April 25, 2020, the world is in a very strange space. A time when everyone on the planet is basically in the same boat. A situation that is foreign to mainstream population. Leadership is encountering a decision tree, that sometimes seems like a magic eight ball may yield a better answer. Living in a time that solutions seem to be void, how can we continue to have a smile on our face and hold hope in our hearts?
Compared to some, my life isn’t all that bad. On the minus side, my youngest daughter Lilly is missing her college graduation and all the high points her senior year was meant to experience. My work is beyond challenging. Having a career in the “people” business and hosting large scale events faced with cancellations has obstacles too many to even mention. Yet, my family is healthy, we all still have an income, food on our tables and a roof over our heads. Most importantly, we have each other, at a distance in some cases, and we have a community of friends that is beyond measurement.
Managing a team of people and trying to flex one’s leadership muscle has me digging to depths of my inner resources. Surprising myself at times with the words that flow and the hurdles of tasks that we clear, I just know deep down there is a light at the end of tunnel. I keep reflecting to a phrase that is repeated endlessly in one of my all-time favorite movies, Shakespeare in Love. Coined by Philip Henslowe (played by actor Geoffrey Rush) an Elizabethan theatrical entrepreneur, the unlucky thespian was an optimist in the truest form. In one scene he is discussing the failing business venture when a contemporary notes “So what do we do?” Henslowe’s poetic response is simply, “Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well”. When quizzed to why, he responds nonchalantly “I don’t know it’s a mystery.”
With all the shifts in the world, I can’t help but wonder every morning when I wake, how will we ever get back to normal? Then the Pollyanna in me begins to chirp in my ear and I look for the bright spot for the day. Funny, even before society was struck with a pandemic my sense of relief has always been to search for the sign or inspiration. Collecting quotes like valuable coins that increase the value of my spirit has been my go to for years.
A few years ago I attended a woman’s empowerment conference. Like all conferences or conventions the walls were lined with pop-up tables from the event’s sponsors pitching their products. From reusable bags to lip balm, it was a tchotchke lovers paradise. Not getting caught up in the freebie bonanza, I strolled along passing the countless treasures up for grabs, then something caught my eye. It was a little brown bag that was filled with cards with uplifting sayings. Little did I realize this simple “snag” would resonant for so many and impact others beyond my core circle.
“The Cards” (as coined by staff) have become part of my leadership tool box. When staff is hitting a stressful time or needs to take a mental time out, I will begin our weekly meetings with The Cards. We pass the stack around, everyone selecting one randomly, and then take turns reading our message to the group. It never fails to bring a smile to a face or words of encouragement from a fellow staff member, ultimately it gives us a moment to pause and take a break in the action. They have become such a staple to our team dynamic, that it is common for The Cards to be the go to when the chips are down.
Life has a funny way of connecting dots and painting the picture of the little things that end up meaning a lot. Last year when I was going through cancer treatments, my lifelong friend Serena would send me little cards that held a secret message of faith. She had no clue that this was right in my wheel house. Her hidden treasures have become part of the tapestry of my bedroom bulletin board.
One day in early April, after we started sheltering in place, I discovered an unmarked package from Amazon on my doorstep. Upon opening, there was a little box of cards titled “Inspire Her”. Finding no note attached, I began questioning all the usual suspects in my world if they had sent this fun surprise. After soliciting friends and family with no avail, I enjoyed the gift and stopped contemplating the mystery of its origin. A week later, I encountered two more boxes of cards in the mailbox. As the plot thicken, I could not for the life of me figure out where these fabulous little surprises were originating from, it was truly a mystery.
Then there was a break in the case. One Saturday morning I ventured into the office to switch out files for the upcoming work week. Teea, one of our Exhibit Team members, was there picking up items she had left in the office. We were chatting about life and out of nowhere she said, “Have you been getting surprises in the mail?” “Are you the one that has been sending me the quotes?”, I exclaimed. With a big grin on her face, she fessed up and shared this story.
You see, Teea is a military wife. Her husband Travis is in the Navy and is stationed on a ship out at sea. Teea volunteers as the Ombudsman for the ship and aids sailors or their families when they are struggling. Connecting them to resources to ease the situation and lending a caring ear. She began sharing how moral had been low on the ship. Travis was searching for something to lift the sailors’ spirits and Teea told him about The Cards. How they lift our energy, bond the team and always lighten the mood. Travis thought the crew would benefit from some special words of encouragement. Teea explained how she was just about to come in and retype each and every message to send to her husband, when she stumbled upon the boxed cards on Amazon.
Listening to her story my mind played back the course of events over the past few years. From grabbing a stack of cards from a random table of giveaways to making their way to supporting a group of sailors, the course of events although a mystery gave me hope that all the clutter and noise in the world right now would quiet down, sooner or later.
I sometimes wonder when I write, if my words impact anyone or is the exercise just for my mind. It isn’t easy for me to write. I enjoy the process but it takes time, space and a thought that can become a narrative. Yet, my simple action of creating an ice breaker for a staff meeting turned, not only, into a team ritual but fueled a universe of good vibes. Conscious acts of kindness are on the road to happiness. Practicing this lesson, I decided to share Teea’s gems. Writing little notes, selecting a random card and letting the US Postal Service do its job, the exercise was empowering to the mind. The icing on the cake was hearing from the recipients. A small gesture had such a large impact.
As we all sit home and do “nothing”, consider how this simple act strenghtens the whole. The day will come when we will reflect on this time and resiliency of mankind. Opportunities will arise, comfort zones will be stretched, and we will come out the other side stronger. Today’s card stated “Believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful – an endless prospect of magic and wonder – Ansel Adams”. Will tomorrow ever go back to looking like yesterday? Who knows. At times it is tough to comprehend with loss of life, jobs and basic freedoms, how all will turn out well. But one thing is true we will come out of this stronger, more resourceful and kinder than one could ever imagine. How will we get there, I don’t know … it is a mystery.