Irony is when we judge others as lacking empathy

A founder
was feeling burnt-out.

“When was your last vacation?” I asked.
He couldn’t remember.

“I can’t take one.
My employees are working.
I should be there to help them.” he added.

“What emotions do you experience
when you think of taking a vacation?” I asked.
“…Guilt.” he answered.
“Let that sink in.
That’s significant.” I remarked.

He first looked puzzled,
but soon his eyes widened
and he blurted out
“Oh!
I see!
We should all take a vacation!”

When we feel responsible for “others,”
it’s not unnatural
to feel concern
for their suffering.

With sufficient concern
it’s also not unnatural,
to want
to help.

This is known
as compassion.

Despite best intentions,
however,
the impact of compassion
can also make things worse for others,
and burn us out, as well.

Sometimes,
we need to tame our compassion
to put aside our need to help “others,”
and instead help our “self”
through a vulnerably creative process.

A process
by which we can realize empathy
unexpectedly,
and let emerge
a connected entity
“we”
between self and other.

A process
by which we can learn
a new choice of sight,
that synthesizes
an unpredicted form of help
that helps not other
not self,
but us.

Despite grieving
their lost youth.

Despite feeling
unworthy
in front of their employees.

Despite lacking
a mere one good night’s sleep.

There are those who are willing
to light themselves up
again
and again
and again
in the crucible
of responsibility.

Customer complaints,
Employee demands,
Investor rejections.

All that is said
may well be right.

And yet
the weight,
the burden,
the load,
is one
and the same.

It is a haze
that last moment of breath.

If a mere 10 minutes
may we put it all down
to let out
a big sigh.

Despite the tightening of our chest.

Despite the sight
of our inflated belly
that we may despise

May we feel that sense
of fulfillment
arise from within.

You’re a miracle
for having survived til now.

You’ve done well
for having stayed alive
breathing.

I’m proud of you
just the way
you are.

What does it mean
to reflect?

Stand in front of a mirror.

The mirror
will reflect.

By mirror,
I mean a relationship
from which we can receive the choice
to see ourselves
from an interfacing
perspective.

By an interfacing perspective,
I mean a perspective
from which we can receive the choice
to see ourselves
as an “other”
with which we can empathize
without hyper-empathizing.

Go ahead.

Look into the mirror
and see yourself as an “other”
with which you can empathize
without hyper-empathizing.

Now,
by look,
I mean receive the choice
to recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate parts of your “self”
by recognizing, acknowledging, and appreciating parts of
the “other.”

Parts you forgot
or did not know
to recognize,
acknowledge,
and appreciate.

I mean give these parts
the choice
to feel seen.

The choice
to matter.

And by giving this choice,
may you realize
that this
is a loop,
where giving
does not constitute losing,
and receiving
is not predicated on lacking.

A loop,
where fear and shame
can make way
for flow.

Whether we reflect
through journaling,
through coaching,
or otherwise…

May this be a guide.

There is little we can do “all by ourselves”

Even if we have eyes,
we cannot see
without receiving support from light.

Even if we have legs,
we cannot stand
without receiving support from the ground.

Even if we have lungs
we cannot breathe
without receiving support from air

When we claim to have done it “all by ourselves,”
we’re probably either
insufficiently appreciating the support we’ve received from others
or
insufficiently feeling appreciated by others.

Our ability to appreciate others
is often intricately intertwined
with feeling appreciated by others.

At our first session,
she would habitually use the word “strong”
to refer to herself.

“To be strong,”
she said,
“I should
Stop worrying and,
instead,
Focus on problem solving.
I should
Stop blaming my employees and,
instead,
Blame myself,
the CEO.”

On the surface,
these sounded wonderful,
virtuous, even.

But after a month
of realizing empathy with herself,
she discovered
that by “strong”
all she meant
was “numb to pain & discomfort.”

There’s a world of difference
between following advice
and realizing for one’s self
by leading through a journey of innovation.

A journey
through which we learn new
or unexpected choices.

Without the journey,
“stop worrying,”
can merely mean “repress stress & anxiety.”

“Focus on problem solving,”
can merely mean “focus on eliminating fear & concern.”

“Blame myself,”
can merely mean “lead with unconscious shame.”

To frame this phenomena
as someone’s “fault”
prevents a deeper exploration.

More valuable
would be to recognize what happens naturally
when we lack
a sense of choice
or proper support.

A CTO once told me
that he had asked his CEO
“How many times have you wanted to fire me?”
to which the CEO replied,
“7.”

The CTO said his empathy realized instantly
as he knew the CEO was honest.
How did the CTO know?
Because he himself could count 5 times
when he thought he’d be fired.

Sincere honesty
can inspire the realization of empathy
in the prepared mind.

Unfortunately,
so much moral correctness
is published in leadership books,
that sincere honesty often seems unacceptable.

If you have employees,
there may have been times
when you experienced a deeply-rooted,
ferocious,
yet silent anger
accompanying a sudden urge
to fire them.

This is normal.

If you were surprised by your dark side,
this is expected.

The dark side is dark,
not because it’s “bad” or “wrong,”
but because we couldn’t see it.

When our dark side becomes visible,
it’s tempting to pretend we didn’t see it,
to leave it in darkness,
which can make things worse,
until we learn the choice
to respect our dark side
without admiration.

I recently heard someone share with me
the following fear:
“I’m worried I’m pursuing an uncommon path,
because I’m afraid of the common one.”

Instantly,
I was reminded of others who had shared with me
the opposite fear:
“I’m worried I’m pursuing a common path,
because I’m afraid of the uncommon one.”

I’d like to share with you something I wrote back in 2011. I was in the 3rd year of my research into the creative process I only knew to call “making art.” I had such strong feelings about my research that I felt compelled to…

Rejected Commencement Speech

In startup circles,
there is wide-spread worship
of “growth.”

The lure of building a company worth $1 billion,
known as a “unicorn,”
looms large.

In contrast,
we often hear people demean survival,
with phrases like “mere survival is not enough,
we must thrive!”

The reality is that building a company
often feels like being in a war.

Not because we’re in a competition,
but because we get hurt,
—emotionally—
often to significant degrees.

And what I find interesting
is that when I help founders recover
from these emotional wounds,
I often see them naturally grow—
their minds,
their hearts,
and their relationships.

The kind of growth made possible
precisely because they got hurt.

Just as our muscles grow
by getting hurt
then recovering,
perhaps we can also grow,
by recovering.

By surviving.

By telling the God of death,
Not today.”

Words often mislead us.

This is normal.

In fact,
I spent much of my first book
talking about how words like
courage,
humility,
respecting,
listening,
considering,
acting,
had misled me.

Words do often lead our attention.

Yet, where the attention is led
can surprise us,
because words only have meaning in context,
And that context resides
not only with the person uttering the word,
but also the person interpreting it.

So much of our verbal disagreements happen
because we are unwilling
to let others lead our attention
to their meaning.

We’re more interested in arguing
that their use of the word is “wrong” or “bad,”
while our use is “right” or “good.”

Perhaps.

Except we’re back to the problem solver’s mindset.

Let us be honest.

Is this mindset helping us solve the problem?

If so,
great.

If not…

It may be time
to switch
to the paradox dissolver’s mindset.