Growing in a crisis (or two, or three)

Early in my career, major blackouts, superstorms, market crashes, and other disasters shaped who I am today as a leader and a survivor. While stressful in the moment, finding the will to work my way through each crisis made me stronger.

As we develop leaders in our companies, we look for opportunities to place them in extremely challenging and stressful situations, like serving in the lead, Incident Commander role for an emergency response. This approach mirrors the plight of butterflies, who must first struggle, find the will and fight their way through, to emerge from their cocoons before they can fly. The act of struggling through a small hole in the cocoon pushes fluid from their bloated former caterpillar bodies into their new, capable wings.

Facing and not hiding from the chaos and clinging to the belief that discomfort is a sign of growth, I emerge on the other side of each crisis more resilient and better-prepared for the next one.

Hitting the wall

Lately, with disasters of every variety layering on top of each other – pandemic, social unrest, heat waves and wildfires exacerbated by climate change (did I mention earthquakes?) – it feels like I am walking a fine line between growing and drowning.

When is the struggle doing more damage than building strength?

Completing even everyday tasks is already difficult with pandemic restrictions. Add stress- and workload-inducing events like historic heat waves and catastrophic wildfires with dangerous air quality, and it’s hard to see the growth opportunity in this apocalyptic scene.

As a runner, I liken this to “hitting the wall” in a race, the point when my body has depleted the glycogen stored in my muscles and my legs feel too heavy to lift. But we must press forward, since tapping out of this race is not an option. Climate change is amplifying each emergency and the days of taking these challenges one-at-a-time are gone – as hard as this year has been, next year will be hotter and come with more critical problems for us to solve.

Embracing a future of crises

Just like a runner prepares for hitting the wall so they can push forward, I am taking control of this constant crisis mode to continue growing and quell the underwater feelings.

First, I no longer think about this pandemic as temporary. I ordered the next size up of children’s face masks, the same way I buy sneakers and t-shirts for my young girls to grow into. By giving up the search for when this will end, I feel a weight off my shoulders, and more prepared for a future that might still include COVID or the next permutation.

I also create playbooks after each new disaster, so I’m that much better prepared each time. In August, we experienced a major heat wave and a shortage of energy supply, resulting in rotating outages for the first time in nearly 20 years. Immediately following those difficult days, our team documented what worked and what we would do differently, hoping we could keep it on the shelf for another 20 years. Only three weeks later, we were back in a similar situation, and, with our playbook, we managed the crisis with fewer resources, at much lower stress levels, and better customer outcomes.

This is progress. And I accept that after surviving each disaster, another one or two are lurking in the shadows ahead. It will take time before the hard work of recent years and coming decades eventually curbs climate change to benefit our children and their children. But I know we’ll find our collective will to face it all. And I embrace the butterfly’s fight, knowing that I will grow stronger in the struggle.