Little girl walks on a paved path

May 2022 Quote: “…Scary Because It’s Unfamiliar, Not Because I’m Incapable”

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. For May 2022 the quote was, “When you’re nervous about stepping outside your comfort zone, remind yourself:  It feels scary because it’s unfamiliar, not because I’m incapable.”

One of the great ironies of my career, is that it centers on storytelling to help people to understand something new and act on it. From advocacy to wear a seatbelt and not drink and drive to large organization transformations and technology implementations. Yet, I love habits. I even wrap my habits up like a gift and call them traditions. I pass on my habits through leadership, management, and mentoring – disguising my idiosyncrasies as “best practice.” It seems that if I’m not championing change for a client, I’m a last adopter.

With a quote about “stepping outside your comfort zone,” here are quotes that caught my attention in May:

  • If you have an opportunity to be quiet and present, take it
  • Wishing you unexpected wonders
  • Receive a person
  • A ton of feathers still weights a ton
  • Intentional
  • I don’t care what you think. I care about what you do and say.
  • Aunty-mom
  • What would you do if you were brave?
  • Radical acceptance of my being
  • Non-promotable task
  • Activation of my curiosity and the subsequent opening of my perspective that allows energy to flow in
  • Every adult can benefit from a thinking partner
  • Make hard decisions
  • The symbolic meaning of eye contact, of putting aside what we are doing to connect, lies in the respect, care, even love it indicates
  • Everybody is who they are
  • Sacred space
  • Memories are deathless and precise
  • What is in your control to do now?
  • Multi-taskers are suckers for irrelevancy
  • Become a witness to your body
  • Never be afraid to try something new – remember, amateurs build the Ark…professionals build the Titanic
  • Sit with it

To me, dropping into COVID lock down was easy because there wasn’t much of a choice. The change was truly life or death. Emerging out of it, is a whole other scenario. All the choices. All the gray space. All the longing. All the ingrained habits driven by two years of fear. All the opportunities. All the desire to bust free.

I feel like I have two change angels on my shoulder. One that whispers, “Stay where you are, be safe, be comfy.” The other, “Don’t miss out. Live large and make up for time and memories lost.” Both feel good. The challenge is when to listen to which one. When do I need to step into the boldness of new? When do I need to move out of a rut? When do I need to challenge my beliefs that limit my potential? When do I need hold tight and move slowly? When do I need to reserve my energy in a safe space?

While catching up with a friend last week, we talked about change and each shared at what age we felt our most empowered. She talked about her 18 year-old self. I mentioned 13. Since our talk, I’ve thought about my answer of 13. Really? All gangly, self-conscious, hormonal? But then I recalled my fierce, stubborn, “do it anyway” streak. I had a brazen energy like molten lava beneath it all. I think that over time some of that lava has cooled… some of the lava is buried farther down as layers of protection built up… sometimes I might even fear what that lava could do to disrupt my safe habits. But, when I “sit with it” (the change I seek or the change I fear), the lava stirs, and I like it.

To keep my lava flowing and position myself to change, I:

  • Have standing chats on my calendar with a handful of women who stir my lava, ask meaningful questions, and inspire me to grow
  • Spend time outside, from a new workspace on my back porch to morning walks
  • Avoid the “all or nothing” trap
  • Read others’ stories and learn new approaches
  • Write down the change to get it out of the “circle of stupid” in my head as a client once called it, and into a format I can more logically think through without the emotional noise
  • Try to avoid comparison … comparison and the emotion of “not enough” are joy killers
  • Pick a few small things to start with, like a warm-up for bigger change
  • Accept there will be setbacks and surprises, and both are OK
  • Get a coach to support the harder work, from a personal trainer to an executive coach
  • End my day with meditation
  • Start over, constantly

I leave you with a tweet from @OliveFSmith: “I always love it when people say, ‘baby steps!’ to imply they’re being tentative, when actually baby steps are a great unbalanced, wholehearted, enthusiastic lurch into the unknown.”

So, take that bold baby step. Because at the end of day, you always have the power to change direction.

Pondering and Planning Emergence 

In client, company, coaching, volunteer, and personal conversations, I hear a theme of emergence. How to emerge from full pandemic lock down. How to emerge into a new work model. How to emerge into a new career. How to emerge with a new business offering. How to emerge to affect meaningful change. How to emerge in more personal ways. How to emerge in a way that honors the pandemic experience.

As I think of emergence – becoming exposed after being concealed – it is both a physical and emotional act. In many ways, the physical is easy. How are you showing up and what actions make you feel safe? Where I hear and feel the struggle in conversations is on the emotional side. The exhaustion to emerge. The fear that lingers about emerging. The loss at a multitude of levels (death, long COVID, milestones, connections, health, goals, jobs, income, time). The sadness. The disconnect. The loneliness. The anxiety. The wariness.  

People (myself included) are not good at talking about emotions and sharing troublesome feelings. The vulnerability required is not often provided in the room. It takes effort to make a sacred space for emotions to emerge. Sacred space requires someone to set that intention with time, with mindfulness, with sincerity, with openness, with trust, with active listening, with creativity, with honesty, and with hope. But most off, it requires space for meaningful conversations.

While all this may sound way more touchy feely than you or your organization are comfortable with, don’t fear – there are lots of ways to provide this kind of space. I recently designed and led two kinds of strategy sessions that might offer you a few ways to help your team or organization emerge with an eye on both the physical operations and logistics and the emotional underpinnings.

  • Pondering – For a religious nonprofit, I led several two-hour “pondering the pandemic” sessions online with Mural with various groups. While several elements of the session will help with strategic planning down the road, there were no expectations of leaving the session with a “plan.” The sessions centered on reflection. I opened with a “Loving Kindness Meditation to help folks move into a people-centered pondering state. Next, I led discussions that centered on the physical, such “Who did we lose / gain?” “Where did the organization show up well during the pandemic?,” “What programs thrived, died, or sprouted?” To close the session I led the participants through some open questions such as “What has given you strength?,” “What was lost?,” “What are you mourning?,” “What would reset and renewal look like?” and “What do you need to leave behind to move forward?” Working through program-centered activities warmed folks up before the probing emotional-centered discussions. The final questions revealed the fragility of the people and that the organization needs to be vigilant on the nurturing the people and not just “flip a switch” with the return of old programing—and that new types of programs will be needed.
  • Planning – For another organization, I designed and led a five-hour in-person “regroup workshop.” I opened with a mindful moment with deep breathing, silence, and a mood check using images of animals. The following sessions moved from fun (personal, work, and team superpowers), operations (who does what when), analysis (good, bad, opportunities), and strategy (what is needed to succeed), and tactics (actions for improvement). We closed sitting around the table talking about being together in person as a team for the first time, the exhaustion, and how folks cope with the transition to hybrid from a lens of introverts and extroverts. Again, the final session uncovered the emotions that can hinder or help the pace at which the organization can emerge.

For teams and organizations to emerge, it’s essential for leaders to focus on people in a new way. Both directly with constant time spent building relationships, collectively sharing, modeling, and making space to ponder together, as well as systemically with benefits, resources, and culture.

Here are a few things I do to try to provide space for emotional emergence:

  • Set one-on-one “Connect Calls” – In the invite mention, “just setting aside time to connect as humans” with a focus on non-work topics
  • Set four-person “Coffee Chats” or “Cookies and Conversation” meetings on-line or in person where the conversation focuses on folks stories such as “How did you get to your current position?,” “What excites you outside of the office?,” “What are your superpowers?,” or “What are you read/watching/listening to?”
  • Open team meetings with either a mindful moment or open question.  
  • Watch how you answer the pervasive question, “How are you?” Fine isn’t a real emotion. To get off autopilot, pause, thank the person for asking, take a deep breath, see what your body tells you, and genuinely answer.
  • Be present in the moment, if someone reveals something emotionally centered or personally vulnerable in a meeting don’t gloss over it, pause, hear it, and thank person for sharing – then ask how others “feel about it.”
  • Offer a catch phrase folks can use to say they are overwhelmed and need space — but be sure to have a standard on when you can check-in or how they need to emerge; I’ve used “my basement is flooded” but then someone’s basement really flooded!
  • Set a private standing meeting with a peer who can support you, give you space to process.   

Emergence isn’t easy, so don’t forget to appreciate your hard work to help others while you sort through your own.

Move Toward Your Dreams with One Step

We all have something that we want to do. We carry these acorns in a safe space protecting them from the light of day, from getting scorched by the sun of other’s disbelief or even our own doubts. If we do nothing the dream is “safe.” While it might be protected, the dream deferred can also, in Langston Hughes’ words, “dry up like a raisin in the sun” or over time “just sags like a heavy load.” 

It can be scary and exhilarating to start something new. Any action puts you on a path of change, which will cause a ripple effect for more change. It’s overwhelming, exciting, and daunting to move forward. And that’s exactly the direction change propels you:  forward.

Many years ago, one of my hidden secrets was to run a marathon. Did I run? No. Had I ever run? No. Did I like to run (thinking back to high school’s presidential fitness tests)? No. Did I know how to run? No. Did I know how to train to run long distance, or short distance for that matter? No. Did I know how to “fuel” (eat/hydrate) to run? No. Did I have the attire to run? No. But yet, I wanted to run a marathon.

Regardless of the goal, each one requires a first step. One action. For me, it was run 1 block. Done. I made it. Then on to the next step. Each step, each action slowly generated another action such as:

  • Practice getting up at 6am to run (but not running)
  • Get up at 6am and run
  • Run a block, walk a block, run a block model
  • Commit to some duration of running such as 3 times a week
  • Tell one friend who’d finished a marathon who gave me her training program, signed me up for my first race – a 5K, and agreed to run with me
  • Buy properly fitted running shoes thanks to Pacer’s Running
  • Purchase Under Armour cold weather gear
  • Read a book on how to prepare to run a marathon
  • Get more sleep
  • Get a Reiki treatment for a nagging issue I’d carried in my body since 5th grade
  • Discover hill repeats
  • Find out gummy worms were my boost of choice on long distances

As I let more sun in on my dream, I could more easily see it come true. Each step also brought more help from my family and friends, plus coworkers who watched me online during a staff meeting as my tracking chip showed my mile marker progress on race day.

Each single action led me to another single action. Cumulatively each step led me from 2 mile to 5 miles to 10 miles to 18 miles, and yes, to finish 26.2 miles. Cumulatively each step gave me confidence. Cumulatively, each step confirmed I could overcome the inevitable setbacks. Cumulatively, I became a runner.

What’s your first step?