It was an adventure – my daughter’s first “passport trip” as she put it. There was so much for her to experience for the first time – customs/forms/questions, new currency, a language she only knew by a few phrases, foods, art, history.
And it was exhausting. Being a mama is exhausting. Traveling in a foreign place without other adults and a dependent (albeit fantastic) human is exhausting.
And yet – I kept adding on to the agenda. I kept asking what else we should do, kept scouring the map. Without acknowledging it, I was operating out of scarcity. Were we doing enough?? It was my daughter who reminded me to pause. To breathe. To absorb what we’d just done before we ran to the next thing.
“Mama, I think it’s time to go back to the hotel and just rest for a little while.”
A wise lesson in boundaries and presence from my 10 year old. When we got home, I asked about her favorite part of the trip. I expected it to be specific, a thing – the food tour, the churros, Frida Kahlo’s house, the Dia de los Muertos art installation in the Zocolo.
“My favorite part was when we were just wandering around and exploring; just being together.”
What do you want to be present for, just today? Not what are you waiting to see or do. Not what are you waiting to happen.
What (or who) can you be present for today? Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s what feeds you.
How can you pause, before you run to the next thing?
Whether you have a formal spiritual practice or not, most of us are seeking. We want to move forward in our lives in a way that is joyful. That means different things to different people, and at least for me, the very idea itself is constantly changing and evolving.
So often the advice out there feels rhetorical, loopy, or woo-woo, at best. So I’m always on the lookout for practical advice on what it means to seek and to grow. Gabrielle Bernstein was recently at guest on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast, and she gave the following three steps.
Side note: she says these are “simple” but I’m not totally sure that’s true. If this stuff was “simple”, we’d be done and over it already, right? So, in the spirit of embracing our complicated and not-so-simple lives, these steps are worth considering.
Gabrielle Bernstein’s (Paraphrased) Steps to Enlighten Your Life Today
Be willing and open. Admit that you need to learn and grow in a particular area or way. Then, be open to new ways of seeing or approaching that part of your life.
Pay serious attention to the teachers, the guides and assignments. If you are open, learning opportunities will come to you. Be on the lookout. Take the work of learning from the world seriously.“We can be willing, but then go right back” to the distractions (ie our phones), bad habits, or destructive patterns.
Show up for the assignments. This one is my favorite. Do the work – and pay attention. You don’t have to feel like you have the answers, but you do have to show up, listen, and take the assignments to heart.
even more than I love Halloween. Halloween is spooky and silly and all about a new perspective on the familiar. There’s a special place in my heart for haunted houses, babies dressed as pumpkins, ghosts and goblins, and to the disgust of some, I even love candy corn.
But Dia de los Muertos heals me. Growing up in South Texas, across the dirt road from a cemetery, I was vaguely aware of the holiday. There were sugar skulls and pan de muerto at the local bakery, marigold petals seemingly everywhere, and vigils, music and candles carried on late into the night. And truthfully, I never thought much about it.
Even though I lost five family members over a short amount of time, it wasn’t just death that brought me closer to the meaning of Dia de los Muertos. The void was painful. But my family’s misery was more painful, watching those who were left disintegrate within their grief, unable to move past the death and loss.
We had no language for anything but sadness. There was nothing to help us move beyond being stuck in pain.
Then a friend invited me to his neighbor’s Dia de los Muertos celebration. The husband died a few years before and the whole neighborhood gathered to celebrate his life. I didn’t know him, but I felt like I did – people shared stories and laughed while the candles flickered. Instead of crying, we ate tacos, drank Coke in the bottle, and danced to his favorite songs. The alter in the living room was gorgeous and colorful and lively. I didn’t know him but his spirit and his life still touched me. Suddenly, I could see death as a part of life, and my heart began to warm.
From then on, whenever we crossed the Texas-Mexico border to shop – we used to do that easily, back in the day – I’d be on the lookout for my next little figurine, a colorful little play on death and life. Only a few of those bits of art have survived the many moves of my adult years. I bought a new one a few years ago when my little dachshund died – a dog skeleton wearing a glittery hat. Gus would definitely approve.
I honor and celebrate the day in my own way because it lets me claim what I love about those I lost –honoring their lives and their impact on me. I miss them still, but I keep them alive by sharing their stories, putting up their pictures, seeing them in me. Dia de los Muertos has taught me to see community in death. It has also given me a sense of humor about it – which is certainly something that my uncle, Papa Roy, would endorse. It is not something I learned from my family, but it is something I hope to teach my daughter.
Living in a multicultural society means we can learn from each other’s traditions, perspectives, and values. It also means we must honor those traditions that are not our own. The ‘how’ can feel sticky, especially as those traditions evolve and change. I believe it’s important to know what we are in danger of appropriating, to make the effort necessary to give context and respect. We can be inspired, changed and enriched by others – we should be – but it’s also our responsibility to do so without erasing the histories leading to this moment.
Dia de los Muertos may be new to you. If it is, by all means – buy the sugar skulls and the skeleton auto mechanic figurine that somehow looks a little like your Uncle Mike. Then take a minute to learn more about the holiday and its origins. I promise you – it will only make your experience richer.
More people marched in protest the day after the inauguration than have ever marched before. Women and men around the world gathered in solidarity.
It’s empowering and exciting and exhausting.
It’s also frustrating. I ran into a friend walking her dog. When I asked what she thought of the Women’s March she said, “I have a lot of rage…at my fellow progressives.”
I was so sure she’d say “at Trump,” or about a certain issue, or even “at Trump supporters.” But her rage faces inward. I paused for a second, because I get it. I wonder the same things that she does – what more should I have done? And where were all these people four months ago?
For those of us out here trying to do good every day, it can feel like too much. I spent the first weeks after the election numb and tired. As the reality set in and the work of unraveling all kinds of social progress began, I was sick. Scared. Uncertain.
I know this for sure, and I know it in my bones: things have to change.
Change is messy and uncomfortable and uncertain. As I often tell my coaching and strategic planning clients – if doesn’t feel messy and difficult, then we aren’t doing it right. We aren’t really asking the tough questions, and we aren’t trying to name the elephant in the room. Change is supposed to be messy and scary.
And change, as Michael Jackson says, begins “with the (wo)man in the mirror.” I’m committed to taking a step back and examining more closely my own ‘why’. We have not time nor energy to spare. What cause is most important to you and what actions will have the most impact? In other words, can you dig deeper into what you are already doing and ask, is it the right thing? Is it enough? What do I need to change?
The beauty of the Internet – for all its challenges – is that we can hear other people’s opinions, and people’s responses to those opinions, and we can decide what we think for ourselves.
If you haven’t seen it, and you are curious, google #notmymarch. All I will say is, I don’t have time for Christie. I’ve spent too much of my life and career so far worried about Christie. Christie is not worried about me or the people that I care about or the equity that I believe in. Christie has a world of information at her fingertips and she chooses what to do with it.
I do have the time to keep checking my white privilege. Several people have also posted, and written, eloquently on the racism problem in feminism. (See bell hooks and this great list on Elle for a start – share more resources in the comments!) What does that have to do with the March? It was a peaceful protest, and while I support nonviolent actions, it’s important to unpack our pride at being ‘peaceful’ – recognizing the limitation of personal experience when it comes to political violence and what assumptions we make about how we will be treated. See Jahmelia Lindsay’s post on Facebook for more perspective.
At school last Friday, my daughter dressed as her role model: Hillary Clinton. When I asked her why she chose HRC, my kiddo taught me a lesson in leadership. She spoke eloquently of Hillary Clinton’s strength, that she kept going even when people said mean things, that she did what was right, and she tried to take care of people. My daughter is convinced that Hillary will get back up and keep fighting. There was nothing in her answer about the loss. It was all about the leadership.
Y’all – we can do this, and it’s going to take all of us.
We were sitting in her office at the small conference table set aside for working and for difficult conversations. Like any busy CEO, every light on the desk phone was lit, her cell phone kept buzzing, and her walls were lined with photos of the smiling faces of volunteers, clients, and staff. This well respected and longtime nonprofit leader was taking time to sit with me and offer her heartfelt advice. And she was making a great case.
Those who most need to do succession planning, won’t. They won’t leave gracefully. They won’t leave without a fight. Her raised eyebrow indicated that I knew exactly what she meant. You don’t want to be a part of that, she said. Don’t do this work, was the clear message.
I’ve heard this fear before – even when it’s not spoken so directly. Nonprofit leaders are too competitive, too overworked, too self-important to take transition planning seriously. Their boards are too afraid to have the conversation and too unwilling to put the needs of the mission over their desire to sweep the topic under the rug.
And maybe, for some in our sector, this is the truth. Some leaders will stay until there is no way to leave without burning bridges. Some boards will turn a blind eye to the responsibility of their office. Those nonprofits will likely not recover from their leadership transition. Anyone who’s spent any time in, or paying attention to, our sector can name at least one scandalous ending of a nonprofit, where the real losers are those the organization was supposed to serve.
The best case scenario may be a limping along, then a short-lived replacement, and finally (hopefully) things get back on track. And in the meantime, good people and energetic missions get lost, stunted or forgotten. The public’s trust may be forever altered.
But I’m a crazy dreamer.
I believe that we can do better – I know that we can build organizations that foster abundant leadership and that push us to greater levels of service and to real social change. I believe in partnership, in honoring legacies, and in planning for the future we want to create, instead of just reacting to the one we stumble into one day.
It is more than belief. Clear planning and honest dialogue proves that dynamic organizations can transition smoothly, not simply surviving but recognizing change as an opportunity to thrive, grow and enhance their community position.
We don’t have to accept the fear default. Fear is not the option we choose when we stare down the social problems that we face everyday. It’s not the option we choose when people tell us that those problems can’t be solved. As a sector, we choose again and again to get messy and do life-changing work.
Let’s keep doing it – strengthening and supporting our leaders now while creating the leaders we’ll need next. That should be our default.
One of the unspoken fears about succession planning is – what then? What happens when my team is functional, cross-trained and confident in their work? What happens when others hold the vision for the organization with me, when we can all see the flight patterns?
Executive Directors often find themselves in a similar role to air traffic controllers. Because so much rests on their shoulders, only they can really make the decisions about take-off’s and landings, which planes to ground and who gets permission to move out of line. It’s an exhausting job and without it, most organizations would experience some painful inefficiencies at best or worse, something catastrophic.
A solid succession plan helps alleviate the burden by distributing the responsibility throughout the organization. Staff are cross-trained beyond their day-to-day roles. Board members not only know there is a plan for emergencies but are equipped to face challenges that arise. Leadership staff and board members understand each other’s functions allowing confusion and conflict to give way to team work and creative problem solving.
Sounds great. But what’s the ED’s job in this utopia?
The former air traffic control tower in the developing Mueller neighborhood is a ripe metaphor. It is currently empty and frankly a little sad. No longer functional for its original purpose, boards cover some the windows where the distinctive blue glass is broken. Weeds are growing inside. Ideas have been suggested about what to do with it, but no decision seems to stick. It is the perfect image for the fear mentioned above.
If I’m a leader, and I no longer maintain and monitor the flight patterns for my organization, why am I here?
Step back. Look around.
Today, there is construction all around the tower. No longer surrounded by miles of concrete runway or dilapidated airport structures, homes are going up at a record pace. Families are thriving, playing, learning, and growing. People are becoming neighbors. Birds and lizards are claiming the park land. None of this could have been envisioned by the person so busy up in that tower, staring at the sky, following maps and making lists.
Air traffic control ensures the safety and efficiency of the now. But you are so much more than a tower and a view. As we learn to stop the glorification of busy and focus on what’s important, we become more capable and less burdened leaders. Once a leader stops managing air traffic, there’s a chance to step back and create the vision, right here on the ground.