Embracing Your True Self

Today is National Coming Out Day. It takes place in October, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender History Month. So a chance to dip into the commencement address archives for poignant story of coming out and embracing the pain and failure that sadly accompanies it too often.

Ellen Degeneres is one of my favourite comediennes. I think American society has come a long way since networks small-mindedly ripped the delightful “Ellen” sitcom (that we diligently watched each week of its run) from the viewing schedule after her coming out announcement.

Ellen Degeneres graduated not only from the “school of hard knocks” (“our mascot was the Knockers”) including losing a girlfriend to a car accident. But most prominent is the intense, high-impact pressure piled on her for her sexual orientation and the huge toll her authenticity took on her life (thanks Dave)…

  • “I decided to come out and make it creative. And my character would come out at the same time, and it wasn’t to make a political statement, it wasn’t to do anything other than to free myself up from this heaviness that I was carrying around. And I just wanted to be honest. And I thought ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ I could lose my career. I did. I lost my career. The show was cancelled after 6 years (without even telling me, I read it in the paper). The phone didn’t ring for three years. I had no offers, nobody wanted to touch me at all. And yet I was getting letters from kids that almost committed suicide but didn’t because of what I did. And I realize that I had a purpose. And it wasn’t about me and it wasn’t about celebrity. I felt like I was being punished. It was a bad time. I was angry. I was sad. And then I was offered a talk show. And the people who offered me the talk show tried to sell it and most stations didn’t want to pick it up. Most people didn’t want to buy it because they thought that no one would watch me. And really when I look back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was so important for me to lose everything because I found out that what was important was to be true to yourself. And ultimately that’s what has gotten me to this place.”

This Error is a Sign of Love

Otter ice crack

  • "Man has to seek God in error and forgetfulness and foolishness." — Meister Eckhart

National Poetry Day today. No shortage of verse embracing failure. In fact, this very blog started with a poem. Today’s selection was referenced by Patrick O’Neil’s sermon “Coded for Error”.

This Error is the Sign of Loveby Lewis Hyde

  • This error is the sign of love, the crack in the ice where the otters breathe,
    the tear that saves a man from power,
    the puff of smoke blown down the chimney one morning, and the widower sighs and
    gives up his loneliness,
    the lines transposed in the will so the widow must scatter coins from the cliff instead
    of ashes and she marries again, for love,
    the speechlessness of lovers that forces them to leave it alone while it sends up its
    first pale shoot like an onion sprouting in the pantry,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The leak in the nest, the hole in the coffin,
    the crack in the picture plate a young girl fills with her secret life to survive the grade school,
    the retarded twins who wanter house to house, eating, ’til the neighbors have become neighbors.
    The teacher’s failings in which the students ripen,
    Luther’s fit in the choir, Darwin’s dyspepsia, boy children stuttering in the gunshop,
    boredom, shyness, bodily discomforts like long rows of white stones at the edge of the highway,
    blown head gaskets, darkened choir lofts, stolen kisses,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The nickel in the butter churn, the farthing in the cake,
    the first reggae rhythms like seasonal cracks in a government building,
    the rain-damaged instrument that taught us the melodies of black emotion and red and yellow emotion,
    the bubble of erotic energy escaped from a marriage and a week later the wife dreams of a tiger,
    the bee that flies into the guitar and hangs transfixed in the sound of sound ’til all his
    wetness leaves him and he rides that high wind to the Galapagos,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The fault in the sea floor where the fish linger and mate,
    the birthmark that sets the girl apart and years later she alone of the sisters finds her calling,
    Whitman’s idiot brother whom he fed luke the rest of us,
    those few seconds Bréton fell asleep and dreamed of a pit of sand with the water starting to flow,
    the earth’s wobbling axis uncoiling seasons–seed that need six months of drought,
    flowers shaped for the tongues of moths, summertime
    and death’s polarized light caught beneath the surface of Florentine oils,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The beggar buried in the cathedral,
    the wisdom-hole in the façade of the library,
    the hail storm in a South Dakota town that started the Farmers’ Cooperative in 1933,
    the Sargasso Sea that gives false hope to sailors and they sail one and find a new world,
    the picnic basket that slips overboard and leads to the invention of the lobster trap,
    the one slack line in a poem where the listener relaxes and suddenly the poem is in
    your heart like a fruit wasp in an apple,
    this error is the sign of love!

God is in the details. Humanity is in the errors.

The Courage to Embrace Mental Frailty



National Depression Screening Day 2016 in the USA is a nationwide initiative sponsored by Screening for Mental Health who have developed educational programmes , and provide screening for common behavioural and mental health disorders and suicide. Two of my favourite discussions on the subject provide an inspired perspective on the challenges both tinged with lessons of embracing this adversity instead of running or hiding from it…

  • Kevin Breel TED Talk “Confessions of a Depressed Comic” – “It’s the stigma inside of others, it’s the shame, it’s the embarrassment, it’s the disapproving look on a friend’s face, it’s the whispers in the hallway that you’re weak, it’s the comments that you’re crazy. That’s what keeps you from getting help. That’s what makes you hold it in and hide it. It’s the stigma…Depression is okay. If you’re going through it, know that you’re okay. And know that you’re sick, you’re not weak, and it’s an issue, not an identity, because when you get past the fear and the ridicule and the judgment and the stigma of others, you can see depression for what it really is, and that’s just a part of life, just a part of life, and as much as I hate, as much as I hate some of the places, some of the parts of my life depression has dragged me down to, in a lot of ways I’m grateful for it. Because yeah, it’s put me in the valleys, but only to show me there’s peaks, and yeah it’s dragged me through the dark but only to remind me there is light. My pain, more than anything in 19 years on this planet, has given me perspective, and my hurt, my hurt has forced me to have hope, have hope and to have faith, faith in myself, faith in others, faith that it can get better, that we can change this, that we can speak up and speak out and fight back against ignorance, fight back against intolerance, and more than anything, learn to love ourselves, learn to accept ourselves for who we are, the people we are, not the people the world wants us to be. Because the world I believe in is one where embracing your light doesn’t mean ignoring your dark. The world I believe in is one where we’re measured by our ability to overcome adversities, not avoid them. The world I believe in is one where I can look someone in the eye and say, ‘I’m going through hell,’ and they can look back at me and go, ‘Me too,’ and that’s okay, and it’s okay because depression is okay. We’re people. We’re people, and we struggle and we suffer and we bleed and we cry, and if you think that true strength means never showing any weakness, then I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. You’re wrong, because it’s the opposite. We’re people, and we have problems. We’re not perfect, and that’s okay. So we need to stop the ignorance, stop the intolerance, stop the stigma, and stop the silence.”
  • David Baddiel Sunday Times interview It’s not soft to say you’re depressed. It’s hard as hell”: “Another model of the depression-prone male: young, working class, often not from London, and with no template for talking about the disease – indeed, no sense of what it is at all…But there are legions of men out there for whom depression is a sign only of unmanliness. Suicide – particularly killing yourself by hanging (the most, for want of a better word, popular form) – can conform with something tragic, even glamorous in the mind of the man searching for manliness…I would contend that this is one of the most acutely necessary interventions of our age, not just because male depression is an epidemic, but also because the inability of men to talk about negative emotions – to discuss how in their own minds they don’t feel like men – is what drives some into the arms of movements like Isis…The most important thing is somehow to get the message out that an admission of mental frailty is manly: it’s manly because it is courageous.”

Embracing People Who Disagree with US


A different sort of quadrennial competition for the top spot is into the final round now – the US Presidential Election – with the nominee Debates starting tonight. This particular election has culminated a decades long trend of increasing acrimony and divisiveness.

As the bitterness and mud-slinging was well-documented to have started on the Republican side (eg. Nixon’s Southern Strategy), it is inspiring to hear a Conservative make the appeal for more civility and collaboration with Arthur Brooks TED talk, “A conservative’s plea: Let’s work together”…

  • “Action item number one: remember, it’s not good enough just to tolerate people who disagree. It’s not good enough. We have to remember that we need people who disagree with us, because there are people who need all of us who are still waiting for these tools…Number two: I’m asking you and I’m asking me to be the person specifically who blurs the lines, who is ambiguous, who is hard to classify. If you’re a conservative, be the conservative who is always going on about poverty and the moral obligation to be a warrior for the poor. And if you’re a liberal, be a liberal who is always talking about the beauty of free markets to solve our problems when we use them responsibly.”

It is tempting to want to block our Friends and Followers who sit on a different side of the political spectrum, but actually, I learn more from my contrarians than I do from memes which reflect how I already feel. Posts rom the other side of the issue make me re-examine the principles and evidence behind my personal stance. It forces me to understand where that person is coming from to identify common-ground and bridges to compromise.


Embracing Collapse


Two of the heroes of the Olympics demonstrated what humility is all about at the conclusion of the Triathlon World Series in Mexico this week. With brother Jonny I the lead when he succumbed to near collapse, his brother Alistair, in second position, came to his aid. Jonny recounted in a great BBC Interview

  • “’Alistair had the chance to win but threw that away to help me out,’ said Jonny, who led the race until temperatures of 33C got the better of him around 1.5km from the end. ‘I’ll be thankful for the rest of my life. Obviously it takes a very strong and good person to do that. Sometimes in sport we talk about winning being the most important thing in the world. A lot of times it is, but maybe helping a brother out was more important.’"

Heroism and Humility


Olympics season concludes for another year, but not without a packed legacy of inspiration and riveting moments. One that will make the highlight films for years was Marcia Malsar’s torch carrying. One of the most moving moments since Muhammad Ali’s entry in Atlanta. Adam Hill said it best on The Last Leg in his inimitably cheeky yet heartfelt way…

  • For me that sums up the Paralympic spirit because it is a reminder that every single elite athlete here is also fragile. It’s like a mix of heroism and humility. What I love the most is that the next runner didn’t go up and say ‘it’s okay, I’ve got this’. Though part of that is that the next runner was blind and so didn’t see what happened.”

Sort of the embodiment of this blog. Rise each time you fall. And balance heroism (leadership) with humility (management).

Perfect 10

Olympic Gold

The Olympics season wraps up this weekend with another record haul of gold medals for Great Britain the stupendous Paralympics Games in Rio. Already the TV shows a packed with interviewed quizzing the athletes on the secrets to their success. And a recurring (albeit underlying) theme will be …Leadership and Management.

A fine illustration of the role Leadership and Management plays comes from Mike Pegg, himself a professional coach. Mike often starts his coaching engagements with exploring the “Picture of Perfection”, but I particularly appreciate his story of Peter Vidmar (“5 Tips for Enabling Peak Performance in the Workplace Using Proven Olympic Coaching Technique”), 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, who articulated the path to perfection in his world…

  • “Looking back at how his event was scored in those days, he describes the steps people took to score the Perfect 10, which was first achieved by Nadia Comaneci in Montreal. Firstly, they must achieve the Olympic standard of technical competence. This often took years of dedication and would give them the 9.4. They could then add 0.2 by taking a risk; 0.2 by demonstrating originality – something that had never been done before; and 0.2 by showing virtuosity – flair. Such a brilliant performance would produce the Perfect 10 and, hopefully, the Olympic Gold.”

I like this numerical model because of how much weight it puts on “Management”. I have often decried people who dismiss “Management” in favour of “Leadership” obsession. I think this model appropriate frames Malcolm Gladwell’s famous “10,000 Hours”. Yes (barring some prodigy-like outlier bestowal of assets), 10,000 hours might be required for world-class excellence, but it is not a guarantee of ultimate success to dreams of medals, championships, fame and fortune. Instead it is the table-stakes entry-fee for having a shot at the big prize.

But this model doesn’t trivialise “Leadership”. The difference between an Olympic athlete with and without “Leadership” (ie. the 0.6 points) is the difference between medalling and obscurity. The other element I appreciate about this piece is that the “0.2” for “Risk” could also be re-dubbed “Luck”.

Leaders find the 0.6 of original, risk-taking virtuosity, Managers secure the 9.4 standard of excellence.