Okagesama and Ubuntu

It is our suffering that brings us together.
It is not love.
Love does not obey the mind,
and turns to hate when forced.
The bond that binds us is beyond choice.
We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share.
In pain, which each of us must suffer alone,
 in hunger, in poverty, in hope,
we know our brotherhood.
We know it, because we have had to learn it.
We know that there is no help for us but from one another,
that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand.
And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is.
You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing.
You are free.
All you have is what you are, and what you give. 

Ursula LeGuin

Who am I without you? Who are you without me?

The pernicious forces of individualism, self-made, “I built this” conspire to undermine our amazing interdependency and connection to one another.

The popular phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” originated just before the turn of the 20th century. It’s attributed to a late-1800s physics textbook that contained the question “Why can’t a man lift himself by pulling up on his bootstraps?”

It was describing an impossible feat and was meant to be humorous, even sarcastic.

But we missed the point and now it nonsensically is a school of socio-economic thought. Yikes!

So we think we do things by ourselves. We get stuck in this myth in our minds and fly solo. When you operate in full DIY mode, we modernizie the re-inventing wheel factory again. Why?

We all get dizzy by ourselves in the whirlwind of hoping and hesitating, wishing and wavering, planning and procrastinating. Wev waste so much time. And we forget the most important thing—we need help and nothing gets done alone.


I spent many thousands of hours extolling the virtues of “networking” in my workshops and writing. Trying to help people connect with themselves but to then connect with others. To understand what happens when we are fully present without judgment and expectations. To truly see that we are all part of the fabric, the molecular structure, the order of things. That our suffering and joy are intertwined.

When we connect, engage and help one another, the pie expands. A dialectic generates a new sum of the parts. Something better emerges.

The synergy in the sharing
The creativity from the conversation.
The transformation in the transaction
The ideation in the interconnection
The revelation in the reciprocity
The mentoring in the meeting of the minds
I know you get this. But we still resist doing it!

So much of my purpose and my work have been driven by two related concepts from two different cultures.

They have become my antidotes to my selfish isolation, for my disconnection from humanity, and for forgetting that I need you.

Okagesama and Ubuntu.
One is a Japanese philosophical phrase and the other an African philosophy.

Together they empower and energize me to do the work I do. To help people realize their potential for the good of all, including myself.

A Japanese word which is used conversationally to express thanks. Not just your casual “thanks” but a much deeper appreciation for our interdependency. The root of this word, kage, means “shadow.” It acknowledges that there are forces seen and unseen which make our lives possible. Okagesama is grounded in a grateful awareness that we are the product of many lives, efforts, and sacrifices. That these forces are all around us and they are interconnected with the world and all living things.

My mother taught me this word.

My mother said this to me often, okagesama. She lovingly told me it meant “because of you”. I heard: I am nothing without you. You are why I am here. I am here for you. Thank you, I am good because of you.

I have a pendant around my neck that my daughter made for me that reads okagesama. 9 letters that try to keep my feet on the ground.   

Ubuntu is a Bantu tribal word, an African ethic, a humanist philosophy jam packed into 6 letters–focusing on people’s relations with each other.

I first learned of ubuntu when it was used by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in their speeches and writings.

When we are open to one another, when we embrace one another we become one another. I am because we are. I am what I am because of who we all are.

These beautiful and complementary sayings ground me and guide me.

I am because of who you are. We are connected. And we gain from each other.
It has become my ultimate ambition. To love with okagesama. To live ubuntu.

Not easy stuff. But so powerful and empowering!

We have to seek and create places where helping each other is part of the culture. Not quid pro quos, but where compassion thrives. 

That all people deserve our help and all people are capable of helping us.

The incredible alchemy that emanates from places and people where you are free to share and care. Learn and listen.

We waste so much time alone just fretting, struggling and through inaction, abandon our plans and maybe our dreams.

Much to be said for solitude and meditative thought. But we need each other.

No matter what stage you are in. How unprepared you feel. Finding a place—a collaborative, where mutuality, reciprocity, respect and compassion are prioritized. I have discussed and advised on the benefits of kitchen cabinets, mentors and focused networking here. But there are few open and accessible collaboratives. I try to foster this type of space in my longer workshops, where strangers connect and help each other.

That’s why I created the Career Collaborative.

A forum for people to reflect on their journeys and needs with others. To help people take the necessary steps to develop more meaningful careers and lives.

A monthly no cost virtual one hour workshop and forum to discuss and address shared career challenges.

Each month I’ll provide a brief set of thoughts on topics that are crowd sourced from the participants. The heart of the workshop will be the breakout sessions where participants will be engaged in brief peer group sharing and coaching sessions to help one another. After the session I will host a 30 minute Ask Me Anything discussion.

The inaugural session will be Friday January 27, 2023  8-9:30 am PST

Subscribers of the Ass Kicker get priority enrollment.
Register here

Who am I without you? Okagesama. 

Introducing Career Collaborative!

A monthly no cost virtual workshop and forum
to discuss and address shared career challenges.

The last Friday of every month.

Session #1
January 27, 2023   (revised date)
8-9:30am PST

Newsletter subscribers get priority enrollment! 

Register here

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