Drink: Homemade bloody mary
Pairing: Packed with vitamin c, a bloody mary made from fresh tomatoes hits the spot when you're trying to keep your teams motivated during bouts of existential dread. Optional: w/o alcohol, w/vodka or w/tequila.
In the pacific northwest, late August is tomato season. All local gardeners are sharing pictures of their harvests on social media and trying to figure out what to do with the sudden surplus of tomatoes.
It's Friday eve, and it's been a long week...
Your leaders are citing despair in their front line managers, and a trending lack of engagement and motivation. If you're being honest, you feel it too, though most days you use all your coping strategies not to feel it.
The problems ahead of us are bigger than any one company or that you can solve. Anyone paying attention feels the existential dread, helplessness and hopelessness. There will always be leaders that don't... that dismiss DEI, human-centered practices, climate change and think social issues aren't related to business.
But that's not you. You see that it is all connected: our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, companies, communities, the economy and the planet. Your emotional cup is full. Forget treading water, you're relying on snorkeling gear because your head is already below the surface. And you are responsible for leading hundreds, maybe thousands of people through each day to hit their metrics while the planet is on fire and ecosystems are collapsing. Where do you even start?
The Real Talk
This is where you learn who you are as a leader.
Reminding folks to take mental health days is nice, but doesn't cut it. A friendly email from the CEO isn't going to help. The leaders I've talked to are either 1) numbing out, 2) burning out, or are 3) woefully out of touch with their employees. They don't know how to sit in the deep, existential discomfort.
It is now your job to listen, empathize, strengthen relationships, and transform helplessness to inspired action... for yourself and others.
This is where I invite leaders to look outside of work for insight. What brings you joy? How do you create community? When have you had to repair a relationship before? When have you had to find hope and belonging after losing it?
This is where a bloody mary - made with garden fresh tomatoes - can help. As an avid gardener, here are some of the lessons I've learned about leading during existential dread from tomato season.
1) Tune into the broader ecosystem. Tomatoes don't grow in isolation. They require the sun, water, good soil, bees, worms, spiders and tending. When you tune into all the beings and elements that make a tomato grow, you realize you're not alone. Everyone is working together, even if they don't know it. Remember your place in the whole.
2) Influence what you can. You can't control the ecosystem but you can attend to your strands in the web... in other words, your inputs, outputs and relationships. When you have small but meaningful impact in your most immediate communities, it brings healing and relief.
3) Honor the cycles. Today it's tomato season, tomorrow it's spider season (and then pumpkin spice season). What can we learn from each unique season that helps us regenerate ourselves, each other and the earth? Every turn of the wheel has intelligence and gifts. Get off your outlook calendar for a minute, and figure out what season you're in - personally, professionally, in your family, in your company, in your community... How can you be in right relationship with that season? Grow things in the right season.
4) Share your abundance. The thing about tomato season is all the tomatoes ripen together. What started out as tasty tomato salad every night, quickly turns into "I'm out of tomato recipes and there isn't enough room in the freezer!" When you're filled with abundance, share it and brighten someone else's day. If today, you've got your peace, make sure to tell everyone at the end of every call how much you appreciate them simply existing and working with you. My dear friend and colleague Dara, always remembers to send out a "thankful Thursday" message. Be like Dara. Share your tomatoes.
5) Anchor to your why. We've all heard the quote, "what would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?" A more provocative version is, "what would you do if you were guaranteed to fail?" What's so important to you, that you'd do it anyway, knowing you'd fail, knowing the earth is at a critical point, knowing there's no fixing whatever the problem is? That's your why - why you are here. How are you going to show up regardless of the potential outcome? That's who you are as a leader. Anchor to that. Because maybe if we all did, things would be okay.
6) Leave some room for awe. One tiny seed alone can't feed a whole family, but nurture it to grow and anything is possible.