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Grass and Flowers

We Are Not Who We Were

April 20, 2021


Thirteen months into pandemic, we are emerging. By now, many more of us understand we are not “returning to normal,” we are not “going back” even if we are returning to our offices. We have changed. How do we enter the near distant future where some of life might look and feel a little bit like it used to and so much has changed? 


This week while facilitating a group of senior higher education leaders in a dialogue about the future, one person bravely offered this observation, “I’m not who I was at the start of this.”  There was a long pause that each of us could feel, even inside our Zoom room. This leader had named something each of us felt but didn’t have the words and hadn’t yet paused for long enough to notice we were feeling it, too. 


We have changed. Though our individual experiences are as unique as our fingerprints, collectively we have witnessed a 

  • racial reckoning and uprising that continues today

  • ravaging global pandemic and continued economic fall out

  • intensifying climate change as fires, storms and the like continue to transform the earth

  • divisive, historic presidential election that exposed further that whole swaths of our country do not experience the same realities


  • life on the frontlines and/or the blending of work and life in new and vulnerable ways

  • leadership amidst and through chaos and unrivaled complexity.


All of this has changed us. 


We are not who we once were. 


It will take time to understand all the ways we have been altered. And it is time to start taking stock of those changes. As leaders, we need attend to “what’s different” within ourselves and our organizations so that we can create virtual and physical spaces that fully engage the possibility, creativity and opportunity present within our spheres. 


How can we understand who we are becoming? I think we can start by understanding our losses, taking stock of our transformations and being intentional about what’s next.  


What have you lost? 

Millions on the planet have lost loved ones. Some have lost moments and milestones. Others have lost friendships, jobs, ways of living or seeing the world. All change comes with loss. Even good transitions bring loss. New jobs bring new colleagues and the loss of comfort of an old role and every day contact with past colleagues.


What can you see now that you can not unsee and how has that changed you? 

For many of us, we can not unsee the murder of George Floyd. For others, the sacrifice of our frontline workers is carved anew into our consciousness. Whether it is the inequity of our education and economic systems, the response of our governments, the actions of our employers, the inventiveness of our teams or the power of science, we have new eyes with which we can shape a future. 


What are you leaving behind, what will you be intentional about taking forward? 

The diversity of experiences of pandemic is vast and yet I notice what resonates more deeply than ever for people is the desire to live and work with meaning, purpose and contribution. What do we need to let go of in ourselves and our organizations that existed long before last March or is a result of the last year that prevents from meaningful and purpose-driven contribution? What ways of individual and organizational seeing, being, thinking and doing to create meaning, purpose and contribution have we developed during this time that we want to take forward? 


How might you support those you lead in answering these questions for themselves and your organizations?  When we pause to map and make meaning of this year, we can collectively turn our full attention and energy to co-creating with the future that is emerging.

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