Coming out of hiding

It was a tense part of the meeting, when the neighbours were challenging city staff about who the city was going to invite to an upcoming meeting. It was one of those moments when I’m quietly telling myself: this is tricky, so make sure you say the right thing or this is going to go off the rails!

(Long story short: residents have lobbied for years for city hall to take action. City hall is now taking action and a small team of city staff met with a group of residents to update them and plan how to engage the rest of the neighbourhood.)

Who are you going to invite? Just the residents? Why should others have a say if they don’t live there? Property owners or everyone who lives there? What about developers from the outside? What about developers from the inside? What if the voice of outsiders drowns out what residents have to say? How will we know who is saying what? If everyone was mixed together in a room, residents and outsiders, how would residents be heard?

If everyone was mixed together in a room, residents and outsiders, how would residents be heard?

One resident kept asking the sticky question: who are you going to invite? The group had a long conversation about how to have many voices in a room, have them be in conversation with each other (rather than a line-up of people at a microphone), and distinguish who said what. Again the sticky question: who are you going to invite? To clearly hear the voice of residents, then only residents could be in the room. 

She just wanted to feel heard.

And when we heard that, we found our way. We identified a means to both hear local residents and invite the wider community that felt good. It took us a bit of time, we had to work through the discomfort of different opinions, but we landed on something that residents felt good about, and city staff felt good about. 

They heard each other. They accommodated each other. 

10 days ago a trio of wicked communications and marketing brains (read friends) gathered in my living room to help me put together promotional material to promote me and my coming book, Nest City. I was very uncomfortable being the center of attention. I was very uncomfortable talking about how to actively make myself more visible.

With supportive friends, I relaxed into being hosted, rather than being the host of the conversation. One served as a scribe and helped organize what I was saying so I, and we, could see it. 

They asked me the tough questions that I often ask them. They relished “Bething” me, putting me in the hot seat.

With their challenging support, two big realizations surfaced: 

  1. It is time to come out of hiding. 
  2. I am well conditioned to put myself in the background. 

I have been writing in hiding. I have a book that I have been working on for 13 years that few people have read. Since 2009 I have posted 434 blogs (this is the 435th) and the Nest City News started a few years ago. The readership of public writing is loyal, but not huge. (I love you dearly.) 

I don’t “toot my horn” because I’m well trained to not do that. The inner critic in me is active.

I don’t “toot my horn” because I’m well trained to not do that. The inner critic in me is active:

  • Only people who are full of themselves promote themselves 
  • You don’t have anything worthwhile to say
  • Don’t dream big because it won’t come to pass anyway and you’ll end up heartbroken
  • No one can actually do the work they want to be doing, so why should you be any different? 
  • No, no, don’t put yourself out there, it’s too risky
  • Don’t get involved in social media, you don’t have the stomach for it 
  • The best and safest place for you is in the background 
  • You’re not smart enough for people to listen to
  • You don’t have anything to say that people want to hear
  • Who do you think you are? 
  • Your writing is awful. 

I feel like this inner critic voice in my head is not me. But it certainly works hard to run the show. 

When I am with a group of people, I “hear” things others don’t hear. With the residents and city staff the other night, when we were talking about who to invite, I heard that what was most important was for residents to feel heard. If I wasn’t in the room, it is possible that that understanding might not have been reached and the tension may have brewed into blockage, leaving the shared project on rocky ground. 

When I am with a group of people, I “hear” things others don’t hear.

I hear how people misunderstand each other. I help them find clarity in what they want to express, and speak it in ways others can hear. I support people to hear the other, even it is uncomfortable to do so.

At times, I also hear what is happening in the room when nobody else knows it is happening. I can sense into “the thing” that is unsaid, and I’m willing to say it. 

I notice patterns in our behaviour that keep us from being our best selves, and I design conversational processes that erode those bad behaviors. I notice patterns in the complexity of how cities work that help me (and clients) navigate the systems of the city. 

I love to create social habitats in which information, or feedback, is received—even if it is hard to hear. Most importantly, I love to do this when it involves ways to improve our cities. 

I’ve just come out of hiding a bit. Just now. 

I’ve named two things that are my essential work, that I both love to do and clients want to do with me: 

  1. Create the conditions for people to hear each other.
  2. Navigate complex city systems. 

I’ve said this out loud, here.

What’s coming is a new website with a new look and feel that puts me, my work and my writing out front. I will continue to write to you, but it will come your way with a new look, under a new name. The “Nest City Blog” will turn into “Beth’s Blog”. The “Nest City News” email newsletter will turn into “Writing From the Red Chair”. 

I expect to write faster, which means more frequently.

I expect to have more readers. 

I expect to have readers that appreciate what I offer, and readers that don’t get me. I will look for healthy criticism and put negativity aside. I will appreciate the appreciation. 

I expect to have relationships with readers, not just clients. 

I expect to enjoy putting myself out there, being bigger. 

I expect to be in more conversations with people who are listening for what is in hiding, in self, others and our cities, and welcome both the challenges and the joy of hearing, of revealing rather than concealing. 

Welcome both the challenges and the joy of hearing, of revealing rather than concealing.

What are your practices to hear what is hiding in you? In others? In your city?  

50 and powering up

Monday was a big birthday. For the last few months of my 40s I’ve been thinking about all the people I’ve known over the years who power down in their 50s. I will be powering up. I’m only getting started.

Those “freedom 55” commercials when I was a kid told us that work sucks, so go do the thing you love at 55. The sell: you don’t have to wait until retirement at 65, you can leave that awful job 10 years earlier. You can be free of work.

I long ago decided that whenever I am able, I want to be doing the work I love, that energizes and challenges me, and feels meaningful. There are times when I do things I don’t feel like doing, or took a job because I needed the money, but what I look for now is work that aligns with my soul, what I feel called to do. 

And so, over these holidays that have just wrapped up, in my last days of my 40s, I woke one morning with a clear realization: I am in the middle of my “work life” and I plan to work for 30+ more years. 

I am in the middle of my work life and I plan to work for 30+ more years. 

Over the last 30 years, from twenty, my “work” on the surface changed many times. I went to school, had a few jobs, and then set up my own consulting company. And while consulting I started this blog and wrote a book. I expect what my work looks like over the next 30 years will shift too, as I keep learning more about where I am going. 

I’m not signing up to do the exact same thing for 30 years. I’m signing up to be activated and energized by my work. I’m signing up to grow with my work. It’s also a good test: On the whole, do I like the work I’m doing enough to do it for 30 years? If not, I’m not doing the right work. 

I’m signing up to be activated and energized by my work. I’m signing up to grow with my work.

I invite the challenge of doing the work necessary to notice the work I want to do and do it. I am not powering down at 50. I am powering up by actively choosing to be more ME. 

This means: 

  • Sending my book, Nest City, out in to the world (Edmonton launch, April 18, 2020)
  • Writing more (blogs, and I can feel another book coming)
  • Teaching (Nest City ideas)
  • Working with citizens  and cities to support their efforts to hear themselves, in small and large ways
  • Working with citizens and cities who desire to discern where they are going, and how to best move in that direction 
  • Clarity around the work to which I say YES (and no) 
  • Clarity about the energy I invest in professional and personal relationship (hint: I’m looking for emotional maturity and choice to learn and grow, even when it’s tough) 
  • Playing big and sharing explicitly what I think, feel and see in ways that energize me

Over the last few years, as challenges have popped up in life, I’ve experienced the fear in others when I play big. When I left the big job and started my own company, some expressed worries (theirs, not mine) about my livelihood. When my marriage ended and I headed out into life without a spouse, some were upset and distraught in ways even I was not distraught (their upset, not mine). When I landed a publisher for my book a dear one told me my writing is shitty (their upset, not mine).

I’ve learned that when I play big there are significant forces to stop me. There are some people close to me, and others further afield, that desperately want me to play small. Some are explicit, while others are insidious, telling me nice things, while sliding in wee jabs here and there. (They aren’t courageous enough to acknowledge that their upset is their own.) Even more insidious is how these external voices collude with my own inner critic voices, working very hard to convince me to keep my head down and play small. 

I’ve learned that when I play big there are significant forces to stop me.

In many ways that count, I’ve not been putting my head down. I’ve made big choices for myself and stuck with them despite forces (in others and myself) to have me shrink back to what I was. A few desperately need me to shrink because they are not comfortable with my growth and the accountability I ask of them. All I know is that their need for me to shrink is their need, whatever the reason—and I most palpably feel it. The result: we no longer have close relationships because to do so means I have to shrink to meet them in their no-growing zone. 

Choose not the sterility of safety, but brave space to live into where we are going. 

I choose relationships where we are honest with each other and choose not the sterility of safety, but brave space to live into where we are going. I choose relationships where our bigness is welcomed, not threatening. I choose relationships where we hold each other accountable for the consequences of our actions (harm happens, intended or not.) I choose relationships where we each are doing the emotional labour to be our best selves. I choose relationships where we remain open-hearted to the mistakes we all make. Me included. 

I’m powering up. 

Do want to power up with me? Who are you powering up to be? 






Citizen superheroes are on the inside


There are citizen superpowers in each of us. We become citizen superheroes when we choose to use them. And after choosing to exercise your citizen superhero muscles, we need to practice, practice, practice…

The more you use your citizen superpowers, the more you will be comfortable with them, and the more you can handle the fight-or-flight parts of your brain that try to sabotage your deeper knowing despite the fact that you face no real threat (see Citizen Superpowers for more).

Here are your citizen superpowers, and they come right from the parts of your brain that are not about fight-or-flight:

  1. Explore with great curiosity and an open mind
  2. Empathize with yourself and others with compassion and understanding to any situation
  3. Innovate and create new perspectives and outside-the-box solutions
  4. Navigate and choose a path that best aligns with your deeper underlying values and mission
  5. Activate and take decisive action without the distress, interference, or distractions of the Saboteurs

Once you choose to practice these powers, then you grow your abilities to be skilful and wise in their application. Your actions will be large and small. Never mind the size – that you use your powers is the most important thing. Practice, practice, practice.

Find what is important to you and work on it. You are not the kind of superhero that swoops in and saves other people. You are the kind of superhero that looks after what you think needs to be worked on. Your passion is what drives you. It comes from the inside of you, not what others need of you.

YOU are your superhero.


(For more on Citizen Superpowers, see yesterday’s edition of the Nest City News , or the Nest City Blog post of couple weeks ago).