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Absolutely shameless—The Blue Whale Rule

It was 7 years ago today that my father passed away. 

Two weeks before he died, I’d traveled to England on my own to spend a week with him. It was an opportunity for deep connection. 

He was not well. Seven years of an unrelenting condition called Multiple Systems Atrophy had taken its toll on his body. 

But my Dad was a true gentleman. He never complained about the unfairness of this condition. 

At the end of the trip, I kissed him goodbye and spent 11 hours on the flight back to Los Angeles. 

As the plane landed, I turned on my phone to read a message from my brother that things were close to the end.

I booked return flights on the taxi back to my house. I gathered Monique and my little boys and less than 24 hours after I left, I got in another airplane and traveled all the way back to London. 

I’m so fortunate I got to be with my Dad at the end. 

I got to hold his hand as he passed. 

I sobbed for days. 

And I made a conscious choice to let my children see how sad I was. 

You see, I’ve had a lifetime of pushing down emotions. 

In my home and in Britain, when I grew up, nobody ever modeled showing emotion. A stiff upper lip is the British way. 

I am also Jewish and I was born less than 25 years after the Holocaust. 

Anyone in my extended family who didn’t escape from Eastern Europe, like my grandparents, was murdered by the Nazis. 

My family had learned a level of stoicism, so as not to be overwhelmed by emotion. 

When I grew up, I took on the belief that tears were a sign of weakness. You had to display fortitude in the face of adversity. You had to exercise self-restraint in the expression of emotion. 

I didn’t even know it was a problem, at the time. 

Cutting off from my emotions allowed me to navigate challenging circumstances. And it helped me become extremely successful in my career. 

But truthfully I learned to push away my feelings because I’m someone who feels really, really deeply. 

This morning I cried. I’m done with holding back emotions. 

Shameless

Don’t tell anyone, but I love the song, “I’m Too Sexy” by the British band, Right Said Fred.  

I can sing it for hours—when no one is watching, of course!

“I’m too sexy for my shirt
Too sexy for my shirt
So sexy it hurts…”

The song went to number one in 32 countries, including the United States, where it topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

The Fairbrass brothers, who wrote it, said that the song’s lyrics are centered on certain users of the gym they owned in London, who they claimed “had no shame.”

And I love that. 

Imagine being so proud of your body that you feel no shame. 

Brené Brown studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. 

She was one of the first people to share out loud the secret voices in our head that are driven by a sense of shame:

“Who do you think you are?”

“I’ll never be good enough…” 

“I am bad…”

Brené teaches us to share our vulnerabilities, so we can live a more meaningful life. 

But our conditioning is strong.

Hide, stay small, be invisible, be quiet, don’t speak up, don’t speak out… 

For most of human history, if you stood out, you died. 

Across the globe, societies have evolved with specific instructions to not stand out… 

Shame is the great leveler. 

In cultural anthropology it’s called a “leveling mechanism.” The practice of ensuring social equality, by shaming or humbling anyone who appears to put themselves above others.

In Australia and New Zealand, the phrase “tall poppy syndrome” is used to describe putting down other people for their success and achievements. It’s often seen as a good thing.

A client of mine grew up in Sweden and she introduced me to a Scandinavian concept called The Law of Jante.

In simple terms, the law embodies the disapproval of individuality and personal success.

The spirit of the Law of Jante has existed in Scandinavian society for centuries but it was formalized in a satirical novel by Aksel Sandemose, in 1933. 

There are ten rules of Jante Law… 

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

In 2018, the Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård was interviewed by Stephen Colbert. He had recently won an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award but he explained that the Law of Jante prevented him from boasting about his achievements. 

It’s not bragging if you’ve done it

I design my communities—4PC, Project Kairos, Transition Excellence—to be “brave spaces.”

I learned the distinction of a Brave space vs a Safe space from Beth Strano’s poem, “An Invitation to Brave Space.”

Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and have caused wounds.
This space
seeks to turn down the volume of the world outside,
and amplify voices that have to fight to be heard elsewhere,
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
But
It will be our brave space together,
and we will work on it side by side.

I’m a peacemaker at heart. I bring people together. It’s what I do. I help people feel safe. It’s who I am.

But I’m also a coach who learned to embody the distinction, Serving vs Pleasing. And I’m a leader who learned to put courage before confidence. And call out the same from my clients. 

I teach my clients The Blue Whale Rule: You can never get too big. And you can never get too messy. 

Why The Blue Whale Rule? Because Blue Whale poop is the largest animal poop in the natural world. Each bowel movement of these magnificent creatures is around 200 liters of excrement!

You can never get too big… Bragging is a lost art. And rather than feeling envious, top performers tend to feel inspired by others’ accomplishments. 

Great coaches create a safe place for you to brag. Remember: it’s not bragging if you’ve done it.

You can never get too messy… When you’re a top performer, it’s not always safe or appropriate for you to share your struggles with anyone—from your board of directors to your spouse. 

But success is on the other side of your failures, your mistakes and your struggles. 

Great coaches create a safe place for you to get messy. 

Absolutely shameless

Let me sign off with the words of Right Said Fred.  

All together now… Completely shamelessly!

“I’m too sexy for my shirt
Too sexy for my shirt
So sexy it hurts…”

Love. Rich 

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