Getting Ready: A Spring Essay

A perfect spring storm rolled through town last week. It rained hard for an hour or so and then it started to clear, precisely at sunset, a spectacular play of light and shadow, clean air and a whopper of a double-rainbow, fully formed and arcing high across the sky to the east. A meaningful rain in Southern California is a rare thing but one that has all of those elements at once is truly exceptional, inspiring deep appreciation that a waiting world is restlessly waking up to a new dawn of growth and vitality.

Spring is here and what it yields it does so tentatively, with fits and starts, warm and cool air fighting for dominance with the victor never really in doubt. But here at the beginning of the season what was dormant and quiet through the winter begins to change its conversation with the landscape. Beautifully childlike, it says “here I am” and “wait ‘til you see this” and little by little that bulb pushes up a stem that finally breaks the surface and stretches up to be known again.

If we trust that our lives play out in accord with nature’s seasonal shifts and if we notice how we experience transitions that seem to align with changes in the natural world, we should not be surprised. We are, first and foremost, biological. That we would see in our own lives a reflection of what’s happening outside the window makes perfect sense if we are willing to honor our integral, if often unrecognized, connection to the cycles and systems of which we are a part.

To borrow the language of the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, a recognized leader in adult development and transition, there are times when we are “going for it,” times when we are “out of sync,” times for “cocooning” and times for “getting ready.” I have long found these to be synonymous with the seasons: summer, fall, winter and spring, respectively. Though we can certainly experience them “out of season,” each is marked by unique qualities and each calls us to engage in a new kind of conversation and relationship, with ourselves and the world around us.

Thinking more carefully about the qualities of “getting ready” I can’t help but consider the other realities of the advent of spring: the outcome and output of all of that new growth is that the air teems with pollen and other airborne matter finally freed from winter’s prison. Spring breezes start to blow and the stuff goes everywhere. If you suffer from hay-fever or other spring allergies, this is a season less about new growth and possibility and more about the anticipation and realities of discomfort: red eyes, stuffy noses and plenty of itching and scratching. And so it is that whether we actually experience allergic reactions to the “stuff” of spring or just feel the restlessness and fever of a season of “getting ready” – whatever time of year it might be – it can be an unsettling and uncomfortable period for many of us.

My personal epiphany this spring is that not only have I become restless about a few things but the itchiness I feel is a cumulative one, the kind that’s been sneaking up on me for a long time and then feels like it’s been there all along. I have heard it called a “blinding flash of the obvious.” You feel a little silly that you didn’t notice it before and know that you do you realize you’ve got to deal with it.

A couple of examples to illustrate my point:

First, and most benignly, my wife and I recognized that some parts of our home were starting to look a little worn. A few cracks in the walls had stretched and widened; that great paint job we did when we moved in had lost its luster; the kitchen faucet hasn’t worked correctly for precisely…always, and on and on. Taking all this in one day it finally struck me: it’s been seven years since we moved into our house and the inevitable itchiness we’d been feeling had become more common than not. And, easily enough, patchers, painters and faucet repairers were summoned to the task. See a problem and fix it; a kind of convenient scratching.

It also happens that this year marks the seventh anniversary of my employment with the organization that made it possible for me to become a “Chief Learning Officer” or, more accurately a “Chief Learner.” And, as with the house, as I reflect on the status of some key initiatives, once new, fresh and invigorating, I recognize that the cracks are starting to show, that some maintenance is needed and that the itch I need to scratch is that of reenergizing myself through the redefinition, reinvention and reconfiguration of the work itself. Where are the patchers and painters now, I wonder?

I realize that if I stay with something long enough it requires me to reassess and revise my relationship with it. And there’s something incredibly satisfying about being with something that long. There is also something quite daunting about tackling the interactions, conversations and decisions necessary to reinvent and recreate; the realization that there is no outsourcing this job. The realization that I am the patcher, the painter and the faucet repairer. A fresh coat of paint is one thing; taking on the reinvention of a system of which I am only one part – a marriage, a cultural initiative, a team – is something else altogether.

This spring, I am steeling myself for that work. It is an intense getting ready.

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