When I was 29 years old, working with my first leadership coach, I got feedback that I was resilient. My coach went on to tell me that my story reminded him of a willow branch. It can bend, but it won’t break. That encounter over twenty years ago in my novice leadership career was a watershed moment.
When water drains from a single source but then hits a point of divergence, it divides. Perhaps it is a ridge that sends the water down one side or the other; it could also be a fork that creates a division. When we as individuals have these existential ‘a-ha’ instances that cause us to stop and deeply think – they are watershed moments. There was a before that moment, and an after that moment. There is a divide or a turning point in our thinking. Our water flows into a new basin, and we collect these moments as they help define our elasticity and wonderment in life.
Resilience is about recoiling after being stretched or springing back into shape once compressed or bent. To be a resilient person suggests someone can withstand difficult circumstances and press on in life. It’s not about mere survival as I know plenty of people who have been through difficult times but still smell faintly of resentment or anger. The residue is part of their pores, and they shed it in each encounter. To be resilient suggests more than survival, it suggests forward-facing growth with an abundant mindset. It means when the branch is stomped, trampled, or flattened, it slowly rebounds and stretches back into the light.
The universe urges us to explore our flow of thinking right now and ponder our own sense of resilience. This invitation to reflect allows us to hold up a mirror. How honest are we with how we are?
How are you? It is a mere acknowledgment. Most people respond with the word, fine, or good, or okay. Then we reciprocate with the same question and response exchange. Perhaps it is time to retire this socially constructed greeting for a while, given that we are now living in times where very few are actually fine, good, or okay.
Sometimes the most honest exchange is one in which there are no questions, but shared declarations such as:
You are here
I am here
I see you
We are together
I am with you
You are home
Then in our messy, compromised, worrisome, humanness, we can choose to go dark and stay trodden and bent (we need not go far, 2020 has a bucket of items we can pick from), or we can search for the light. Joy lives in the light.
There is joy in eye-contact, a good meal, a chuckle, a compliment, feeling heard, and knowing someone is with me (whether physically or psychologically). Joy can be a fountain; sometimes, it gushes, and sometimes it’s an infrequent soft drip. I always have control over the current.
After that encounter with my first leadership coach, I filed that watershed moment of resilience, and when it was time to start my coaching practice twelve years later, I knew. I knew my company would be called the Willow Group. Like many of you, my resilience is hard-wired. However, my honest joy is a day-to-day decision. I choose joy. What about you?
It is interesting to reflect on the leadership conversations I had with clients back in December of 2019 or January of 2020. The year-end goals, professional development focus areas, team building initiatives, and strategies for the future have all shifted. For those who have stayed on track with your original plans are you sure that is still right?
I have very few answers (and be wary of any consultant or coach who says they do), but I believe I have the right question, which is:
“Are we still having the most important conversation?”
The pandemic has surfaced fear, changes in lifestyle, political polarities, and a brand-new work environment. Virtual work can be a dream come true, or another person’s version of hell. Regardless of preferences, everyone is dealing with some type of COVID-responsible harm. For some, that damage means loss that is tragic and devastating; for others, the injury is unsettling, inconvenient, or scary.
Then there is the pandemic of racism that has always caused our society to be sick. However, the loss of George Floyd is highlighting just how disease-stricken we continue to be. We must take steps to name, address, dismantle, change, reconstruct, and heal.
These two pandemics
will not be ignored!
Leaders, please hit the pause button on all the conversations you believe were most important five months ago and reassess what healthy dialogue should look like now. What needs to be named in your organization? What needs to be eradicated from the workforce? What needs to be addressed in your own form of leadership? Ask yourself, are these conversations I’m still having the most important?
These are individual questions, but they also require a collective response. It is everyone’s responsibility to do this work, but it cannot be done alone. The time is now to perceive and receive what must be seen and heard.
Humor can be the best medicine! I have seen the memes that joke about people returning 2020 and getting their money back, or when time travel becomes available, always skip 2020. I am beginning to wonder, though, if we do not start talking about the most important things, the dynamics of 2020 may new leave.
What conversations do you need to be in now?
Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash
Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash
Carrie Arnold, PhD, MCC, BCC
In no particular order: Author | Dog mom to Moose | Speaker | Reader Mom to human offspring Wife | Lover of Learning Leadership coach & consultant, The Willow Group | Fellow, Institute for Social Innovation | Program Director for Evidence-Based Coaching at Fielding Graduate University