As a consultant with a strong undercurrent of Type A, I find great satisfaction in “the do.” Checklists checked, calls completed, emails sent/deleted, deliverables submitted. Done is a delightful feeling.
However, over the 1.5 years of COVID-crazy I felt like my focus on done became all consuming. As if the more I did would make me feel better; but it didn’t. The satisfaction of complete became the burden of more. More, more, more. I lost sight of the why and missed the joy of the being – especially from the energy of team collaboration. The remote environment seemed to have restricted the connectional side of work in many ways.
Upon this realization, I became deliberate in how I began my latest project which included a partnership with a Native American small business. I wanted to focus on the why, be smart about how we used our time together, and be culturally sensitive. I wanted to put connection front and center of the work.
You see our team’s diversity was significant – DC “beltway bandits,” some PhDs, and Tribal members all working to improve health care for American Indians/Alaska Natives. To support this, we received historical training, word sensitivity workshops, and candid first-hand accounts of cultural nuances. The emersion was great and terrifying. The more I knew, the more I realized there was so much I didn’t know or understand. My lens to life was different. And while that difference is OK – my life is my life – I began to realize how many blind spots I had that could impact the effectiveness of my work. More than anything I didn’t want to produce anything that would offend or do harm to the initiative. For a while I pulled back into listen mode, a bit afraid. Then I found some courage to take steps to move forward and learn. I did this to get more comfortable so that I could really apply my expertise in an appropriate and impactful way. My sitting on the sidelines did not help the cause.
I started by privately connecting with a woman on the project to better understand something done during our weekly team meeting – smudging. At the end of our meetings, her husband would bless us while fanning a giant bird feather over burning, smoking dried plants. He always began with “Grandfather spirit.” The blessing was less prayer and more a setting of intention. A request that the spirit help us be true to our word and compassionate in our actions as we served the community in our work. To be vividly aware of the world and space in which we work. The centering practice provided a calming way to anchor us to our work and take a moment to breathe together as a team before we scattered our separate ways onto another Teams call. My teammate Anna answered my questions and in doing so created a safe space for me to ask and learn more.
The website Indigenous Corporate Training states, “Smudging is traditionally a ceremony for purifying or cleansing the soul of negative thoughts of a person or place. There are four elements involved in a smudge:
- The container, traditionally a shell representing water, is the first element.
- The four sacred plants (cedar, sage, sweetgrass, tobacco), gifts from mother earth, represent the second element.
- The fire produced from lighting the sacred plants represents the third element.
- The smoke produced from the fire represents air, the fourth element.”
Fast forward a few months, and Anna learned my mother had open heart surgery. She mailed me four types of smudge to support her recovery: sweet grass braid, golden sage, traditional sage, and pine picked from her yard. In turn, I sent back a jar of homemade fig preserves that I made with my mother, from figs picked from her yard. Homemade food, a southern tradition, to show love and provide comfort.
This is the real “do” that matters in work. The forging of relationships, the learning, the collaboration, the connection – all of which makes the work better and the journey richer.