the bricks and mortar of personality

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New Orleans seems a chill out, fun loving city. It’s French heritage giving it a relax and ‘take it easy’ style, which it marries with a party hard and ‘be who you are’ mentality. It’s unique, it knows it and it’s proud to be who it is.

Memphis seemed a city proud of its heritage – it’s musical and black freedom roots at its heart. Yet somehow stuck there, in its past. Desperately holding on. Maybe scared or unable to change?

Boston seemed a confident city. Wise, relaxed and fun loving. Proud of its foundations and confident of its place, yet not shouty. Not, ‘come look at me’.

Washington seemed noble. Clean, sharp dressed, well presented. DC knows its role and presents itself with dignity, as if putting on a good show for the parents. It’s not forced though, just befitting of its status.

Nashville, it seemed to me was trying to grow up. Musically the home of country, now trying to become a modern city. And in that growing up, a little confused. Like any teenager.

Chicago seemed to carry a weight. Heavy. It seemed to be trying, perhaps too hard? Architecturally a little confused. Working city, tourist city, modern city, industrial city. Its race to build taller, seeming, in contrast to Boston, to be a ‘look at me’ stance, almost like the second child.

Cities seem to have personalities, like us.

Personalities grounded in their past, like us.

And if our personality doesn’t fit our city, I guess we move on? Or rebuild ourselves?

‘don’t walk’ growing pains

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We’re all standing, looking at the red hand. There are no cars. The road is just two lanes. Yet we stand and wait. Waiting for the ‘walk’ sign. To be told it is safe to cross.

We think that we’re grown up just because we’ve hit adulthood, have flown the nest, or because we’ve taken on a position of leadership in our organisation.

But so many of us are still looking for parents who can save us from life’s difficulty, confirm the right course of action, or who can tell us we’re doing ok.

As long as we’re looking for parents, we expect the leaders of our organisations, or others in society to know what to do, to know all the answers, to tell us what’s needed, and to rescue us. We hold back from speaking truth or acting confidently because we’re scared they’ll judge us or reject us. Meanwhile, they’re scared they will get found out; found wanting. So they are happy to parent us. To be seen as wise and all knowing.

And in this parental game, we blame them for sticking to their rigid parental ways. And, when things don’t turn out the way we want them, we blame them for failing us, instead of stepping up and taking action and responsibility ourselves. We give up our capacity for independent thought so we can keep ourselves in a dependent, child-like role.

And they, for their part, give up truly leading. Instead they parent, patronise and push change, to show they know best.

All of this is happening even at the most senior levels of multi-national organisations, because – it turns out – being senior, and being grown up, are not the same thing.

It explains much about why change can be so difficult in organisations. Why we fail to own our own change and why we have created an industry called ‘change management’ – like all that’s needed are more parents.

All of this makes the ongoing task of adult development so critical for each of us and for our organisations. Truly growing into ourselves, being ourselves and growing up is challenging work. But it means we can become self confident and genuinely be adults in the world – without relying on a saviour.

And once we can act like responsible grown ups, that allows us to take collective responsibility first for our institutions, and then for our society as a whole.

Then we can walk.

growing down

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Mostly we go through life growing up.

We get older. We learn from experience. We generally therefore get wiser. We get more aware, more tolerant, more reasoned.  We have knowledge, wisdom and experience on our side. So we can make better decisions, better choices. We can be balanced, measured, sage.

Maybe?

A A Milne’s book “Now we are six” is a wonderful collection of children’s poems that ends with this verse…

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever

A child’s logic. A child’s wisdom.

The problem is we don’t stay six, now and forever. We become, seven, fifteen, twenty six, fifty one, seventy three. At each stage of ‘growing’ we take on more rigidity, more stuckness, more ‘one way’ thinking. Life experience actually binds us. We learn rules, habits, behaviours, beliefs which constrain our potential.

Take a challenge you face today. Maybe it’s about money, time, work, relationships?

How would a six year old face this? What creative, unbounded, imaginative solutions come from the naive, inexperienced, free mind of a child?

Anything is possible. Maybe adults should start growing down? Going back to the free, unencumbered wisdom of childhood.

Maybe we all need to stay six forever?

 

just who is the dinosaur?

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In my childhood I vaguely recall a film called ‘The land that time forgot’. Something about dinosaurs still thriving on a long lost island that a submarine, full of people, stumbles upon. The tale largely about their struggle to survive. I doubt it was a classic.

In our own lifetime though, we too forget such strange lands from our distant past. The land where play is everything. Where time has no meaning. Where larger inhabitants set the rules and look after us. Care free. A land where train rides are a wild adventure, long before we come to terms with commuting. A land where owning wellies with heels that light up, having chocolate cake, or getting stickers, is both thrilling and fulfilling. A land where magic prospers and wonder thrives.

For many, a happy time. Exploration and discovery, learning, fun, play, all at the heart of our daily existence. Our aspirations are simple.

Then we become adults. We struggle in this strange new land, working hard to earn money to buy possessions, or to save for a holiday to get us through. We sleep little. We struggle with worry and anxiety. Relationships are hard. Friendships move on line, with electronic photos and status updates a proxy for being together, as we were when we were six. Real living a film story, with plot and dramatic twist and turn. We drink too much to cope. Work too hard to play.

Childhood fun and freedom. A world of play, experimentation, learning.

The land that adults forgot?

 

 

run, hide, tell

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I have just been signposted to the Government’s stay safe advice in the threat of armed terrorist attack.

In a nutshell, run, hide, tell.

Run away, if that option exists without risking further danger to yourself
Hide somewhere if you can’t run
Tell someone official where the threat is

I don’t seek to disparage what might be necessary advice to keep me and others safe, but I was immediately transported back to the age of six.

I was in a field at the back of my house playing hide and seek with some friends. As the seeker I held my hands over my eyes whilst my playmates ran to their hastily identified hiding place. Like most six year olds, I peeked through my fingers. Only peeked mind, because if they could see my eyes they would know I was looking. My friends ran, randomly. No plan of where to hide, just run away from the seeker as quickly as possible and then, once a safe distance away, look for somewhere safe to hide. As seeker we would prowl the area, hastily darting between the same places they hid last time and the time before. Always looking for a shoddily concealed arm, or a careless toe, peeking out from the impromptu hiding place. Then we would tell. Shout out where they were, or run back ‘home’ to declare them found.

I was struck by the transportation of those skills the child in us takes into adulthood.

Running. Running from difficulty. From inner truths. From facing ourselves. Running from others. From uncomfortable situations. Running from feelings. From inner voices. From fears.

Hiding. Assuming that if I don’t look at you, you can’t see me. We do this all the time. Not literally. Not peeking through slitted fingers. But not showing our true selves, for fear of being truly seen.

Telling. Seeing a part of someone, like the carelessly exposed arm or toe from the child’s game, but as adults seeing one action, one behaviour, one socio-economic or cultural badge, one gender or sexual preference and ‘telling’ others who that person is or where they are hiding. Judging. Exposing them.

Run, Hide, Tell.

Childlike simplicity.
Safety in the face of terrorism.
Safety in the very humanness of our humanity.