August 14, 2022
This is the Too Many Trees newsletter, where I share what I’ve been writing and reading in the realm of leadership and personal development. My coaching practice is centered around the idea that we are more effective in moving towards our goals when we become more conscious and intentional in focusing our time and attention, and learn how our unconscious patterns are holding us back. If you know somebody that could benefit from my perspective, please forward this to them or let them know they can set up a free intro chat with me.
I recently listened to this podcast episode where Layla Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy (which I found valuable and challenging), interviewed Kate Johnson about her new book Radical Friendship. I immediately bought the book, and am about halfway through reading it.
Johnson, a multiracial Buddhist practitioner and teacher, based the book around the Mitta Sutta, a passage of the Buddha’s teachings, which lists seven qualities that make a friend worth associating with:
They give what is hard to give.
They do what is hard to do.
They endure what is hard to endure.
They reveal their secrets to you.
They keep your secrets.
When misfortunes strike, they don’t abandon you.
When you’re down and out, they don’t look down on you.
Johnson’s wry recollection of her first time reading this passage was:
“I wanted to be that kind of friend.
I wanted to have that kind of friend.
Nothing in my experience or education had adequately prepared me for either of these things.”
I had a similar reaction. I realized I have very few friends who I would consider a “radical friend” (to use Johnson’s phrase), partially because I have not been that kind of friend myself. Being somebody who gives what is hard to give and does what is hard to do is what transforms a relationship from easy acquaintanceship to deeper friendship.
As I write that, I am reminded of a book called Connect, by David Bradford and Carole Robin, professors at the Stanford business school who wrote a practical guide to building stronger relationships. I’ve only read a portion of that book as well, but in an early chapter, they mention the idea of being 15% more vulnerable and sharing more than feels comfortable as an invitation to deepen the relationship.
We want friendship to be easy, where we feel perfectly safe and able to share without risking anything. But what these books point out is that that sort of friendship requires risk to develop - we have to open up before it feels safe, to give that trust when it’s hard to give, to become that friend.
People often say that it becomes harder to make friends as you get older. And I wonder how much of that is because we learn to closely guard ourselves, so we stop reaching out to others, stop taking those risks to connect. I was inspired after listening to this podcast to reach out to several people last week, and connected deeply with:
one of my best friends of 30+ years (who I hadn’t talked to in a year?)
somebody who reached out to me a couple months ago with a nice message about a LinkedIn post, and with whom I’ve now had a couple long chats.
a friend from my coaching program with whom I share a call every few weeks.
Yes, it takes time and effort to connect in that way. And it’s easy to say “I’m too busy”. But this book and podcast reminded me of what I lose when I don’t invest in connecting with people, in enmeshing myself in the messiness of humanity. As Johnson writes:
Friendship is something we practice not because we should but because we want to. Because it restores our access to our full humanity. Because it makes life beautiful and meaningful and divine.
If you’re intrigued by what I’ve written here, I would love to buy you a copy of the book if you commit to having a conversation with me after reading it. Just email me if you’re interested.
And now for the normal personal development content:
LinkedIn: These are ideas that have helped my clients (or myself), and that I share via LinkedIn to help a wider audience.
“I am too busy” is a copout. No matter how much you get done and how hard you work, there will always be the next thing on your list that you didn't get to. So the problem is not that you're "too busy", it's that you are trying to do everything, and aren’t willing to make a tradeoff. Instead of saying "I'm too busy", I suggest pausing, taking a deep breath, and responding with what you are feeling e.g. "I'm scared I've taken on too much right now".
What would you say if you were your manager? High achievers are often much kinder to others than we are to ourselves. Asking yourself what you would say about your situation if you were a friend or a manager to yourself can lead to a more self-compassionate perspective, where you can consciously decide whether pushing harder will be helpful.
Articles and resources I’ve found interesting:
I found the CommonCog guide to burnout insightful, especially in sharing the research that the 3 key ingredients that induce burnout are exhaustion, cynicism and a feeling of ineffectiveness. It’s not just about being tired, but about feeling like you’re not making progress.
I've had situations where I was working long hours but felt awesome and empowered e.g. early in my time at Google. I did burn out at Google a few years later, but that was in a situation where I felt unappreciated and my manager couldn’t make tradeoffs, so I was overcommitted with unimportant work.
I Vow Not To Burn Out is a beautiful reflection on the self-martyrdom tendency of social activists. Mushim Patricia Ikeda suggests a “Great Vow for Mindful Activists”: “Aware of suffering and injustice, I, _________, am working to create a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. I promise, for the benefit of all, to practice self-care, mindfulness, healing, and joy. I vow to not burn out.”
Small Kindnesses, a poem by Danusha Laméris, is a reminder that we can connect through
Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”
Thanks for reading! See you in a couple weeks!
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