Back Story

U, Again

We straggled in, some familiar faces, some new, each finding coffee or the restrooms according to need. The conference room was familiar, comfortable. I settled into my seat, watching Kelvy move quietly at the board, and felt the rush — a sweet mix of nostalgia and new adventure.visual-final


One member of the Coaching Circle was puzzled about why I would be participating again. Didn’t I feel I had learned anything before? Why commit to all the coursework and readings for another year?  (I confess: I had been wondering the same thing as I struggled to catch up and align my week with the Thursday content releases.)

“It’s such rich and potent stuff. Once around isn’t enough to master these skills. Besides, I love the people,” I replied, gazing fondly at the grainy faces on my laptop screen.

Six people, four time zones, two continents. One big conversation. It was great to be back.


Sitting at lunch with a friend, I centered myself in the chair, focusing my entire being across the table. I quieted my head, opened my heart and listened deeply.

Heading home through the afternoon’s drizzle, I felt the combined effects of hard work and high reward. Listening well takes effort, but –oh– the effect! 


For a second year, I am enrolled in U.Lab: Leading from the Emerging Future, a course offered by Otto Scharmer and his team at the  Presencing Institute.

I’ve yet to craft a good elevator speech for this undertaking. How to distill a course dedicated to changing the world, one person at a time? Last year it went by “Transforming Business, Society and Self” – a title that grabbed me by the collar and sat me down, hard. I credit Theory U with giving me the conceptual, supportive shove I needed to launch myself into radio…among other things. 

I’ve written about the course here  and here , and a bunch of other places as well. It permeates. Dip a toe in here. You’ll see.


A Day in the Life

Star Date 2016.09.17

08:28 – I roll out of bed and into meditation. After a late and fitful night, I am grateful for the overcast skies that kept the light muted so I could sleep. The open window welcomes a gentle breeze and its wreath of birdsong.

11:04 – Eleven seems a little early for beer, but I’m diligent about our 100% ID check as we sell drink tickets for the street festival. I ignore the eye rolling and enjoy the casual banter. We’re a friendly foursome of random volunteers. The musicians on the stage behind us make any real conversation nearly impossible. We tap and bop along, their most reliably appreciative audience.

13:42 – The neighborhood is comparatively quiet as I put a mile between myself, beer tickets and the bands. Freshly paved streets give the air an acrid edge. I admire the smooth blackness with its occasional entombed leaf embellishments.

16:05 – Mic in hand, earphones on head, I draw passersby into conversations about curiosity. Parents with kids are my best bet, guys with beer, not so much. The man in the ape suit promoting the gym two booths down walks past and taps my mic, nodding inscrutably. I wonder how hot that hairy mask must be.

18:31 – In the cool blue light of the planetarium, I am grateful to be off my feet. The dome’s sky darkens, stars emerge and I am transported. stardate

20:20 – We cluster around the telescope at the top of the parking lot and admire the barely waning gibbous moon. Mic again in hand, I try to capture the appreciative murmurs as we gaze upward, our enthusiasm wrapped in the comfortable anonymity of soft darkness.

22:35 – In college my friend B. had a friend E. who had a way with words. To my northeastern ears his soft Kentucky drawl was exotic and wildly expressive. I would dissolve in sympathetic exhaustion when he complained “mah dogs are tired.”  Tonight, my dogs are tired.

Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

Scarcity Captures the Mind

window-shutteredIt began with this idea of scarcity. That when something is scarce — food, money, time — it takes over our minds and clouds our decisions. That over-scheduled rich people have something fundamental in common with cash-strapped poor people, and that “something” finds expression in compromised, sometimes catastrophic, choices.

Taken as I was by the simple elegance of Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir’s work on the subject, I wanted to find a way to explore what becomes of curiosity in a world defined by scarcity.

But the subject brushes shoulders with taboo, with the unsayable in certain circles: that  some people make predictably bad decisions. And sometimes those people are poor, or find themselves in difficult circumstances, and sometimes they do stuff that gets them in trouble — literal, figurative, legal, or otherwise.

But then it begins to sound like poverty is the reason people end up in places like jail, which isn’t what anyone was saying. And so it was a delicate enterprise when I approached the local offender aid and restoration program to have a conversation about what happens to curiosity before, during and after incarceration.

Interestingly, talking about trauma was more comfortable, more on message.

I didn’t have an agenda other than to explore what becomes of curiosity when constraints are imposed — and where are constraints more real than in the criminal justice system? — so the conversation circled around trauma, not scarcity. And perhaps they not so different. Trauma, the indelible imprint of something terribly gone. Security denied, trust savaged. Scarcity imposed.

Listen to Choose to be Curious – Episode 11: Curiosity, Trauma and Incarceration – with Elizabeth Jones.


Back Story


The list of things about which I feel lucky is mighty long.  It starts with having been born when I was, where I was, to whom I was, in good health, with prospects, without prohibitions, and it goes on from there. If I think about it, I realize I can neither begin to itemize my many good fortunes nor find their end. I try to appreciate that fact, try to plumb the depths of appropriate gratitude. It’s a deep well. I doubt I really know how deep.

This week, I heard Robert Frank speak about his new book Success and Luck: The Myth of Meritocracy, in which he examines the rich’s reluctance to give luck any credit for their success, hurting us all. There is nothing really startling there — even he says so — but I see value in reminding people that their good fortune is amost certainly not all of their own doing. Sitting in the mostly white, presumably affluent, decidely middle-aged, predominantly male audience, I wondered if Frank’s research had shown any patterns about the kinds of luck to which different demographics are willing to give credit. I have my suspicions.

I think about luck — bad and good — each year on this date. The lawyer arriving late, a flight attendant subbing in, some strangers coalescing. Being in the right place, the wrong place, any place when the skies seemed to be falling in. Having someone to hold, losing your someone, being that someone. It came down to chance, to luck, or the awful lack thereof.

Lefty Gomez once famously said he’d rather be lucky than good. I guess he got it. Good fortune isn’t owed us, doesn’t reflect on our character, says nothing of our merit, may bear no relation to skill. It comes and goes, seems occasionally to play favorites, periodically takes a powder. It just is, and sometimes it isn’t, in ways that matter profoundly.

Today I am looking for all the good luck that is hiding in plain sight: the safe ride home, the perfectly ripened pear, the pleasure of good friends and a cooling breeze. I am grateful for luck, and try to hold gently in my heart those who have felt abandoned by it.

Life Lessons

Define Work

work: wərk/  noun

  1. activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
  2. mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment.

workplaceToday is Labor Day, so I’m thinking about work. Actually, I’m also doing what I consider my work, but I am mindful that this isn’t exactly what the holiday’s founders had in mind.

I finished The Boys in the Boat recently and am now most of the way through Hillbilly Elegy. I recommend them both, each in its own way about class, work and who has access to what — work or otherwise. They’ve left me mulling over my many and various forms of privilege.

One such way is in how I now define work. For most of us, for much of our lives, work is about what we do in exchange for some amount of money that makes some amount of life possible. If we’re lucky, work makes much possible, including satisfaction in its outcomes and the time we spend doing it. I was lucky that way. Not everyone is.

I am lucky that way. Work, for me, now, isn’t as much about the “earning of income”  as it is the “achieving of purpose.” It’s not an inconsequential shift, and today I am reminded — again, anew — how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to (re)define work and myself in relation to it.


Life Lessons

Breadcrumbs, Everywhere Breadcrumbs

Wednesday morning: warm, and getting warmer. Finding shade outside the local coffee shop that hasn’t yet opened, K. and I compare notes on the surprises of producing a radio show. A communications professional, she pushes the necessity of social media, of relentless self-promotion. It’s work that doesn’t come naturally to me.

Wednesday afternoon: hiding from the muggy heat in my basement work space. A private message on Twitter comes from B. with links to an interface for curiosity-driven story development. I click through to the stuff dreams are made of. Wheels turn: how might I do something akin?

Thursday morning: spitting drizzle moistens the sidewalk between me and the cafe. Podcaster J. assures me I’ll love this course and that book on storytelling. She’s right. There’s so much to absorb. I feel damp with rain and opportunity.

This social media thing is like leaving breadcrumbs, hoping someone will find your scraps on the littered forest floor and follow you out of the woods. It feels just a tad Quixotic. A diet of breadcrumbs seems simultaneously insufficient and overstuffed.

I nibble around the loaf’s edges, slowly developing a taste for it.

social media