It’s been a year. With 2020 gratefully in the rearview mirror, it’s no wonder that we all welcomed in 2021 with a sense of euphoric glee as if the turning of just a page on a calendar would somehow bring immediate relief and freedom.
And then came January 6.
Any thought that a mere change of date would usher in a new and enduring calm dissipated as armed extremists terrorized the halls of a sacred symbol of our nation’s democracy. And so, it seemed, 2020 would not let go of its grip on our psyches.
As a leader, I want to exude strength in the face of what seems like insurmountable odds. But if I’m being honest, I don’t always feel so strong. The weight of all that we are facing is quite heavy. This weight is felt by all, regardless of our roles in society. Parents, shop owners, middle managers, service workers, family members, committee members, CEOs, neighbors, medical professionals, social media influencers, engineers, friends--we all feel an obligation to hang in there, to do our part, to “hope” our way out of the challenge for those in our sphere of influence.
But just as there is no light without darkness there is no strength without struggle.
It’s okay to admit that you’re exhausted. This is tiring. And by the looks of things, it’s going to be a while before we “feel” 2021 as different and unique from 2020.
As I write, I am speaking to myself as much as I am anyone else. It is my hope that over the course of the next few weeks, we will allow ourselves to feel exhausted. That we’ll hold space to acknowledge just how overwhelming this all feels. That we will be supported in doing so by those around us.
I also hope that amidst the recognition of our exhaustion we will all find solace and hope in struggle, even when the headlines are bleak. When I am exhausted, I find comfort and inspiration in the stories of the heroes. Like Mr. Roger’s mom told him when scary things happened in the world, “Look for the helpers,” I like to look for the heroes of the stories. If we see the world as a series of narratives being written in real time, it’s the heroes of the subplots that raise my spirits and give me strength.
Like the newly elected congressman who gave just a bit of his time to pick up trash in the capitol after the business of the House was complete, or the Alabama nurse who gave her life after refusing to retire when COVID broke only to succumb to the disease herself.
Or like the scores of teens who mobilized to make PPE for health workers when our own government appeared unable, and the famed Michelin-star chef who aims to feed millions of the food-insecure and is showing the world how it can be done.
While such heroic subplots may not have the same impact on you as they do on me, I encourage you to “try them on” to see how they fit. For me, they are the perfect antidote to the exhaustion I sometimes feel. Look for the heroes; in them, you may find strength.
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Erik Burmeister is the Superintendent of Menlo Park City School District in the heart of Silicon Valley.