Cultivating resilience through community when times are hard
By Suzanne Biegel and Carey Bohjanen
A lot of people we’re talking to are feeling tired right now: from COVID, endless uncertainty, lack of decisive action in the climate talks, or working their hearts out in a seemingly intractable environment.
In the gender-smart investing space, we’re starting to move out of the imaginative, optimistic, inspirational phase, and into the phase where we have to make our ideas a reality. Some of us are working in institutions that haven’t bought in yet, which can be exhausting and soul-crushing. Others are out on the frontier building new funds and vehicles. They’re exhausted not from fighting seemingly immovable institutions, but from fighting to bring something new into the world, often with limited resources in highly competitive environments.
In the face of these challenges, we need physical and emotional spaces to find inspiration and motivation, to tell the truth about what is hard, and to cultivate community. Those of us who have chosen the path of doing Hard Things need to nurture our own wellbeing, and that means more than meditation and long walks: it means intentionally cultivating our resilience.
A group of our friends got together in-person a couple of weeks ago — all of whom, in their own ways, are also doing Hard Things. We talked about Themyscira, the feminist utopia where Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazons grew up learning to fight, run fast, and be strong. She would later go out into the world to fight villains, but she always had that place — both physical, and metaphorically inside of her — to return to for strength, succor, belonging and inspiration.
We talked about our desire for our own equivalent of that space: where we could talk about what was hard without fear or judgement, and learn from others who have been in the same place and gotten through it. Where if one person is out on the precipice, we can pull them back, help them find the resources they need, or give them the external validation so that others get to see how amazing they are. Where can we cry because we lost, or cry because we won.
Humans have ways to do this on the sports field — to cycle between training, exertion, and recovery. But we have few mechanisms to do this in our personal and professional lives, where we are expected to be switched on, giving our best, all the time.
But it’s not physically or energetically possible to be on a high at all times. Every movement, and every form of systems change work, has its peaks and valleys. The type of change we are seeking to fuel is a long game.
For many people in the gender lens investing field, both men and women, the GenderSmart community is one of those spaces where we can ideate, workshop new ideas, and be honest about the challenges that we face.
But we need more intimate spaces to cultivate resilience, too. At our gathering a couple of weeks ago, we made healthy nurturing food, sipped heart-warming drinks from mugs and goblets, and celebrated each other’s successes. We talked about the good we saw and cherish in each other, and shared stories of how each person in the circle had helped us. And we laughed and we cried and we joked about the insanity of it all: the work we’re trying to do, and the changes we’re trying to push forward.
You don’t have to be physically together in order to do this, but you do need vulnerability, psychological safety, and deep emotional connection.
We realised that each person had a gift that they brought to the group. Something that was not a heavy lift for them, and in fact nurtured them by giving it, and something that contributed real value and joy to the intended recipient. We also were reminded that naming and voicing the things that keep us awake at night, feeling truly seen and heard, and being held — emotionally and physically — are precious gifts.
We each came away feeling energised, strengthened and buoyed from the time together in community, but we also felt that we had drawn closer and were stronger as a community, better able to go back out and do Hard Things in our respective areas of gender-smart investing.
After almost two years where many of us have been lacking in that kind of deep, human connection, we need those moments to connect, whether physical or virtual, more than ever. And so we ask you, where do you find those spaces in your life?
If you don’t have them already, where can you find them?
What do you need right now to help cultivate your own resilience? And what gift could you bring (that isn’t a heavy lift) to help others in your community at this time?
Bios: Suzanne Biegel is the founder of Catalyst at Large and co-founder of the GenderSmart Investing Summit, and a global leader in gender-smart investing. Carey Bohjanen is the Founder of The Rallying Cry, an ecosystem initiative to catalyse private sector investment in women climate entrepreneurs in Africa.