“…and this is the important part for us as intensives. As soon as we figure out what’s happening, we can begin to prepare mentally and sometimes systemically and sometimes structurally, for whatever comes next. And now I need to know that I borrowed all of that energy and all of the spoons from the next month. And act like it.”

Leela reflects on thriving in busy times, planning a retreat that is accessible from the ground up, the way that Go Mode can sneak up on us, and how to prepare ourselves and those around us for the crash when we shift from Go Mode to Intensive Stop.

Transcript and notes:


Recorded 25 November 2023.


Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning in.

I've talked a lot about the stop phase of intensiveness. In large measure, because we don't talk about it that much. And we don't feel it that much, we tend to be in Go, go, go go go mode and expect it to stay there. But I think it's important to talk about Go Mode, too.

I just spent about six weeks in go Mode. And I didn't even notice for the first three. I was preparing for a conference. I'm the Interim Director of an organization for another couple of months. And we hadn't had a retreat in four years, because of the pandemic. But we decided we needed to see each other's faces. And we decided we needed to do it in the most accessible way possible.

And I mention the access, because access does take work and time and effort and money to effect. And we- I and the leadership team- were determined that we would do that. And that is the long standing ethos of this organization. So it's a pleasure to do it for them. Because it's not about arguing for access. That isn't a discussion. Of course, we want access. The question is, how do we do it? How do we communicate it? How do we educate around it? How do we implement it?

And for a variety of reasons, we didn't have quite as much human power involved in this as might have been ideal. We learned something. But the net effect was that I did a lot of the work. Because I'm the interim director, and sometimes that's what interim directors do.

And I had a lot of help. There's another staff member, they did a lot. There's a leadership team, volunteers, they did a lot. So I'm not saying I did this on my own, but I did a lot of work. And because I'm an intensive, my work schedule for this organization has always been in blocks. I do about three hours about once a weak. It's a very part time job.

But if you sit down and focus, you can get a lot done if you're an intensive and I have taken absolutely taken advantage of that. And so once a week, three hours, sometimes a little bit spread out, sometimes meetings, sometimes other things. But if I could give it three focused hours at my desk, every week, we could move forward. And so we did.

And so it was three hours. And then you know, the retreat was getting closer. So it was like four hours. And then the retreat was getting closer, and I needed to meet with somebody about it. And so it was five hours because I also had to do some other stuff.

And we're coming to the end of my tenure, and there are a certain number of projects that need to get done before I hand this off to somebody else- one of which was the selection process for the new director, without which we would have trouble. So it was four, and then it was five. And I set my rates at consulting levels. So that was still okay. I can do a few extra hours, here and there.

Then it was six, then it was 10. Everything else I was doing, this podcast included, fell off the edge of the table. And it was twelve. And it was fifteen hours a week. More and more time, more and more. And I recognized it around the 10 or 15 hour mark, which you'll notice is some three to five times more than I was usually spending.

I noticed that I was spending a lot more time on this organization than usual. A lot more time than I had predicted or anticipated. I knew it was going to be more than the baseline. But I also knew that we were still probably two weeks out from the retreat. And I was already spending 10 to 15 hours. And I knew it was only going to go up.

So it took me until three weeks, two weeks before the retreat to realize that I was spending three to five times as much time as I usually set aside. Because it was just you know, it was a little here it was a little there. I'll sit down and write this email. I'll sit down and go through this proposal. I'll sit down and next thing I know an hour is gone.

And this is with delegation, I was delegating like mad. In fact, our administrator also put in enormously more hours than they had set aside. So it was a little and a little, and suddenly, the room was flooded.

I'll tell you the story from that just because it's fun. When I was a little, little kid, I love to sit by the screen windows in a rainstorm, and feel that very fine mist of water on my face and breathe the air from the storm. It was one of my favorite things. And so I would do that, and then my mom would say, "oh, no, you have to close the windows."

And I'd say" why? It's just it's barely a sprinkling of water. It's just a little. It's just a little." And she'd say, "okay, but a little and a little makes a lot." Which is true. A little and a little, makes a lot. But I also still love sitting by an open window in a spring rainstorm. I just put a towel on the windowsill. Which is another example of intensiveness needing its own kind of adaptation. Don't close the window on me. Just give me a towel to lean on, so that the windowsill doesn't get soaking wet.

Anyway, I was doing it to myself: a little, little little, and suddenly the room was flooded.

But at that point, I still had to do the things. The things were right in front of me, the retreat was right there, it had to happen. And I know all of us have been in this position. And honestly, intensives- we mostly thrive in it. This is the time when we thrive. Some gear clicks over in our head. And we're no longer in regular functioning mode. We're a little bit in crisis and a little bit in joy. A little bit in our element.

For many of us our element is fire, and water. And earth- but like bonfire. And big ocean waves and small earthquakes. Right on that edge where things start to feel a little dangerous. I used to kind of set myself up for that. And I don't do that anymore. Because it's not healthy. It's not great for me. It creates a lot of stress. And stress is, as it turns out, not my natural element.

But but the place where things are so vibrantly alive that you can feel your skin tingle. I still love that. It's the same feeling I get when I'm painting. And I just know I've got it right. Because I do gestural painting. So it's like, I take a deep breath, and I dive in and in five minutes, the painting is done one way or the other.

And I've come to know my materials well enough to know when it's working and when it's not. When this is going to be one that I tear off and throw away- I don't keep everything I make. And when this is going to be something that I am pleased with, that maybe I'll put up for sale.

It's the same feeling. That- that vibrating feeling. And so I deliberately flip that switch. And I went into: this is what we're doing. This is what we're doing, this is what we're doing, this is what we're doing. And I knew I was tired. And I knew I was burning spoons into next year. But I kept doing it.

Because this is what I'm good at. It's one of the things I'm good at. I don't do it very often because it's very hard on me. But I'm really good at it. And it's good to do something good. Even if it requires a little extra, even if it requires a little more effort. Even if it requires a little discomfort, a little uncertainty, a little push, a little stress.

It's okay. As long as you only do it sometimes, only sometimes. And so I clicked over into that mode of we're just doing this and I am hyper focused on this and yes, everything else is gonna crash. I hope nothing burns.

If I had realized that I was going to do this, I would have stopped, rewind, eight weeks out. I would have made sure that I had buffers, meals cooked and prepped and frozen. Podcast episodes stashed. Some kind of promotional material auto-set to go out somewhere to remind people that they can hire me.

Because that's The thing I have to keep doing in this line of work, is talking about how you can hire me. You can hire me to come into your company, or your organization. You can hire me to do what I just did for this organization.

Not the retreat part. But the other part. The part about setting up systems and structures and patterns and supporting the organization and becoming an organization, and not just a collection of volunteers, trying really hard to do some good work in the world.

You can also hire me to train on intensiveness, to improve team dynamics. You can hire me to make your feeling about going into work at your own company better. You can hire me to help you be an intensive in the world without getting damaged. And without damaging others. You can hire me to help with your ethics.

My unofficial title in one of my positions is ethics consultant, ethics coach. But if I don't keep saying that out loud in public people forget. There's so much out there, people forget. And so even people who would know that they need me don't know. And then I don't have work. So I have to keep saying that.

But I stumbled into this instead of preparing for it. I just didn't know that this was going to happen. And so I didn't prepare for it. And so there was this gradual fade. And then this radio silence everywhere else in my life as my focus narrowed and narrowed and narrowed. As it does. As we do. This is what intensives do.

And I arrived at the retreat, knowing that I was already borrowing from the future. Borrowing energy, borrowing spoons, borrowing focus from the future. And I had surrendered to it. Which makes it a lot easier, because if you're still fighting it, that's just wasted energy. And so in my surrender, I went through the week of the retreat. There were more fires to put out than I expected. Still, I don't know what it was about this retreat, it was just like that.

Some things are just like that. Little things go wrong all the time and other things, smooth as silk. So I arrived, and I did the thing. And every morning, I woke up and there was some new surprise thing to deal with. And I did. I did all the things that I needed to do. And I leaned heavily on the other people so that we could all do things. And all of us would survive.

And we did. And it did the thing. The retreat did what we needed it to do. It brought people together, it made connections. It fostered community in a way that we desperately needed as an organization.

And then I came home. And I crashed.

But by this time I knew what was happening. And I knew that was going to happen. I might not have anticipated the push until it was too late to prepare for it. But during the push, I was mentally preparing for the crash.

And this is the important part for us as intensives. As soon as we figure out what's happening, we can begin to prepare mentally and sometimes systemically and sometimes structurally, for whatever comes next.

We can warn the people closest to us, in our organization and in our families. We can warn them: "Hey, listen, I'm burning myself out. And I know I'm doing it. And it's okay. I just want you to know, I just want you to know so you're prepared. I just want you to know so you're prepared." We are used to surprises. That's part of how our nervous systems work. Although it's nice to have a warning.

Expansives especially do not take so kindly do surprises and a lot of intensives don't either. If the surprise is external to them. So everything we can do to prepare the people around us to support us, to understand what's happening, to catch us, to not be caught off guard, is worth doing. Sometimes we don't know. Sometimes we do. If we know, we can ease the impact on everyone by communicating. That's really important.

I could have done a better job of communicating. I did some. If I were doing this again, I would know better. I'm not doing it again. I'm an interim. My time is coming to an end with this organization. I will warn the next person. And the rest of the leadership team already knows.

But it never hurts to remind people. Even if they know even if they've known you for a million years, it never hurts to remind people. This is what it's like when I hyper focus on a project that's huge. And I pour myself into it. The next thing that happens is I stop. The next thing that happens is there's going to be an intensive stop.

And this week, I was frustrated by it. But I wasn't surprised. I sat and stared at the wall. I slept. I stayed in bed hours and hours extra. And I was fortunate because it was a holiday week. And so a lot of people hadn't filled up my calendar. My calendar was already emptier than it would have been otherwise, I should have blocked my calendar. That would have been the responsible thing to do. But I got lucky.

So what I've offered you here is a case study. A case study in a particular kind of intensive, specific experience. This is how, often, we are expected to perform in our work. Because this is one of the things that we're brilliant at. This is one of the gifts that intensiveness gives us and that expansives rely on. And I'm happy to do it.

It's incredibly satisfying to come skidding into the end of a run, and look back and see how well it went. And to know that I prepared as much as I could have. And that I met every unexpected bump as well as possible. Was it perfect? No. Could there have been things that were better? Yes. Could I have done a better job of making things easier on our administrator, who is expansive? Probably yes.

It was just a lot. It was a lot to do. It was a lot to ask. And now we know. And it took me a week after returning to my desk to be able to generate anything creative. And that's okay. That's to be expected. So much is about what's to be expected.

Perhaps, perhaps I could have anticipated all of this. But I don't think so. Some of it was out of my control. Some of it was unexpected crisis stuff that just happens. Some of it was lack of energy in the world right now for anything. But we did the best we could.

And now I need to know that I borrowed all of that energy and all of the spoons from the next month. And act like it. And that's going to be the hard part.

Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you soon.