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Those Were the Days…

My term as Interim CEO ends on June 30, as the organization welcomes Evan Schmidt as its next CEO. Although it’s been a five-month span, my thoughts about this Interim CEO period are centered on the four weeks beginning in mid-March – that concentrated period of intense upheaval, uncertainty, and ceaseless sudden changes. The memory of what it actually felt like to live those days has ebbed (the same protective mechanism that fades the memory of childbirth, perhaps?). But four strong messages from those weeks continue to stick:

Know the risks but aim for the opportunities. Like all organizations, we quickly conducted some COVID-impact financial stress tests. It’s only prudent, in a time like this, to figure out what bad things might happen and what you would do about them, and the effort gave us good insights. But as important as it is to know the risks, it’s just as important to continue to aim for potential and opportunity. Balancing worry with hope – creating informed optimism – is steadying in unsteady times.

Remote working relationships can be “more real.” Working remotely, we’ve all seen more of each other’s whole lives during these months than before. Not just random portions of our homes, but also the kids, partners, and pets that we share them with. As well, because we were all adjusting to the tumultuous changes at the same time, meetings I was part of paused often to just process, together, the personal impacts of so much change and worry. Acknowledging the whole life that we each have is more complete and honest, even though it’s happening in little Zoom boxes on our screens.

There is strength in working for the collective good. We Americans tend strongly toward values of individualism and independence, yet this virus has reminded us that we are also interdependent and social beings. To a degree not seen in a generation, we have needed to work together, and to make broad societal and personal sacrifices for our collective, species-wide benefit. This has been hard to do, and hard to sustain, but has also been inspiring and confidence-building.

Ultimately, we are all more capable and resilient than we know. Beginning in those weeks of March, we’ve all caught glimpses of the potential and capacity within us all. We all adapted, innovated, and persevered at all the levels of our lives simultaneously, and at breakneck speed. Over the span of days, organizations moved entirely online and remote; businesses closed and laid off employees; parents juggled work and kids simultaneously; families began struggles with unemployment and finances; governments and nonprofits created short-term support programs out of whole cloth and launched them within days; and so much more. Has it been painful, heartbreaking, ugly, and confusing? Without doubt, and none of it would ever be wished for. But even so, and amid such need, we have all been showing our individual and collective spirits, strengths, and abilities.

I am grateful to have been trusted to lead this organization, in this community, during this time, and look forward to what we all continue to accomplish – together.

Meg Arnold is Interim CEO of Valley Vision through June 30.

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