If you were to poll most superintendents and ask how they’ve fared over the last couple of years in this profession, no doubt the responses would be as varied as the different grasses we all manage. It’s been a mixed bag of never ending issues and demands, many of which are brand new to us. It would be safe to say that most have dealt with one or more (or all) of the following:
- Furloughs and temporary closures
- Deep labor issues (related to and independent of the first point)
- Increased demand and rounds (and all the issues associated, made all the tougher by the second point)
- Supply chain issues (stress for us and suppliers simultaneously)
- Severe budget restrictions due to loss of business over the last two seasons… or
- Dramatic increases in budget and capital expenditures due to swelling revenues (which can be a double-edged sword, because we are the ones who end up doing the extra work)
- The stress and uncertainty of everything else because of the pandemic.
- And… all the other normal stuff we deal with on a daily basis.
When we take a step back and evaluate the last two seasons, it’s a wonder some of us are still standing upright. We’ve been tossed sideways and backwards and when we have tried to move things forward it has often not been at the pace we are used to. Much of the time it’s felt like we have been stuck in a holding pattern with us simply hanging on by our fingertips, waiting for the storm to pass.
I read a quote recently that seemed to encapsulate this sense of limbo rather well…
You can’t be in survival mode and growth mode at the same time” — George Mumford (author of The Mindful Athlete)
My friends, we have been in survival mode for the better part of the past two years. The degree or extent may vary and some may even dispute this point, but overall we have been expending a great deal of energy finding ways to play the various rotten cards we’ve all been dealt. And at the end of the day it’s taken a lot of our personal goodness.
It’s not only OK to acknowledge this point; it is vital to. Get it out into the open. Lots of us would have everyone believe that this whole pandemic isn’t really affecting them much at all. I’d like to suggest that these folks are maybe not being fully honest with themselves. The pandemic has been a life altering, heavy burden for so many people, and pretending that isn’t the case is a disservice to all of us.
It’s a great disservice because as human beings we all suffer. And during times like these, the standard list (illness, death, loss, divorce, financial difficulty etc.) doesn’t lessen. We cannot ignore these traumas and right now many are feeling the weight and compression of the pandemic placed squarely on top of the standard suffering load many of us deal with everyday. Life didn’t stop because a pandemic rolled in.
But there is another angle to the whole survival/growth mode idea. While we may feel by times that we are languishing or feeling stuck, it’s important to realize that sometimes the best course of action during a battle is to actually retreat. Relentlessly pushing forward will only leave us depleted and exposed to further stress. While it may not seem like we are making gains per se, falling back and tending our wounds can actually make us stronger and more resilient in the long run. Gains made through resting and strengthening are the quiet sort of gains which help us become better leaders. You can’t take care of your crew or your family if you haven’t taken care of yourself.
...falling back and tending our wounds can actually make us stronger and more resilient in the long run.
It’s during times of great transition that we really need to pause and gather ourselves. We need to realize that we are not alone in our struggles and take the time to reach out to help someone in need (or to seek help for ourselves). We need to see the value in being vulnerable and respond with kindness and compassion when feelings of vulnerability arise in ourselves or others in our lives. Doing so may seem to go against the grain of society’s never ending growth mindset, but if we choose to respond with small micro moments of grace we will create a sense of space that will serve us far better.
We are constantly in the midst of change. The past two years have been firmly planted in the major change category. By times it can feel exciting or overwhelming and at other times it may be barely noticeable. This state of constant adjustment is hard, so it’s wise to offset it with times of space and rest.
As we move forward into the new year, with all its promises of renewal and new possibilities, maybe we can all pause and realize that we are all doing the best we can right now. Perhaps we can choose to simplify our approach to things to make more space for rest. By focusing on things that matter to our well being we are building a foundation that will remain solid no matter what the next season brings.