What I’m Listening to: Lush Lofi playlist on Spotify
What I’m Watching: my youngest deliberately turn on the garden hose when I asked him not to
What I’m Reading: Matt Andrews’ wonderful blog series on Public Leadership Through Crisis, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off! By Gloria Steinem, and Brian Johnson’s Twitter feed
Last Monday was ten years ago.
Last Monday I had several other ideas for this Morning Buzz post. This one had not yet come to mind.
Over the past few days (years), I’ve struggled with finding my role as we address COVID-19 in our community. There are numerous calls, webinars, and emails (no meetings!) that come in sprints. Information overload and politics at play. Local governments are finding themselves in an amazing place: an opportunity for innovation simply because we cannot afford to stand still at the cost of human lives.
How is it I feel I am drowning in the swells of COVID-19, yet not doing enough? What should I be doing differently? How should I measure impact?
The beautiful thing about community development is that community development touches everything. Housing. Infrastructure. Transportation. Homelessness. Economic development. Small business. Education. Social services. We are by trade, connectors of sorts. It is our role to fit the pieces of community challenges together, understand connection, and recognize impacts of action (and inaction).
The Friday before the Monday that felt like ten years ago, many of the school districts decided to extend their spring breaks. I knew I’d have to work from home with two young children for the foreseeable future so I brought home simple priority projects I could work on. But, suddenly these projects seemed less important. Meanwhile it seemed our leaders were drowning at times, even if no one was saying so. I felt I needed to work on something with greater impact to help the common goal: address COVID-19 with everything we’ve got.
But what did that mean exactly? What role could I play? Was that a particular project? Did I need to be on a certain call or engage with a certain group?
As I began to sift through these thoughts, my inbox suddenly had lots of questions I was able to answer (and my kids had lots of demands):
What about elections? Will the County still hold an election this spring?
Where are my blueberries?
How long will we halt eviction proceedings?
I don’t want those shoes, I want the other shoes!
What about serving our most vulnerable populations (e.g. HIV/AIDS, homeless, elderly)?
We don’t know how to be quiet.
What will we do when the hospitals overflow?
Why are you on the phone? Who are you talking to?
Where can someone find baby formula if they can’t afford it?
Where is my lightsaber?
How can we support each other?
Mommy, can I have a hug?
What questions are we not asking?
Are you done yet?
As I answered the questions and compiled resources, suddenly my role seemed much more clear: Short-order cook. Air traffic controller. Data analyst. Reporter.
I was able to help carry the load, to answer the questions, to share the data, to explore ideas and resources with those that needed it most so they could continue to lead through the uncertainty (or terrorize their older brother). As Matt Andrews’ blog describes, “leadership is not about one person on his or her own” and we all have a role to play. Although hectic at times, I seemingly found a groove with the occasional pivot accompanying unexpected circumstances.
Rather than being paralyzed by COVID-19, I encourage you to jump, dance, run to your role instead in a quest for impact. Your efforts will not disappear into a void. As Michael Ryan (WHO Health Emergencies Programme) says, “Everyone is afraid of the consequence of error. But the greatest error is not to move. The greatest error is to be paralyzed by fear of failure.” The time is now, my friends. COVID-19 will not wait for you.
As for impact, as a dear and brilliant friend of mine asks us to consider, “perhaps in such complex times we shouldn’t assume something needs to be quantified to be considered measurable impact. Now, more than ever, it’s about the softer stuff, the emotions, well-being, and relationships enabled by connecting with others.”
There’s a lot we don’t know, but there’s a lot we can learn. A lot we can learn about policies and processes, what works and what doesn’t, and the disease itself. And perhaps, most importantly, there’s a lot we can learn about ourselves and each other, too. What we do with it will be up to us.