The home page of my website says “Strength Through Connection” on the top header. As I reflect on 2020, I’ve realized how much connection really matters. This blog serves first, as a review of 2020 accomplishments. It also about what I learned while working to help people connect to themselves, others, and Earth.
Connection to self
When the pandemic changed how we lived and worked, I offered two workshops around self-care. I focused on the conservation community since I know that community best. The first got into the basics of self-care. The other dug deeper into why we don’t practice self-care in the first place. The one message I heard loud and clear was that most participants felt better simply knowing they weren’t alone in their struggle.
Our culture has managed to lead people to believe experiencing struggle means something is wrong with you. In reality, if you have a loved one sick, it would be normal to worry. If the way you work was upended, it would be normal to be overwhelmed by change. If you have not taken care of yourself, it would be normal for you to feel disappointed in yourself. So many experienced loss of many kinds this year. Grief is a normal response to loss. In both of the self-care workshops, I remind people that struggle is normal. I tell people to trust their struggle as it is a message for where growth is needed.
Beyond finding the area where growth is needed, we must uncover the reason for our struggle. Much of our struggle is related to beliefs and behaviors from childhood that no longer serve us. I know how much my own uncovering of these mistaken beliefs and, now useless, behaviors have aided my own growth and happiness. I feel deeply fulfilled to have guided hundreds in 2020 to their own discoveries through the self-care workshops in addition to those I offered on internal dialogue, kicking stress, and the Enneagram. I also enjoyed sharing more tools with several coaching clients on developing deeper connections with themselves so they can better connect with others.
Connection to others
Our uniqueness can only be clear when with others. Therefore, to be able to share our gifts we must get along with others. That concept of gift-giving is one that I try to emphasize in any workshops associated with connecting to others.
In conflict resolution workshops, I talk about Alfred Adler’s word for community feeling; “Gemienshaftsgefuhl”. To feel in community, everyone gets to share their gifts and bring their unique experiences to the table. Conflict arises when we are focused on self-interest rather than social-interest.
In feedback from participants this year, I could have taken some of the more difficult comments personally. But that isn’t helpful. In 2020, I learned to embrace the comments of the most skeptical and challenging participants. I reached out, directly, to several people to thank them for the challenge. I asked if they’d be willing to dig deeper. Each of those difficult conversations was a gift as they broadened my outlook. I wish we could all do better at looking at each other for what we can learn from our biggest differences.
One of the gifts I think we often miss out on is language. Pick any word that your group commonly uses and ask individuals to say what it means to them. Almost assuredly, you’ll get as many descriptions as you have individuals. I find this exercise so important in working in groups that I use it not just in my cooperative language workshops, but also in nearly all “connecting to others” workshops that I offer. Understanding and being curious about each other’s language and word meaning is a great way to connect.
The greatest gift I hope I conveyed in my Team Wellness workshops this year was that of compassion. To be well with each other, we must talk about how we want to be with each other. If one person on the team is struggling, the entire team is struggling. There is no better way to build a connection than having compassion and helping each other through struggle.
Connection to Earth
During 2020, the outdoor industry saw huge increases in attendance at parks and other public spaces. They also saw increased participation in hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation activities. At the same time, the agencies in charge of caring for parks experienced overuse. Sometimes, they even saw abuse of the very places people sought refuge from the overwhelm caused by the pandemic. So, the question is, how do we encourage time with nature while assuring those same spaces with be available in the future?
In 2019 I had already started to teach workshops for counselors and therapists in topics around nature as a co-therapist with an emphasis on reciprocity and advocacy. But the pandemic opened an opportunity to take some of the same concepts to the conservation community. As it turns out, most of them didn’t even realize their own disconnect from nature. Through a series of workshops for the Responsible Recreation campaign, participants learned how to re-connect with nature. Together, we challenged what access to nature is and touched on how the human-nature relationship is developed and evolves.
I am blessed to be a bridge-builder; a connector, between the wellness and conservation communities. At the end of 2020, I began a partnership to bring psychology and ecology together through continued workshops around ecopsychology. I think our biggest hope is to bring more people into a reciprocal relationship with Earth. Our first workshop was on Ethics and Responsibilities in Outdoor Therapy with a focus on Do No Harm (Earth or people). We hope there is much more to come.
Connecting in 2021
With the Ethics and Responsibilities in Outdoor Therapy workshop being approved for continuing education credits through the Minnesota Board of Marriage and Family Therapy, I expect we’ll be offering this workshop more often in the coming year. A series of workshops is under development and I hope to connect with more counselors and therapists in 2021. I look forward to listening to the interactions and conversation, so I can continue to grow in my own relationship with others and Earth.
I look forward to a series of “connect to others” workshops I helped develop around diversity and inclusion for the conservation community to begin in early 2021. Our hope is to guide participants to understand their own experiences of exclusion and build greater awareness of the individual work needed to strengthen diversity and inclusion in their organizations.
The January/February issue of The Wildlife Professional will include a second article I wrote with a goal to open conversation around wellbeing in the conservation community. The first, called Wellness for Wildlifers, was published in September and the response has been overwhelming. I think the wildlife and conservation communities have been longing for ways to speak about this important topic – especially since so many are working in Earth protection areas like endangered species, wildlife diseases, and habitat restoration. So they can bring their best to caring for Earth, I tell them they need to take care of themselves first. I look forward to connecting with more people in conservation to bring wellness to our work through additional workshops and writing.
I know, for many, 2020 has brought great suffering, especially those who have lost dear loved ones. Though they may not realize it, those losses inspire me. They give me a reason to move others to better connect with themselves, others, and Earth and to make the most of our gifts. I am grateful for the reminder that I live and the work I do is important in helping others live too.
My work is never done alone. I am grateful for so many with whom I partnered to develop, offer, and grow the workshops mentioned throughout this post. I must include a huge number of support professionals that help bring my work to life including editors, a photographer, a graphic artist, web and social media developers, and information technology specialists.
My support system is amazing. It includes dear family, friends (including my campground community), and an encouraging partner. Support also comes from several amazing groups of women, adaptive leadership teams, several Adlerian psychology communities, and my fellows in faith.
I realize, as 2020 ends, how blessed my company is. I am looking forward to connecting with you in 2021.
Check out my workshops page for more detail about the workshops I have to offer. https://www.anavahconsulting.com/services/workshops/. Or let me know how I can customize one for you.