Driving across the prairies last week, after 3 intense days of meetings, presentations, and connecting with my national staff, I had one of those lovely epiphanies that comes once in awhile when we’re open to them.  The sun was just beginning to set on the horizon and the gentle light was glistening off the railroad tracks.  The yellow light was so warm and inviting.  I pulled onto a side road just to gaze at it in wonder, and the thought came to me, “this is what hope looks like”.  It looks like a warm welcoming light on the horizon. It looks like glistening railroad tracks inviting us down a gentle journey into something new. It looks like a familiar and cozy, yet intriguing and mysterious prairie landscape. It looks like telephone lines connecting us to the people we love.
It felt so good to recognize hope again.  I’ve been through a tumultous time these past six months and I was beginning to feel like hope was stubbornly hiding behind a huge mountain of stressors and frustrations. I was so unsettled and restless I was ready to toss some of the things I cared about just to feel free again. I’d come up against so much resistance and apathy, I’d begun to doubt the value of my own wisdom and ideas.  I’d lost some of my effectiveness and imagination and I wasn’t sure how to get it back. I had huge hurdles to cross in my leadership role and I just wasn’t sure I had the strength (or capacity) to cross them.

Six months ago, I was lost in the shadows. I took a week off work and spent most of the week crying. I was completely overwhelmed with my life (mostly the career part of it, not the family part) and couldn’t see the way out.  There was no shimmering railroad track on the horizon beckoning me forward.  A few months later, I came very close to quitting my job or at least taking an extended leave of absence.  The timing was really horrible, though, since I was about to launch a big new marketing and fundraising strategy that included the hiring of two new people and a whole lot of difficult work with a marketing consultant (with the board looking over my shoulder).  On top of that, two of my other staff handed in their notices, so I had four positions to fill and four people to integrate into a team that was, at best, a little dysfunctional.

I struggled through and tried to find other areas in which to place my hope.  I launched a new website, I became part of a new fledgling community, I connected with some very dear friends who share some of my leadership challenges (Pinky the Bear – you know who you are), and I went for a lot of walks.  Each of those things worked for awhile, but mostly the relief was short-lived and soon I found myself floundering in hopelessness again.

Last week as I drove, something in me shifted. The stressors didn’t all disappear, but most of them began to feel like they were manageable again.  I can hardly tell you how refreshing the meetings and connecting time with my staff were. I was beginning to feel like I had something to offer as a leader again.  But at the same time, I was recognizing that some of the things I’d taken on I didn’t have to carry by myself – other members of the team were willing and able to carry them with me. The newest member of the team brought with her such brightness and initiative that I was beginning to believe that some of the transitions we’re going through will be just what we need.

Yesterday we completed the final interview for the fourth and final position. Shortly after that, I finished writing my overdue board report in which I got to reflect on all of the work I’d actually managed to accomplish in the last 6 months despite the darkness.  Suddenly, I felt like skipping down the hallway.

This feels like hope and OH, how I’m ready to follow it into the light!

p.s. I’m beginning to dream about writing a book on “leading with creativity, connection, and courage”.  As hard as they were, these past six months have felt like the perfect testing ground.  I have a feeling the next six months – when the true test of whether I can lead in bold new ways comes – will be further grist for the mill. If anyone has ideas on what they’d really love to read in a leadership book, spill them in the comments below! 

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