Most of us are already looking forward to leaving 2020 behind and beginning a new year. We might be exhausted but we have endured. We’ve survived 11 months of disruption and lived to tell the tale. All of us are grieving losses. For some, it is the loss of loved ones. Others have experienced a loss of work. For some, it’s even the loss of favorite routines that is causing sadness.

Of course, we’re not through it yet. Our choices and our adaptation to constant disruption are still taking a toll on our energy and attitude as we enter the New Year. When we adapt, it’s important to remember there are different talents we need to access to move out of old routines into new habits and toward new and ways of thinking and acting. Bottom line? We need to expend energy and we need to learn.

Lessons from Nature

A four-phased infinity loop that is endlessly repeating, Nature goes through a continuous adaptative cycle. The quadrant at the lower left of the infinity loop is the launch phase. This is the phase where nature experiments with new ways of being and acting. Then, there is the sustaining phase where structures, processes, and routines are normalized and maintained. The third phase is release where we let go of what has been built because it no longer fits with what is going on in the external environment. The next phase after release is the exploration phase when nature uses the energy recovered from the release of old ways to explore what is now possible given new circumstances.

Guess what? Nature has been flowing seamlessly through this adaptative cycle for 3.8 billion years.

We have lived through a year of disruption and release. Some of it has been intensely painful, frustrating and emotionally draining. Some of it has been just plain irritating! However, we are beginning to see the light at the end of this long disruption with the distribution of vaccines for COVID-19. As this light becomes brighter we must ask ourselves a question:

What has the disruption brought to our lives that should be sustained as we move out of the pandemic in 2021. 

It is difficult to move past the experiences of this year and it can be challenging to see what has actually formed underneath all this change. In a March, 2019 blog I shared a story from Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind  that addresses why the moon is “always” full and why it’s so important to see what is unseen.

Master Baso said, … Every day the moon becomes larger and larger and on the fifteenth day, it becomes full. This is one aspect of reality, and let us call it “the reality of progress.” However, the moon is always full, whether we can see it or not. Since only a part of the moon can be seen from earth, we are deluded into thinking that it increases and decreases in size. But the plain fact is, whether we can see it or not, whether we call it new moon, half-moon or crescent moon, the moon is full—ALWAYS!

I myself am having a hard time seeing the fullness of 2020’s changes. I am reminded of the waves I love to watch when visiting Lake Superior’s North Shore. The waves I see are the ones that are cresting because that’s where the white caps are visible. But under each wave, there is another forming that we cannot see. Eventually, that wave becomes visible after the first wave crests and falls.

This is what my life has been like this year. I am tracking the growing and cresting waves of disruption. While I know there is something significant happening underneath, it is very difficult to see and even harder to understand.

I believe we are all being profoundly changed by this time living outside of normal. Personally, this is what I’ve noticed about the ways my own thinking and habits have shifted based on the impacts of COVID-19:

  • I didn’t spend as much as I usually do. I didn’t need to update my wardrobe or dress for face-to-face business meetings. I had fewer travel expenses each month. I used fewer office supplies because things were shared virtually. These are all such simple examples of a shift in my work habits that impacted my spending. As I consider the changes I may sustain post-pandemic,   I wonder if consuming living on less will be a new normal for me. This shift would be helpful to our environment. Can we all consume less, and subsequently extract less from nature?
  • Remote work has given me more insight into the promise of online interactions. I used to think everything was better in person. That thinking has been stretched, challenged, and proven to be limiting. This year I facilitated a virtual, day and a half retreat that worked in a way I never thought possible. In addition, I connected with people across the world through my LinkedIn connections. Many of us connected on social media and progressed to a ZOOM call.  These calls, and my numerous new friends and colleagues, have enriched my life and my view of the world. I never would have expanded my network this way under normal circumstances.
  • My sense of time has changed. Usually, I travel the 80 miles from my home to the Twin Cities three or four days a week. When the shutdown happened here, suddenly there was more time in my day. As my work shifted online, the time I usually spend on the road opened up, giving me more space on my calendar. I began to like the less frantic pace of my life as I had more time to reflect, wonder, and spend time with my cats, experiencing nature and the Mississippi River flowing past my house. I don’t think I want to give up this newfound time and space.
  • I am changing. I don’t fully know how much yet. I am open to letting this new me emerge over the next 6-12 months. I do know that this year has been a generative year for me. My colleagues Daniel, Stephanie, Chris, and I started hosting calls on Leading through Disruption…. Which I would now rename “Leading with Disruption” because I think our real goal isn’t to get through it but learn to live and thrive with it.

On possibilities and opportunities

Finally, I have been asking friends and colleagues to share the possibilities and opportunities they are seeing because of this year. One pattern that has emerged is that they generally focus on the difficulties instead of the possibilities. I think we must all find ways to pause and reorient our thinking so that we look for what is perhaps “unseen” – the good things that have come out of this experience so far.  I am not ignoring the difficulties.  But we can’t reimagine our world unless we see the lessons in the wave that is forming unseen underneath the crest of the one before it.

For me, I plan to embrace Nature’s infinite adaptive cycle as  focus on staying open and being present to what is and may emerge from this year into the next.

Happy New Year!