there is a very real possibility this isn’t at all about flexible work arrangements at all. It’s about a most pernicious form of a corporate lie. This is a layoff in disguise. By forcing remote employees to return to the office – it’s worth noting that many remote workers will have to uproot and move to make this happen – Yahoo! is effectively telling their folks to either love it or leave it. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I can’t help having a nagging suspicion that something very dodgy is happening here that will do nothing but ratchet up skepticism and cynicism among their employees. Maybe there’s open and honest dialogue taking place within Yahoo! that’s more truthful as to the real objective behind this new HR policy. I hope so, but judging by the employee anger reported by Swisher, I’m betting against it. How can there not be a sense of broken trust between management and employees? And even if you’re not a remote worker, wouldn’t you question what else is coming that will impact you? Matt Mullenweg of Automattic won’t be the only one trying to poach smart talent from this mess…and I’d say he’ll get quite a few resumes this week.

And yet, it gets more interesting when we read the original internal email from Executive Vice President of People and Development, Jackie Reses, announcing the policy. Never mind that it’s marked as “YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD”. It was forwarded to Swisher and she shares it at the bottom of her follow-up post.

What really fascinates me is the second paragraph of the email:

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Note the implications. That collaboration and communication only happens when sharing the same physical space. That working outside of the office space leads to less-than-optimal performance. That “speed” and “quality” can only be managed when the boss is sitting down the hall. That Yahoo!’s employees don’t know how the hell to work independently, achieve objectives without constant management oversight, and share ideas using technologies like the phone, IM, web-conferencing, and the like. To which, I call bullshit. That’s lazy, backward, and potentially business-suicidal thinking. And that’s not an employee problem. It’s a management problem that will further sink the company, no matter how many times they try to redesign their home page.

So, which is it? Is Yahoo! just trying to surreptitiously lay off a portion of its workforce? Or admitting it doesn’t have a clue about how people can work together to solve real business problems in 2013? Or is Yahoo! just rotting from the head down?

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk


Three Myths Of Corporate Culture

Messy CordsOne of the reasons I’m attracted to anthropology is because I want to better understand something that most businesses fail to fully comprehend: organizational culture. There are countless posts out there by otherwise well-intended people trying to describe “corporate” culture. Trying to clarify how this concept of culture works. Trying to explain how we can create culture that gets results.

These posts are all very nice. And most of them are dead wrong, at least in terms of trying to convince us that culture is this narrowly-defined concept bereft of nuance and appreciation for complexity.

In a blogpost last week, Rand Fishkin wrote about what company culture is and is not. On whole, it’s one of the better and more eloquent attempts by a business leader…but it still simplifies culture down to what are very limiting ideas. Yes, culture can encompass shared beliefs and values. Yes, it can include how people act and behave together. But too many organizations use culture to control their people and institute a false sense of order. When this happens, they are perverting culture to be just another management tool.

Business leaders do this based on what I have found to be three interrelated myths of organizational culture:

Myth #1. Culture can be built, top-down.
Yes, it’s important for leadership to clearly articulate goals, values, and mission. But these elements merely provide direction and structure, the expectations of management. They are not the culture themselves. The problem is that management has come to see culture as one more way to institute controls over employees. If you read, “This is the [insert company name] way” when discussing culture, then you’re reading a top-down, executive mandate for what management wants the culture to be…but likely not what actually is. And just because the CEO says, “This is our culture” doesn’t make it true. It’s way bigger than that.

Myth #2. There is just one culture.
No matter how many people call an organization their professional home, there is not just one culture in play. Actually, there are multiple cultures and subcultures that often get overlooked. Even in a small start-up, think about the differences between accounting and sales teams. Yes, they may adhere to the same shared norms and values of the company, but how they work and interact are very different.

This isn’t even including the cultures we bring with us from our own outside lives. Think of the large, multi-national companies with work teams spanning the globe. We don’t shelve our personal lives when we enter the front door of the office, why then would we expect folks to shelve their respective cultures?

Again, by emphasizing one monolithic culture, management can feel like it’s exerting control over the organization. This also ignores the next myth, which is…

Myth #3. Culture is tame and structured.
This is the most pernicious lie that business leaders tell each other. Instead, here’s something closer to the truth: Culture is messy. It’s constantly evolving. It can be fragile and bewildering. This is what happens when people come together. We’re not programmable robots. We’re extraordinarily complex creatures with emotions, dreams, fears, and ambitions.

Corporate culture isn’t a highly conformed and stable melting pot. Instead, think of it more as a dynamic mixed bag of goodies of all shapes, sizes, and flavors.

It pains me to see culture get thrown around like so many other management buzzwords. This is when it gets stripped of its meaning, its vitality, and its power to convey something that is truly beautiful in its complexity.

Photo credit: otkuda via Flickr


Three Things I Learned In 2012

pathway into woodsHow was your 2012? Now that we’re on the 2013 side of things, I find it makes it easier to reflect on the year that was. Personally, 2012 was both hellish and magical. It was a year when I got my ass kicked…A LOT. But it was also when I discovered some important things about myself. About the direction of my life. About what it means to live, love, dream, and fail. Through it all, what I have come to know is that a year in our lives isn’t all bad or all good. It’s a complex and messy mashup of wonder and loss, where each experience offers learning if we choose to accept it.

Throughout December, I started to write down some of the things I learned (or relearned) in 2012. The list was long, but here are some of the highlights:

Find your rock.
I simply do not know what I would have done without my wife, Carrie, last year. When I had my bad days, she was there. And when I had my REALLY bad, curl-up-in-a-ball-in-the-corner days, her strength and presence helped me stand back up. See, we can’t do this thing called Life alone. I discovered a new level of gratitude for her that I may never have known without living through 2012. (I’ll say the same thing about my absolutely wonderful parents, Linda and Dennis.) If you have a similar rock in your life, stop reading and tell them right now how much they mean to you and that you’re glad to have them in your life.

Failing is an act of courage.
I left a well-paying job to start a solo business in 2012. Actually, I started two of them when counting the venture I started with Carrie called BabbleRousers. And neither of them took off. We sunk a huge amount of money into these ventures and the whole process nearly bankrupted the family (Access to Capital is now my new entrepreneurial mantra). And if there’s one thing that I am not able to handle very well, it’s the idea of bankruptcy and losing everything. A couple of times, I was visited by panic attacks where it felt like Jabba the Hutt was lounging on my chest.

It took a few weeks for this struggling perfectionist to start to relearn something important: failing takes guts. There are plenty of really good blogposts that speak to the necessity of failing in order to succeed. I don’t plan on launching any new business ventures anytime soon, but I’m grateful for the experience and wisdom I gained from the process. Namely, learning and failure must co-exist together if we are going to grow into who we were meant to be.

Dare greatly.
Related to failing, is the act of daring. And no one influenced me to dare greatly more than Brené Brown. Her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead was a tough yet welcome read for someone with an undiagnosed vulnerability phobia. Prior to mid-2012, I was doing a bang-up job of extracting as much uncertainty and emotional vulnerability from my life. However, that came with a cost to my creativity, sense of adventure, and desire to leave a powerful legacy. I’m still not where I want to be in terms of living a more daring life…but I’m again moving in the right direction.

What Greatness is ahead…in 2013 and beyond?
It’s a terrific question, isn’t it? It acknowledges that the very best we can achieve is directly in front of us. It offers hope when we feel stuck in neutral or (worse) wondering if we’re traveling down the wrong path.

Here’s the truth: this path each of us are on is exactly where we need to be. If we feel like we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere in the past, we can take comfort knowing there are no “right” or “wrong” turns. They are just choices we’ve made. Every choice offers an opportunity to embrace the totality of life’s experiences, both good and bad. I’m very grateful for everything I am and have. I know I wouldn’t be where I am right now without encountering the magic and pain of life in 2012.

So, here’s to a 2013 full of inspired thinking, bold action, and personal evolution. I look forward to walking it with you.