Once a month, I attend a professional womxn’s networking event. At the start of each event, the facilitator asks us each to share something that is distracting us, followed by the phrase “but I’m present.” The first time I heard this I cringed. Wouldn’t sharing my distractions mean me admitting my lack of engagement?
What I found is the opposite. This prompt is asking us to be honest about where we are starting from. Rather than pretending that we are totally present when in fact we have a new toddler at home; a new job; a stressful family situation we need to deal with; etc., we acknowledge that everyone has distractions. In naming them, we take the shame away from “being distracted” and commit to doing our best to being present.
Recently I heard someone say, “I’m about to start a new business, and there are a thousand things on my mind... but I’m present.”
In my work with our funders, I often hear similar things: “We’re getting a new grant portfolio launched.” or “We are in CEO transition, so everyone is doing double duty.” or “We’re having to respond to a rise in hate crimes/ICE raids/gun violence and this is totally new territory for us. We want to do it right.” The issues we face are vital, and the resources we provide are significant. And yet, we rarely practice the second part of this exercise: getting grounded in the present opportunity despite our other distractions.
Our conference is a collective moment for us to say together, “What’s distracting me is my job and my 1,000 emails, but I’m present with all of you.” This year in particular, we are centering the arts, poetry and provocative and inspiring speakers that encourage us to tune-in rather than plan-ahead. We will take the time to get grounded in the resources available between us: our connections, our network and our ideas. We’re making sure to leave time for networking and relationship building because they are the most important resources in our work.
Yet this analogy goes deeper than just trying to avoid our smartphones during a conference session.
Over the last few years, our sector has been asked to be honest about where it’s starting from. In other words, to be grounded in our work and our history. This means asking, “how was this wealth created?” and “what have we done, or not done, to truly close disparities in our communities?” Starting to acknowledge these questions and give them our attention can feel disruptive to our day-to-day work. Once we approach our history and our present with curiosity, we may not always like what we see. But acknowledging these hard questions is a vital part of being grounded. At Philanthropy Northwest, we want to hold space for you and your foundations to start these conversations among yourselves and your peers. And then, importantly, to move forward. Just like my monthly facilitator has modeled, it does us no good to pretend these distractions and hard questions aren’t there. So let’s practice naming them, sharing them, and then dialing in to the moment and issues at hand. “I’m distracted by all that we haven’t yet done... but I’m present in moving forward with what we can do.”