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Jan 7, 2021
Posted Under: President's letter

It is strange to start a new year with equal desires to take a nap and forge ahead, but that does seem to be the place that 2020 has left many of us. Our bodies and brains, mostly overwhelmed with the totality of what 2020 brought into our daily lives, have left us eager to move on and dig deep for the energy to do so. 2020 was so much of everything to everyone, but differently. It was sorrow and pain as much as it was learning and adapting, and as much as it was loneliness and connection. It was both a collective experience and one that could only be felt very personally. It was universal and it was targeted. Maybe this is true about every year, but the very utterance of the year 2020 to a friend, colleague, or stranger conjures immediate reflection – generally followed by a choice expletive.

As we usher in 2021 with a loud call of hope for a vaccine available to everyone, along with a much-deserved nap to relieve too much stress and navigation, I invite us to muster our energy to move with deep intention….onward.

When I shared with a friend that “my word intention” for 2021 was onward, she nodded in agreement and then described it better than I had done. She said, “onward is the act of digging deep and moving quietly, steadily, and even slowly down the path.” I marinated in this idea as it reminded me of a countless number of long hikes in the mountains with a favorite seven-year-old – fully game to get “there” but also happy to stop and throw rocks in the stream while staying ever mindful of the pocketful of snacks that would power us through to the finish. It also reminded me of pretty much every long race I had ever run with thousands of runners and streets lined with spectators knowing that the training to get to that moment was complete – what was left was the mental exercise needed to make the difference between stepping off the course or seeing it through. You likely have your own visual of what digging deeply, quietly, and steadily conjures up. For me, these reminders leave me ready to face 2021 exhilarated, uplifted, and yes, a little exhausted by all that still lies ahead.

More so, I am reminded from these examples and by what I see you all doing in your nonprofits, that there are bigger reasons to keep moving onward; that the journey itself is more important than the destination. So how we get there – by doing it together – by taking notice of each other – by sharing snacks – by keeping each other steady – that is what matters.

Maybe that was the gift of 2020, that in all of its hardships and all of its requirements to adapt and learn and shift, we got more connected to the journey itself. Maybe 2020 was the year to put everything into perspective. Maybe what “hindsight is 2020” really means is that all of that learning is what reflects on everything else moving forward.

Reflections from 2020 included watching as organizations and leaders threw out old assumptions, shifted into gear on things they thought would take years, which really took only weeks. We heard about plans modified over and over to meet people exactly where they were and in the way they needed it. We watched some groups close and others double down. We watched eyes open and minds open and hoped so deeply that we would collectively never unsee all that we can now see. Our hindsight is that if 2020 was the year we met volatility with vision, uncertainty with understanding, complexity with clarity, and ambiguity with agility, then by those very actions we are in a new place on the trail. Yes, the journey to get us here has been a challenge, but we are here now – and onward we go.

If you need to pause and reset at this point in the journey, I encourage you to do it – rushing fast is rarely the right answer. Resetting can be as simple as reflecting with your team on some generative topics: What did we learn? Where did we grow? Where did we get stuck? What surprised us? And what comforted us? Sure, we can ask these questions of ourselves, but more than that I encourage you to ask them of mission and the people that are making your mission happen. The answers will likely be different from just your own answer. It is in those collective answers that lay all we need to keep moving onward through 2021.

When you and the team are ready, I invite us all to gather our resolved determination, reminders of all that we learned, and a good dose of hope and support, and then turn our gaze to what lies ahead. With our eyes focused on the possibilities of what comes next and our feet firmly planted in the reality that we are not done with the ravages of this pandemic on those we love and those whom we will never meet, we move forward together.

Onward in 2021 will ask of us not just to reflect on ourselves and each other, and not just to move and respond, but it will ask us for our collective voice as a sector. If 2020 was the year you put your head down and just made it through the day, then 2021 is the year to lift up your eyes and realize that we have to collectively stand for our sector’s missions and causes together. We must navigate state and local budget battles and federal changes. Moving onward into 2021 will be tough for everyone but again in radically different ways. Our new skills of working from behind our computers will have to carry over into our advocacy work and our temptations of working alone will have to give way to knowing that only together will we emerge stronger.

Onward in 2021 might be bold and loud and certainly it will be steady and consistent. It will still require adapting our programs, shifting our business models, and caring for one another. But just as much, this year our actions, our choices, and our voices are all needed to move onward together.

Let’s commit to standing up with each other, encouraging each other, learning with each other, and reminding ourselves that with all of 2020’s hindsight we are better prepared to do the work our communities, people, and planet need us to do.

Onward.