On showing up when it’s hard

In most of the circles that I run in, the last week and the last couple of days in particular have been some of the toughest parts of a year that has been hard in a million ways – ways that are somehow both unique to each person and common to all of us. For me, the loss of Justice Ginsburg feels, in some ways, both difficult in itself and as a symbol of many of the other things that have been difficult about this time.

It’s tempting, in moments like this, to create distance between showing up at work and showing up in the world. It’s tempting, as a manager, to encourage your team members to disconnect from work, to take time off, to engage in self-care. To model that, as a manager, by taking a mental health day or volunteer time off when the going gets roughest. And for many, that might be the right answer.

I want to offer another option: to create a space at work where you engage in genuine community care. To create an environment where you can say not just, “please do what you need to take care of yourself,” but “we will do what we need to take care of each other.” This looks different in a remote environment than in a physical one, but it’s no less meaningful.

One way that I try to do this is by naming the thing that is creating or increasing the need for such care. When there’s an event in the world that has deep, meaningful, personal implications for many people, even if I’m not sure they have that implication for those people directly on my team, I generally send my team an explicit acknowledgment of that impact, and sometimes will hold open virtual “office hours” for anyone who wants to hop in and chat about what that means for them and their work. (And I’m still their manager! I still need to help them connect back to what they need at work – this isn’t a venting session.)

In this communication, I try to draw explicit lines between the work that we’re doing and the creation of the world that we want to see. This is as much for me as it is for them. It’s a reminder that almost regardless of your organization’s mission, if you knit equity and effectiveness into the fabric of your work, you’re setting yourself up to have a meaningful and sustainable impact on the world. It’s what anchors me in the ability to see my ongoing, everyday work as worth showing up for; to see my and my team’s work as much a part of “the fight” as professional political activism or providing legal aid to those who need it most.

Justice Ginsburg taught us an uncountable number of lessons. One that I find myself returning to in moments of difficulty is the insistence on keeping focus on the long game, on creating change that persists over time, on relentlessly directing your energy to what you believe will endure. As a manager, you have the opportunity to make your team a place where you can create enduring change. Start by letting your team know that’s what you want, and then let them help you do it.

Let’s go.

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