What It Will Take.

It’s the first day of the last month of this longest, strangest and most challenging of years. As I look out my office window at the fading dusk over the Green Mountains, I’m reflecting on both the nine months behind us and – with a mix of resolve and trepidation – the long winter ahead.

In the earliest weeks of the pandemic I wrote about how people in our community were finding more light in a dark situation; how managers were staying present and relevant for their team members; how to reject a sense of victimization; and how the constraints of our new world can foster innovation. Even as our own business was rocked to its foundation, we stayed true to Spencer Tracy’s admonition that It’s impossible to feel sad and useful at the same time. We chose to stay useful and to invent stuff and – so far – it’s worked out pretty well.

But now here we are, with vaccines rolling out and a sense that things are going to get better… but only in the spring. Here we are, facing winter. And we’re asking ourselves, what will it take? What will it take to keep spirits strong, to stay hopeful and resilient under the weight of COVID fatigue and Zoom burnout?

I was as shocked and moved recently by the untimely death of Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos. But I was equally moved by an idea he left behind… and maybe an answer to the question of What will it take?

In a 2009 profile in Briefings magazine, Mr. Hsieh described himself as a lifelong skeptic who sneered at psychology and philosophy. But his computer science background led him to believe that happiness could be studied as a science. Rather than assuming happiness is achieved haphazardly, he began to read about the distinct characteristics that made people happy.

People assume that achieving a certain goal or winning the lottery will bring lasting happiness, he said, but it rarely does. “Most of the frameworks for happiness conclude that there are four things required: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (meaning the depths of relationships) and being part of something bigger than yourself.”

Perceptions of control and progress. Connections to others. Being part of something bigger than ourselves. All choices. 

Yes, because of health, or homelessness or food insecurity, there are many who are unable to make choices right now. But many of us can, and we need to choose well; to focus on what we control and to acknowledge and celebrate progress, even if it’s incremental; to find ways to put new depth and empathy into our relationships; and to choose to see ourselves as part of something bigger than ourselves. Making this choice made me realize after decades in business what my company name – Upstream Group – really meant after all: it’s not just me and the team… it’s you and every other reader, customer, business partner, workshop participant, vendor and fellow traveler.

That, I think, is what it will take. Thanks Tony.