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Leadership

Why Every Entrepreneur Needs a Therapist

By Entrepreneurism, Leadership, LifeNo Comments

I was 40 when I went to therapy for the first time in 2011. At the time, I had no idea that going to therapy would transform my entrepreneurial pursuits. I just wanted to gain some insight on my (at that time) self-destructive tendencies and caustic resentment about my childhood that I’d held on to for 20+ years. My work with that therapist opened my eyes to many aspects of my behavior and life. It was my first glimpse of sitting in the witness seat of my own being.

Very people knew I was seeing a therapist. I still saw it as a sign of weakness. That I couldn’t figure my own shit out so I needed outside help. This was also reflective of the conditioning of being part of a fundamentalist church where therapy was – at best – seen as corrective. The general consensus is that if you had more faith or belief, you wouldn’t need therapy.

Over the past 10 years, I continued with a variety of therapists and modalities. I became more vocal and open about therapy – especially for men. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to truly see how therapy was benefiting me as an entrepreneur. I’ve now arrived at the conclusion that every entrepreneur needs a therapist.

Here is why …

Being an entrepreneur is a series of traumatic events and experiences. It is in direct contrast to the social conditioning of safety and stability. Even if you are not a trauma survivor, the stress and grind of being an entrepreneur can greatly impact your mental health. If you are a trauma survivor, the experiences of being an entrepreneur will inevitably be processed as trauma. In addition, the lens on yourself and your business is clouded by fear. And fear makes you either overly risk-averse and/or overly impulsive – both of which are detrimental to your business.

In my experience, the wired fear response of trauma manifests itself in your business in these ways:

  1. Seeing people as abstracts. If you have unhealed trauma, you inevitably have lower EQ and lower self-awareness. This means you are likely seeing the humans that you interact with as either threats or opportunities. This is the hero/villain spectrum being played out in who you partner with, what kinds of clients you work with, who you hire. This is also related to attachment theory (I highly recommend this book for all entrepreneurs) as well as internal family systems/parts therapy – both of which reveal that your wiring warps how you see and respond to others.
  2. Negativity bias. Trauma teaches you a worst-case-scenario mindset. It assumes that everything is negative until it proves itself to be safe. This is reflective of the wiring around threat assessments and forecasting failures. While a very useful tool for actual survival, it is a determinant to your business because it makes you miss that which is actually positive. It makes you blind to opportunities. It hijacks your imagination and turns it into a tool of projection.
  3. Inflation/devaluation. When untreated, the trauma pendulum swings between delusion and despair – often due to one compensating for the other. In my 30s and early 40s, this pendulum swung wildly between illusions of grandeur and valleys of gloom. I did not truly know my own worth, which made me in a near-constant pursuit of outside validation, legitimacy and identity. When you inflate your sense of worth, you still secretly feel like an imposter. And when you devalue your worth, you allow yourself to be manipulated and abused.

Doing the deep work of therapy reveals an important nuance for entrepreneurs: the difference between instinct and intuition. If you have untreated trauma, your instincts are going to be a faulty decision-making tool because these instincts were developed in response to emotional or physical pain. As you heal, you will access your heart and soul even more. When you do that, you will learn that your intuition is a much more accurate and powerful resource.

Ultimately, effective therapy returns you again and again and deeper and deeper to your core self. As I’ve written about, your core self is grounded in reality. It is the garden in which you grow compassion, creativity, clarity, curiosity, calmness, confidence, courage and connectedness. All of these are tremendous assets to being an entrepreneur. Any one of them can transform your business. So imagine the power of combining them all together! In my experience, a few magical things happen when you operate from your core self …

  • You attract healthy, whole people to your business – as clients, team members, strategic partners.
  • Your relationship with money is transformed and you have a much more healthy perspective on the financial aspects of your business.
  • You practice kindness with everyone. But you also take no shit from people that try to devalue you or use you.
  • You become more imaginative and innovative – with a steady stream of new ideas pouring out of you. Some will be wildly successful but many will fail, but you will have a healthy response to failure.
  • You will seek out feedback from others. And you discern the value of the feedback in a healthy way.

I continue ongoing therapy sessions. In fact, I had one this morning! Once you connect to your core self and learn to return to it daily, therapy shifts into more of a maintenance mode. It becomes more of a self-care practice than a healing modality. On-going therapy gives you a space to reflect on the influence of your ego, assess your behaviors and responses in light of current conditions, look for drift or exile from core self and much more.

If you are an entrepreneur that regularly sees a therapist, I’d love to hear more about your experiences. If you are an entrepreneur that is currently not in therapy and are curious about therapy’s impact on your business, just send me a message. I’m happy to visit!

 

And Then …

By Creativity, Entrepreneurism, Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Photo credit: Me. Bear tracks on the trail in Alaska.

Like many words in the too-much-information age, we often reduce the meaning and power of words. Adventure is one such word. “Adventure” too often means a planned experience. Activities marketed as “adventurous” have agendas, itineraries, safety rules, insurance waivers, name tags. Of course, there are gradients of danger and risk that require these things. And there many experiences that could cause injury or death from poor preparation and planning and brash behavior. But most of the things that we’re calling adventurous are really just scheduled activities that provide a temporary jolt; a respite from boredom.

So what is an actual adventure?

I think an adventure is any experience where you can say “And then …” and have no idea or clue of what’s next.

There is a myriad of options to find these kinds of experiences in the world. The kinds of things that end up on bucket lists. And I want to do many of them! But most of the “and then …” adventures are right in front of us or within us.

Art is like this. You can have all the supplies and knowledge, but every artist knows that what actually becomes art is an enormous mystery. This is why most great art is made in experimentation, failure, iteration. Each piece of output is a blend of the mystical and the material. A real-time example: when I started this essay, I had no idea what would come out. And here it is!

Soulful connections are like this. You can have your preferences and interests and plans. Then someone can enter your life and completely change your trajectory or transform your perspective. Or you can feel a soul connection with someone and begin to craft some assumptions about it or plans for it — only to discover that the “and then …” is that they are experiencing the connection in a different way than you. I am certain most heartache comes from the creating of expectations that disintegrate on impact with mystery and timing.

Entrepreneurism is like this. Too often we use data and systems and plans to remove all the mystery from business. We are told that the unknown is a threat. Yet almost every great invention or lasting business was born in failure or struggle. I’ve been calling this ability to live in the known and unknown at the same time “mystical leadership”. I will be sharing much more on this idea in the next few weeks but here is a summation:

Mystical leadership is a philosophy that holds logic and faith as equally essential traits of a leader. It recognizes humility, compassion, moderation, intuition and wisdom as necessary leadership qualities. Mystical leadership embraces all the dichotomies and paradoxes of being a human — the divide between ego and soul. It acknowledges and accepts the natural volatility and uncertainty of life and leaves room for mystery and possibility.

Inner work is certainly like this. Someone that I was mentoring earlier this year expressed that he was terrified to do inner work because “of what I might find in there.” Here’s the irony … if we don’t do the inner work, life will appear only as fate or luck. When we go on the grand adventure of exploring our inner world, we find the parts of ourselves (the soul) that loves the mystery, that relishes the void. Inner work involves going on an expedition to find your soul and discover its pricelessness. Inner work involves understanding your mind and beginning to master it. Both of these are adventures unto themselves, but nothing may be more dangerous and riskier than going into the heart.

Here’s why: the heart feels what it feels and wants what it wants. And the mind (the keeper of order) has no control over that. When we begin to expand your heart, to operate from your heart center, you begin to see just how much we don’t have control over. That much of what we think is real and solid is, in fact, an illusion created by the mind to make us feel comforted and comfortable. Heart work strips everything down to what it is. It eliminates both wishful thinking and wishful feeling.

I believe it requires a certain level of mysticism to navigate life in a way that produces meaning and joy and growth. A mystic is someone that is in touch with Reality (the spiritual realm) and reality (the material realm) and knows how to create moderation and harmony between those two realms. This balance lets each part do the thing it was designed to do. The body is designed for sensation. The soul is designed to experience. The heart is designed to feel everything. The mind is designed to think and plan. When these four elements are working in equanimity, then mystery arrives as lessons and opportunities. “And then …” shifts from the mundanity of tasks to the magic of the ever-unfolding present moment.

Do You Really Know Your Audience?

By Branding, LeadershipNo Comments

Internal Family Systems model

One of the most common questions we get is some form of “who is my target audience?”

To answer that requires some unlearning …

Your ideal audience is not a “target”. They are the people looking for you.

Your ideal audience is not their demographic data.

Your ideal audience isn’t divided up into B2B or B2C.

So who are they? Who are these mysterious humans whose hands you are putting the future of your brand?

To answer this question requires some foundational understanding of the psychological concept of the Core Self. The concept of Core Self has Jungian roots that have evolved into what is often called “parts theory” or “internal family systems”. There is a growing understanding that there is a Core Self but it is surrounded by parts – commonly categorized into three types:

  • Exiles – the part assigned to disassociate the Core Self from intense trauma or pain.
  • Managers – the part that creates systems of security and safety.
  • Firefighters – the part that demands attention.

Each of these parts has a unique role in protecting the Core Self – especially for trauma survivors. Fueled by dopamine and/or serotonin, these parts construct a new reality made up of personalities, biases, preferences, narratives. Further, these parts are activated by inputs or prompts.

Like advertising.

Largely influenced by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, marketers have spent billions of dollars marketing to the illusory realities that people have manufactured in their minds. They use FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) to manipulate the Exile parts. They use the promise of safety and security to coerce the Manager parts. They use urgency to coopt the Firefighter parts. Marketers do an excellent job of understanding these elements of their audiences.

And that’s the issue. Considering most of these parts were constructed as a response to trauma, to utilize them for your own gain is inhumane and cruel. It is the essence of gaslighting someone.

So how does an ethical marketer approach an audience?

By communicating with the audience’s Core Selves. 

The Core Self is identified by 8 traits:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Creativity
  3. Confidence
  4. Calm
  5. Compassionate
  6. Courage
  7. Clarity
  8. Connectedness

When you understand these areas, you understand your audience. And when you understand your audience, it will change the way you communicate with them.

You will use storytelling and mystery and positive tension to awaken curiosity.

You will co-create with them to make beautiful things together.

You will remind them of their worth and importance.

You will not use urgent, loud language.

You will see them as a whole human – not just a customer or an employee.

You will tell them the truth.

You will understand their vision for their future.

You will connect with them and an oxytocin-based bond of trust will be formed.

And you will not compromise any of these eight traits in yourself or your brand. You will integrate these traits into your behavior as a leader, your culture, your offerings, your human experiences.

You will be in a reciprocal relationship with all the humans that touch your brand. This will produce a force multiplier of ideation, improvement, expansion fueled by mutual love and respect.

This isn’t easy. There are no shortcuts. It’s why we call this deep work “Intrinsic Branding”. You have to go inward to who you are as a person or a brand. You have to know your mission, your standards, your vision. And then you must do the same with your audience. This kind of hard work requires patience, consistency, inquiry, listening. But when you do it, you create unbreakable bonds of love, trust and loyalty.

The Door Makers

By Creativity, Entrepreneurism, Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

David North’s “Door to the Imagination”. Photo credit: David North

“When opportunity knocks, answer the door.” We’ve all heard this, right? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes through your own efforts and a lot of serendipity, opportunity does knock.

Some people miss it because they don’t hear the knock.

Some people miss it because they are too afraid to answer.

And a lot of people miss it because … well, I like how Herbert Prochnow says it: “The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work.”

But there is another level far beyond answering the knock at the door.

It is the impossibly hard and very risky act of creating a door where one doesn’t exist. Answering opportunity’s knock is a matter of paying attention, perseverance and knowing how to grind. Creating an opportunity door requires all of those plus alchemy, audacity and a touch of madness.

Artists are creators of opportunity doors. Using existing materials, they create a portal to a place that didn’t exist before. To experience something truly artful feels spiritual, magical – because it is. More than anyone, artists seemed to be wired to create doors. This is why they often feel miscast and misunderstood in society. Many artists deal with depression, anxiety, isolation. Which turns out are some of the key materials of door making.

For entrepreneurs, crafting opportunity doors is the work of innovation. Using existing resources, they tap into an unspoken need and create a third way that didn’t exist before. In our work at Root + River, we refer to this as category design. When working with individuals, we help craft a “category of one” – the door to an idea that didn’t exist before. When working with brands, we help create a category for them to own – a big idea that transcends current offerings. In both cases, knowing your category gives your door making efforts a place to start and a point at which to focus on.

Crafting opportunity doors does take raw ability. It also takes the work of discovering or embracing those raw abilities. If you don’t accept your own gifts and talents, it’s virtually impossible to become a door maker. And you do need to do the hard work of turning your ability into expertise and competency. And, of course, it takes courage to be a door maker.

But you can’t stop there. This is why it takes an exceptional human to become a master craftsman of opportunity doors.

I have been privileged to know a number of sensei-level door makers in my life. They have these four common traits:

  • They see the opportunity within the problem. There are lots of problem-solving experts. But the door maker is not motivated to just solve the problem. She wants to use the problem to create a door that didn’t exist before. This is what Sara Blakely did.
  • They have a robust creative practice. They understand that door making requires a ton of creative energy and creative discipline. So they place a premium on spending their time developing and nurturing creative habits. They know a consistent, robust creative practice will always produce the fruit of new ideas, new ways of thinking.
  • They have faith. For some door makers, faith can be directly related to religious or spiritual beliefs. But I’m more referring to the kind of faith that it takes to step into the void, to operate in the unknown. The kind of faith that embraces mystery’s role in creation. This is the kind of faith that encourages you to embrace your higher imaginations and doubt your lower impulses. This kind of faith only comes from within. It can’t be given, sold, borrowed.
  • They are action-oriented. When door makers have a spark of inspiration, they take immediate action. Maybe they sketch something out. Maybe they do a little research. Maybe they make a prototype. Whatever the response, they don’t just sit and think about ideas. They do something with them. When they are stuck and don’t know what to do, they just create.

Every door maker I know or studied has these four traits. But they also all have a fifth trait that is expressly and specifically unique to them. Maybe it’s calmness under pressure. Maybe it’s being great at promotion. Maybe it’s financial acumen. Maybe it’s strategic thinking. Maybe it’s charisma. I’m not entirely sure what to call this fifth trait, but I’m quite certain it is the healthy incorporation of the ego into the door making process.

Who are door makers you’ve known? What traits did she or he have that I didn’t mention?

Don’t Convert. Enlighten.

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Photo credit: Robbie Shone

“Don’t convert. Enlighten.” This is a mantra that I tell myself whenever I feel the need to convince you that I’m right.

I really do want to be right. Or more specifically, I want you to know that I’m right and convert to my way of thinking. My wiring is to be right, to persuade, to win. I love debate. I love to argue. I’m a high I on the DISC. I’m an 8 on the Enneagram. My highest StrengthsFinders trait is “Woo”. None of those are inherently wrong or bad. The problem is that in my drive to convert you to my way of thinking, I will dehumanize you. Not necessarily in a mean way (although I do have those tendencies). But certainly in a way where you are now a target of my ego’s attention. 

My ability to persuade people used to be a significant part of my identity. It was played out in my various roles: husband, dad, brother, sales rep, marketing consultant, football coach, fundamentalist Christian, Republican. Again, none of these roles are inherently bad. But as began to awaken in 2012, I began to see how my impulse to convert was harmful to others. When most of those roles fell away (I’m really only two of them now), I realize that the real role of my soul is to be a mentor and a friend. And converting people to my way of thinking is the antithesis of being a mentor and a friend. 

Converting vs enlightening has a long history. In most cases, conversion was related to religion. Much of world history can be summarized as “We have superior weapons. Convert to our god or we will kill you.” Conversion became a staple of political campaigns. Thanks to Edward Bernays, conversion became the core doctrine of advertising and PR. One of the most insidious versions of converting is “Gay conversion theory” – which combines dehumanizing with spiritual abuse and junk science. In American culture, we are conditioned to convince others to be a fan of our team, to buy our favorite products, to listen to our preferred music. Of course, there’s no harm in advocating for these preferences. But it becomes a moral issue when we tell someone they are wrong/bad/ignorant if they don’t convert to our preferences. 

Here’s a simple framework to show the difference between converting and enlightening:

Converting is exclusionary. It is linear and literal. It is often nationalistic or tribal. Its weapon of choice is condemnation (often in the form of violence). Its promise is prosperity. If you convert to our way, you will be safe, have money, live a good life. This type of thinking is rampant in religion and politics – where the creation of “others” produces a base of supporters while fueling divisiveness and division. A recent example is a patently false claim by the GOP that the Democrats “took God out of their convention.” Other traits of conversion-mindset: hypocrisy, abuse of power, wastefulness (all things Jesus spoke against, by the way).

Enlightening is inclusionary. It extends acceptance and understanding. It is sensitive to matters of justice and equality. It is fueled by openness and invitation. Its motivation is not to build a fan base but to create an impact. To be clear, I don’t believe enlightenment is some sort of intellectual relativism where all ideas have equal merit. But it certainly means that each person has inherent value and worth. Example: “Flat Earther” vs science. The premise is ridiculous and easily refuted. But if a person chooses to believe in flat earth theory, its not my job to convince them otherwise. 

Which leads to this question: how do you practice enlightenment?

That’s exactly how you do it. You ask questions. 

You start by asking yourself questions. As I wrote about back in April, I believe learning to ask yourself questions is the #1 life skill.

Is that thought/feeling/framework/narrative true?

Why am I reacting this way?

Why do I care about this?

What belief or value is being threatened?

These are just a start. There are thousands more self-directed questions that will enlighten you as to your motivations, biases and perceptions.

Once you’ve got the hang of asking yourself questions, start asking questions to others. Of all of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, Habit 5 is probably the most quoted. Yet it is also probably the habit that is most neglected. As Phil Drysdale points out, Jesus was asked 183 questions. He answered 3 of them. And he asked 307 questions. This is a pretty good ratio for practicing enlightening someone, not converting them.

The questions you ask are largely framed by your intention for asking them. So be very aware of that. I would strongly suggest not asking passive or leading questions. Its easy to slip into a prosecutorial mode. Its easy to slip into questions that are intended to condemn instead of enlightening. 

On almost any issue or belief, you can ask these questions:

How did you arrive at that conclusion?

Why is it important to you?

What are your experiences with this matter?

Three other things we can do to enlighten instead of convert …

We can extend grace. Grace is not passive acceptance or tolerance. Nor is it excusing someone’s violent or damaging behavior. Grace is being able to see the whole person behind their opinions and views and behaviors. This is especially important when conversing with someone that you disagree with.

Be declarative. Paraphrasing John Eldredge, let others feel the weight of who you are. If your heart is pure, you are not responsible for their reactions. You are responsible for being clear and direct; for not being passive-aggressive or obtuse. And you are responsible for extending those same expectations to someone you are talking with. But you aren’t responsible for their feelings and reactions and they aren’t responsible for yours.

Tell your own story. This invites curiosity. It puts a story arc to your experiences. It allows you to provide witness or testimony to the things you’ve experienced and the conclusions you’ve come to. This is why I make it a practice to try to only speak to that which I have actual experience, expertise or knowledge.  

It’s easy to stay in our insular bubble – where people we disagree with are only on social media or on the news. But this practice of enlightening not converting can only happen in real interactions with actual people. Tomorrow (Sept 1), we leave to make the trek to Portland for the birth of our first grandchild. The journey there will take me into parts of the country where my views and ideas will be the definite minority. I will be spending time with family that has different views as me and strong opinions. I will get to practice and test these ideas in real life. I will very likely fail at times. But in each failure, I will learn. And learning is enlightenment. 

The Incompatibility of Consciousness – Part II

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Credit: lolloj/Shutterstock.com

Last week, I wrote about consciousness and two elements of modern life that seem to be incompatible with consciousness: consumerism and ideology. Last week, I covered consumerism. This week, ideology.

First a few more thoughts on consciousness …

Although a person of faith, I have a primarily secular view of consciousness. This is a combination of my own experiences as well as learnings from Sam Harris, Abraham Maslow, Alan Watts, Pema Chodron and others. A short doctrinal statement: I believe God is master of my soul and I am the master of my own mind.

To me, consciousness is the result of two specific efforts:

  1. Mastery over our reactions; being grounded in reality rather than reacting to ego-fueled stimuli.
  2. Realizing that we are not our labels — either those we’ve adopted or those we were told.

It is in this area that I believe consciousness is incompatible with ideology.

Some background …

I have always been into politics. I started reading about political history when I was 10 or 11. Until 2016, I watched the election returns for every presidential election since 1980. Most of my family were Republicans. I’m sure this had some influence over my political views. But I was also influenced by what I read and how I processed it. One book stands out. When I was around 12 years old, I read “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater. I found it in a stack of books in the back of a closet at my grandparent’s place. Freedom, opportunity, strength, liberty — were all ideas that resonated with me.

In 1986, halfway through my junior year of high school, we moved from sleepy Baker City, Oregon to bustling Gresham, Oregon. As part of this move, I decided to “rebrand” myself (yes, I called it that even way back then!). In search of an identity, I decided to be the “Alex P. Keaton” of my high school. I argued with my leftist teachers about politics. In my bedroom, I had a poster of Oliver North next to my poster of the glam-rock band, Poison. I volunteered for the Bush-Quayle campaign.

Just a few years later, I discovered Rush Limbaugh. His clarity of conviction, his ability to communicate and his use of parody all appealed to me. For the next 20+ years, I was all in with the conservative movement. It became an integral part of my identity. And when ideology becomes your identity, everyone that disagrees with you is seen as the enemy.

Around 2008, I began to become disenfranchised with GOP. This was for two contradictory reasons: 1) I thought the GOP had become too entangled with the “religious right” and 2) I thought that most Republicans were “RINOs” — not real conservatives. (Ironically, I believe both of those even more now!) So I changed my registration to Independent but continued to vote exclusively for Republicans. In fact, the first Democrat I ever voted for was Walt Minnick, a moderate Democrat congressman with a strong business background.

As I have shared a number of times publicly, I had a spiritual awakening in April 2014. For me, the awakening changed my taste for truth. Falseness or untruth in any form felt bitter on my tongue and produced nausea in my stomach. I felt it sitting in church services. I felt it in some of my relationships. And I definitely felt it with my political beliefs and influences. I remember listening to Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck with a sharp awareness that I no longer believed them. I no longer saw them as ineffable prophets of conservatism but saw them as they are: hucksters taking advantage of someone’s conditioned biases.

As my consciousness grew, my ideological labels fell away. I did not become “more liberal”. I just grew beyond ideology. Which makes sense. Ideology is one of the most binary forms of thinking there is. And binary thinking and consciousness are definitely incompatible. In Maslow’s terms, I began to become self-actualized rather than others-actualized. Interestingly, this returned me to some of those resonate ideals of my childhood: freedom, liberty, justice, opportunity. I became more curious, more open. I became more interested in talking with people that I might disagree with.

Which returns me to my thesis for Part II — the incompatibility of consciousness with ideology. Ideology encourages you to believe things that are incongruent with consciousness or mindfulness. I also observe that the two cult-like ideologically extremes of our era (the “Trumpists” and the “Wokists”) are heavily reliant on low consciousness. I believe these kinds of low-conscious ideologies discourage free thought, asking questions, discourse and internal disagreement. Some examples:

  • Your ideology becomes your religion; a form of cognitive dissonance.
  • People who disagree with you politically are the enemy and must be defeated or destroyed and proven wrong.
  • You see the labels, not the human. You will see roles, not souls.
  • You proclaim your political ideas as absolutes; leaving no room to be wrong.
  • You excuse or enable abhorrent behavior from people you agree with politically.
  • You become easy to manipulate and susceptible to conspiracy theories.

I’m still fascinated by the political process. And I certainly still have political views. It’s just that neither of these is my identity. If pressed, I will say that most of my views would fall under the realm of “libertarian.” I certainly think you can be a Republican or a Democrat (or some other party) and still be a high-conscious person. Just not if these ideas separate you from reality.

I’m Worried About You

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

No, I’ve never been.

I’m worried about you. Yeah, I mean you.

I worry about people. Including those I don’t know well — or don’t know at all.

I worry that someone will read something I wrote and call me out.

I worry about injustice and unfairness.

I have geographic worry — Austin, Idaho, Oregon, the country, the planet.

When I watch sports, I worry about the players getting injured.

I worry about how independent musicians are going to make a living.

The list could go on and on.

So imagine how I feel when I do know you. And especially if I have a relationship with you.

As I do in these writings, I’m inviting you into my inner processing and examination of why I worry about everyone.

You have been warned.

In the language of the DISC behavioral assessment, I am a high “D” and high “I” — close to 100 on both. My business/creative partner, Emily, sums it up succinctly: “Justin wants to win and Justin wants to be loved.” This explains some of my dichotomies. Like Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram or any other in-depth behavioral assessment, your dominant tendencies also have a shadow side.

As a high I, the positive is that I am gregarious, relatable, a good conversationalist. The negative or shadow side is that I’m a “people pleaser.” My great friend, Juan Kingsbury, is an expert on the DISC. He states, “Why do high I people want to be liked? Something occurred when you felt left out, overlooked and speaking up got you a kind of attention that felt good. This causes high I people to over-focus on being liked or heard and sometimes miss the mark on the intent of their communication/interaction.”

In my parts therapy work with my therapist, Adrienne, I call this part of me the “Border Collie”. It means I’m very protective and sensitive about roles, boundaries, rules. I’m very tuned in to risk and want my “herd” to feel safe. It means I like to know where I stand, that you find me valuable, useful, needed. I get hurt, resentful, withdrawn if I don’t feel like I’m valuable. (Adrienne also expertly observed that I try to “engineer” relationships in order to prevent getting hurt.)

In the Enneagram, I’m an 8w7. 8s are the challenger archetype. We like to be seen as strong, decisive, courageous leaders. As such, we are really good at denying, stuffing, covering up, or ignoring what we perceive as weakness. And I definitely view worry as a weakness.

Yet, I worry.

And the worry definitely increases the deeper our relationship is — which produces some interesting paradoxes.

If I care deeply about you, I want you to feel safe. Which includes keeping you safe from my shadow feelings.

If I care deeply about you, I want truth to be an essential part of our relationship. Yet I will hide from you the truth of what I’m feeling.

If I care deeply about you, I want you to see me as strong and reliable. Yet I have a tendency to wall off from or distance myself when threatened.

So what is the solution? As it is with every healthy relationship, the solution is VULNERABILITY.

Damn you, Brene Brown!

I refer to vulnerability as “emotional nudity”. Here I am. This is me. Like actual nudity, it’s not for everyone. Not everyone needs to see the raw me. But those that I love and that love me certainly do. Vulnerability is stripping down to the essence. Even if it is scary.

How terrifying to tell you the truth of what I’m feeling. This fear produces a doubt loop of “What if I’m wrong?!” and “Why am I so weak?!”

Yet, the only way to break that loop is for me to be vulnerable. There is no other way.

I will close with this …

As I often do, I create mantras for the things I want to change, improve, transform. Here is my mantra for vulnerability in relationships: If you are worried about your image, it’s not a real relationship. 

If I love you and you love me, there is no need for performance. There is no transaction, no obligation. There is simply the truth.

Far From Home

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Photo © The Jewish Museum

In a recent episode on his podcast, Rob Bell talked about the line from Psalm 137: “we hung our harps upon the willows …” He shared that this was, metaphorically, about being in exile. You can listen to the entire episode here – but something he said will stay with me for a long time:

“Exile” is when we go looking for validation, legitimacy and approval from someone else. It’s being far from home; separated from the Love that was ours all along. 

Like all true things, Rob’s words had a resonance. I could feel his observation vibrate in my bones. I could hear my soul say quietly, “yes, that’s true.” 

I was exiled for a long time. Although my journey home started in late 2010, I didn’t arrive until early 2016. It was then that I felt at home in myself. It was a wonderful feeling of wholeness and completeness. For me, coming home had so many rewards and benefits. One of them was that I was much less obsessive about my image or how I was perceived by others. Coming home opened up many portals – especially the wisdom and creativity portal that manifested as daily musings to share with the world. 

But Rob’s words also pricked me in an uncomfortable way. Despite all of the growth since coming home, I still have a lot of co-dependency tendencies. I strive to be independent, sovereign, a practitioner of healthy non-attachment and interdependence. Yet … if you and I have a friendship or relationship, I do want validation, legitimacy and approval from you. I like to know where I stand with you. I like to know my role. I like to know that you value me. Like all things of the ego, these feelings don’t mean something is necessarily wrong or needs to be fixed. It is just an awareness that these old patterns still exist. Just like having a home, there is always something to work on. This is one of those things. 

But there was more to the pricking from Rob’s words than co-dependency. They touched a deeper sense; an undercurrent that had, until now, been unnamed. It was the word “exile”. What I’ve been feeling is a sense of being in exile again. 

This feeling began to emerge shortly after the first shelter-in-place order was put in place. Suddenly, all of the movement and busy-ness that felt like life was suspended. Not gone. Just put on hold – like a movie being paused on the screen of life. Based on conversations and paying attention to what people are writing, saying, sharing, I think many of us feel this way.

It is such an evasive feeling; flitting in and out of the shadows of my being. Like a small bird that doesn’t want to be caught. Others have applied their own words to it. Some call it liminality – the suspension between two phases. Others call it impermanence – an “eternal groundlessness”. 

But the word that best fits for me is “exile”. In this sense of having our norms and patterns disrupted so profoundly, I ended up in exile from myself. There is a direct correlation between the returning of co-dependency and the feelings of exile brought on by the pandemic. 

There is a sense of restlessness … with no destination.

There is a sense of weariness … with no source of respite.

There is boredom … tinged with guilt because I am suffering far less than many people.

There are moments of joy and clarity … but a slipping back into high-functioning despair. 

There is a pervasive loneliness … yet a clinging to others.

There is a sameness of the days … yet deeper gratitude for simple things.

Most of all, there is a craving for form, for resolution. Thus the return of the co-dependency traits – seeking those things, those solutions outside of my self.  

I want the pandemic to be over so I can return to myself. 

But it doesn’t work that way. Home is right here. I don’t need to go someplace or to someone. 

So what is the solution?

I can think of only one word: PRESENCE.

This is not a new idea. In fact, it may be the oldest of spiritual teachings. That “home” and “presence” are the same thing. Because of its roots in spirituality and soul, I’ve tended to view presence as an intangible thing; a purely metaphysical state. It was something people more spiritually mature and advanced than I had. It was for monks and hermits. 

But something shifted my perspective; made me realize that presence is very practical and truly a warrior trait. In the last episode of the documentary “The Last Dance”, one of Michael Jordan’s biographers said this (I’m somewhat paraphrasing):

“Most people live in fear because we project the past onto the future. Michael was not like that. He was the most intensely present person I’ve ever met. He was a mystic.” 

That’s it! Presence is simply choosing to be here. Not because it is some Zen state that detaches us from uncomfortable realities. But because it is really the only option. All we can really do is choose to be here. Presence is reality. Presence is home. The past and the future are illusions. They are exile.

From this came a mantra/commitment that is simple to say but difficult to live: I will be present in the reality of this moment.

It’s quite possible that the greatest gift of all of this upheaval is the spaciousness to work on presence; the time to craft a union between presence, reality and being home in myself.  I’m starting to see that working on presence contains within it the challenge I need, the adventure I need, the risk I need. 

I will let you know how it goes.

 

How to Marketing-Proof Yourself

By Branding, Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Credit: https://www.eyeem.com/

Although I’ve been in it for over 17 years, there are many things I dislike about branding and marketing. Chiefly, the tendency of brands to give in to the cheaper, faster approach to creating a behavior: manipulation.

Traditional branding and marketing is, at its core, a philosophy of manipulation. The founder of this philosophy is Edward Bernays. Although way less famous than his uncle, Sigmund Freud, Bernays is still considered the “Father of Spin”.

A quote from his blatantly-titled 1928 book, “Propaganda”:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of … in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

Chilling, right?

If you are paying attention, you can see the philosophy of manipulation played out dozens of times per day. The point of writing this piece is to not go Ralph Nader on the marketing industry. My point is that we must each marketing-proof ourselves in order to reduce (it likely can’t be fully eliminated) the influence of persuasion and manipulation. The baseline requirement for the philosophy of manipulation to have maximum influence is low consciousness. In Maslow’s terms, this is mostly the middle tier of acceptance and belonging – with just enough coercing of our primal fears and needs thrown in.

In short, to marketing-proof yourself you need to raise your consciousness. Here are a few don’ts and do’s on how to do that.

Don’t …

Chase dopamine. Any model that relies on eyeballs, relies on dopamine. This is especially true for anything that’s free – i.e. social media. As Tim O’Reilly said way back in 2010, “when it’s free, you are the product.” This is all about creating micro-addictions to dopamine.

Have body dysmorphia. In clinical terms, body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder. In practical terms, it is being so influenced by comparison to others that you begin to hate your body. Kudos to Halo Top ice cream for confronting this type of manipulation head-on.

Over-use binary goggles. Binary thinking can be a useful tool for decision making, but marketers encourage the overuse of this tool by creating false choices. This is the “gotta have it nowt” urgency you see in a lot of marketing.

Do …

Heal your emotional wounds. It is virtually impossible to be manipulated by a brand or a person if you have done the deep work of healing emotional trauma. Unhealed trauma creates the impulse to either venerate or vilify – or both. Marketers use this to be the “the rescuing prince” and/or to paint their competition as your enemy.

Master your ego. An unmastered ego will drive all decisions – all of which perpetuate its control over you. The higher your consciousness, the more you master your ego. This happens through a faith/spiritual practice, mindfulness practice, creative practice, volunteering or other forms of elevated consciousness. The more you master your ego, the less likely you are to let it be manipulated.

Be skeptical of formulas. One of our mantras at Root + River is “f*ck the formula”. This reflects a healthy distrust of singular solutions. Formulas are designed to create mass adoption. They often come in the form of “better” – better relationships, better career, better lifestyle.

The final one is a combo do and don’t …

Do be aware of your fears, biases and tendencies – and don’t let them be used to manipulate you. We all have our preferences, insecurities, doubts, quirks, dichotomies. These are what make us interesting – and human. But when we are not aware of them  – or we are aware of them but are not honest about them – we are inviting manipulation.

Some practical tips for bringing this to your awareness in your daily life …

When you decide to click on something, pause and ask yourself why it drew you in. Hint: it’s not always being manipulated. Sometimes you are just curious! Or have a real need.

When being pitched a product or service, ask yourself “What would this give me that I don’t already have?”

Notice when you feel an elevated negative emotion about something (usually a news story). What bias is being triggered to create this negative emotion in you? And how does the info source benefit from your negative emotion?

One of our more audacious goals at Root + River is to seize back branding and marketing from the manipulators and gaslighters. To have branding and marketing be used as tools for positive change, inspiration, personal growth. To accomplish this, we need clients that are enlightened leaders that want to attract higher consciousness customers. If this idea moves your soul (and offends your ego), reach out and let’s see how we can work together.

Learning from Children

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

A piece of art affixed to the footbridge by our house in Austin. Thank you, Eva!

I recently had a walk with a good friend here in Austin. As with all of our conversations, this one flowed naturally; meandering through various topics. In between pauses in conversation as we scaled some steep inclines, we began to talk about the current state of Christianity and traditional religion in general. We talked of the waning influence of institutional religion and the religious fervency of Christian nationalism. We talked of the role and purpose of rituals, especially sacred rituals. 

He then asked two profound questions:

How do you create a spiritual structure for your kids while not belonging to a particular religion or denomination?

How do you teach your kids to be spiritual?

I felt the heft and sincerity of his questions. To the best of my recollection, here is how I answered …

Two notes before I continue …

I believe both his questions and the answers that came to me apply to our own lives as well.

If your soul feels called to (and/or for your kids) to be part of a religious community, please do so. My view on this mirrors a piece of advice that Eugene Peterson once gave when asked about going to church: “If you feel called to a community, find the nearest, smallest one.” 

Onward …

Any sincere spiritual or religious practice is intended to answer three questions:

  1. Who am I?

  2. What am I here to do?

  3. Where do I belong?

In answering the first question, we are deconstructing the self that the ego-mind generated for us in order to be safe, to fit in. We are also examining and deconstructing the forms and views we were taught. Underneath the rind of outside influences is the fruit of True Self. 

In answering the second question, we are discovering purpose and meaning. Not so much the meaning of life in general, but the meaning of YOUR life. I call this “mission” – the thing you are here to do that only you can do. You are equipped with natural gifts, resources, experiences to make this mission the organizing principle of your life.

In answering the third question, we are teaching the process of discerning where we will be living out our life’s work. This could be a geographic location, a career, the friends we select, our community – or a combo of these and other factors of belonging. 

To answer these questions requires some key elements:

  • Contemplativeness – learning inner listening
  • Curiosity – bringing wonder to everything
  • Faith – not dogma, but the accepting of mystery
  • Inquiry – seeking the right questions; healthy skepticism of stock answers
  • Awareness – tuning into sensory elements
  • Imagination – suspending disbelief about possibility
  • Creativity – using resources to make art

These elements will produce some key understandings. Here are a few that seem to have the most universality …

Love is the foundational principle of the universe. From that foundation grows compassion, kindness, service and more.

You are a sovereign being. No one can tell you what you are or what you are worth. No one can make you do anything, say anything, think anything.

The crown jewels of spirituality are compassion, humility and moderation.

Life is art. It is iterative. It is full of liminal spaces. It grows and evolves. When it stops being these things, it becomes static religion or secularism.

Nature teaches us everything we need to know about God (or whatever term you’d prefer to use).

Whatever practice you create or follow, you will know that “the kingdom of heaven is within.” 

From here, you can craft your own rituals and practices. This begins with another question:

What are 3 – 4 key ingredients for a joyful day? 

For some, this may be a more traditional approach – like reading scriptures, attending a religious ceremony, prayer/mantras. For others, it may be spaciousness to create or play. Or being in nature. Or connecting with a close friend. Children seem to inherently know how to create rituals that serve their needs. Yet another thing we can learn from kids. 

I believe it’s also important to have some sort of immersion into what is traditionally called “comparative religion”. This includes reading the teachings of the great spiritual Masters, attending a variety of religious ceremonies, visiting with people of a specific faith and asking questions. 

In pondering all of this, I am reminded that I/we did teach our sons these things. Despite our belonging to a fundamentalist group for the majority of raising them, I wanted them to answer the foundational questions I mentioned above. I wanted them to think for themselves. I wanted them to question everything. I wanted them to seek, ask, knock. I wanted them to understand the pricelessness of their souls. I wanted them to embrace doubt, to learn from failure, to follow no formulas.

Strangely, I taught them these things well before I taught them to myself. In fact, I could say I learned a significant amount about spirituality from them. When I left “the church” in January 2016, it was what I taught them and how they grew and blossomed which inspired me to go on the adventure of creating my own faith/spiritual practice. 

Children are naturally spiritually oriented. So I believe our main job is just to remind them of that. And then learn from them.