I found myself in the company of people a couple weeks ago who completely understand and respect others’ needs to set limits and boundaries for themselves, so we can enable each other to show up well. In the language of The Circle Way, this is the “ask for what you need” agreement. In reflection, I have learned that I am not always quick enough to realize what I need, let alone ask for it. I didn’t.
Here’s what happened. We circled up for a board meeting for a few days and we had a lot on our agenda so we met for long, full days. On day one, I got up early to maintain my morning practice of writing and walking. On day two I was feeling under the weather, so I chose to sleep in the morning. Still under the weather on day three I chose to sleep. My ability to function and contribute lessened and lessened with each day both because of not feeling well, but also because I did not give myself the things that nourish me every day: time to exercise and fresh air and time alone to write and read.
Over the last several years I have become more introverted; I need more time alone to figure out what I think and feel about things. A day full of other people (including mornings and evenings), let alone several days, is a challenge to my inner well-being. I need time alone to look after my introvert so I can be my best self, for me and others. Without this time my energy stores deplete and my ability to be my best self declines.
I need time alone to look after my introvert so I can be my best self, for me and others.
Last week I didn’t take the initiative to make more time for myself, or to ask for our work schedule to change to allow more spaciousness. This opportunity to reflect has allowed me to see two underlying ideas.
First idea: I want to be in the room where it happens. Just like Aaron Burr in the Broadway hit Hamilton, I want to be there when great stuff happens. I don’t want to miss out on anything and I want to be a part of everything. If something neat is happening, I want to be a part of it.
Second idea: my needs are not as important as others’ needs. In my drive to be in the room where it happens, I fear rocking the boat, or letting other people down by either proposing something preposterous, or by simply not being available when needed.
Our meeting was productive and meaningful. It was a challenging time for us and we met each other well and yet I feel that for me, and how I show up for myself, there is room for improvement. How can I spend days with others, from dawn into the evening, in ways that maintain or even increase my energy stores?
Two contrasting shapes of how to spend three days together come to mind:
Here are five simple ideas about organizing full days of meeting:
Understand the purpose of the gathering at all scales: the reason to gather, the intention for each day and each chunk of time in each day.
Identify expectations and outcomes for the gathering that include both the tasks of the work and needs of the people to do that work. What kind of spaciousness is needed for what purpose?
Start a bit later than usual to allow for the spaciousness of life in the morning (checking email or social media, exercise or meditation).
Decide what works best for lunch and supper breaks. Is it a short break so the day can end early? Is it a longer break for spaciousness? Is the spaciousness needed before the meal or after? Are we sitting down together or can individuals go off on their own to eat?
Designate chunks of time for the whole group to meet. When does everyone need to be together? When can people work on their own schedule? Remember: the days do not have to be the same.
Unscheduled time in our lives helps us do our work. Over a few days of meeting, it is essential to find play time both with others and alone. It helps a group be its best self. When we look away from the tasks at hand, for a moment even, we can see what needs to be done more clearly.
Unscheduled time in our lives helps us do our work.
In my case, I learned that I need to let go of the need to be in the room where it happens and give myself space to discern which room I want to be in. Further, I need to make room for the work to work me, for this is how I find my way, how I figure out what and how to contribute to the world around me.
Asking for what I need is about enabling myself to be me.
How do you make room for you to be you, for “it” to happen?
I’ve noticed lately that the work I do is invisible to most people.
Last weekend I played a lead role as MC and hosted generative conversations at the Council for Canadian Urbanists annual CanU Summit–I was not the topic of conversation. I provided little content and set people up to meet each other and explore how to move their work forward. While they got into conversation and the room buzzed and hummed, I tended to their well-being in invisible ways.
A highlight of the Summit was the conversation I hosted between Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and neighbouring Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin. In the conversation, the Mayor proposed a new national aboriginal museum that made the headlines. The picture that appeared in the newspaper is the Mayor and Chief sharing a laugh, as it should be. Only my microphone and paper are visible in the bottom right corner.
Earlier this month I co-costed two conversations with citizens, business, government and community leaders about how the city learns–and how we can embrace being a city of learners. I found myself, as part of the hosting team, setting them up to make learning habitats, enabling them to identify and embody the living city systems of which they are a part. They did the work, they provided the content and they made meaning of their work. My content was invisible. It was not even my job to make meaning of their work: it was their work to do.
Nine years ago I walked away from a high-profile job in city hall and shelved the ambition that fuelled my ability to sustain that work. At the CanU Summit I watched the movers and shakers move and shake. I was out of the frame as the Mayor and Chief had a moving conversation. I was looking after plates and spilled coffee as my city figured out how it learns. I have to admit that my ego has a hard time being content with invisibility.
I’ve been wondering, what does the invisibility have to say? Here’s the response:
CONtent vs. conTENT
What are the gifts of invisibility? What is the CONtent I have to offer about invisibility? I realize that the invisible is asking to be made visible, and I also realize that I’ve been making the invisible visible these last few weeks in a series of blog posts. Here’s what I’ve seen and shared over the last few weeks.
A big lesson from a participant in a workshop who felt lost and couldn’t find her place in an unfamiliar way of collective listening (listening through World Cafe vs surveys or interviews): I am only one voice in many. (Making meaning as a system).
The feeling of being invisible is part of what we have to grapple with to create cities and communities that will thrive for each and all of us.
Where do you find meaning in your invisibility?
Note – This post was published in Nest City News on September 30, 2016.
At the heart of these questions is our relationship with ourselves–and whether we believe we have the smarts and ability to do what we are called to do. The question beneath the questions: do we believe in ourselves?
The question beneath the questions: do we believe in ourselves?
The beliefs we hold about ourselves shape our relationship with the world around us at every scale (self, family, neighbourhood, organization, city, nation, species). If I believe I have all the answers–and no-one else out there has anything to add–then I set myself up as the expert. If I believe I am incapable of figuring things out for myself then I rely on the directions of others. I am a knower, a teller and a fixer, or someone who does not know, needs to be told, needs to be fixed.
In contrast, if I believe that I don’t have all the answers, that together we will find the right questions and answers, then I contribute to the creation of habitats where we explore questions and discern right action. If I believe that I am capable, with all that I know and don’t know right now, I rely on my–and our–self direction. I contribute to our ability to see together rather than defer to others, and take action together. I am a learner and I help others be learners too.
When I look at myself and the world around me with a lens of scarcity I see all that is wrong. I see that there isn’t enough, there never will be enough, and that there are things to be fixed everywhere. This leads me to a stance where I prefer control, even though I have no control, as well as a stance where I take whatever I can because it might run out. I hoard information. I hoard goods. I hoard relationships. I accumulate all that I can because somehow it will protect me from what I am most afraid of: not having. Worse yet, I believe myself to be not good enough, in need of being fixed, usually expecting others to do the fixing.
When I look at myself and the world around me with a lens of abundance I see all the possibility inherently within each of us. Scarcity distracts us from being who we are because it tells us what is wrong with us. It does not answer, let alone pose the question, “who am I?” Abundance is a stance where I believe in myself and others. Further, it requires me to trust that who I am, and what I have, is more than enough. I don’t need to be “fixed”, but rather to continue my never-ending journey of learning who I am and who we are. Where scarcity constricts, abundance invites our expansion as citizens and as a species.
Where scarcity constricts, abundance invites our expansion as citizens and as a species.
This is about mindset–about me and my world. Do I choose a stance where everything is wrong and begs to be fixed, or do I choose a stance full of trust? I choose the latter, driven by a desire to improve, rather than fix, the world.
The distinction between improve and fix is significant. A fix is simple, mechanical and linear, and keeps us in the present, perhaps the past (we spend great energy fixing things that are no longer a problem). An improvement, in contrast, is more complicated and complex and reaches for a better future. Where a fix can be finished like a task on a check-list, improvements are continuous. Where a fix may be a destination, an improvement is about moving in a direction that will get more clear over time. Where a fix assumes brokenness, improvement accepts that something is not good enough and moves us along.
As we work in our cities this is an important distinction. When we trust what is happening we grow in whole new ways that provide everyone with what they need.
Does the work you do feed your soul or your desire to distract yourself from yourself?
I notice the thrill of consuming, and the indulgence and addictive feelings that surface in me when buying and acquiring new things. (I’m thinking of addiction here as “an unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something (Merriam-Webster).”) I recognize in me the cravings, compulsion, and fixation to consume. I know I can be weak when there is a new shiny object that I feel I need, or I feel will fill me with joy, but truly do not need and the joy will be fleeting, if I am honest with myself. So I have been observing my consumption of goods, wondering what the word consumption really means.
Consumption as a noun:
the act or process of consuming: by using up (use, utilization, expenditure, depletion, exhaustion), or waste (squandering, draining, dissipation)
the utilization of economic goods in the satisfaction of wants or in the process of production resulting in their destruction, deterioration, or transformation
a progressive wasting away of the body especially from pulmonary tuberculosis
To consume as a verb:
to do away with completely: destroy
to spend wastefully: squander
to use up
to eat or drink, especially in great quantity
to enjoy avidly: devour
to engage fully: engross
to utilize as a customer
This word carries a lot with it. It can mean simply the using of something and it can also mean the wasting and destroying and elimination of something. It can also mean the physical wasting away of humans. I propose this: when we use economic goods with a fixation that feeds our cravings and compulsions, we are creating the conditions for our own wasting away.
When we use economic goods with a fixation that feeds our cravings and compulsions, we are creating the conditions for our own wasting away.
In economic terms, consumption is the using of things, of economic goods. But the goods we use–and the work we do to create those goods–are always in relation to our physical habitat. If we are in a poor relationship with the world around us we will deplete it, we will consume it and in so doing we will waste away. If we are in a good relationship with the world around us we will shift and adjust our work to be responsible and responsive to both our needs and the needs of our habitat. When addicted to consuming we are in an unhealthy relationship with our habitat, unable to see that we are fowling our nest. “Consumption” can be the measure of what we use, or it can be a significant–and harmful–distraction from the interrelationships we have with the physical, social and economic habitats around us.
This question of how much we consume is related to the work we choose to do because our work is either driven from our soul, when we do the work that we know we are called to do, or is work driven by how we want to appear to the outside world. The latter is driven by status, by having and accumulating, by keeping up with the Joneses, and with endless consumption. The latter also results in people doing work they don’t want to be doing because they need to pay the bills that come with endless consumption.
The work we do creates our cities, and if the work we do feeds addictive consumption we are creating cities that are, and will, waste away. The habitat we make for ourselves is only as good as we choose to make it. The work we choose shapes our cities–it is a survival skill. This means that if the work we each choose is based in addictive consumption we are harming our city and ourselves. The choice: feed our addictions or feed the habitat that will feed us.
The choice: feed our addictions or feed the habitat that will feed us.
I recognize that addictions are hard to kick. Here’s another economic term to consider: opportunity cost,the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. While consuming goods with abandon I abandon who I am. I consume to feel more like me but it is a trick because it takes me away from me. Consuming connects me to the material world outside me but it also distracts me from my inner world, where I connect with myself and find the work that I truly want to be doing. The same thing happens at the scale of the city. The more we work with abandon, to consume more and more, we are distracted from who we truly are and the work we truly want to be doing. You know this.
Does the work you do feed your soul or your desire to distract yourself from your Self?
Does the work you do feed your soul or your desire to distract yourself from your Self? If you are distracting yourself, you are contributing to your own wasting away, and our wasting away.
I propose mindful consumption. I propose that a citizen that serves the city well is one that is doing the work s/he loves to do. That citizen consumes what s/he needs, s/he takes what s/he needs, and leaves the rest for others. S/he is ever more mindful of how the choices made affect our economic, social and physical habitats. S/he is every more self-aware of mindless action and not so easily distracted from where s/he fits in the world.
Finding work that feels right is both complicated and simple. It is complicated because it can be hard to find. It’s complicated to figure out what we want to do for our work, and then complicated to find the right job, one that suits us and our aspirations. It feels simple when we’ve found it, when we look back and can see it was clear all along, even when we weren’t looking.
For a few years now I’ve been exploring what our work means in our cities and I’ve landed on the understanding that our work is the force that generates cities. Our work matters to our cities because it creates them; it shapes our economic life, our social habitats and our physical habitats.
We are each meant to contribute to our cities through our work. But what is the work we are each meant to contribute? How do we know if we are doing the work we are meant to do? I’ve noticed two things that help me notice if the work I am doing is truly mine to do.
First, work that depletes me is not my work to do. Even if I am good at that work, if it takes energy from me it is time to let it go. It is the work that gives me energy that is the right work to do. This is a simple and staggering realization. It is the work that fuels me that is worthy of being done by me.
If your work depletes you it is not your work to do. (Choose work that fuels your being.)
Second, work done from a place of panic and urgency is from a place of fear and mistrust. There are times when urgency is necessary, when lives are threatened or harm to others is immanent. For most of us this is not the case, yet we behave as if it were. Many of us do work that we believe will not be done if we don’t do it. The opposite would be to trust that with others, all the work that needs to be done will be covered.
Do the work that is yours to do and trust that, with others, all the work that needs to be done will be done.
All the work that needs to be done in the world can not be done by any of us alone. Moreover, we all have different skills and interests, and we have different passions and purposes to pursue in our work. If we trust in this, we make room for ourselves to take very unselfish action and do the work that is authentically ours to do. In doing this, we make the world a better place.
There is a voice inside each of us that tells us about the work we are meant to do. It is in the classes we loved in school. It is in the games we love(d) to play. It is in our hobbies. It is in the things that thrill us. Our duty is not to do the things that someone else says we ought to do, but in figuring out the work we are meant to do.
I am convinced of this: the essence of who we are as mall children gets obscured as we age. The journey of work is to find the lost parts of ourselves and stitch them into the lives we live. This might take years or decades, even a lifetime, yet the time it takes is not a reflection of our worth. The value is in noticing we are on a journey.
At 46 years old I recognize that my own journey unfolds in stages; just when I think I know who I am an the work I am to be doing a wrinkle comes along to nudge (or knock) me into the next stage of my journey. I can feel, though often in ways I can not articulate with words, the direction in which I am moving.
Now as I look at my life story I wonder at how I missed some of the clues, though I recognize that there was no other journey for me to take. I now pay more attention and I can better see the hints and synchronicities that feel like my soul sends to me about where I’m going and the work that’s mine to do. When I pay attention it’s far simpler.
We signed a 30-page contract with a client last week, full of legal details and formalities. It took about 10 minutes to sign it all. As I was getting the corporate seal and my fancy blue pen all ready to do their work, I realized that this formal contract is not as important as the contracts behind the contract. Continue reading Learning journey contracts
I didn’t know it, but this time nine years ago, I was almost ready to leave my dream job. While full of adrenaline and ambition, it was no longer nourishing me, but I wasn’t ready to let go. Little did I know I was putting the psychological pieces in place to set out on my own. Continue reading Follow what resonates and sparks
One morning last week I noticed the ground shifting.
As the fog lifted while I completed my morning ceremony at the top of my city’s riverbank, I decided to harvest some of the wee bit of sage there. After starting to collect it, I realized I need to make an offering. I stood up. Took a breath.
I offer the gift of clear seeing.
Then I noticed that some of the sage, and even the land on which I have placed a foot, is starting its descent into the river valley. The land is drifting.
I offer the gift of clear seeing when things are drifting.
After a few moments, I walk away, to make my way to my work day. My mind drifts to an affirmation that has been nagging at me for many months, testing me to see if it is still true, about my ability to see cities. I’ve been asking myself if my work has anything to do with cities anymore.
I notice a truck in the driveway of a home nearing completion of its construction. The name of the company on the truck:
Glass: a lens or optical instrument; a mirror; a drinking vessel; a greenhouse or cold frame; a window or windowpane; a barometer; a hard, brittle substance usually transparent or translucent made by fusing sand with soda and lime and cooling rapidly. Glass is something we see through. Cities are something I see through, even when drifting.
As glass can be shaped to be a vessel for drinking, the city is a vessel for its citizens. Or the city is a way to see citizens, society, who we are and what makes us tick. This is what I see and understand. This is my work.
Today, I notice that the answer to my question about the role of cities and city-thinking in my life came to me when I gave it time. Over the summer, my visits to the river valley have been rare, but it is in this time, in this place, that the understanding came to me. The place from which I asked the question is where the answer came, both the physical place, and the mental, emotional and spiritual place.
The city and I are deepening our relationship with each other.
I ‘see’ all this about myself as the fog that hovers over Edmonton lifts. And as I make my way through the streets and alleys back to my home, I have to make several detours to avoid a gas leak and the many crews of the utility company tending to essential infrastructure. A foundational piece of my part of the city had shifted.
What is the essential gift you give to your city, allowing it to come out of the fog?
Three weeks ago today everything changed, 12 km behind the largest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, on a steep slope of unstable shale. Broken and wobbly leg bones. A fabulous EMT on holidays to take charge, layers of splints, 8 volunteers to carry a big man down to a helicopter waiting to get husband Peter to an ambulance, then a small hospital, then a large hospital for surgery. Angels of water kept us hydrated on a hot afternoon. Angels of strength carried our packs down the mountain for us to collect later. Angels of friendship, with big eyes, gave high-fives on their way by.
At long last, Peter found himself in the warehouse – a nursing station that looked like the halls of The Home Depot. Shelves of supplies in the corridor, nurses who showed up to do the bare minimum and left him to fend for himself. Swelling that means a 5 day wait for surgery will be delayed? Well, get the ice for yourself. Motrin to keep the swelling down? Well, we’ll only get that for you if you ask for it. The trick is, as with all do-it-yourself endeavours, it only works when you know what you are doing.
When you can’t move, you sit and wait, hoping for the best. In Peter’s case, he laid on a shelf, and someone came to dust him off now and then to check if he still had a pulse. Mostly, he hoped that no one forgot he was there and needed attention.
Then the call on day 6, on a minute’s notice, for surgery. In the operating room, purpose is clear. Here, what will happen is explained in detail. There is even a laugh – will they find a nail long enough to fit the long tibia bone in his leg (he’s 6’6″). Then he’s asleep and they get to work with a big nail, a drill, mallet, screws and a screwdriver. The power and hand tools of The Home Depot merge with the technology of X-ray vision to guide the work of deft hands to put things back in place and set Peter up for the needed mending.
The next day, as Peter hobbled about on one leg, he was tentative. He’d spent 6 days on his back, and the last time he was vertical he violently twisted himself into this predicament. As I watched, this question came to mind:
It is possible to hobble with confidence rather than fear?
I thought of the warehouse nurses. I have no idea if their indifference to their work is endemic to the whole hospital, or to their unit, but their lack of care was startling. Among the nursing staff, the disconnect from self and work was palpable. The collective disconnect was even more palpable. In contrast, a custodian was friendly and careful to make sure an extra chair arrived to accommodate our family of four. An orderly attending to another patient made sure a wheelchair fit Peter properly to get him to our car and take him home. The nurses didn’t help send him home well or safely at all. They were hobbling with a lack of confidence in their purpose to care for people waiting, in pain and discomfort, in the unknown.
As I watch Peter figure out his relationship with crutches, more questions come to mind:
What crutches are in my life?
When are crutches needed, not needed?
How do I know when I am done with crutches?
What crutches am I still using unnecessarily?
Do I even notice when I’ve gotten rid of them?
In many ways, the leg repair is do-it-yourself. Peter’s body will heal itself, but there are specific junctures where he needed the help and care of others. He couldn’t get off the mountain by himself. He couldn’t keep the swelling down by himself. He couldn’t get the bones in place by himself. In the weeks to come, he will test out his new leg, Mr. T he calls it. He will slowly put weight on the leg and see how he and Mr. T are going to get along.
He will slowly stop using the crutches.
Eventually he will throw the crutches away.
Then he will decide about going back to the mountain.
The more I write, the more I aim to say what I mean in as few words as possible. And the more I look at what others say and dig in to see what they really mean.
For example, this headline:
The words, “Citizens can’t be spectators in urban planning,” sparked two things in me.
First, the words do not tell us what citizens should be, a missed opportunity to reinforce the message of the article, that citizens must participate in the process of making cities that serve people well. This is as much about city governments involving citizens in decision making as it is about citizens simply getting involved. Citizens can get involved in the formal engagement process from city hall, and also take initiative to improve the city around them, in any way they see is needed. (Remember – work is the force that generates cities, so it is important!)
It’s easy, in our privileged corner of the world, to think that things are good, that we don’t need to engage ourselves in communal life around us. We have great disdain for corners of the world ruled by dictatorship, vaguely thankful that we live in a democracy. And even then, we often feel that our governments are distanced from us. At which point I ask this question: are you a spectator or are you engaged and participating in the city around you?
The second spark from this headline is the word spectatorship. If you are a spectator, you are contributing to the real dangers in our midst: apathy and indifference, even anger, usually served with a healthy dose of complaining. A spectator lets spectatorship rule. Remember, you have citizen superpowers at your disposal. The choice is yours.
Are you a participant in city life, or a spectator?