Today I got two wildly different emails.
I hope this message finds you well. I was hoping by the time I wrote this message to you, we would have a better sense of things but as it stands, we all continue to watch and wait.
And this one:
The small town of Batan Grande, Lambayeque, where our conservation centre is located, has been cut off from the main city of Chiclayo and other surrounding towns due to the quarantine order… the sick are being rushed to a neighboring town for medical care… Each day there is also an increasing shortage in supplies; shelves in the local markets are starting to look empty and because there is no bank in Batan Grande most people are running out of money to buy food.
The pandemic is still raging in some cities and towns around the world, yet in some corners things are strangely peaceful. Friends I know who work at banks are overwhelmed and exhausted, while ambulance drivers in cities with early lockdowns are awaiting a frenzy but experiencing an eery calm.
The contrast rages in my own heart. Two weeks ago I stayed up late into the night to rush in my application for the payroll protection loan (got the funds today – beyond grateful) only to later insist that my family spend the Saturdays this month completely unplugged from all devices so we can get into the flow of slowing down and pausing (much to my teenagers’ complete dismay).
Where should we be focused as leaders? Should we concentrate our efforts on moving our conference online next month, or completely breaking down our business model and starting again? Should we pause or hurry up? And what about the folks who tell us to wait it out – assuming we have the financial and relationship capital to do so?
Friends, on any given hour, of any given day, I can catch myself or those around me falling into one of these four thought patterns:
- Go Back to Bed. Some people will tell you that if x,y,z happens, then we can all get back to normal. That we shouldn’t rush into anything, and wait to see how this all plays out. Those are the people who will have the future created around them, and without their input. Some hours I slip into this category and go to bed early, unable to deal with the weight of the moment.
- False Productivity. Many people won’t be able to dig deep into the well of their own fear and anxiety, and will express this as false productivity – daily webinars, even more zoom meetings, meticulously planned homeschool schedules, learning two new languages. Those are the people who will miss the opportunities that are percolating, because they are full attempting to recreate what existed in the past in a new format or trying to soothe their brains with some semblance of control. This week I caught myself researching various online webinars, for hours, before I forced myself to stop and identify the real need I was trying to address.
- Ends Justify Means. Fear is a powerful and reckless emotion. People will wonder if they should loosen a grip on a formal restriction, or on a value that we profess – or follow another leader who is making these decisions – in order to address the unique health and financial needs of this time. Those are the people who will look back and understand that it was that moment when they lost credibility to themselves or to others. Last week I found myself considering a new client in an industry I would never have considered six months ago (out of fear of the future unknown, rather than excitement about helping this company), before I caught myself and declined. In fact I’ve faced more mini-moral dilemmas the past two weeks than in the last six months combined.
- Rose Colored Glasses. Having an optimistic outlook is powerful, but without grounding in real compassion and understanding, can be equally dangerous as apathy. People will miss the witnessing of real pain and grief that is critical to understanding both the opportunities and dangers of the current time. These are the people who will look back and ask themselves if they could have done something different, to change the course of the trajectory of their business or their city or people close to them. Some hours, after days of quarantining myself in my home office, I can become oblivious to the physical, financial, mental health, or other needs of the people and organizations I care about, and I need to step out and reach out to reconnect.
Before I can even consider moving to the next step (planning and action) I need to first check myself to see if I’m lingering in one of the above thought patterns to make sure that I’m not acting out of fear or anxiety. (Or if I’m unmotivated and I need a push into action – to reach out to someone for the connection needed to spur my creativity and thinking.) This is not an on-off switch – but a daily check!
Once I’ve reoriented, I’m ready to move.
Despite the tenor of this message, I’m wildly hopeful. Hopeful that this sea change will fix some overdue ills in our society and our planet. Hopeful that this will the be push that myself and other organizations and businesses need to reimagine the way we serve our communities and our mission, and that collectively we’ll ask more of ourselves, our society, and our organizations to take care of each other.
I’ve found, in the midst of fear and uncertainty, that those of us who can articulate a clear vision for an unknown future – based on creative potential – are the very people who can shape that future.
Let’s Replace Go Back to Bed-ism and False Productivity and Ends Justify Means and Rose Colored Glasses with a thought pattern of Hope grounded in Humility, and Courage grounded in Community.
And if some hours or days I slip into an unhelpful pattern, I’ll call on you – my community – to bring me back.
Thank you for that.