The Rear View and the Long View

Church Street, Holliston MA

I often think about the optimism required to build this house. Families building a future in a new nation – one war ending and another looming. They were certainly thinking long-term when they laid this massive stone foundation. I think of all the generations who have shored it up since. If they were around to look in the rear view mirror, they would know that their efforts produced something lasting. (Lasting yes, requiring constant attention and upkeep, also yes). In our work in local government, I remind anyone who will listen about the important role that the rear view and the long view play in our work, in our sense of achievement, and in bolstering our resiliency.

Many of our projects are unpopular with at least one group of individuals. The effort it takes to fund even a minor project takes several years. We need to convince, cajole, and even grovel to get the project over the finish line. So the frustration is typically what we remember. I cannot count the number of times I speak to staff about a recently completed Town Meeting, and the focus is on that one item we couldn’t get funded. Or, if we got it funded, it was an exhausting battle. It is much more useful to look back and see what actually got accomplished. In most years, if we have done our homework and used our relentless practice techniques, everything that we really needed actually passed. It may sound obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. Looking back, I can see that we achieved most of our objectives, and if something remains undone, it means that we have to change our strategy and try again.

Ubiquitous Rail Trail Photo, Holliston MA

Which brings me to the Long View. Local government in our part of the country is a slow process, And I mean SLOOOOW. A construction project we are completing today took 36 months to design and construct – that is the straightforward part. The 36 months before that spent developing financing plans and convincing boards, committees, and voters that it was necessary was the complicated part. Keeping the long-term plan an explicit part of the daily conversation makes short-term setbacks easier to bear. The best way to increase resiliency is to reduce frustration.

Let’s say you think it would make sense to consolidate two departments. If the management positions in the departments are vacant, and there are no natural constituencies for the work of the departments – smooth sailing. Let’s be honest, how likely is that to happen? Instead, you may have boards and committees who are supported by the departments who will believe that there is a loss involved in the consolidation. Moreover, managers of “equal status” in an organization are unlikely to view the consolidation as a positive. Here is where the long view comes into play. Every new position, every funding decision, every vacancy should be evaluated with the long-term plan in mind. Soon enough, we are looking in the rear view mirror at a consolidated department that probably took at least three years and a lot of effort. By the time we achieve it, we often forget to congratulate ourselves and our team for making it happen.

I recently had the good fortune to attend a training session facilitated by Ron Holifield, CEO of Strategic Government Resources and a former city manager. “It’s not about me, and it’s not about now” was his mantra. How true. If we approach our long-term planning with this view in mind, we can more easily withstand the frustration that accompanies our work.

What about you? Have the rear view or long view techniques helped bolster your own resiliency or that of your staff?

Let’s practice, looking back in satisfaction and looking ahead. Way ahead. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

“And Through the Joy & Pain That Our Lives Bring, We Can Do Hard Things”*

Ted Lasso as self care

Does anyone else feel like Fall is LOOMING over us in a MENACING way? Or is that just me?

I love fall, I just hate the end of summer. In fact, fall is my temporal landmark – it’s when I am best at resetting, committing, and setting goals that are actually achievable. I even bought myself a new planner to round out the year (they are pretty cheap by this point!). So why is fall looming? Even though I feel crazy busy and stressed all year, I feel like the fall moves at warp speed. We plan and hold our special town meeting. We begin to develop our operating and capital budgets, holding hearings and making difficult choices. All of the performance reviews for my direct reports are due. The Select Board adopted a robust list of goals I need to keep moving. I am facilitating two workshops and participating in a third at the International City/County Management Association conference in October, for which I am a tiny bit under-prepared. Add to this the end of summer return of our residents from the Cape and points north, on-boarding new staff, and all of those projects that we put off until “after Labor Day.” Are you hyperventilating now too?

But you know what? We can do hard things. For goodness sake, the last 18 months told us that, if nothing else. We can do this, we have been doing this, and we are still here, still doing this. Let’s give ourselves (our sometimes stressed, out of shape, and a bit heavier selves) a pat on the back.

Nubble Light and Long Sands at sunrise, York Beach Maine

So how do we tackle the hard things, the dread and the overwhelm? With a little bit of self care. According to Glennon Doyle, self-care itself is a hard thing. “Real self-care is being the Joan of Arc of your life. It’s like, looking at the battle that you need to fight…going straight towards it.” Self care involves listing all the ways that your needs are not getting met, and then tackling them one at a time. She recommends finding a moment or two every day where you connect with your soul and not your role. This could be walking, listening to a song, texting a friend, or just going outside. For the really, really busy people (city managers with little children, for instance) just taking a moment to remember that you have a soul would be a good first step.

To combat the dread associated with the menacing fall, I am determined to add some self-care. I had been pondering going back to the gym and to yoga. I hadn’t been back since March, 2020 and couldn’t conceive of putting anything else on my calendar. And then a magic thing happened. Orange Theory Fitness called and offered me a free class. So I went, and re-joined, and have managed to fit the 8 classes a month into my calendar along with a few yoga classes. It dawned on me that if I didn’t do either I would be a stress ball. So why not be a stronger, more Zen stress ball? (Well, Zen-ish, it’s me we are talking about.)

Very Kate and her husband Paul, Long Sands Beach, York Beach Maine. Go Richmond!

My other recent self-care discovery is Ted Lasso. I know I am late to this party, but I am so glad I found it at just the right time. I’ve turned into the kind of Ted Lasso ambassador that you expect from that friend who just joined cross fit. So my husband got me a jersey from the fictional AFC Richmond team and I am in heaven. And then the meditation app that I think about using use created a five-day, Ted Lasso radical happiness meditation challenge. Maybe this is a way to jump start my meditation practice?.

Friends, I leave you with the words of Glennon Doyle’s daughter Tish Melton: “I’m not the problem, sometimes things fall apart.” Things have been falling apart for a while, and we’ve been handling it. So let’s practice some real self care, because we can do hard things. What will you try this month? “Biscuits with the Boss” anyone?

* We can do hard things is a concept explored by Glennon Doyle in her book Untamed and her podcast “We Can do Hard Things.” Her daughter Tish Melton recorded a song with Brandi Carlile of the same name. Right now, this song is my daily glimpse of soul. You’re welcome.

Fun with Very Kate & Mary Poppins

This picture is seriously unflattering but it was raining and yes it wasn’t that long ago.

Immediately before the pandemic, we held a party for a colleague who was retiring. She and I had worked together for 30 years. I created a list of the funny things that had brought us together, separated into decades. Yes, hiding a lobster magnet around Town Hall (once sending it to Florida in a co-worker’s golf bag) seemed hysterical at the time. And what about when I accidentally videotaped (yes on a VCR, look it up on Wikipedia) an episode of “Designing Women” over the daring rescue of a deer in a river by the Town’s Animal Control Officer?

One time the Park & Recreation Department got a huge shipment of coloring books and we sat around a table on our lunch hour coloring for weeks. I repeat, we took an hour off during the day for what used to be called a “lunch hour.” When was the last time you did that?

Most of these antics were only understood by the two of us, yet the assembled well-wishers all laughed along. A more recent colleague turned to me and said “Wow, you used to have fun here.” It does feel like the Pandemic has stolen all the fun and left only the heavy, soul crushing work. But I think fun was on the decline before that. I’m not sure why this is, although I know in years when there was a “fun champion” in our building, there was more opportunity to gather and enjoy each other’s company. We used “wellness” funds for cookouts, we held Super Bowl and World Series parties, we created a Town employee golf tournament.

When did this business get so serious that many employees are carrying some form of depression or anxiety?

Play researcher Brian Sutton-Smith pioneered the notion that the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression. Many researchers and authors are now promoting play in the workplace. Stuart Brown, Author of the Book Play, notes that “taking time off to play does not mean you shirk your responsibilities, or that you aren’t a good parent or a good productive citizen. In fact, it’s just the opposite: your level of agitation drops when you get playful, which tends to increase perseverance and mastery. Play has a real payoff.”

Which brings us to my beloved Mary Poppins, who famously sang:

“In every job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.

And every task you undertake
Becomes a piece of cake
A lark! A spree!”

I am on a mission to inject some play into our work this summer. We need to start small. My younger daughter’s workplace has a “magic table” where staff put left over cake, small appliances, and other miscellany. Everything on the magic table is fair game. I recently switched up my laundry routine and couldn’t bear to throw away mostly full bottles of detergent. Thinking of the magic table, I put them on a counter in our lunch room and someone was able to use them. We are planning an official launch of the “Magic Counter,” and will track the most unusual items that get transferred.

Another small effort is to recognize the fatigue that sets in when Town Hall is open one late night in the summer to allow staff to leave early on Friday. We recently started a “Tasty Tuesday” program, and our office will provide ice cream treats at 5:15. We challenged all of the offices to sign up for a Tuesday. It’s not exactly Town employee night at the pool, but it’s a start!

Very Kate and daughters with M.P. (OK and Burt too). You can’t see the three circa 2003 Fanny packs thanks to the miracle of technology (although I am told they are fashionable again…)

What about you? What is the most fun thing you have done at work this year? Have you incorporated play into your office? Do you have any ideas to share with the rest of us?!

Let’s Practice, spoonful of sugar in hand.

I Long for a City Where…

Daily Life in Needham, Massachusetts

I am often inspired by stories on NPR. It’s a family joke, as I start virtually every conversation with the phrase “I heard on NPR today…” Earlier this year, Morning Edition resident poet Kwame Alexander and host Rachel Martin proposed writing their way out of the unprecedented events of the past year, to imagine a better future. Their crowdsourced poem This is Our Dream was created from 2,500 listener responses. My favorite line from the poem goes like this: “I dream a world where a bridge is arching over troubled waters, built on a foundation of truth. Where children grow up learning only one kind of division, the long kind.” A poem about hope and promise, and yet also a joke about math. Perfect.

In discussions with my Athenian cohort, I got the idea to create a crowdsourced poem about our cities and towns. Heaven knows we could use some hope for the future. My goal is to create an aspirational poem – not one about what we like, or what we wish for, but what we long for.

The choice of the word long is intentional. The verb “long” is defined as feeling “a strong desire or craving, especially for something not likely to be attained” (Merriam Webster). Not likely, but still possible. A sense of longing conjures a more aspirational lens.

In my mind’s eye I can travel the streets of my Town. I know intuitively where the DPW crews are working today, what time the school buses roll in any given neighborhood, and when the “walk” phase will cycle around at every traffic signal. I know a lot more (to be completely honest) about the Town where I work than the one where I live. I have a lot of hopes and dreams for this Town.

Our friend Peter Kageyama writes extensively about love for our cities. As he states in For the Love of Cities, “When we love something, we cherish it, we protect it, we do extraordinary things for it.” So what about you? What do you long for in your city or town? The one where you live, work, or manage? The one you cherish? The one that you would do extraordinary things for?

I long for a Town where people focus more on what we have accomplished, with pride and amazement, and focus less on what remains to be done, with frustration and criticism. I long for a city where people come together to meet real challenges with resolve and good humor, and a willingness to work collaboratively.

Iconic Hardware store in Needham Center, MA – Often Cited as Emblematic of Community Spirit

I have started asking people what they long for in their cities. Early submissions, not surprisingly, reflect the national mood. If I had to predict, I would say the poem will include a lot of longing for public civility. I challenge you, Relentless Practice readers, to send me your one sentence dream for your city – what you long for. With your help, one day we will open our inboxes to find the joy and inspiration that is our shared dream for our cities – in poem form. And then we can turn to making those dreams happen. Once we can take off these masks.

Let’s practice, longingly.

Resiliency, Space Shields, and the Unstoppable Squad

The Starship Enterprise (as if this needed a caption)

I have been thinking and talking to many of you lately about how it is increasingly hard to handle difficult people – the angry resident, the frustrated or volatile board member, the toxic employee, what have you. Perhaps this is due to the Pandemic, in which all of the fun parts of our jobs are out the window. Perhaps our immunity to hostility simply weakens over time. (Seriously, is any one of you able to go five minutes without talking about immunity?) When I was considering taking the job I have now, almost twenty years ago, I asked my husband for his thoughts. He told me he would support any choice I made, but that I was not going to grow thicker skin. So true. In fact, the opposite seems to be happening.

I turned to my friend and resiliency guru Jon Wortmann for his sage advice. His wisdom included maintaining the best attitude, being exceptionally prepared, using every encounter as a growth opportunity, and worst of all, considering compassion. You will have to ask him for details, but suffice it to say my initial reaction was “Um, no. I don’t want to learn and grow, I want to complain.”

So, for fun, I started creating my own coping mechanisms. Because we are all on digital meeting platforms all day, every day – usually alone at home or in our offices – we have the luxury of beginning any meeting with the words “Shields Up!’ As virtually everyone must know, these shields provide limited protection for ships against damage and enemy attack. I’ll take some limited protection. I can start any meeting picturing Captain Kirk, Ms. Uhura, and Mr. Sulu readying my laptop for battle. Also, apparently you can get a Zoom background displaying the bridge of the Enterprise. You’re welcome.

Picturing my friend in a room filling up with beach balls inexplicably reminds me of Bobby Brady and the washing machine…

A colleague of mine in Texas once shared her strategy. Everything is bigger than life in Texas, right? Are the difficult people even more difficult? In any event, she imagines her detractors throwing beachballs at her. Rather than throwing them back, she catches them and gently puts them down. I can picture her in a meeting that slowly begins to fill up with beach balls. However, this may be too closely related to the loving kindness method Jon recommended. Moving on.

What is actually working, however, is visualization. I took up a 21 day meditation challenge in January, actually completing most of the days. I found it so valuable I took advantage of the offer to reactivate my app for the year. Of course I haven’t been back, but it is on my to-do list every single day, which sort of counts. In one amazing guided meditation, the teacher asked us to picture ourselves in a difficult encounter. And then to imagine someone we greatly admire standing next to us. And then to picture another, and another, and so on. This is incredibly powerful. I have a large group of fellow managers in Massachusetts and around the country who I can conjure at a moment’s notice. When I am in a tough spot I can picture them behind me. I know I can do anything, meet any challenge, and stand up for those who need me with my Unstoppable Squad behind me.

Some members of the Unstoppable Squad at a Conference! On the Cape!

So back to Jon Wortmann’s advice – I really am taking it, because I do believe there are ways to keep growing through adversity. I’ll share one more thought he gave me. If you have been in your career, or even in the same position for a long time, you do hold some cards. You can push back, even if just a little, if circumstances require. When will you use your cards? They will be useless when you retire. For me the answer is clear – when needed to support the team. Every time.

How about you? Do you have a tried and true coping mechanism? Do you create Zoom backgrounds that are secret jokes? Is your immunity to difficult people weakening? Do you remember the washing machine episode on the Brady Bunch?

Let’s practice. Phasers on Stun.

Using an Anti-Bucket List to Clear Space in Your Head

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, 2016

I am recalling a flight to DC a few years ago. (Remember when we complained about the airlines? I even miss the airport.) So on this flight to DC, my older daughter and I got the idea from somewhere to write an “anti-bucket list.” This is the opposite of the ever popular bucket list, in which we are supposed to catalog all of the things we want to do in the this life and then not do any of them.

So we thought, what if we write down all of the things that we are sure we will never do, to get them out of the way? I fear we made a bit of a scene when we got laughing too hard. Here are a few things that we added to the list:

  • Take up smoking
  • Buy a motorcycle
  • Learn how to ski
  • Get a law degree
  • Climb a mountain
  • Walk across a suspension bridge made of rope (this one is just mine)
  • Jump out of an airplane (daughter #1 has reserved her options on this one but as she is soon to be a mother I am fairly confident on this)
  • Scuba dive through underwater caves
  • Anything to do with caves, really.
Fitzpatrick/Kean family members on the Bridge without VeryKate and & daughter #2 who were watching sheep

I’ve been thinking lately about all of the planning that needs to be done to keep our local governments on track, rebuilt, and thriving again after the pandemic. Like many of you, I am overwhelmed by the effort to simply get through the day given the financial crisis impacting our budgets, the difficult and meaningful work of examining our structures through an equity lens, and meeting constantly about COVID testing and vaccinations (rinse, repeat). We need more head space to think clearly.

I often turn to one of my favorite authors and motivational speakers, Mel Robbins, for simple and practical ways to confront problems. In her YouTube video “How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed Right Now” Robbins asserts that being overwhelmed is nothing more than having a full brain. Her solution for clearing space is a “brain dump.” She suggests that we write down our to-do lists, worries, plans, ideas, etc. Doing this every morning can help us prioritize tasks and plan our days. More importantly for me, I find that if a task or idea is written down in a place where I know I can find it (fellow notebook lovers, you know who you are), then I can let it go for a while and concentrate on what needs to be done immediately.

I wonder if creating an anti-bucket list for local government will help? Even if it just makes me laugh it is worth it. Here is a sample of things I have committed not to do:

  • Embezzle
  • Yell
  • Click on a link in an email from a foreign country
  • Approve only the highest bidder
  • Fall asleep during a cable TV license hearing
  • Go back to wearing stockings
  • Run for political office
  • “Fight City Hall”
  • Pull a fire alarm.

Practicing the daily brain dump and laughing about a work-related anti-bucket list got me thinking about the sheer magnitude of what we are trying to accomplish. I now resolve to do nothing new until FY22. That’s catchy enough to be our mantra for the winter and spring! Are you with me?

Here is the aforementioned sheep. You’re welcome.

How about you? What would be the first thing you put on your anti-bucket list? Do you have any strategies for clearing space for thoughtful work? Let’s practice – notebook(s) in hand.


The Holliston Rail Trail is a balm for the spirit. Yes, those are horses.

In our house, we are observing the Advent season, a period of anticipation and preparation.  The word Advent comes from the Latin root “adventus,” which means arrival. We are waiting for the arrival of the solstice, of Christmas, of the New Year, and a new life. If feels like the world is holding its collective breath to get to 2021.

I was reminded recently about the Stockdale Paradox (my idol Brene Brown interviewed President Obama on her podcast and mentioned it). The Stockdale Paradox was developed by author Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. He tells the story of Admiral Stockdale, who spent more than seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. When Collins asked him who did not survive the experience, Stockdale immediately answered “the optimists.” The optimists hoped they would be out of prison by Christmas, and every year Christmas would come and go, and they were heartbroken.

Stockdale posits that humans must balance faith and reality. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.” Collins credits this worldview as one of the ways entities can excel – to not just survive adversity, but to move from good to great.

Real Garland! Holliston, Massachusetts

So we wait – for 2020 to be over, and for 2021 to be magically better. We wait for a vaccine (according to the New York Times calculator, there are 257 million people ahead of me). We wait for for hugs from friends and family, and a draft beer at the local pub watching a game. We wait for all kiddos to be back in school full time, for trips to Europe, and for taking our aging parents to the theater. I would even take a staff meeting at this point. What about you? What are you waiting for in 2021?

Let’s practice, waiting with the faith that we will prevail, standing strong through the end of this brutal reality. Best wishes for a peaceful and healthy world in 2021.

The New Haven Train Station Has Two Dunkin’ Donuts

Union Station, New Haven Connecticut

Every time I think about the train station in New Haven, I remember the two Dunkin’ Donuts and laugh. We typically visit New York City from the Boston area a few times a year, and the best travel plan for us is to drive to New Haven and take the commuter train into the City. The whole trip takes about four hours, we don’t have to drive in Manhattan, and the commuter line is cheaper and runs more often than Amtrak. As a result, we have spent a lot of time over the years rushing through the station to buy tickets, get coffee, and make the train. We are always perilously on the edge of missing the express, and the line for DD is very long.

And then, the kids discovered that there is a tiny, secret, Dunkin Donuts at the bottom of the stairs that never has a line. I wouldn’t even risk mentioning it on this blog, but no one can travel right now so I think our secret is safe. I just hope the DD is still there when we can go back to NYC.

In our family, we love to travel. Over the past decade we have been to NYC a lot, and both kids lived in DC for a total of eight years so we went there A LOT too. When we visit familiar places, we instantly set up routines. When we are in DC we run or walk to the Lincoln Memorial, without fail. We typically stay in the same section of any city, find a local pub and market, and settle in. Even in new places, we value the familiar.

We prioritize family summer vacations, and trips to Europe in lieu of Christmas or graduation gifts. We spend hours enjoying the planning, and years savoring the memories. Even before the pandemic paused our travel schedule, we would spend hours over family dinners reminiscing and repeating – to the chagrin of those who were not along for that trip – all of the inside jokes until we cry laughing. Just mention the secret Dunkin Donuts to my kids and you will see this in action.

New York, NY 2017

But my point about the special Dunkin’s is not just that it earned a mention in my older daughter’s 2014 Christmas Poem (although it did, and I have generously included an excerpt below), or that it continues to provide joy and laughter in our armchair vacationing (although it does). It strikes me that the second DD stands for the idea that the obvious way to achieve a goal – like standing in a long line but risking missing your train – may not be the only way forward.

I don’t know about you, but practically the only thing on my “20 for 20” list that was achievable during a pandemic was “Read War & Peace” and I didn’t even manage to do that. So many of our dream projects at work are on hold due to finances, the pandemic, or the social climate. With that second Dunkin’s in mind, I am searching for new ways to achieve some of my goals.

I downloaded Kindle to my phone, where it is surprisingly easy to start making progress on great Russian literature. Instead of skipping exercise because I am in a nine month running funk, I plan walks that are twice the running distance for approximately the same result. I don’t want to do my 30 minute strength training on dark winter mornings, but I can do half. At work I am scanning the strengths of the staff we already have, hoping to find a way to make incremental progress on issues like climate change or public art installation with no new headcount in our future. If you can think of a way for me to get the children’s book on local government out of my head and onto paper, I would be eternally grateful.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC 2017

Here is your excerpt from the 2014 Poem. You’re welcome.

“There were good times to be had at the New Haven Train Station
An excellent place to start a quick two-day vacation.
Though saddened the Dunkin’s line was out the door,
We discovered a secret one on the bottom floor!”

How about you? Have you found an unusual way to meet a goal? Are you starving for travel? Would you miss the express train for an ice coffee?

Let’s Practice – travel guide and turkey leg in hand. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday’s Child…

Mug with Joyful Pens, Holliston, Massachusetts

You have probably heard the nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child” but here is a refresher. The lyrics were first published in A. E. Bray’s Traditions of Devonshire in 1838.

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for his living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

There is Joy in Autumn in New England even in 2020

I am a big fan of personality tests of all kinds. I have found that there is always something to be learned from taking a test (I like taking tests as much as I like making lists) and reviewing the overarching themes. The Myers Briggs indicator (ESFJ – “the persuader”) reminds me to slow down in interactions with those who tend more to introversion. Reviewing the traits of an Enneagram 3 (“achiever” or “performer)” cautions me to – you guessed it – slow down and stop trying to achieve all the time.

Of course, when we review personality test data, we often ascribe the meaning that we prefer when there is room for interpretation. One of my children, born on a Tuesday and prone to tripping, reminds me that there are multiple meanings for the word “grace.”

So even nursery rhyme personality tests interest me. I come from a family of geniuses. Seriously, my parents and siblings got the intellectual genes. I always needed to work hard and with persistence to keep up. Obviously, I was born on a Saturday. And I do feel like I have had to work hard for a living.

In her outstanding book Grit, Angela Duckworth asserts that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a blend of passion and persistence she calls grit. “Even more than the effort a gritty person puts in on a single day, what matters is that they wake up the next day, and the next, ready to get on that treadmill and keep going. ” Does that sound familiar?

In our local government world, I know many colleagues with brilliant minds. But I am most comforted by the camaraderie of the huge number of us who got where we are through grit – and remain on the treadmill. Interestingly, pandemic leadership values grit over talent. If there were ever a work treadmill, this is it. Especially now, we simply keep going. Here’s to you my fellow plodders – this is our time.

How about you? On what day of the week were you born? Care to share any Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, or other personality test tips that have helped you in your career? Let’s practice – heads high, one step at a time.

One more picture of fall in Holliston because can we really have enough joy?

Side note: While researching the nursery rhyme, I came across the poetry of Countee Cullen, noted poet of the Harlem Renaissance. This poem, about another child born on a Saturday, compares the lives of those born into wealth and those born into poverty. It’s a topical read.

Second side note: Did you ever put fall leaves between sheets of wax paper and then iron them? What was the point of that?

Stand Up, Very Kate

Statue Standing Up in the Secret Garden, Holliston, MA

I was listening to Rachel Hollis’s podcast Rise a month or two ago, and she called on women, especially leaders, to stand up. She noted that the pandemic was keeping a lot of us down, literally, but that we need to step up. We raised our hands to take these jobs, they weren’t forced on us. And so, I straightened my shoulders and told myself to stand up taller. That usually lasts until about 11:00 a.m., when I am slumped over at my desk at the enormity of what we are facing.

In March we were overwhelmed, and in April scared. In May we thought we saw the end. Sadly, there is no end in sight. We will be leading these communities through a pandemic for the foreseeable future. As in “years” with an “s.” If that doesn’t make you want to lie down, I don’t know what will.

In addition, of course, we are facing down this pandemic while gearing up for a financial crisis, and amid the call for racial justice that is resonating in our communities and city and town halls. Are you still standing?

Labor Day is one of those temporal landmarks for me, probably even more than the New Year. It is a good time to take stock of work and career goals. Who else wishes we could be handed a syllabus this fall, with clear guidance as to what success looks like by 2021? So what can we do?

We can stand up and make the best of a long season of social distancing, canceled vacations, and postponed family events.

We can stand up to create some joy in a year at work with all of the hard things and none of the fun things – no in-person conferences, no wedding or baby showers, and no holiday parties.

We can reestablish routines that got lost in the pandemic or over the summer – regular staff meetings, one-on-one meetings with director reports, and all staff training events, thanks to Zoom.

Most importantly, as local government leaders, we can to stand up and have difficult conversations about race, while at the same time supporting the men and women working in our police departments. (Note: This topic is so difficult to navigate that I rewrote this sentence 11 times and it still isn’t right. That’s why we must stand up and tackle it.)

Still Standing. Carrying a heavy load.

How about you? What will you stand up for this fall? Do you possibly have a road map to 2021 you could share? Who wants to write that syllabus?

Let’s practice, standing up, for ourselves, our staff, and our communities.