Some transitions happen no matter if you are prepared for them or not. The transition from summer to fall. The transition from middle to high school. These happen whether you want them to or not. But other transitions are birthed in unexpected moments that rattle your cage and shake your very foundation - sparked by a simple shift in perspective, or something tragic. My biggest transition came when three very disparate things came together at the same time: a heart-wrenching diagnosis, an unanticipated gift, and an overheard conversation.
1. A Heart-Wrenching Diagnosis
Linda Baker had been on Art with Heart's Board of Directors for seven years, three of which she served as Board President. She brought a calm understanding to the meetings. She made sure every voice was heard, making sure the extroverts didn't control the conversations. She encouraged transparency and trust. She was an expert listener and gently exposed the deeper meaning behind a question. She was a mentor, a leader and a friend and she gave me courage and hope. She led with her heart and was revered by all.
During our October 2013 Board meeting, she was in a particularly good mood and the gathering was especially jovial. One week later, she was having surgery to remove a fast-growing brain tumor. She fought the cancer for six months before she lost her battle. It was a loss that rocked many people's lives, including mine. I miss her on a daily basis and her fragility caused me to think about my own.
2. An Unanticipated Gift
A month into Linda's diagnosis, Art with Heart's yearly benefit luncheon took place. Our special guest speakers included two women from Newtown, Connecticut who reflected on our work in their community after the 12/14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed the lives of twenty children. One of our guests was a first-timer, invited by a board member who couldn't make it. After hearing testimony of the impact of our work, she wrote on her donation pledge card, "Please call me." When we called, she shared that she had considered leaving us a bequest in her will, but had decided that she wanted us to have the money now – and wrote a very generous check. This unexpected gift allowed us, for the first time in our almost 20 year history, to think proactively. For the first time, we could let go of the daily struggle to stay above the water, and explore our hope for the future. Her donation gave us the gift of possibility.
3. An Overheard Conversation
At the same time, my husband was going through a transition from a job he had held for 21 years. I connected him to a career coach and sat in on their first few meetings as he got comfortable with the idea. One of the questions she asked him struck me. "If you could design your perfect job, why wouldn't you?" That question kept nagging me. I had been overwhelmed with the responsibility of running Art with Heart for quite some time, and found myself working 60-hour weeks quite often. I was running on empty. What if I could return to doing what I love best? What if Art with Heart could find someone who actually enjoyed the things that I struggled with? What if I don't make that change now? How much longer can I keep up this pace?
These three significant moments gelled in one defining moment. Over Christmas break, I mulled things over, and at the December meeting, I announced my intention to make a change to the Board. I told them that I wanted to stay with the organization, but needed to redefine my role so that I could return to what I was best at. My heart had been longing for this for years. I just hadn't noticed until these catalysts woke me up and propelled me into a new way of thinking.
Fortunately, the Board was in agreement and together we set upon the journey of transitioning into a new role. To prepare, I interviewed "founders that stayed" to find out what their journey was like. I also interviewed the people who came after them to hear their perspectives and challenges. I learned a lot about letting go and preparing the way so that letting go would be possible. The best thing that happened during this time was that someone mentioned that their process was helped along when they hired a Change Management Consultant. After much research, we interviewed seven different consultants to find the right fit. Kathleen Hosfeld was recommended to us by one of our long-time advisors. She was the only one who mentioned that grief would be part of the challenge and spoke about both the head and the heart of this organizational change. I knew she was the person we had been looking for.
Kathleen worked closely with the Board, the staff, and myself to predict and manage the risks and the stress associated with this transition. Through the process, she gave me the tools I needed to prepare the way for our new Managing Director. She helped me get what was "inside my head" out and into various documents that helped define what it was I had been doing for so many years. She helped me manage the tsunami of anxiety that churned inside me as we made difficult decisions and interviewed candidates for the new position.
We hired a wonderful person, Cynthia Dasté, and my heart is once again filled with hope. We are still in the early stages of this journey, but with the unexpected gifts that these three transitions gave me – insight, possibility, and courage – I am moving forward.
I know Linda is watching and I know she would have approved.