“Write your own tune, and then play into it”: Meet Ray Gonzales

Lydia Chlpka
Adaptive Space
Published in
6 min readFeb 10, 2021


Photo: Ray participating in an Adaptive Space Community Gathering

In this series, we are spotlighting our community members. In the Adaptive Space, we make room to receive the insights our community members have to offer. This series is where we will discover each other’s gifts! We will be spotlighting one story per week. Please engage with our star of the week by participating in the conversation below.

Next, we profile member Ray Gonzales. Ray is a coach and consultant who, in his own words, has been living the Theory U framework for a lot of his life, even before having a name to put to it. He is happy to be part of a community that is cultivating an emerging future that focuses on the collective as well as the individual.

Name: Ray Gonzales

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Affiliation: Focus Impact Performance, LLC

Superpower: Easing transitions

Tell us how you stumbled upon your professional path.

It’s a long, winding story. I studied sociology and political science in school and international relations at postgrad. But then I realized that maybe I didn’t want to do that, and I started to do a lot of theatre stuff — I started a production company, was a director, actor, writer for some time. Then I started to make women’s accessories, mainly handbags, and had a company doing that, too. At the time, I was always meeting people and coaching. Then, I shifted from helping people in the areas I was interested in, to people coming to me for advice, and I found out that I actually really like coaching and mentoring. I worked for an investment bank for 14 years and realized, “I don’t think I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life,” so I spent a year looking at what to do next. I got a coach who coached me through the transition, and that’s when I thought “Oh, I really want to be a coach.”

Who was the first person who enabled you on your professional path?

In this latter half of my career, there’s this friend who comes back all the time, Gillian. We always have conversations at transitions in our lives. We had a conversation when she was going to South Africa nearing the end apartheid — she didn’t know how long she was going for, but ended up spending maybe 20 years there. Then I was applying to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, in that transition when I knew I needed to do something different with my life.

We met in primary school, where she was one year ahead of me. And then when I was at university, she was also one year ahead of me there. And we belonged to a students’ organization which in some ways was political, in the university. We were marching against apartheid, doing demonstrations and stuff like that. She is somebody who made a significant impact in my life. I’m talking like in the 1980s, dealing with new feminist issues, really serious feminism, I was having conversations with her about that. You could say that she ‘woke’ me.

Photo: Ray at James Bond Retrospective, Jardines del Descubrimiento, Madrid

How do you define success for yourself?

This is a tough question for me, but I think success is 1.) when you did what you wanted to do, and lived according the way you wanted to, and 2.) when you’re satisfied that you can look back and say “I wouldn’t change anything about that.”

Especially now, what I like about Theory U is the part about the sense of an emerging future. That’s the way I have been living for a long, long time without knowing it as that, exactly. Success to me is when you write your own tune, and then play into it.

What’s your daily routine?

Of course that has totally changed recently. The time that I work best is late in the night, around the midnight, 1 o’clock hour. I find it really quiet. If I don’t go to sleep before that time, I could end up working until 3, 4 o’ clock in the morning. In COVID, I find myself doing more late nights and all-nighters, since I talk to a lot of people who live all over the world. There are calls that I can get on because they’re at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning.

But on an average day I would wake up and put on the TV, just to hear people talk in the background. If I have anything organized, it’s usually for midmorning. I don’t like to schedule things around 9 o’clock because I don’t know what kind of mood I’ll be in or what I’ll be creating — I try not to plan things then. The meat of my day is from about 11 o’clock to 8 o’clock, where I’m making calls and talking to people, preferably between 1 and 5 p.m. I have a block of two hours that I spend some time reading, sometimes during the day or maybe at night if I’m busy. Then I’ll watch some TV or spend time with my wife, and that’s about it.

One thing I do every day, though, is make sure that I reach out to somebody who I haven’t spoken to for a long time and check in with them to see if they’re available to have a conversation sometime. That’s been very rewarding.

Photo: Ray at Wailua Falls, Maui

What’s the most important skill you’ve developed on your professional path?

I’m a very empathetic person, but the skill coming out of that is the ability to listen and be without judgment. But I don’t see that as a skill so much as I do something that I’m constantly practicing. I am practicing how to have conversations with people and how to put away my judgements and values so that I can just be with them and they can say whatever they want to say.

What’s been your greatest challenge so far along this path?

My greatest challenge is not being around people all the time. I’m used to New York energy and now it’s empty. New York is a very busy, walking city. Thank goodness we have Zoom so we can see people, but it’s not the same energy as seeing a group of people freely moving. That’s one thing I regret, one thing I miss.

What’s been your greatest reward?

Well, things always work out for me, because my greatest reward is that I have an intrinsic trust that buffers me from being depressed about how things look right now. Because I have enough experience with things looking bad or uncertain and eventually working out. And I know now that I have a group, a foundation with a lot of people that I can call up who have a lot of goodwill, so that things work out for me.

What do you want to learn from Theory U and the Adaptive Space community?

Theory U has always been, to me, that emerging sense and that emerging future. And I’m very aware of the opposite side to that, because I see it all over. What I want to learn is, is it possible that we won’t self-destruct? I’m looking to get out of the community is the feeling that, as dark as it is, there is a group of people who are creating something nondestructive. A group that shares our love for the collective rather than just the individual. There’s nothing wrong with the individual, but it becomes toxic when you only care about that.

What do you hope to see emerge in your future, even if it hasn’t started to, as yet?

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Lydia Chlpka
Adaptive Space

Student of music, neuroscience, poetry, and life.