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  • Siria Contreras

A Time for Grace



As we all countdown to January 2021 and the change that “should” be, we also start to slowly shift our attention and mindsets towards what the 2020 holiday period looks like in general, but most importantly for ourselves. For some that meant putting up ornaments and decorating trees well before the standard post-Thanksgiving day norm, even radio stations flipped to holiday standards a little earlier. All in an effort to drive some holiday cheer and attempt to preserve some sense of normal. Not the new normal nor the semblance of normality that we live in that we’re defining real-time. No it’s more the traditional normal that remains embedded in our memories. Which instead of sparking joy and comfort may for some cause them to question if that old “normal” is the one that they still would like to exist in.


One thing is for certain, a strong sense of self is needed in these times. We all need to be strong enough to define the times, otherwise the times themselves will define us. As we all continue to educate ourselves and others that isn’t necessarily the easiest of tasks as we’re forming opinions and achieving a level of awareness that takes many outside of their comfort zone. However, change is nothing to be feared, once you realize that you control how much around you actually changes and what exactly changes for you in the immediate and the long-term.


I can’t help but reflect back to that for which I am grateful for. In the past couple of weeks I have spent much time with words of gratitude for the other endeavors in which I am involved in and on a recent quick road trip, I had plenty of time to think about what is important to me as we head into 2021. I’m luckier than most as I have a fairly strong sense of who I am and continue to welcome new lessons derived from the experiences that continue to allow me to grow as a person. Originally, I sat down to write a post around Authenticity and Trust, but my mind took me down a different path more aligned with the coming week’s days of grace.


There is always something for which we can all be thankful for. For starters: our health, the roof over our heads, our families, our friends. This year though, we should all also be thankful for some of those characteristics that we each possess that have allowed us to cope and roll with all of the curveballs that this past year has thrown at us and that we’ll need to tap into some more as we shore up and evolve current infrastructures.


Laughter. Often, we take for granted something as simple as possessing a sense of humor or simply having an ability to laugh--especially after the year we’ve all been through as a collective. Not laughter derived from the dark humor in irony or sarcasm, but more so the carefree laughter we share with friends, family, lovers a fleeting moment of lightness that supports our mental health in ways that years of therapy might not even be able to replicate (don’t quote me on that, I am in no way qualified to make that statement, yet I still stand by it). One of the things that I don’t ever take for granted is my ability to laugh, especially at myself. Those that know me well, know that I am quick to laugh. I credit this specific ability as one that keeps me from ever becoming too stressed out, even while in certain situations I may come across as more serious.


Listening. At one point or another, everyone has needed an ear this year. I have certain friends and colleagues who need to be able to talk things through to be able to wrap themselves around whatever the subject may be, oftentime they also seek guidance. However, most of the time they just need an ear. Unless I’m collaborating with someone on a project, I really don’t have this need and am able to for the most part more easily make decisions than many others, but I understand this need in others and when I can I will always lend an ear as I’d rather they get the more sound and typically impartial advice that I might provide than that of others who might bleed their own agendas into the “wisdom” they offer. Listening is undoubtedly one of the most important actions and gifts we can offer another and one of the pillars of any relationship, professional or personal.


Leadership. Every single person is capable of leading, obviously some are better than others. Leading towards good or towards bad, that is where character comes into play. When we think of leaders, we typically think of those who possess the more virtuous qualities. However, one of the most important part of any leader are their followers. If there are no followers, then there is no leader. These days, as I’ve written in the past, the role of leader becomes muddled with the role of influencer. Just because you can influence others to do something does not make you a leader. To be a leader, you have to have the trust of your followers and you also have to have a strategy or plan ending at a specific goal or destination to lead them towards. I am quite lucky in the fact that I get to lead great teams every day, yet as I’ve also mentioned in the past I also am not afraid to work alongside them when that is what is needed. There is a lot more that can be written in this space, but the last thing I’ll touch on is that a leader is often only as good as their team. I have a revolving door of amazing individuals that I trust, who are all great at what they do and while most times it is the leader or the company that get the accolades, it is the full team who deserve the credit. Lastly, aside from any leadership skills I may have, I am even more grateful for the new generation of leaders that are emerging in particular when it comes to protecting the democracy of this country.


Flexibility. All of us have had to be adaptable at certain points this year, whether it was when we all integrated donning face masks on a daily basis as a sign of respect to others, voting in a new way via mail-in ballots (if we were fortunate enough to live in a county that allowed for this), or even in the ways that we did our jobs or found new ways to generate more income. Flexibility will need to continue to be something that we all practice for some time to come. Adapting, adjusting, shifting, and optimizing as we rebuild and redefine shaken-up industries and communities. For those of us who approach the world as life-long students it may pose to be an easier ask than for others who had built their “world” around areas that have been the most impacted. I never take my ability to adjust and pivot for granted--this ability likely comes from the same place that allows me to think quickly, see the bigger picture, and to juggle many things at once. Not everyone needs to be able to do all of that simultaneously, that’s why roles for specialists exist in this world, which are just as important. However, ingenuity will continue to play a role in all of our lives, even if it is just a shift in the way that we shop for and receive our groceries. Ideally, this flexibility muscle that we’re all exercising at this time will become strengthened enough to create larger shifts that can positively impact our climate crisis and the depressed economies of certain industries.


Solitude. One of the things that I also found myself ironically grateful for were moments of solitude. My love of nature is well-documented, but whether it is out in fresh air or indoors I have been grateful for the times I was able to spend on my own doing nothing but reading or not much at all. In a year like 2020, where we were forced into social-distancing mode and advised against physically interacting with others (please continue to do this, we’re nowhere out of the woods) you would think that finding time to yourself would be easy. However, for me it wasn’t always. I average four to five Zoom meetings per day for just my role at House of Blues (and that’s sometimes a light day), add on top of that any other meetings or 1-on-1s for the other projects that I lead, then add at least another handful of Board Meetings for the various orgs I oversee or am a part of per month. That’s before we even get into any virtual socializing with my close friends, which I definitely did not engage with as much as I instead opted for giving myself some of that time back. Somehow though, this is the pace I kept pre-pandemic as most of those meetings were all happening pre-March 2020 and on top of this there a constant slate of events from the more formal industry events that I was expected to attend regularly to the standard invitations from my circles, from live music shows, theatre, exhibits, readings, etc. to brunches, dinners, and birthday parties.


I actually found myself a little thankful to not have that additional layer of social commitments to layer onto the virtual “always-on” mode I found myself in. Although, I will say that one thing I did and kind of do still miss are hosting dinner parties--while we’ve done some virtually and those are great it is still not the same as in person and I do enjoy bringing together everyone from entertainment executives to authors or poets, to rocket scientists and marine biologists to Tech CEOs and seeing the conversations, friendships, and sometimes even collaborations that transpire.


However, this pandemic did seem to offer me the permission or rather case for perhaps only spending half of my time in the city and the other half or quarter in a more remote location.


Optimism - There are many many other things that I am grateful for and this list could easily start to resemble a CVS receipt. However, the last thing I’ll list is optimism. This year everyone had more than one reason to experience depression, whether it was something that impacted them directly or peripherally as we each witnessed the human suffering around us. This was no longer the PSAs showing us the need for action set to a soundtrack of Sarah McLachlan that we watched from the removed comfort of our living rooms or bedrooms. Sure, many of us were fortunate enough to still in the comfort of these same corners of our homes (albeit not by choice), we didn’t need to turn on the television for an account as it was happening outside of our doors and windows. Remaining optimistic was a psychological battle for so many globally that I hope more won than lost this year. I am very lucky in the fact that even if I start to fall into a depression of any sort that I myself can pull myself out of that by focusing on solutions or ways to help remedy or better the situation. I wish that I could share this ability with everyone, but since I can’t then in the interim I help them see how they too can help the issue. I know that it’s sometimes hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I also recognize that oftentimes we are the ones who keep covering up the light with our hand in an effort to shield our eyes from the brightness. Depression is a much larger and more serious topic that deserves more than just mere mention in this blog and if you are experiencing a deeper state of this, please seek help, there are many great resources here and here. There is no shame in feeling overwhelmed or even alone in your situation, I can assure you that many have been in your shoes, especially this year and many others will as we really enter the holiday season. Because I am aware of the psychological effects that this year has had, is why I’m even more thankful for the ability to remain optimistic and also that ability within my various teams as we continue to plan for a 2021 that we know will require additional/continued flexibility.


I hope that each of you also take some time in the midst of not yet having all of the answers that you’d like to take account of that which you are grateful for from the small seemingly insignificant to those traits innate to you. If you’re in fairly good health and reading this, I am certain that you’ll agree that we all have a lot to be thankful for.

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