Graduations, non-linear paths, & the importance of getting started

 

By: Lori Chelius, MBA, MPH 

My oldest graduated elementary school yesterday and I will admit that I shed more than a few tears at his end-of-year ceremony as the entire school community literally “clapped out” the sixth grade. Someone told me to make sure I bring my sunglasses and I am grateful for that advice. While elementary school graduation may not be as big of a deal as high school or college, it still felt like a pretty big milestone for him and our family.  I think back to his first day of kindergarten in 2012 . His youngest sister was still in a baby backpack as we walked him half of a block to his first day of school with another toddler in tow. My wife and I spent a lot of time in that classroom--we eagerly volunteered to share a weekly volunteer spot in his class and attended the frequent performances and parties hosted by his amazing teacher. Almost seven years (and two cross-country moves) later, he biked himself to his last day of elementary school and I had to promise to make sure I hung out with the other parents (and not him) at the end-of-year BBQ celebration. 

(Last day of 6th grade)          (First day of Kindergarten)

With graduation season upon us, I have been thinking a lot about one of my favorite graduation speeches. It’s the speech that Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy, gave in 2014 at Dartmouth College. She references the typical expected advice from a graduation speech: “Follow your dreams. Listen to your spirit. Change the world. Make your mark. Find your inner voice and make it sing. Embrace failure. Dream. Dream and dream big. As a matter of fact, dream and don't stop dreaming until all of your dreams come true.” 

And then she says, “I think that’s crap.”

Instead she tells the graduates to "Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you're paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn't matter. You don't have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new.” 

I think about this speech a lot as a parent. One of the many things that I love about parenting is watching my kids develop into their own person with their own unique interests. When my son was in kindergarten, he aspired to be a puzzle maker. In third grade, he wanted to be a professional soccer player. He now wants to be a filmmaker. All pretty big dreams. And all of them have either already changed or will likely change in the future--either by waning interest or a tough dose of reality. 

But part of figuring all of that out will come by continuing to do instead of just dreaming. Last year, he started making short films using an iPhone. A couple of months ago, he scraped together several months of allowance to purchase proper film lighting to improve the quality of his films. Through this process, he realized that he enjoys directing and discovered a joy in writing that he had not experienced in other outlets. Perhaps just as important, he realized he doesn’t enjoy editing and storyboarding (he finds them tedious). 

Who knows if his current interest in filmmaking will land him 20 years from now. Maybe he will be a famous Hollywood director. More likely, that interest will take him in another path that he hasn’t even considered yet. Or maybe he will realize he actually doesn’t even enjoy making films (or the challenges of finding gainful employment as a filmmaker). But the process of translating his dream into doing is helping him discover new paths and talents he may not have even stumbled on before. With his newly found love of writing, he dove into writing a script to host his school’s recent variety show. And the path continues. 

Messy. Nonlinear. The best kind of path.

I also think about this speech in relation to my own career path. As an undergrad, I started on a pre-med curriculum and for a variety of reasons, dropped it. For many years, becoming a physician was still lingering in the back of my mind as the path not taken. I talked that dream to death as I continued to work as a non-clinician doing strategic planning within healthcare. And then one day, I decided that I was going to do it. I was going to go back and complete the courses I needed (and bring up that average age of a medical student significantly). I got certified and volunteered as an EMT to gain experience. I stopped dreaming and started doing.

And guess what. I hated it. I hated the sleep schedule. I hated the reality I would face in terms of time away from my family. I hated the focus on symptoms with little regard to the upstream issues that were causing the symptoms. And that frustration with the lack of focus on upstream issues landed me in the work I am doing now focused on working with organizations to implement a trauma-informed and resilience-building approach.

Messy. Nonlinear.

I also think about Rhimes’ speech at Origins as Andi and I work with clients integrating this approach. When Oprah talked about the impact of ACEs and a trauma-informed approach in the 60 Minutes segment from March 2018, she said “It’s changed the way I see everyone.” This sounds similar to my own experience learning about the impact of toxic stress on individuals and communities. A trauma-informed approach offers us a different way to think about an enormous range of issues--structural racism, health outcomes, community violence, economic displacement, and many more. 

But while this paradigm shift can be powerful and hopeful, it can also be extremely daunting. How do I even begin to translate these big dreams into practical next steps to start the doing? Sometimes that can be paralyzing and leave us stuck in the starting gate.

This “stuckness” is the core of why we created The Resilience Champion Certificate. As we talk to people about their training needs, the biggest question we get is something along the lines of “Ok, I get ACEs. But what can I do about it?” They have had their Aha! moment but don’t know how to get started.  

The Resilience Champion Certificate is 6-week online training designed to support both individuals and teams who want to apply the concepts from The Basics and lead their organizations or communities on the path to resilience. The goal of the course is to help people get out of the starting gate. By the end of this course, you will walk away with concrete next steps to begin the process of integrating trauma-informed approach into your setting.  

The first half of the course focuses on building a strong foundation--bringing together a strong team, exploring “why you do what you do,” articulating a clear vision and mission, and fostering a culture that supports the implementation of a trauma-informed approach. The second half of the course focuses on implementation--using a trauma-informed assessment to create clear goals and then define concrete activities to meet those goals. 

Examples of concrete next steps could be training staff or community members on the key concepts behind a trauma-informed approach, integrating mindful moments into meetings or into classrooms, training staff on restorative practices for conflict resolution, re-examining hiring practices through an equity lens, or implementing reflective supervision practices. These individual activities in and of themselves do not make an organization trauma-informed because this approach is just that--an approach. A process. It’s not a checklist of activities. 

Translating the dream of a trauma-informed world into a concrete action plan for your setting is not easy. Sure, you will make mistakes. The path is certainly not going to be linear and it will not happen overnight. It will definitely be messy. But as the saying goes, getting started is (at least) half the battle. And sometimes, as Shonda Rhimes reminds us, you just have to keep moving forward. 

For the full transcript of Shonda Rhimes speech: https://www.dartmouth.edu/~com.../rhimes-address.html

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