I Have to Ask: Books, Balance, and the Best

Posted on November 21, 2020


In this series, guest columnists reflect on one of three prompts provided by ELGL Co-Founder Kent Wyatt. This week, Lisa Durden, Chief Audit Executive for the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, shares her best professional experience in 2020, book recommendations, and importance of taking care of your mental health during COVID-19.

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Best Professional Experience in 2020

This year I’ve thought a lot about the connection between confidence and fear. I think confidence is a choice. And a big part of being confident is being brave. And maybe you can’t be brave unless you’re scared. Early in the year I decided I wouldn’t allow myself to get too comfortable, but I would go out and meet change where it was. 

In early 2020, before the pandemic, I made a change. And I was scared. I went from being an external performance auditor with the Secretary of State’s Office, to being the Chief Audit Executive at the Oregon Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Working as an internal auditor at a state agency is not for the faint of heart. It requires a complex set of skills. And it requires the ability to balance both the independence and objectivity that is required of auditors, with the ability to collaborate with employees who might be more than a little triggered by your job title. Luckily, the Director of the Oregon Department of Veteran’s Affairs is a leader who wants to build a culture of accountability and transparency in the organization and I can see the agency going from good to great under her leadership. 

Three Books That Have Had the Biggest Impact on Me

First one: Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte which I read when I was 11 years old and many times since. I even visited the real Wuthering Heights, the home of the Bronte Sisters, which is located along the Pennine Way Trail in England. 

Next up: Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. This book was written in 1937 and is considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance. I liked it so much I named my cat Zora, after the author. I figured it was one way I could promote the book.

And lastly, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. I was introduced to this book when I went to art school in my late teens. Invisible Cities explores the imagination through descriptions of fictional cities, many of which can be described as meditations on culture, language, time, memory, the nature of human experience, and death. It’s also strangely funny.

How I’ve Been Taking Care of My Mental Health During COVID

How am I taking care of my mental health during COVID 19? By paying close attention to it. The basics such as adequate rest, human connection, adventure, and work-life balance seem more important than ever. In addition to the basics, I also have my COVID projects.

I started sending out surprise care packages and letters to friends and acquaintances. These packages contained a few comfort items and something special just for that person, such as Tarot cards or a special book. These have been a big hit, with some of the recipients vowing to send their own care packages.

My second COVID project has been to plan small local trips. I like to travel. Usually internationally. However, that is out of the question during the pandemic. So, during the spring and summer I explored places much closer to home. I grew up in the Portland area, but there are some gems I’ve overlooked for years in favor of distant places. Before this summer, I’d never been to the “Little Crater Lake” on Mt. Hood or hiking on “Harry’s Ridge” at Mt. St. Helens, or to Washington’s replica of Stonehenge. But now I have been. Thank you, COVID!

My current COVID project for the long winter ahead is crafting. All the crafts, all the time. I’m learning to knit, weave baskets, calligraphy, drawing, printmaking, candle making. You name it, I’m doing it. And this requires a little courage because I have a disability that makes these activities a little more of a challenge for me, but I’m facing that down a little bit every day.

With the pandemic, we all have plenty of fear to exercise our courage with. It is not in short supply. We fear for our safety and the safety of others. We fear for the economy. And we still don’t know when the pandemic will end or what our world will look like when it does. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to think of how you can’t have courage without fear. And to consider this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just one step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it not as dreadful as it appeared, and discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.”

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