A Learning Year in Review: Tributaries February 2021

Inhale through your nose. Pause and count to four. Now, exhale and blow out your breath through your mouth.

Notice if your shoulders are bunched up near your ears. Relax your shoulders and stretch your neck.

Scan the rest of your body. Where are you feeling tension or tightness? Don’t judge yourself. Just notice.

Inhale. Pause and count to four. Now, exhale.

A year ago, I celebrated my 40th birthday. I was surrounded by loved ones and basking in the glow of being in community. Little did I know that would be the last time I would gather with a large group of friends.

Today, I try to conjure up memories from that night. The delicious food people prepared for the party. My friend dancing with her fiancé in the middle of the dining room. Watching as people from different parts of my life met and found points of connection. The joyful exhaustion I felt when I went to bed at the end of the night.

Inhale. Pause and count to four. Now, exhale.

I have learned and experienced a lot since then. The pandemic. The murder of George Floyd and so many more Black people, Indigenous people, and trans people. The election. The insurrection. Not to mention the ups and downs of being a parent, wife, sister, daughter, and friend. Supporting my kids’ distance learning. Navigating changes in my wife’s work as a special education paraprofessional. Moving to a new neighborhood. Helping my mom settle into a new apartment.

Teachers like Camille Cyprian and Marie Michael—two Black healers and culture workers—help me get grounded in my experiences and find generative, creative ways of being. Through their powerful and loving guidance, I am learning how to be stronger and more effective in all aspects of my life.

I am learning that I am loved. There are moments when I think I might break. I once texted my best friend a photograph of me crying alone in my bedroom. I remember feeling so alone that night, even though my wife and kids were just downstairs in the living room. I just needed someone to witness me. I realized that sense of loneliness was rooted in a sense of disconnection from my community. I felt adrift in that moment, trying to navigate the waters of simply being human. I could not see the shore. That’s when my friend assured me that what I was feeling was normal. That what I needed in that moment was sleep. This is an all too familiar pattern to me. Each time I reach out to someone I trust—whether that is my wife, my sister, or a friend—and each time they help me find my inner strength.

Inhale. Pause and count to four. Now, exhale.

I am learning that I am flexible. People who know me best can appreciate what a stretch it is for me to go with the flow. I love a plan. A plan gives me a sense of security in new situations and a sense of control over my environment. These extraordinary times, however, have demanded that I bend or completely change course to be there for the people and the communities that I love. That has looked like asking what my team needs, really listening to their answers, and adjusting my expectations of what success looks like. It has also looked like relaxing the rules at home (I love structure and routine!) so that my kids could have more access to technology to stay connected to friends. Learning to be flexible has given me the freedom to re-think what fun, connection, and self-care mean for me when my normal outlets are not available.

I am learning that I have a tender heart. I used to think that if I built and maintained my walls, I would be impervious. The lie I told myself is that being strong meant being hard. I developed my skills of self-reliance and rigidity early on in my life. They became badges of honor that I wore proudly. Over the past year, I have had to face reality and experience my emotions in a new and powerful way. On January 7, the day after the insurrection, I pulled my team together and told them that I was scared. I cried in front of everyone, and I didn’t turn away from the camera. I let them see me because it mattered that I lead by example—with authenticity, vulnerability, and courage.    

Inhale. Pause and count to four. Now, exhale.

I am learning that I am a leader. I make mistakes and I make amends. It isn’t easy to admit when I am wrong, and I am fortunate to have people in my life who hold space for imperfection. I listen to and learn from my team members more than I direct and dictate their work. They are smart, talented, and passionate people who share my vision for justice, liberation, and freedom. I care not just about what gets done but how it gets done. Together, my team and I align our intentions, actions, and results with our values.

Inhale. Pause and count to four. Now, exhale.

I do not know what the future will bring. I am eager to receive the vaccine. I am craving the in-person company of family and friends. I can’t wait to be back at HFJ’s office with my coworkers. My eyes need a rest from the blue light of my computer screen. For now, I stay committed to the lessons of the past year. I feel grateful for my family. I feel called to continue the work of making our world more just, more beautiful, and more connected.

Inhale. Pause and count to four. Now, exhale.

Let’s go.