Those were good and beautiful words – and ones I still try to live by – but I didn’t bother choosing intention words heading into 2022. (The word for that turns out to be “prescient.”)
But because I am a word person, I do have a word that I want to embrace starting now.
I don’t surf, personally, because I have a deep aversion to getting water up my nose and drowning, both of which seem inevitable when I consider paddling myself out into waves. Yet, there is something about the metaphor of it that feels pretty helpful right now. Sometimes we miss a wave we meant to catch. Sometimes we grab it and get an incredible ride that fills us with lightness and aliveness – even if it threatens to take away our footing. And sometimes, the wave clobbers us. And, then we blow the water out of our nose and climb back onto the board to try again.
And the question is, as leaders and humans, what do we need to reach for to go seek that next wave?
So far, almost a quarter through this year, every time I’ve tried to plan something, the Universe has laughed at me. (And it probably started last December, when I planned to have Christmas and had Covid instead.)
In January, I learned about a violent death of a family friend on the same day I had a Big Plan with my grown children for a long-awaited and discussed activity (we all got tattoos).
In February, I flew halfway around the world for a trip that seemed like an incredible opportunity: an invitation to join a friend on a ship in the South Pacific after two years of pandemic. I’m pretty sure I was adding up my airplane mileage before we got off the call where she extended the invitation.
This was a Big Yes for me.
And in a microcosm of my year so far, it held ALL the things.
A week before I was supposed to leave, I thought it was going to be cancelled. My friend, already on the ship, tested positive for Covid. Even though she was asymptomatic, she had to be in quarantine for ten full days, giving me nowhere to stay when I arrived. But a few days into her isolation, she found another bed for me. We were back on!
And four Covid tests, 11 hours of travel, and 72 hours of my own required quarantine later, my adventure began. A few days in, while visiting an island that was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, I had a Peak Experience hike to a waterfall, including a swim under the towering shower. It filled me with a sense of joy and aliveness that will stick with me for a long, long time. Then, I hiked back from the adventure, still damp from my swim, and returned to hear that there had been a fatal boating accident involving someone else on the trip.
On a dime, best went to worst: sad, shocked, grieving.
And the following day, long before anyone had processed the accident, a new thing happened. Despite not having been in a port with recorded cases, and despite having had no new cases on the ship for over a week, there was a Covid outbreak. Thankfully, no one had symptoms or felt sick, but 13 people had tested positive during routine testing. Understandably, by the time all the close contacts of those who tested positive had all been quarantined, a giant percentage of the population was out of commission, and the rest of the voyage was cancelled.
It was hard for me to be truly surprised at this turn of events. Welcome to 2022, right? And, as we spent days at sea chugging back towards the island with the airport, my trip was a time of staring at an ocean that was passing me by. And with full respect to those lives changed with the accidental death, I can say about my experience: not what I expected, but honestly, what has been what we expected?
Are you having a year with wild twists and turns? Relentless and unpredictable waves? Where spectacularly wonderful and insanely sad things happen, sometimes in the same day? Where every time you think you’re signing up for one thing, something entirely different unfolds?
This month so far, there is disbelief in the collective space. There is the sense of relentless: was it literally the same week that Covid sort of tapered out and war broke out in the world? That we returned to work but couldn’t afford gas to drive to the office anymore? A preponderance of my conversations these days include talking about anxiety, about it feeling bigger and less manageable than it ever has.
And if it’s not anxiety, it’s unexpected injuries, funks, brain fogs. People feel disoriented. Discombobulated.
As leaders, how do we evoke that flow in our ever-changing landscapes? How do we pick ourselves up after being crashed face-first into the sand? How do we find what we need to try again?
Here’s a simple-ish strategy that seems to help, and that, for me, evokes the (in my case imaginary) energy of surfing through turbulent times: One, I let the disappointment course through me. On the trip, I didn’t complain out loud, but I allowed myself to feel the very physical sensation of letdown, of realizing I had gotten attached to an outcome and an adventure I planned to have. I set aside time, money, and miles to get myself to someplace at the top of my Bucket List, flew thousands of miles … and got exactly one chance to snorkel. Really? Really. And I understand that this is a VERY minor disappointment compared to what others are experiencing, which is why I can’t overstate here how important it is to feel these feels all the way through so that they can pass.
In our work with leaders, we call this process coaching. Because pretending to be a good sport is a less powerful strategy than being with what is.
But it’s important also not to dwell longer there than we must. Shirzad Chamine, in his PQ program, advises us not to let our hand linger on a hot stove, but rather to correct back into a more sage space as soon as we are able.
Strategy, part two: once that disappointment had drained out of me, I was able to seek that more sage perspective, to get curious and to wonder: what IS available here? I actually came home restored in some unexpected ways, which was a gift of this journey. I had the gifts of time, space and quiet, which I ended up using to revisit a traumatic experience from my teens, I read a powerful book about it, and found I had the energy to engage with it, do the exercises, write in my journal, do some work with compassion and forgiveness. I let the rolling of the ship do its work on me. I came home with more peace.
Last thing: how do I file this experience? In my case, it’s wiping the saltwater snot off my face, savoring the feeling of dry air in my lungs … and heading out to find another wave.
Margaret Katz Cann is part of the Fundraising Leadership team. She believes that, as fundraisers, we are way too often in apology when we ask for money. As a Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), Margaret specializes in executive fundraising coaching, board training and consulting, working with nonprofit and startup executives to stop tripping over their ask, to connect to passion and leadership – and to step into the world of compelling fundraising. And more snorkeling in the South Pacific is STILL on her bucket list.