In late August 2020, amidst a pandemic, social uprisings, and increased impacts of climate change, I had a baby. Jade Selene was born at quite a moment in our collective history. So much is happening politically, socially, and environmentally, and the pandemic has thrown how we process time for a loop. While all of this is looming so large, when Jade arrived, my world also got very small. Days are scheduled around feedings and naps and diapers. This has been such an intimate, precious time for my husband and I to be with our child, in what feels like a chaotic period in our lives.
As I watch her every day, I’m struck by all of the changes that are happening in our little world. And it has made me reflect on what I have learned from her when it comes to change and whether there are any lessons for the changes taking place in our communities. I could basically copy and paste the core principles from Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown or the living systems principles from Kathy Allen’s book Leading From the Roots here because they also seem to be the principles of parenting. Coming up on my three short months of motherhood, here are three things that Jade has taught me so far about change:
1) Change comes in spurts: Every few weeks, Jade suddenly looks different to me. She’s bigger, heavier, more expressive, and more alert. Seemingly overnight, holding our little potato felt more like carrying a sack of potatoes. Her growth doesn’t happen on some kind of graceful, linear timeline. It happens in fits and spurts, starts and stops, not at all and then immediately. My normally calm and curious child will turn into a screaming, starving vampire for a few days, only to have grown again in that short time. And each time I turn to my husband and say, “Look at how different she looks again.”
Changes in our movements, organizations, and institutions have never happened in a smooth way either. Ricardo Levins Morales recently wrote a beautiful piece called Between the Waves. He talks about the changes necessary in the police system coming in waves:
That’s how it is with tides. The waves of a rising tide roll onto the sand and slide way, rise and slide. Each time (or every few times) reaching a little farther. We’re hearing it now. “The window of opportunity is closing,” we’re told, for making changes to the police system in this country. No, societal change comes on the tides, not through the window.”
This framing is so helpful to me. I shouldn't expect change to come only when the timing is right. And when change feels like it is in a lull, maybe we are at a moment between the waves.
2) Little actions make big movements: Jade is constantly moving. Her wiggles are the signs of her instinct to crawl. Her little head lifts are practice for when she will start to roll over. She first started batting at toys that were dangled in front of her with clenched fists. Then she started opening and closing her fists around the toys. Now she’s grasping at all kinds of things in her reach. The gradual steps, building muscle and memory, and the constant practice leads to these milestones.
One of my favorite concepts in change work is fractals. Every journey is made up of thousands of steps, and they had to start with the first one. With the urgency of issues that we are facing in the world, we desire big impacts and fast. Sometimes the way to achieve that is through small actions of many people moving in the same direction. Our election process is a good example of this. To elect representatives we trust, who will make decisions in the best interest of the country, who will actively work on the issues that are affecting our communities, we need millions of people to vote for positive change. And mobilizing those voters takes volunteers, activists, and others making phone calls, writing letters, encouraging people to vote early, or driving folks to the polls. These are all of the little actions that lead to big movements.
3) We need to embrace paradox: Before Jade was born, I wondered what kind of mother I would be. Or how being a mother would change my identity. I have sat with how motherhood makes me feel, and I feel two things very strongly, kind of like a Yin and Yang.
I feel motherhood very gently. I felt soft and warm, sweet, loving, and calm. I feel kind and nurturing. I feel like a blanket.
I also feel motherhood very fiercely. My feelings are sharp, focused and deep. I feel ferocious in my love for her and everything around her. Her presence has made me more ardent about issues that I used to think I already cared passionately about.
These gentle and fierce opposing feelings are not either/or. They do not exist separately from each other. They exist simultaneously, twinning in my relationship to Jade and in my identity as a mother.
For change to happen, we need to embrace paradox. A few weeks ago, Dr. Elizabeth Swain, co-founder and co-director of Climate Interactive, put out a short series of tweets that encapsulate this idea for the climate movement:
We need individuals and systems. We need urgency and we need time. We need to do things and we don’t have to do everything. It’s both/and.
I will likely share more lessons about change the more that Jade keeps teaching them to me. Until then, I’ll leave you with the most important lesson of all: get some sleep.
I have read a lot of cover letters and resumes. Like, A LOT. And because I often coach people who are looking to make a job transition, I am frequently asked how people can improve their application materials. I get this question enough that I thought it might be helpful to you (and, frankly, me) to compile this advice in one place!
Here’s my opening disclaimer: I am absolutely not a professional cover letter or resume coach. I’m also not a recruiter or an HR professional. When I work with people who are in job transition, I help them think about what career opportunities align with their purpose, values, skills, and the environment in which they thrive. Every piece of advice in this post is purely my own opinion based on years of hiring, serving on hiring committees, and my own personal experience. In fact, if one of my coaching clients asks me for cover letter or resume help, I typically encourage them to find another resource.
Ok? Cool. Here we go!
My first piece of general advice is to be real. Your cover letter and resume are often your first introduction to the organization. I think it’s more important to be real about who you are than to try to contort yourself into what they are looking for. Because if they hire you, you’ll have to be that contorted person rather than yourself. Being honest and authentic is always a good place to start, no matter how much you want the role. You are an asset. Be real about who you are and what you bring. You got this.
Next, think about to whom you are writing. Is the first stop for your application materials an HR department who will do an initial screening? Is there a hiring committee or just one person involved? Is the organization using a recruiter who will make recommendations based on certain criteria? I’m not suggesting that you would necessarily change your tone in these different cases, but it’s good to know if there is anything unique about the hiring process that you need to take into account. This is why I always recommend tailoring your materials to the role, the organization, and their process, rather than submitting the same stuff to several different organizations.
Finally, don’t think of your cover letter and resume as isolated documents. If I’m the hiring manager, I’m going to read these documents together, which means they can play off of each other. They both, in very different ways, tell me the story of you and your career:
1. Your resume tells me that you can do the job. Your cover letter tells me why you want the job.
Here’s my application material review confession: When I am hiring, I always look at the resume first. It’s not because I think it’s the most important document. For me, the cover letter is far more important. I look at the resume first for a quick check of your experience. Basically, do you have the professional experience that gives me a sense that you can do the job? I’m looking at the jobs you’ve had and for the skills that you’ve developed. So, even if you are trying to break into a new field and haven’t had jobs that are in that field, I’ll look for what skills you’ve acquired at the jobs you’ve had that tell me you can do the job.
Once I’ve looked at the resume to get a sense of your experience, I’ll then do a pretty deep read of your cover letter. More than anything, I want to know why you want this job. What I definitely DO NOT need is a rehash of your resume. My biggest pet peeve is reading a cover letter that just tells me everything I can see in your resume. Tell me in your cover letter why you are excited about this role.
2. Your resume tells me what you have done. Your cover letter tells me who you are.
I should be able to look at your resume and get a clear sense of your career journey. I should be able to see where you started and how you got to be where you are now. And I should get a pretty good sense of what you have accomplished in your various roles and skills you have acquired.
In your cover letter, I want to learn about you as a person and a professional. I want to know what kind of leader you are. My writing advice is that you should write how you speak. When I read your cover letter, I want to get a sense that you are talking directly to me. Cover letters can be pretty dry, and that has as much to do with how you are saying it as what you are saying. Now, I’m not suggesting that you tell me jokes, or that you give me tidbits about how you spend your free time on the weekends. Basically, if you read your own cover letter out loud and I want you to think, “Yes, this SOUNDS like me.”
3. Your resume is about the past. Your cover letter is about the present and future.
Your resume is a document that tells me about the things you have done up to this point. It’s a backward looking document. It’s historical.
Your cover letter should tell me why this is the job for you right now. Are you looking to challenge yourself? Are you making a transition? Are you looking for more responsibility? Has your career been leading you to this very role, and now is the time for you to go for it? If you see yourself as a leader in the field, tell me how you think this role helps you in your leadership now and in the future.
4. Your resume tells me about your progress. Your cover letter tells me about your passion.
Your resume is a story of your career journey. Where have you been? Have you moved up? Made lateral moves? And if there are places or spaces in your journey that make me curious and I want to know more, I’m likely to ask you about it in an interview.
I want to see your passion for the work in your cover letter. I want to see your personal connection to the work and the kind of heart you will bring. You don’t need to gush or go over the top. I should see your authenticity as you speak to what part of this job makes you want to come to work everyday. Start your letter by telling me a story. Grab me from the first sentence. I want to think, “I am really interested to talk to this person” by the time I get to the end of the page.
I'm looking forward to our fourth and final call in the Leading Through Disruption series, taking place on August 5th at 11am PT/12 pm MT/1 pm CT /2 pm ET.
What frameworks are sustaining you? What frameworks are sustaining your organization? What frameworks are sustaining the world?
You’re invited to Leading Through Disruption: Sustaining Frameworks. We invite leaders from every sector to an insightful and interactive conversation to:
Join our panel as they share powerful concepts and pose key questions every leader must ask of themselves and their organization right now. Work with peers during an interactive breakout session about what they are designing and how they are leading with regenerative systems going forward.
Click here to register!
This post is part of a collaborative series of reflections on doing systems change work. Read the other posts in this series by Isadora Collins of Maude Consulting and Jen Mein of Moxxim.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my role when it comes to change. I’ve been involved in several systems change efforts, with varying degrees of success. When I first started doing this work, I think I wanted to be on the forefront of change, pushing it to happen. And now I’ve realized that the most impactful change has been the change that has taken place inside me, in my mindset, in unlearning old ways, and applying that new way of seeing the world to my actions. That has lead me to realize that my role is to be more of a guide or someone who creates space for others to go through a similar self-examination and reflection process.
This desire to offer a space for reflection and unlearning was part of the impetus for creating the Systems Simulation. My colleagues and I wanted to offer an interactive, engaging experience that would allow people to reflect on their own approach, mindset, unconscious beliefs, and barriers when it comes to systems change work. The simulation doesn’t provide answers, but acts more like a mirror. It reveals and opens up things to the participants about themselves that will likely make them uncomfortable. In our experience facilitating the simulation, it’s highly emotional and sometimes stressful, and that is exactly the point. It’s meant to model the difficulty of systems work and also expose the things within ourselves that are getting in the way of doing the work.
When people get uncomfortable, they often resist. This can look like outright defiance or questioning of the rules. But in some cases, as often is the case in the simulation, it looks like inactivity or an arms-crossed “I’m not playing” kind of attitude. It can also look checked out or apathetic. I believe these responses correlate with what Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone describe in their book Active Hope as either overwhelm or business as usual:
These responses are common, and are a reflection of the way people behave and are treated in larger systems. In this simulation, people find themselves readily falling into roles that they play in real life, and also experience the treatment in the simulation that they experience in real life. The people who have had systems generally work in their favor, in other words white people and people with privilege, are those who bristle the most against the lack of clear direction or the constraint of the rules that are placed upon them by the simulation. In other cases, for people who experience systems that work in their favor, they will find “work arounds” in the rules that they might think are clever, but other people perceive as entitled flouting of the rules. This often causes a discussion of power and perception of who can and can’t do certain things when it comes to systems change and the relative risk that people feel they can take.
This demonstrates that without self-awareness, consciousness, and care for the larger systems, how quickly people can fall back into old patterns and ways of thinking, most of which are rooted in the characteristics of white supremacy culture, as outlined by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun: either or thinking, defensiveness, quantity over quality, power hoarding, individualism, and right to comfort. In the simulation, this looks like focusing on the self first, the team second, and the system last.
Change takes intention and time. And even in the safety of this simulation, people often don’t take the time to do the work. By the time they reach the third round, they know what they need to do, but they fall back to old ways of behaving. They don’t check in with each other. They don’t talk about what they are trying to create. They may go back to their table to create something there. They are tired and the effort seems too great. They do what is easy. What would happen if they took the time to ask and connect with each other to uncover what they could create together?
That is what systems change requires. Time, connection, exploration, shared vision, awareness, consciousness, and the willingness to be uncomfortable or give up power and privilege. It’s fascinating that we can see all of this play out during the simulation. By creating the space of exploration and reflection in the simulation, we hope that it opens people’s eyes to what change is required and what they might need to do in order to make it happen.
I'm looking forward to co-hosting another call with a great panel of systems thinkers on June 25th at 1:00 pm Central. With so much happening in the world, how do we make sense of finding a path forward? Join us for Leading Through Disruption: Germinating and Launching a New Way.
On this call, we'll explore the leadership question: What are you choosing to invest in and nurture going forward as we move through the social, health and economic disruptions occurring within our society?
We invite leaders from every sector to an insightful and interactive conversation to discover:
Even if you didn't attend the first two calls, there will be a lot to unpack and explore in this call. And if you can't make it on the 25th, register to receive a recording and the materials from the call afterwards.
Learn more and register!
What can we observe after a disruption that calls us to explore possibilities for creating a new paradigm?
On April 15, I co-hosted a call with four fantastic systems thinkers. We talked about how the current pandemic is causing a disruption that is forcing us to ask what we need to let go of in order to adapt. On May 20, we'll host another call to explore how to look for patterns that might lead to new possibilities.
You’re invited to Leading Through Disruption: Exploring New Patterns and Possibilities. Join this FREE 75 minute Zoom call on May 20, 2020 at 11amPT/12pmMT/1pmCT/2pmET
We invite leaders from every sector to an insightful interactive conversation to discover:
Continuing from and expanding upon the conversation from our first call, A Living Systems Path to Rapid Adaptation, participants will unearth themes from what they are noticing at individual, organizational, and systems levels, and probe for new patterns and potential next steps for co-creating a more regenerative, just and sustainable future.
Even if you can't make the call live, sign up to receive a recording of the call and the other materials after May 20.
Learn more and register!
I know so many leaders who are disillusioned with the "old" way of responding to the current crisis this pandemic is causing. Many are already making decisions that will impact the way our organizations behave moving forward. This is why I'm so thrilled to co-host this call with some amazing systems thinkers on April 15.
You’re invited to Leading Through Disruption: A Living Systems Path to Rapid Adaption. Join this FREE 1-Hour zoom call on April 15, 2020 at 11amPT/12pmMT/1pmCT/2pmET.
Leaders from every sector will join this insightful, interactive conversation to explore:
Participants will receive a recording of the call, exclusive copies of the Living Systems & Adaptive Cycle Context and as a BONUS - a chapter of Kathy Allen’s book , Leading From the Roots.
Click here for more information and to register.
Ok. I have to admit that I have written and rewritten this post several times over the last few days. My brain feels mushy. I'm distracted. Maybe you can relate. This post doesn't say everything exactly the way I want to and that's just going to have to be ok right now. But I feel like it is better to say something than nothing right now. One thing that I'm trying to hold in my heart and mind for myself and others is "We are doing the best we can."
I'm on my sixth day of social isolation due to the Coronavirus. I do not have the virus, but I'm 4 1/2 months into a pregnancy with a baby due in late August, so I have been extra cautious. I basically leave the house to walk the dog and go to the doctor. I know I'm able to say that with an immense amount of privilege. I have stable housing, a supportive partner, flexibility to work from home, and resources to mitigate the potential long term implications of this situation. My heart goes out to the people who have been affected or who have a loved one who has been affected by the virus. I'm afraid for the artists, nonprofits, health care providers, service and hospitality workers, and all of those experiencing housing or income instability who are going to be impacted in the short and long term by this crisis. The cascading effect of all that is happening right now has the potential to be devastating to many.
While I've been at home, I've remained in touch with friends, family, and colleagues. Video chats are priceless. I've been trying to limit my social media time, but I check in a few times a day to catch up on the news and to see what's happening with the people I care about. The anxiety is palpable. Everyone's senses are heightened. It feels like we are just waiting for the next shoe to drop. I see people posting panic over every cough or flu-like feeling, only to recall they haven't slept in several days so of course they are feeling unwell. Nonprofit leaders I have spoken to are deeply in touch with the urgency of this moment and the impact it has now and in the long term. We are all worried for ourselves, our families, our communities, and the state of the world now and once all of this comes to a close. It reminds me of the "new normal" conversations that we had in the nonprofit sector around the 2008 recession. It is much harder to be present as the future becomes more and more uncertain.
It's ok to not be ok. Situations like the one we are in now expose our vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities in our systems, institutions, and in ourselves are put on display. We see systems fail to support those who need it most, institutions that we trusted not respond in the way that we hoped, and we worry that we are not doing enough or feel helpless in the face of the scale of the crisis. On our good days, we might be able to imagine a future with systems that are actually set up to care for our collective wellbeing. But until then, living during pandemic is scary and exhausting.
If Brene Brown has taught us anything, we know that vulnerability is a chance for us to have the kind of connection with each other that we need to get through this, and the opportunity to show up with love, humanity, and humility. Because it is needed now more than ever.
So, how do we show up with the love, humanity, and humility that is needed right now? Especially when we are feeling so much anxiety and fear? Every time I imagine the anxiety everyone is feeling, I want to send out an invitation for us to all take one giant collective breath.
Want to do that now? Ok, let's breathe.
When we feel our most exposed and scared, I believe that we need to simplify things. We need to embrace the pause that this time is offering us to check in on the basics. Like our breath. Like drinking water. Like sleep. For me, that has led to checking in daily on these three questions:
Every time I ask myself these questions, I get a different answer. But when I feel that pang of pain for our future or that feeling of overwhelm creep in, I turn to these questions about the here and now, and what I can do for my mind, body, and spirit. When I am able to give my mind, body, and spirit what they need right now, it makes me better able to see through and past these times. When my needs are met, I have more capacity to show up in the way that I want to for my family, friends, and community.
It will take all of us to get through this. It is not up to any one of us alone to carry the weight of the world. We need to take care of ourselves so that we can hold up our part. Give yourself what you need right now. And then do what this crisis has activated you to do for others.
Here are a few things that are helping me be present with my mind, body, and spirit:
I'd love to hear what you are doing to meet the needs of your mind, body, and spirit, or what resources you would share with others during this time. I'll collect any I receive and post them on this blog and in my social media.
I'm excited to share that I am an Associate Certified Coach! Ok, this is kind of a nerdy thing that many people outside of the coaching profession might not understand, but it's pretty cool! Here's the story:
In 2018, I went through an extensive training program through an organization called iPEC. Over about 9 months, I did over 300 hours of training that included in-person trainings, weekly webinars, peer coaching circles, mentor coaching, and testing. It was INTENSE, and it truly prepared me to become a coach. After I completed the program, I became a Certified Professional Coach in January 2019.
iPEC is an accredited institution through an organization called the International Coaching Federation (ICF). ICF is the organization that upholds the coaching industry standards. After going through a coaching training program, certified coaches can go through an additional step to become credentialed through ICF. As ICF says on their website, "ICF Credential-holders are part of a self-regulating group of elite coaches who provide accountability to clients and the coaching profession as a whole. They pursue and complete rigorous education and practice requirements that provide unquestioned legitimacy to their commitment to excellence in coaching."
There are three different levels of credentials through ICF: ACC, PCC, MCC. The ACC is the first step. In order to get my ACC, I had to have:
More and more clients, especially organizations, are expecting coaches to be ICF certified. And having an ICF credential demonstrates that I am committed to the ethics and standards that are expected in excellent coaches. I'm pretty proud of this, and grateful to everyone who helped me get here, especially my amazing clients. I'm looking forward to continuing my education and pushing myself to keep growing as a coach!
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