I have a friend who detests the practice of turning nouns into verbs: summer into summering, winter into wintering. You may feel the same. But I kind of like it. For example, I’ve been partial to turtling and sabbathing these days. And now, springing.
I’ve always been attracted to verbs and their action-orientedness. In fact, I wrote an entire book about how brands need to own a verb, how they need to do something specific and meaningful for their customers to stay relevant and differentiated in a very noisy world (see “ThinkAbout: 77 Creative Prompts for Innovators).” Call it mattering.
But back to springing. The calendar declared that spring officially started on March 20 of this year, but as a Coloradoan, I know better. Today, an ordinary weekday in mid-May, I awoke to fresh snow covering our greenish grass and just laughed. I knew our future wildflowers would be happy. I was grateful it was gentle snow and not devastating hail (although that may come next!).
And then I paused and thought about my reaction and smiled. I had just noticed myself practicing a new behavior: I didn’t grumble or groan. I surrendered to the circumstance, quietly reminding myself that this is indeed how growth occurs. New life happens in fits and starts, in bursts and in what often seems like backward steps. It happens haphazardly and often surprisingly. It happens underneath.
Like the plucky little pasque flowers that proudly peek their heads out of the ground first every spring, I wanted a little applause for this reaction. It was a teensy-tiny baby step in the right direction. Too often, I operate under the false belief that growth is only up and to the right. A curve of continuous onward and upward. A predictable positive trajectory.
But it actually took a book on wintering to remind me that this is just not so. I read Katherine May’s gracious book, “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times,” during the thick of the pandemic and shared it with several friends. May’s observation that mutually caused us pause was this comment she made in an interview for The New York Times: “We have a narrative of perpetual growth. We’re beginning to realize it’s harmful everywhere — in economics, with companies, with the environment. But also harmful in humans. It stops us from making wise and sustainable decisions about how to live our lives.”
Such an important reminder, especially for leaders. Not only have we become accustomed to a narrative of perpetual growth, we think we can predict growth, control it and sculpt exactly how it will look. (Always. Up and to the right.) This last year taught us differently. Even as we start to reopen retail, regain our footings on the paths we were once on, and reorient our office lives and reconnect with employees and customers in person, we may need to reorder our thinking.
We are used to what to do in wintery times even though we don’t like them: we know how to pull back and hunker down, to slash headcounts and defer expenses, to regroup and repurpose. We get through wintering. We’re used to what to do in summery times because they’re fun — we’re savvy and smiley as we expand, roll out, innovate, build, increase. We thrive when summering.
But right now, I believe that what’s being required of leaders may be a whole new mindset. It’s a season of never-befores, of what-comes-nexts, of what-have-we-heres. Springing. This season encourages surrender and preparation for surprise. All the important stuff is happening below the surface. It’s often unpredictable.
Springing looks different in every situation, but the common denominator is that it is nuanced. Quietly revealing. Growth in small bits. Regression at times. Baby steps forward. Perhaps more regression. Then glimmers of progress.
So now we do our best to live in between those surefire seasons of winter and summer. We’re hopeful but hesitant. Careful and cautious, but craving full steam ahead. We’re fledging our way forward like the baby robins. There will indeed be fits and starts. We’ll need some help up when we falter. And falter we will. Leaders will need to help one another with all this springing. It isn’t easy bringing forth new life.
When my husband and I escaped to the islands recently, we came upon a rather large lagoon during a beach walk. As we waded into the water, we were joyfully surprised to find this little brave shoot all by itself:
No doubt quite proud of itself for springing up in the midst of the tides washing in and out! For gently pushing itself to grow in sandy soil, to do what it knows how to do best – leaf out, green up the shore, stand tall, look up to the sun, get ready for what’s next.
This season I encourage you to look for your own signs of springing happening in your personal and professional lives. Pay close attention. Listen to what they’re trying to teach you. They all matter.
And then consider sharing your lessons. That’s how we all grow.