Book Review: “Tribe”

Author: Sebastian Junger

Small yet Mighty!

Purpose and connection will build your Tribe, but you must decide to join.

In 2016, I felt unsettled. I had been out of the military for about 4 years. Everything was just fine. I was steadily grinding on a PhD, raising an amazing family, and I had wonderful friends. Yet for some reason, I could not shake the feeling that I was wandering in life.

It was around this time that I heard an interview with Sebastian Junger on the Tim Ferriss Show Podcast (#161) about Tribes, which led me to immediately purchase this book.  Junger’s book was the first time someone put a label to what I lost when leaving the military – my Tribe.

Junger describes the roles of Tribes across the history of humankind. He talks of purpose, belonging, and acceptance.  Tribes have rituals and process complex emotions together.  The strength of the Tribe is greater than the sum of its members.

The military is a culture connected by shared behaviors and values. The people with whom I served were my Tribe. We found purpose in serving both the mission and the team. The Tribe always provided a way to handle the emotions-together. We mourned publicly, as a group, when we lost friends. We celebrated milestones in our careers or achievements with ritual ceremony. Our culture gave us a collective framework to process this messy world together.

I walked away from my Tribe. I left.

Junger ‘s book helped me realize how hard it truly is to leave the military. Leaving my Tribe felt like choosing isolation. Junger was the first person to tell me, through his book, that this was all okay.  Yearning to return to combat, fly aircraft again, to swap war stories – these were all manifestations of my primal need for my Tribe. I was grieving the Tribe I had left.

Connecting with the loss of Tribe helped me to finally see – clearly – that my Tribe was still all around me. Yes, I had left the military. But my Tribe remained.

My Tribe were the people – not the uniform. We had first formed by bonds of culture and clothe and ritual.  The bonds remained, however, long after the uniform hung in closets. My Tribe wasn’t lost at all. We had simply changed clothes.

My Tribe thrives–living a life of purpose, defined by the values of sacrifice and service. Join us!

Book Review: “Braving the Wilderness”

Author: Brené Brown

Being Me is scary. To not be Me is torture.

Alone, in the silence of the woods, I have only myself. And I will be just fine.

Brené Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness” came to me when I was having what I call a “self-awareness hangover.” This usually happens when I have read too many self-help, leadership, or business books causing my trips into self-awareness to wander into traps of self-doubt. I start to worry about how I handled past conversations, led my former teams, and interacted with fellow parents. Geez – how did I managed to get out of bed and parent at all?

Self-awareness hangovers leave me certain I will never fit in and will always be upsetting someone. Feeling terrible and keenly aware of the many ways I can offend nearly everyone – I withdraw. I hide my True Self. 

“You are only free when you realize you belong to no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great. ~Maya Angelou

“Braving the Wilderness” told me, “Stop. Be yourself.” Brené Brown opens the book with the Maya Angelou quote as she reflects on a life-long desire to fit in. She describes sacrificing her True Self in order to belong.  Fit in or be left alone in what she calls The Wilderness. Terrifying.

Naturally, we resist abandonment at our most primal level. The Wilderness is where we go when cast out, never to return. But Brené argues deciding to bravely enter The Wilderness alone is how we find True Belonging. For in the quiet of woods, only self can be heard. True Self finally gets to stand alone.

And True Self belongs to no one.

From this powerful realization, immense courage and confidence is found. Brené then calls upon the reader to, without fear, open their True Self to others. It is only through this most honest effort to connect with other people that we will find the purest quality of humankind – unconditional acceptance of True Self and others. And we will truly belong. To everyone who seeks truth. And to no one but ourselves.

And with that – hangover was gone.

Book Review: “The Obstacle is the Way”

Author: Ryan Holiday

The hard path is the true path.

Life is hard. Excellent! My struggle is my advantage.

Challenge, setback, failure, loss, and rock bottom are not exactly comfortable. Once you’ve experienced any of these, you likely learned a strong lesson about avoiding them in the future.  That hurt! We have visible and invisible scars. We likely lost friends and status. We probably lost money. Most of all, we failed ourselves. — But did we?

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. -Marcus Aurelius

Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle is the Way” opens with this powerful quote from one of history’s greatest thinkers telling us to stop running away.  Instead, we must turn boldly into our challenge and see it as an opportunity rather an obstacle.

Holiday lays out a path for turning what he calls “trials into triumph” by teaching us to control our perception of events. First, we must learn to master the only controllable part of any situation – our emotional response to it. Armed with this surprisingly powerful insight, Holiday then calls upon us to act. Deliberate, precise action that could fail, and fail again. This path is not one of reckless failure but rather it is a decision to act despite an unknown outcome. Finally, Holiday calls us to have the will continue forward. Our will fuels our courage to repeat the cycle – perceiving obstacles as advantages and motivating us to act–until we achieve our goals.

We are defined by what we do, not what we say we do. You know your obstacle. You now know your path.

Act.

Book Review: “Grit”

Author: Angela Duckworth

Find your Work. Find your Grit

We marvel at people who do hard things and get after challenging goals. People like you…if you choose it.

Do something hard! All around us, we see people seeking to find their own personal challenges. We are offered new quests daily, ripe for the taking! Read some “X number” of books this summer (library). Only eat cabbage soup and juice for a month (diet industry…and seriously?). Conquer physical trials such as marathons, Ironman events, Spartan races (Sports industry). And many, many, more.

It doesn’t really matter what the goal is – as long as it is your goal.

In a world with many challenges from which to pick, what do we actually seek? How do we achieve our goal AND is really our own? How do we see the goal all the way through to the end? What is the end???

Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit” provides insight into how we sort, prioritize, and achieve our most difficult goals. She has made a career of studying how groups of people – from West Point cadets to National Spelling Bee winners to professional sports teams – accomplish hard goals. Duckworth identifies the trait of Grit – the drive to maintain a long-term focus on one objective no matter the obstacle. She then digs deep into the foundation of Grit to reveal four cornerstones traits of some incredible people.

Duckworth identifies Gritty people as first having goals defined by a strong interest. You know this feeling – the topic or passion you simply cannot stop studying, daydreaming about, or clicking on. She then describes how to turn that interest into your life’s Work (sound familiar – see “The War of Art” post) through deliberate practice. Gritty people are internally driven to practice by a motivation, which Duckworth identifies as their purpose. Purpose is so central to the nature of the Gritter, that they often can’t quite articulate it beyond to say that they must matter. Finally – those with Grit have an eternal well of hope. It is hope that moves them past failure, setbacks, and obstacles, to see tomorrow as the next day forward in achieving their goal.

So go find your challenge.

Don’t wait for someone to make it up for you. Listen to your interest. Feel for your purpose. And then get after it with deliberate practice and the hope – knowing each day will bring you one step closer to your life’s work.

Landing 01

On very rare occasions, themes from a few books come together – forming one single coherent thought. The thought forms slowly as the mind tries different combinations of words and ideas.  The closer the thought to forming, the more the mind will race and wrestle with it. Then, in what feels like a flurry– for the briefest of moments – the thought lives.

In that moment the mind sighs, rests, and is content. This is a landing.

And then it is gone.

This is the first of what I will call a Landing Post. It is a summary of themes pulled from a few different books into a lesson or an idea.


I am not a good writer. Or at least that is what I have been told or made to believe. I am a scientist and engineer by training. This means I am to hate writing and love math. Math and science are certainly noble justifications for my poor writing. At nearly every stage of my adult life, I have been told me that I am a poor writer. “Don’t worry,” they tell me – this is totally okay given the rigor of science and math.

That is, it was okay – until I decided I wanted to write a book. No. I needed to write a book.

The last three books reviewed helped me chart a path to the realization that maybe I am not as bad a writer as I had been telling myself for decades.  Here’s how it all went down…

“The War of Art”

Read: December 2018

Everyone is afraid to create. Everyone is afraid to try something new. Everyone is afraid of judgement. Everyone has fear.

And everyone has Work to do.

And in response to that fear, we create an incredible weave of distractions to keep us from doing what we know – deep down – we need to do. Our life’s work.

I am not saying this kind of writing is my life’s work. But writing anything at all is lightyears away from what everyone has told me my work should be. Thank you Steven Pressfield for helping me use my fear as a guide – and point me away from a life hiding to a life of trying.  

“The Coaching Habit”

Read: September 2018

Unlike writing, I have been told since I could speak, walk, and point a knife-hand that I was a leader. I led in high school in sports, and work, extracurricular activities, and of course, my siblings. Leadership drove me to join the military.  Leadership then, became my living. Multiple deployments, hundreds of soldiers, and countless missions reinforced and refined my leadership methods.  Leading was me. I nailed it.

Until I didn’t.

Leaving the military forced me into a situation where my results oriented, single-person decision-making leadership (so many hyphens!) style didn’t work. I was efficient at planning and executing missions. I was a professional at “leading-by-driving.”

Learning how to use listening as a tool to help people find their own solutions meant I too was building deeper trust and finally seeing people at their best – that is – when they learn and grow.  “Leading-by-driving” became “leading-by-guiding” as people chose on their own, the right spot rather than me just putting them there.  And WOW – so much better!

Thank you Michael Bungay Stanier for opening my mind to 360 degree leading. Mostly guiding, pushing when I must, and listening always.  

“Originals”

Read: October 2016

Read again: July 2019

What is courage?

You’d think I would have a pretty clear answer for this with the whole “military, war, deployment” thing. I thought I did.  But I actually only knew OF courage. People who were courageous. Actions that were valorous. Courage as a trait observed – but not known or felt.

Until I was afraid.

And a little lost.

Courage

Thank you Adam Grant for giving me the courage to be myself.

Turns out I am just human. Afraid of failure, sharply attuned to judgment, and terrified of criticism.

I also have Work to do. I decided to stop hearing fear and start listening openly. With that choice, I took the first step toward doing my Work.

This is courage.

Book Review: “Originals”

Author: Adam Grant

Originals – Be Afraid. Act Anyway. We need you.

There are many defenders of the status quo – and I am not one. I am Shaw’s “unreasonable man.” Now, what do I do?

Adam Grant’s book “Originals” looks closely at the Rebels of our world – Rebels with a cause! Rebellion is a concept frequently glamorized in the movies as a cool, risky, life outside the rules of society. Grant successfully dispels every, single, movie stereotype to show how true rebels take calculated risks, laden with fear, to create lasting change.

“Originals” starts by identifying the non-conformist in our world. You know them. You have them in your office, your sport teams, and your neighborhoods. They are in history books and some are even on monuments.

These are people that see the world differently. Many people think like this – that the world needs to be different. We all enjoy thinking outside the box. We all relish in having a different perspective to offer.

Originals however are different.  They go one step further. They don’t just think different. They act. In fact, Originals cannot stop themselves from acting on their beliefs. Every cell in their body calls on them to make something change. These people are often the driving force–at times the only force–behind real, lasting change.

And they have a PLAN! (This isn’t “Sons of Anarchy”)

Planning and deliberate action was my key takeaway from Originals.  True non-conformists are not disruptive simply to shake things up.  They have a vision. They care about their organizations deeply and they have an unquenchable passion for their cause. They are internally driven; called to break the system.

But they are also sticking around to rebuild it. No matter how much we all hate them.

Originals play the long game, with a deliberate plan. One person, one office, one objective at a time. They are far from risky. In fact they are acutely aware of the risk, and they proceed anyway. With tremendous fear and self-doubt.

And Courage.

So cheers to the Originals. And all you do to make our world better.

Book Review: “The Coaching Habit”

Author: Michael Bungay Stanier

It is just a question – right?

A completely different approach to leadership found through sincere questions. Ask better questions to your employees, your kids, and most importantly – yourself. Unlock potential by having the courage to ask the question.

“The Coaching Habit” presents a playbook for using a question-based approach to lead teams, communities, and families.  The book begins by giving the novice coach some gentle questions to start deeper discussions and offers listening cues. As the reader increases confidence in the power of questions, the book presents an array of questions to be used in different situations and teaches the user to listen for when each variation could be applicable.

While reading this book, try asking yourself the questions. More importantly – give yourself the time to answer the questions. Some answers will arrive right away. Others might simmer for a while and surface at unexpected times.  The key to asking questions is having the patience – to wait – and to listen – for the answer.

  Embrace silence. Listening happens only when you are silent.

“The Coaching Habit” gave me a guidebook to become both a better question asker but also a better listener. I found giving myself the space to answer my questions was practice for giving others the space to answer questions. Genuine curiosity in the unexpected answer is at the heart of true human connection.

So get out there. Talk less. Listen more. Ask amazing questions. Then wait –