Wake Up

Posted by on Jan 29, 2018 in Blog, Featured | 8 comments

Wake Up

I woke up this morning missing work. Not so much the travel but I miss walking into an organization and having to be “on.” I loved giving talks on subjects that brought out my beliefs and values, working with teams, designing and conducting workshops—things like that. I didn’t always have successes. I fell flat on my face at times, but I feel fortunate to have worked my entire career doing something that I believed in.

As I was lying in bed, I was remembering a talk that I gave at Cray Research, a supercomputer company up in Minneapolis back in the 1980s. I was young and relatively inexperienced as a speaker. There were about 200 employees out in the audience–mostly research scientists. I was asked to talk about empowerment and acting with courage. Well, the talk went poorly. They were an ornery group—they kept interrupting me, yelling out that you can’t say that or do that at Cray Research, laughing inappropriately, and just making my talk difficult. So, when I was wrapping up, I said,” Boy, you certainly haven’t made this easy. But I guess, in a way, you’ve been practicing what I’ve been advocating. You’ve spoken up and challenged me, you’ve been honest and direct…so, in conclusion, I’d just like to say, fuck you all very much.”

It just came flying out of my mouth. I wasn’t preparing to say that. I never would. But I was angry and it just popped out. Half of the audience roared with laughter…they loved it. And half of the audience sat there in disbelief, probably giving me the finger. But at least I had smoked out my allies and my adversaries. Of course, then I had to deal with my client’s anger. He refused to pay me and ended up terminating our relationship. But when I was flying home that night, I remember feeling calm and not that upset with myself. Yes, it was an inappropriate comment, but they needed to be “pushed against” to break down their arrogance.

I used to find unusual ways to “wake-up” employees. I would use poetry or show videos from films that displayed acts of courage or leadership. I would get everyone up and moving around. It just needed to be something outside of the realm of a work environment. I’ve enclosed one of Wendell Berry’s poems. It seemed to touch people. Not everyone—again, half of the group would roll their eyes as they read it while the other half would come to life. It’s all I could ask for.


When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


  1. The 23rd Psalm wakes me up and comforts me. My Shepherd, Jesus Christ, makes me lie down in green pastures, leads me beside the still waters, restores my soul (mind, will, emotions), and leads me in paths of righteousness.

  2. Great story, John! I love it! (even though i’d probably be wracked with guilt for spitting out those words in a professional context…I’m in awe that you weren’t!) and I love Wendell Berry’s poem.

  3. Thanks for sharing the Wendell Barry – I feel more at peace after reading it, though wishing I was where the great heron feeds.

  4. I’m so glad you took a break but are once again sharing with us!!!

  5. John…one of your best stories. What you said is what I often thought during and after meetings. I just didn’t have the courage to blurt it out. Good for you. I especially liked the poem. This world is so full of angst about the past, present, and future that it prevents us from being in and enjoying the moment. Glad you’re back in the blog biz.

  6. John; Very glad to have you back and telling your stories

  7. Good for you, John!

  8. Great story! =)

    As i prepare for a conference discussion later this month i find myself thoughtful of the group and the learning i’d like them to take away. Your story is a great reminder and makes me smile in that we encounter all sorts of groups in this work that we do. Thanks for sharing ~

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