Got Comfort?

Early in the COVID-19 lockdown last spring, I blogged about the importance of nonprofits and foundations holding firm to their vision, mission and values during a crisis. I quoted a speaker at an April 2020 Development Executives Roundtable (DER) session who said that their organization’s deeply embedded strategic plan had been “both a compass and a comfort” early in the crisis. Another presenter said, ‘It’s critical to keep your eyes on what is important versus what feels urgent.” I believe doing these things at a personal level has helped me get through this difficult year.

Despite an unusually busy first quarter, I’ve been in a reflective mood lately. After seeing a Ten Percent Happier post called “The Pandemic’s Harvest“, I looked back at the extraordinary past year to glean what I’m taking away from the pandemic and the country’s overdue reckoning with systemic racism.

I realized I’ve become a bit more comfortable with uncertainty, a phrase I’m borrowing from the title of a favorite Pema Chödrön book. This means I’m less anxious about external changes and the experience of uncertainty, a tad more willing to see times of transition as opportunities for positive shifts.

What Am I Harvesting from the Past Year?

    I Expanded My Service Offerings

I had an epiphany last summer that of all the work I have done in the social sector these past many years, one-on-one connections with colleagues and clients have been the most rewarding. This realization led me to launch a new practice in leadership & career coaching with emerging social sector leaders. No surprise, I’m loving it! I also greatly enjoy teaching and am working to I expand my reach and teach new subjects. (See “Upcoming Courses” to learn what’s cooking on this front)

    I Got Uncomfortable

Last summer, just when we were coming to a degree of acceptance around mask-wearing and physical distancing, the world was shocked by the unending and widely publicized murders by police of Black and Brown people—with no accountability. Bringing it very close to home, on the very day Derek Chauvin was convicted of George Floyd’s murder,  police in Alameda, CA, killed yet another POC. For me, watching Darnella Frazier’s unflinching video of Floyd’s cold-blooded murder last May sparked a personal awakening. To better understand what I could and should do as an outraged citizen, I started important internal work. I participated in an anti-racist book club and webinars on such topics as when it was better to call someone out or call them in—speak privately—after witnessing a microaggression toward a marginalized person. I found supportive, brave spaces with others committed to decolonizing their beliefs and actions. Frequently in these spaces, I find myself beyond the edge of my comfort zone. I hope to keep choosing to “stay uncomfortable”, as I know it is where substantive change happens. (See recent PhilanTopic blog post “Social Issues Are Getting Personal”)

What Helped Me Survive

    Staying Connected

In line with my deep value of meaningful interpersonal connection (I’m a “Relator” first and foremost in the CliftonStrengths framework from Gallup), I made a point to stay close to good friends, favorite colleagues and, of course, my life partner. I couldn’t have survived and thrived during this crazy past year without these important relationships. I suspect most of you feel the same.

    Getting in Touch with My Values and Passion

As more of my long-time friends chose to retire during the height of the pandemic—and three years after my husband retired–I had to ask myself whether I too wanted to retire. But the clear answer was “No, not yet.” Besides earning needed income, I continue to feel called to serve my community and the sector. I am passionate and receive profound gratification from my work supporting emerging sector leaders, sharing what I’ve learned over the years and helping groups advance their mission. To bolster my commitment to stay relevant and in service to others, I invited a handful of women with long careers in the social sector to meet periodically to offer each other peer coaching. The six of us are finding the regular connection and encouragement from similarly motivated others deeply affirming.

    Staying Curious & Open

While I enjoyed the sudden quietude of the Spring 2020 lockdown, I gradually realized I wanted more stimulation and more learning. (According to CliftonStrengths, I’m also a “Learner”.) So I subscribed to a slew of podcasts—my colleague Philip Arca’s “Nonprofit A Go Go“, Daniel & Hanuman Goleman’s “First Person Plural” (emotional intelligence), also NPR’s “Hidden Brain” (psychology & neuroscience), Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier,” among others.  When I’m not communing with the sky, birds and bees on my walks, I listen to informative podcasts.

    Expanding My Horizons

I’m now listening to the audiobook Braiding Sweetgrass–read by the author, botanist and poet Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a Distinguished Teaching Professor at the State University of New York, Syracuse. In gorgeous language and a gentle voice, Kimmerer spins metaphors—such as the underground fungal-tree root mycorrhiza, which allow the pecan trees in a forest to communicate when in danger–to convey important concepts around social interdependence and reciprocity.

Last year, after reading an interview with Kimmerer, I was inspired to write a blog post about the “different ways of knowing” she described in that article. I pondered the implications on my work in program evaluation: “Kimmerer stated that the problem with approaches relying solely on scientific inquiry … is that they ignore the reality that the observer always influences the observed…. Instead, we need to design more respectful, shared-power partnerships if we are to gain deeper understanding about how something really works, either a forest ecosystem or a social sector program.” I’m thrilled to be learning more now from this wise woman whose feet are firmly planted in both the indigenous and Western scientific traditions.

What Are YOU Taking Away from the Past Year? I’d love to hear from you! Drop me an email or fill out the Contact form here