It’s been a helluva a year, which is a major understatement. There are a lot of things about 2020 that the world wishes did not happen, global pandemic, racial unrest, murder hornets and natural, as well as man-made disasters…
But there’s more.
I am sure this will be one of many posts about the chaotic year none of us could have imagined. Urban Dictionary has a number of submissions on what many are calling the worst year ever. While it has not been good, there are some things that go beyond the normal visual acuity standard.
When the year started, there was very little foresight of the impending storm we would all weather. I remember feeling the anticipation of opportunities and potential. I started the year convening with futurists in North Carolina, and enjoying connection time with special people in New Orleans, New York, San Antonio, Kansas City and Washington DC. I was making travel plans for the coming months to be part of large conferences and secured a coveted Platinum Pass for SXSW, excited to be attending my classmate’s film premiere during the festival.
In January, while I was at the Communities of the Future gathering, I was speaking with a friend who works for Homeland Security. He mentioned something called COVID-19 and said I should be careful as I traveled, particularly as I had recently spent the holidays with my son in Asia and was planning a trip to the Middle East in the spring for the Global Entrepreneurship Congress.
The news started to report more about the virus in March as we were hosting the Startup Champions Summit in San Antonio. Many of our members opted to stay away and there was a sense of something bigger looming. There was a small flurry of information that was building about the virus and impact on the economy. As we prepared to depart, we realized the need to centralize and cull information to support entrepreneurs and our respective communities.
Ecosystem builders approach their work with system level thinking. Illustrations of an ecosystem are often pictured as distributed networks. My fellow Startup Champions understood the way we were going maximize the collective knowledge of our community and wider circles of connections was an open sourced, hub and spoke model. The resource needed to be easily accessible, live where people could easily find, and be part of. It also needed to be very intentional so we could be sure it was relevant to the mission; we launched Ecosystems Unite on Facebook in March 2020 as the world started to shut down.
Often times we feel we should be all things to all people, a one stop shop where you can find anything and everything. After all, we need to make the most of our time and efforts, since those are life commodities you will never get back. Prior to the pandemic, many of us were spending time, as if it was an ever flowing, infinite resource. The moments in our lives when we usually become aware of its limits are when we lose someone that was special to us. Time does, in fact, keep ticking, it is incredibly precious and it stops for each of us eventually. It is uncommon to share grief publicly; the pandemic put dying front and center universally.
“Maybe death is the great equalizer, the one big thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another.”― Mitch Albom
By early April, it felt like the world was on pause. Pictures of empty streets in large metropolitan areas, car-less highways and nature reclaiming the Earth, real or imagined. There was talk of reset and restoring normalcy back to the world. While many could not wait until they could ‘get back to their lives’ again, others of us had little desire to ‘return to normal’. The halt gave us time to assess ways the old system were not valuable and moved discussion towards emerging something different. I shared my effort to articulate the need to design the new normal (here).
In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we seldom give ourselves a chance to really look at what and how we are operating. The virus pulled the emergency brake on a runaway train and stop us in our tracks.
As we started to collectively ascertain how these disparities played out in our professional lives, we were confronted in the US, yet again, by the death of black people at the hands of law enforcement. As the names Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor were becoming familiar outside of their respective communities, George Floyd’s tragic death, turned the focus of the nation from the virus. The Black Lives Matter movement and exhortation for equity and justice amplified. While videos of blacks killed by the police are not a new phenomenon, this torturous viewing showed the inhumanity depicted was undeniably avoidable at any time in the almost nine excruciating minutes of its duration.
By the time my adopted home of Tulsa, Oklahoma commemorated the 99th anniversary of the largest race massacre in modern history, and prepared for the Juneteenth celebration of emancipation, tensions were soaring. The egregious and churlish decision of politicians to host an indoor rally less than two miles from the historic site of Black Wall Street revealed the egocentric nature of policymakers and so called leaders. It shifted my definition of leadership, and I no longer consider it synonymous with management and governance. Rereading Margaret Wheatley’s “Who Do We Choose to Be?” , reminded me the importance of exercising individual freedom in a way that is additive, and to utilize it in fear and doubt, or to seek to contain and control it, shameful. Wheatley also expressed the need to abide and act.
“The energy now spent on self-protection can be converted into positive energy if we’re willing to encounter reality and see it clearly. Facing reality is an empowering act — it can liberate our mind and heart to discern how best to use our power and influence in service for this time.”― Margaret J. Wheatley
ABIDE also became an important framework for facing racial justice. In my work in cultural competency, I have long focused on inclusion, equity and belonging. The movement focus shifted through the years from:
- Diversity + Inclusion
- Diversity + Inclusion + Equity and/or Diversity + Inclusion + Belonging
While it grows more holistic, this still felt a bit off kilter until I was introduced to a roadmap by Fay Horwitt of Forward Cities. It emphasizes the need for access as a vehicle for change. (You can read about their eloquent approach here). My framework views ABIDE this way:
- Access is the path
- Belonging is a goal
- Inclusion is an action
- Diversity is a fact
- Equity is a condition
I traveled across the country over the summer and experienced how differently people acted and reacted to the virus, racial tension and turmoil of events, natural and human driven. The political race grew more polarizing by the day, parts of the country were ablaze, literally and the COVID numbers continued to rise. Disasters are often unifying, people come together in moments of crisis, our humanity and compassion are usually aroused in the face of human suffering; this year was different. We did not come together as a society; distrust and fear, by now were too baked into our daily existence. It will take a great deal of effort and time to heal and bridge the chasm.
Not everything was doom and gloom, there were some highlights and truly good things that happened and are continuing. People are resilient and innovative, we are adaptive and industrious. During the atrophy of our ‘dial it in’ mode prior to the pandemic, most of us just operated on autopilot. This period has sparked the need to be agile, pivot and amend our every day existence. We became more intentional about how we spent time and with whom. We became hyperaware of who mattered, reached out and stayed connected. Prioritization of small and simple things mattered as we realized the risk and preciousness of each moment and interaction. With so much loss in this time, what we gained and regarded became more valuable.
Our state of being, moved in new directions because of circumstances beyond our control. Much of this was forced, but there were monumental parts driven by our own desire to manage our future. Record number of US citizens voted in the recent election. Vaccines were developed in remarkable time and are now being distributed globally. A private company built and launched a rocket into space. The big wins in people’s daily lives consisted of new ways to make things work. Supporting children to learn and connect virtually, weekly Zoom calls with high school classmates, contact-less grocery shopping all developed from need and purpose. The choice to not squander and sit in wait for something else to happen derived positive outcomes.
The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. ~ Michael Altshuler
With the loss of loved one, jobs and other life changes comes movement. The world is not in the same place as it was when the year started, and it will never be again. We, the citizens of the world have collectively taken one huge step together and we are starting to realize what that shift entails. Many are changing careers, others’ are moving or altering their life conditions. This occurs for people all the time, the difference is we are doing so, this time, en masse.
Working with entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders, I know the most successful ones are those who adapt. Darwinism is often misconstrued and misinterpreted to be about the “fit”, as in fitness; vitality and health. Actually Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” It was Herbert Spence who coined, “survival of the fittest” as part of the Social Darwinism movement that spawned and supported laissez faire capitalism and class stratification to justify imperialism, colonization and racism. That is no longer blindly accepted.
One of the most efficacious joys in my life was introduced in a book recommended at the futurist gathering. This Could Be Our Future by Yancey Strickler envisions society that is not driven by the pursuit of financial maximization. Strickler introduces a simple and elegant framework to look beyond the near term orientation= BENTO. It is a mapping method for making values and goal driven actions and it has shifted my mindset from doing, in the hope of things turning out the way I yearn; to focusing on how I spend my energy towards the vision I strive to manifest. I do this as a member of the Bento Society, my Future Me is evolving and I am in a glorious community of practice. Connecting and becoming part of this group has not only opened doors, it has widened the threshold and expanded my perspective and knowledge.
A few big takeaways from 2020:
- Keep dreaming, but don’t get stuck on one dream. Agility is crucial for success.
- Success is defined by YOU. Do not let anyone else tell you what you should find valuable.
- Define your boundaries, expand your borders. So much you cannot/will not control, but you can still be autonomous and the limitations on what you can do are up to you.
“Remember this year? It was a good year, actually. This was the year you stopped waiting around for things to happen. And somehow, as soon as you stopped waiting, as soon as you started doing things, making things, claiming your own space, speaking up for yourself? That’s when your real-life began.” — Heather Havrilesky
As I publish this, it’s the winter solstice and the biggest planets in the solar system are conjoining in the night sky. It will be the longest night of the year and in the morning, the sun will rise. We will slowly gain more light. Turning the page on this chapter, there is nothing written yet. My Future Me is called to try things and collaborate.
How will you use the clarity and intention realized in 2020?