There’s no way to mask the pain and devastation this past year and a half has caused. Yet, I try, and when I take a moment to reflect, I’m floored by the weight of what I’ve carried.
I was overwhelmed by the coexistence of tremendous joy and deep gratitude alongside constant fear and unexpected pain. Now, I’m surprised at the times it took to form new habits in service to our collective survival and the resilience of the youngest among us as they were thrust into a new definition of safety, education, loss, and community.
Personally, when someone comments on my creative parenting this year, I’m quick to throw myself under the bus by listing my many failures. I fail to hold compassion for the mom that sent my daughter to kindergarten at the local bookstore every day or for creating a safe, challenging learning environment for my son with an incredible local teacher. Nevertheless, I managed to stay married and employed; despite the wild mood swings that marked my days, I focused on my survival and ensured others pushed through the darkness alongside me.
At work, I try to humbly accept compliments about my leadership and how I supported a team that hadn’t sat in the same room together for over a year. Yet, when I’m asked to talk about what “leading in this moment” looks like and how the foundation “pivoted” during these “uncertain” times, I find myself reflecting on the crises we’re experiencing. These invitations at times make these crises — a contentious presidential election, a national and worldwide movement to dismantle systemic racism, a global pandemic, and the severe effects of climate change — seem as though we just hit some unexpected bumps in the road.
It is a generous thing to call my existence this past year leadership, but as I stand on the fragile next chapter of the ongoing crisis we’re faced with, I am eager to share what I learned and how I learned it if it means helping even one other person move forward.
- It’s ok to not know. I try not to say, “I don’t know,” when I mostly do know. I know what I want to eat (sushi), where we should go (to sleep), and why we are doing what we do (to build a kinder, braver world). Working in the non-profit sector, I’ve always had to speak clearly and firmly to reassure people I was worth the investment — in short, I always had to know. I truly did not know more than I have ever not known this year.
- Sometimes you have to let others lead the way. When the pandemic hit, I didn’t know how I’d get through a day with two children learning from computers within arm’s reach, refreshing websites to order the bare essentials that I have always taken for granted, and watching the world hold our collective breath as people began to get sick. For the first time, I began to ask other people what they thought we should do and listened.
- Find reasons to be grateful. With one breath, we asked ourselves and our loved ones to measure what was worth dying for and what we now deemed safe for ourselves and others. I traveled once during the pandemic to meet my new niece and nephew in Massachusetts. My brother is among my best friends and my only family in this world. I went to Boston because, to me, celebrating life was as important as protecting it and for that I am grateful.
As we continue to work to survive (and occasionally thrive), these three things stick out to me as most essential and most common. Being vulnerable for one of the first times, I admitted that I didn’t know and stopped believing that leaders had to know. I relied on the team of people whose work I championed every day to not only do the work but to lead the way, allowing us all to respond, create, and move forward in new ways. I continued to overflow with gratitude — much more hard-earned this time and marked by loss, grief, and sadness — as it continued to fuel not only the work we did but the way we continue to work together. Through trust in not knowing, in kindness for ourselves and our collective community, and in gratitude, we will be able to face these crises together.