I love that right after celebrating his 71st birthday and in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, Bruce Springsteen released a brand new album, Letter to You. That’s after a few other highly productive years back-to-back: Writing a 528-page autobiography, creating films, cutting other albums, playing worldwide tours, and doing a 236-show run on Broadway.
I’m a Jersey girl. I pay attention to these things. After five decades of creating and performing, Springsteen’s got the “Born to Run” thing down. He clearly loves what he does.
I love what I do. And perhaps the same is true for you. Leaders usually follow their giftings. They know all about grit, resiliency, a bias towards action, agile everything, ready fire aim. We were made born to run. Our passions, our companies and our culture encourage it. Harder. Faster. Better. More. Now. Hustle. We hardly need additional encouragement from The Boss.
Perhaps you have a lengthy pandemic resume in personal and/or professional arenas that you can be proud of. Grew your sales 125 percent? Pivoted your strategic mission and entered a new product category? Launched a new business? Learned a new language? Took up kickboxing? Shed a bazillion pounds? Wrote a novel? If so, BRAVO!
I did none of those things in this season. I took a different path. I did — for me — something harder: I rested. I read. I reflected. I received.
Born to Run has pretty much been my life soundtrack since my teens, when it was the theme song for my high school two-mile relay team (it worked — we went to States!). So it was a complete surprise to me that when the pandemic began to infiltrate our work and home lives, I stepped off the track for a bit. I slowed way down. I got very quiet. Purposefully. Peacefully. Happily. I had never done that before. I pretended I was in academia or in the ministry life and gave myself a sabbatical. I asked no one. I had no strategic plan. I just did it.
I think this seed was planted pre-pan (my literary friend Mim Harrison’s term for life before the pandemic), when my husband and I were beach walking and came upon a teensy, tiny hatchling turtle the size of a quarter methodically making its way to and fro the water. We just stood by and watched these little turtle steps. There was a lesson there.
I started to have a thing for turtles. They were just so opposite of me. I was fascinated. (Hummingbirds were more my speed … literally.) I talked to friends and colleagues about this newfound desire in my life for a slower pace. They cheered me on even as they were in shock and awe. They started sending me cards with turtles on them. Renee Reese, my artist friend, even created one just for me and called it “The Andrea.” Another friend used it as a verb when we discussed these baby-baby steps I was making toward change: “How’s the turtling going?” she’d inquire kindly.
Watercolor by Renee Reese © Hopscotch Art
This is what I told her was in my pandemic resume, and what I share now with you.
I rested. Resting for me had nothing to do with midday napping or sleeping in (two things I’ve not quite mastered). For me, it meant I unpacked my bags. As a branding strategist and founder of IER Partners for more than two decades, I traveled by plane a few times each month to be with my clients in person. I usually never minded it. I love my work, I love my clients. Many have become friends outside of work. But during this turtle time, I rested my body from time zone changes, airport stress, presentation deadlines, early-morning meetings and late-night business dinners. I fell more in love with my home and my nonbusiness life.
It also meant that I left the calendar open. My life was “always so pre-arranged” as the line in the song goes. And despite being the arranger of all those activities and projects, I deeply appreciated the clean calendar and my wide-open days. I eventually stopped rushing. I puttered. I let things occur to me. In her lovely book, “Still,” Jenny Donnelly described REST as Release Every Single Thing. I let go.
I took very long walks with my husband every day. My body and brain thanked me as I relaxed into the silence of our forest. Author and recovering lawyer Bob Goff wrote, “A lot of beauty gets buried in the hustle.” Beauty started chasing after me in the form of swallowtail butterflies and hummingbirds and finches and spontaneous wildflowers and gently falling golden aspen leaves. My senses thanked me.
Reading isn’t a new avocation for me. I think I was born with a book in my newborn hands. I love reading. I’ve written two business books and a spiritual memoir. If I could live inside a bookstore, I would. Reading was a pre-pan pleasure. In addition to reading deep dives into my clients’ far-ranging brand and product worlds (gourmet food, fashion, wellness, luxury goods, etc.), I read widely in matters of importance to me: spirituality, memoir, literary nonfiction, poetry.
However, what changed in my turtle experiment was how few business books I read and how much permission I granted myself to follow my curiosities into many new arenas. Each new book was an experiential gift — field trips to cultures and places and people that were completely foreign to me. I read wildly out of my comfort zones. I learned so much. If I was in academia, I may have earned a PhD in interdisciplinary studies. The best part of all this reading and my one-person book club was sharing these new learnings with friends and the deep conversations that sprang from these topics. I was never bored. My mind thanked me.
When you are Born to Run, there’s not a lot of time left over to reflect. Instead, I often tended to overthink and overthink some more, often about trivial matters. I wanted to break that pattern. It was exhausting and hardly fruitful. So I asked my same artist friend if she would paint the words of one of my favorite Bible verses to help me focus on truly more important things. Saint Paul writes:
“You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” — Philippians 4:8 The Message
And she did. Beautifully. A one-of-a-kind framed print hangs in my office where I can meditate on those words daily. In this time of too much looking down, this passage encouraged me to look up and look out for all the good that still surrounds us — if we only set our intention. My soul thanked me.
Leaders are often givers. We give our time, our attention, our wisdom, our ideas, our feedback, our pep talks, our pats on the back. We don’t often find ourselves in the receiving line. During this self-imposed turtling time, I practiced receiving the many gifts of this season. The gift of a healthy body, mind and spirit. The gift of space to think and turtle and daydream aloud. The gift to write freely. The gift to be productive in unusual ways. The gift of unbidden creativity. The gifts of small delights, such as growing closer to colleagues via soulful phone chats, new books at my doorstep, old-fashioned snail mail, and wonderfully unexpected packages that cheered me. (After reading my beach article, a dear friend sent me the gift of her New England beach — complete with sand, handpicked shells and a small shovel — to my landlocked home in Colorado!) The gift of no “shoulds” and absolutely no rushing. The gift of slow mornings and window-seat reading. My heart thanked me.
I share all this with you because maybe, like me, your pandemic resume wasn’t what you thought it would be. Maybe it’s better. I learned that turtling is good for the soul, the mind, the body, the senses and, yes, our work brain too. I highly recommend adding more white space to your pandemic resume.
So go ahead, plan some turtling time soon. Take teensy, tiny baby steps if you want. In my BrandAbout book I call these BSITDD — baby steps in the daring direction!
They all matter. Just do it. I dare you. The Boss would be proud.