Like I hope many of you did, I took some time off this summer. With the majority of the year behind us, taking time away was a much-needed respite from video calls and packed schedules. Perhaps more than any other year, this summer offered me a chance to reflect on not just what we’ve been through in 2021, but also on how much life has changed since the pandemic took hold during the early months of 2020. Now with just a third of the year left, I am more focused than ever on the “why.”
As 2021 has progressed, we have stopped using the phrases “COVID recovery” and “post-pandemic,” and for good reason. As I write, only 54% of adults who are able to get the vaccine are fully vaccinated. In some states, the rates barely break 40%. We can run through all the reasons for this – lack of access, mistrust in the vaccine and the medical industry, or malicious misinformation – but the reality we face doesn’t have time for us to argue about the reasons for too long. As we undoubtedly work in our own communities to encourage vaccinations and at times, mandate it, we also must be gracious in how we treat ourselves and our communities at this time.
The truth is we will be dealing with all of our major crises – racism, climate change, economic inequality – while still balancing how to get on the other side of this pandemic. It is not going to be easy and I have witnessed in my own circles the level of exhaustion that doesn’t seem to dissipate. Adam Grant wrote about this feeling earlier in the year and called it “languishing.” When he wrote that piece in April, I think we had hoped by end of summer, we’d be somewhere else as a country – more vaccinated and more “post-pandemic.” What has presented itself as our reality brings me back to my focus on “why.”
I encourage leaders in civil society to ask the tough questions about the work we do. It’s clear to me that our context is not only permanently changed, but is continually changing, often significantly, in light of all the disruptions we’re living through these days. This continual disruption requires all of us to remain open and at times, agile, to shift and adapt to new and often more challenging circumstances. For many of us schooled in strategic planning, data-driven decision-making, and systemic changework, the volatility of our context demands more of leaders on a daily basis. One silver lining I’ve experienced in my work is that our current context has forced me to cast my leadership eye on an aspirational goal with flexible strategies that, ideally, adapt to changing circumstance, while not shifting the direction of our work.
So when asking “why” about the work you do, the services you offer, or the programming you fund, we all collectively get to a result we share: a healthy and equitable civil society where all people thrive. Wrestling with the tough questions about who is actually better off with our work and how we would know, strengthens all our impact. Before we embark on a new year, set priorities, and create new partnerships, and while dealing with our ongoing turbulent times, we’ll be asking “why” a few extra times. I hope you will, too.