As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me for the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. The quote for March was “A word after a word after a word is power.”
While I cannot recall how this month’s quote by Margaret Atwood found me, there was an immediate connection. I’ve always been connected to words. Mom’s bedtime stories. “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Journals that date back to elementary school. “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.” Dad’s sermons. “Angel’s and other Strangers.” High school newsletter editor. “Cold Sassy Tree.” Forensics team (with a fight song!). “Les Misérables.” Communications major. “Cat’s Eye.” TV news producer. “Thorn Birds.” Speechwriter. “Storyteller.” Facilitator. “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse.” Organization branding. “The Outpost.” Digital story telling. “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going.” Corporate leadership. “My Own Devices.” Non-profit board work. “The Book of Awakening.” Executive coaching. For me, words – written, spoken, or sung – matter. Words contain phenomenal power to educate, inspire, and change. Equally so, words can cut quickly and sear in lasting pain.
Throughout March I collected several phrases that held power for me:
- We can be with this
- Nurturing the soul of business
- The limits of my language are the limits of my world
- Practice is everything
- I felt the ground and took my place
- The Willy Wonka shit-tunnel ride
- A teacher affects eternity
- Being relational
- No Miss America answers
- Good news of the soul
- Life begins at the end of your comfort zone
- Be curious not judgmental
- Unconscious gingham
- Take space and make space
- I am
- You’re going to turn into a novice over and over and over again
- Offer humanity
- Kindness is a way we live out grace in the world
- Choice point
- Be the love you feel now
- Happy accident
- A lesson in impermanence
- The culmination of being
- Boredom is your imagination calling
- We’re all made of strength and struggle
- Stop chasing squirrels
- They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds
March is often a hard month for me… finding the energy to move out of winter. To shake off my slothiness. To push out of the dirt like a daffodil. Then, there was the literal emerging back into life as COVID restrictions changed—balancing my physical and mental health of in-person vs. remote. And then came war where words of disbelief, protest, and prayer didn’t seem to hold power against air strikes.
What helped nurture me back were the words of my community. A very loud, “Hello Emily!” when I walked into the small church chapel at 8:30am on a Sunday morning. The candid “girl chat” I had with a favorite co-worker when no one else joined the scheduled call. The insightful, silly, empowering, slow conversation with a co-worker turned bestie over several hours while consuming cheese, veggies, and dark chocolate. The “go great!” company e-card from a co-worker during our Spirit Week conveying appreciation of my allyship. The safe space a company leader provided when he set up time to connect on my career and spent 75% of the meeting listening. The positive reinforcement I got from my class “learning buddy” as I build my aptitude for meditation. The “woo woo” conversation I had with a co-worker as we left work deliverables behind and focused on life beyond consulting. The funny texted memes that always popped in at the perfect moment from friend and family.
As I think about all these and other words, I recall two suggestions for meaningful leadership that I recently read. First, one author starts every day with a personalized thank you email to someone in his company. Second, another author suggested color coding your calendar to track how often and how much time you spend connecting, supporting, or advocating for people in your organization (or life).
The words people shared with me in March made a difference. They encouraged me. They reinforced good behavior. They got me teary eyed. They motivated me. They comforted me. They made me laugh. They helped me. Their words were power.
How are you using your words in the world?