A pebble in the path

Through the Tim Ferris podcast, I learned about Jerry Colonna, who has very inspiring thoughts about life and work. Jerry is popping up in many places with the publication of his book Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. I’ll be mentioning that book in several upcoming posts. It’s a spectacular work; I listened to the audio version twice within the first week of publication. (I’ve never met him but it feels normal to use his first name. Perhaps that’s because I’ve listened to his voice so much recently.)

I also stumbled across an interview/podcast with Jerry by James Taylor. (That would be not James Taylor the singer; he must always be explaining that.) There’s a video version of that podcast that’s worth watching on YouTube if you prefer the visual. Taylor has quite a good podcast, which I heard about before. His topics center on creativity and innovation in the commercial sector. I’ll be sure to check out his interviews with other creative types.

I meant to write this post a couple of weeks ago when it was fresh in my mind. Now I can’t remember which quotes from Jerry are from the Ferris podcast and which from the Taylor podcast. Either way, the core content of Jerry’s thoughts are incredibly powerful. Jerry is very candid and open about his experiences, including his own months-long stay in a mental hospital. He also is quick to point out his own privilege.

Jerry Colonna is one who asks questions, questions of himself and of others. Often, these are questions that had been posed to him by his own psychologist.

“The power of a well-asked question…what questions should we ask…what does success look like in our company? What does failure look like. Pause on those two questions…what kind of company are we building? What kind of company do we all want to collectively work for, because …we’re creating that everyday by our actions and inactions.” That last phrase jumped out at me. We are actively creating our organization everyday, often as much by our inactions as well as our intentional actions.

The topic of imposter syndrome arises in writing one’s first book past the age of 50. As I listened to the interview, I started to wonder: Is coaching a process of asking questions? Taylor asked, “Was it a sense of imposter syndrome that held you back from writing a book for so long? Or, was it something else? Why did you decide to write this book now?” Jerry initial response, “That’s a nice bit of coaching there, sir.”

Asking questions, of ourselves and others, forms an insightful practice. It’s one that I always veered away from doing. Now, only in my 50s, am I really learning to ask questions. I always sought solutions, plans for the future. But did I ever have the right questions?

Jerry stated that he needed to acknowledge a bit of shame within himself.When once asked by a client if he had written a book, Jerry responded that he felt utter shame. “The truth is that I had wanted to write a book since I was a boy…finding my words was essential to me becoming the man that I was going to be. Finding my words took me out of the violence and fear of my childhood. So, my relationship to words and writing goes back to being 5, 6, 7 years old. I’ve been journaling daily since I was 13….when the client asked that question, I felt shame”. He goes on to describe how the voice in his head kept asking why he didn’t do it sooner.

(Daily journaling is a practice that I see coming up more and more often among those who seem highly successful and productive.)

Anyone who puts himself out there in the public is bound to receive criticism. It’s always easier to critique than to create. And the Internet provides the perfectly anonymized vehicle for critics. Jerry counters the negativity: “I can bare the consequences of being rejected because I’m proud of what I’ve written even if no one else is.”

Jerry described the day that he got the printed proof of his book. When he smelled the paper, he started to cry, “because the words of others had meant so much to me on my own journey. And I felt like while lost in the woods, there was a path of pebbles in the ground and I felt that like for the first time in my life I could put a pebble in the path for those behind me to follow. “

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