Steering Your Ship Through the Storms of Change

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.

Louisa May Alcott

Many of you know, and some may not yet be aware, that the home for #Four4Soaring is South Carolina. When I originally wrote this story on September 6, 2019, in South Carolina, we were in the midst of a “weather event” called Hurricane Dorian. Here was my real time assessment of that moment.

9/6/2019

As I write this, we find ourselves preparing to assess, cleanup, deal with massive power (and what my 19 year old thinks is worst of all) internet outages (the humanity !!) and care for those hurt: physically, emotionally, economically or otherwise by the storm.

Most notably, the people of the Bahamas, so far, have borne the brunt of Dorian and we still have no idea how devastating that damage was or what the cost of human life may be there, we just know that it is horrific and our thoughts and prayers are with them, as well as other means of aid heading to them.

So I don’t mean to make light of what is truly a catastrophic and profound impact that this storm and the myriad of other storms of all shapes sizes and varieties have had over the years and I want to start by saying that as I embark, with my typical “poetic license,” on today’s food for thought.

Like many of you, I am a veteran of storms. In my particular case, tropical storms, personal storms, work-related storms and the storms of change. I’ve weathered my fair share and what that has given me (much more than expertise or any ability to predict what will happen) is: perspective.

Public Service Announcement: If any layman you meet claims to be an expert on storms, tropical or otherwise, please do yourself a favor and disregard about 80%-90% of what they share. Storms by their very nature are chaotic and unpredictable.

Please check out this link from The Washington Post for a great visual history of said unpredictability.

I’ve been doing this kind of guessing for over 40 years now. My extended family of grandparents, teenage aunt, mom, and triplet sisters arrived in Florida on April Fools Day 1978 by Greyhound bus. We didn’t have any money left by the time we arrived, but we had a new home, much different than our Long Island, New York home, one filled with these things called “palm trees,” a persistent, swamp-like humidity, cool spacecraft and oh yes, sunshine! (It was called The Sunshine State after all.)

Me and the triplets a few months after arrival, at their birthday party (two are above me on left and one is sitting in front of the cake with her hand on her chin,) The grumpy ones in purple are my cousins who were not expecting us to move in with them! 🙂 Those poor girls, they certainly did not deserve that cyclone to bear down on them!

Before we got on that Greyhound all nine-year-old John knew about Florida was what I learned from the Florida place mat my Uncle Rocky brought up as a souvenir one year. This place mat sat intriguingly for years on my grandparents kitchen table and it had a “cartoonish” drawing of the state with place names and equally lampooned characters in an approximate location on the map to where they might be found, near our (then) future home was giant rocket, in the south of Florida there was a gator the size of the everglades and Miami combined, and on the west coast in the Tampa St Pete area, taking up a good chunk of the Gulf of Mexico (what was a gulf anyway and why was it Mexico’s?,) was a mermaid.

Despite the scintillating symbology, the central “character’ that was missing from the place mat was the one that took me more than a few years to fully comprehend. I learned that my new home “Sunshine State” also had this other notable oddity they were famous for. An oddity that should have been drawn in the ocean or the gulf alongside the mermaid – hurricanes! The first one to hit, after our arrival, was David in 1979, I would have been about 10 years old, and thankfully, I don’t remember much about that one.

The ones I remember most are from when my kids were young in the early 2000s when there seemed to be a rash of storms right around the time we were moving into what became our kids’ otherwise idyllic early childhood home.

One such hurricane hit the first weekend we occupied that new house and the smell of fresh paint was still strong in the air as the kids huddled in the new master bedroom closet and we watched DVDs on the spartan battery power of the heavyweight early 2000s era laptop. Our house was spared, although we had about 4 or 5 gargantuan trees come down in the “woodsy swamp area” that made up our backyard, while our aunt’s nearby house flooded. It was a memorable “opening weekend” to the next season of our lives!

Five or six short years later, we were asked by my company to leave that home, at the quagmire-like depths of Florida’s (then) collapsed housing market, and make a new home in Charleston to partner with some awesome folks to help, in some small way, get a new site started in South Carolina.

…and today, another decade has gone by, and time rolls on … and together we all roll with it through…

…storm after storm after storm…

When we take on massive change and we seek to overhaul or adjust huge swaths of any organization, system, process and/or culture, we, in essence, create a man-made storm.

If we try to predict everything that will happen, we are, just like the so-called “layman experts” described above, deceiving ourselves.

In short: We can’t know what we can’t know and we can’t know what we don’t know.

Does it mean we shouldn’t prepare?

Of course not!

Present Day

In 2020, we have landed in an unparalleled and unpredictable time. We find ourselves caught in a myriad of storms on every front of life. Our health, our politics, our culture are all being battered by the gale force winds of tumult and change. What can we, mere mortals, do?

I for one have done everything with and around a storm you might assume one can do,

I have sat through them,

I have run from them,

I have:

over-prepared,

under-prepared,

recovered,

pontificated,

predicted,

adjusted,

wept,

laughed,

practically lost my mind in fear,

gone to the doctor to be treated for what I thought was a heart attack after driving home in one (after running away from one.,)

waited desperately for my wife to come home from the hospital where she worked,

I even put my kids in a closet a time or two!

You get the picture.

What did I not do?

Never have I guessed perfectly what would happen, never was I fully prepared, often I have been underwhelmed, but too frequently I have been surprised or overwhelmed.

So it has been with all the storms of change I have weathered throughout my life. In my work and volunteer life I have had the privilege of working on so many grand changes and “unprecedented things” that I can’t believe my blessings. In my personal life I’ve weathered just as many storms and seasons of upheaval and turmoil as I have periods of unbridled blessing and abundance.

Just as I did with the natural storms, I’ve quaked with fear at the enormity of some of them as if a hurricane was bearing down on me.

I’ve found myself in the midst of them, time and time again, thinking, how are we going to make our way out of this one? Yet, they all have had one thing in common.

I/We did find our way out of them.

There was a clearing of the storm clouds and a “new day” that emerged every time.

Here is the perspective I have gained.

You can’t (nor can your leaders) predict everything that will happen and plot every inch of your path from the heart of the storm to the “new day.

However, you can prepare. You can manage through the chaos and change, safely to the other side. How?

  • You plan, but you must be prepared to embrace change along the way.
  • You realize you are going to need to learn from the storms of the past to navigate the storm of the present to the future.
  • You recognize that, even if you’ve weathered storms in the past, you can’t predict what will happen this time, so you need fresh eyes to alert you to what you can’t possibly see with your jaded lenses.
  • You take it one day, and one hour, if necessary, at a time. Storms are not meant to be stopped on a dime or quieted in the snap of a finger, they have to run their course, they must be weathered and endured.
  • You cling to your faith, your family, your neighbor, your friend and your teammates because we are not meant to ride solo through any storm.

So as you find yourself in the winds of change my friends here is how you can soar:

Ask yourself: How can you take these lessons of steering through the storm:

·         into next week?

·         next month?

·         the next storm of your personal or professional life?

I hope you feel just a bit more ready to steer through whatever your current or next storm is.

Please leave your comments, this is how we get better.

I also love when I hear stories or receive requests for themes! Just shoot me a direct message through one of my social media platforms and I will add your idea to my list.

All photos royalty and copyright free from Pixabay or Unsplash

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Additional information for storm nerds on Florida and South Carolina hurricanes (bounded by my timeline)

David skirted the east coast of Florida in 1979 landing in ( we lived on the coast) on the afternoon of the 2nd, David regained hurricane strength. By noon on the 3rd, David began skirting the Florida coast near West Palm Beach moving back offshore near New Smyrna Beach. A final landfall was made on Georgia on the afternoon of the 4th. The cyclone then accelerated up the Appalachians through the Mid Atlantic, becoming extratropical before entering New England on the 6th. From https://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/tropical/rain/david1979.html

Some other Florida (land falling) Hurricanes 1978-2010

Florida data source: HURDAT, Hurricane Research Division

  • Elena Cat 3 September 2, 1985, 100 Gulfport, MS*
  • Andrew Cat 5 August 24 1992 145 Near Homestead
  • Opal Cat 3 October 4 1995 100 Pensacola Beach
  • Charley Cat 4 August 13 2004 130 Cayo Costa
  • Frances Cat 2 September 4 2004 105 Near Sewall’s Point, FL*
  • Ivan Cat 3 September 16 2004 105 Near Gulf Shores, AL*
  • Jeanne Cat 3 September 26 2004 105 Hutchinson Island
  • Dennis Cat 3 July 10 2005 105 Santa Rosa Island
  • Wilma Cat 3 October 24 2005 105 Cape Romano
  • Irma Cat 4 September 10 2017 115 Cudjoe Key
  • Michael Cat 5 October 10 2018 140 Mexico Beach

Some South Carolina Tropical Events 2010-2019

  • 2015 Tropical Storm Ana (40 kts)
  • 2016 Sep 1-3 Hermine Made landfall around the Big Bend area of FL as a Cat 1 hurricane and then moved northeast just inland through southeast GA and SC as a TS. Produced widespread tropical storm-force wind gusts (60+ mph near the coast), heavy rainfall (widespread 3-5 inches with locally higher amounts over 8 inches toward the SC Midlands), and 2 EF-1 tornadoes (1 in Liberty County, GA and 1 in Chatham County, GA).
  • 2016 Sep 14-15 Julia Developed near Jacksonville, FL as a TS and moved north and then northeast near the GA coast and then southern SC coast before moving east away from the coast and weakening to a TD. The storm then meandered well offshore while strengthening into a TS again and then weakening into a TD before dissipating.
  • 2016 May 28-30 Bonnie Developed north of the Bahamas and strengthened into a TS as it move northwest toward the GA/SC coasts, eventually weakening to a TD before making landfall near Charleston. Produced heavy rainfall (widespread 3-7 inches with local amounts over 10 inches), mainly north of I-16, which led to significant flooding.
  • 2016 Oct 7-8 Matthew Moved north and then northwest through the Caribbean Sea and then through the Bahamas while strengthening to a Category 4 hurricane. Tracked just off the east coast of FL and GA while weakening to a Category 1 storm before making landfall near McClellanville, SC with winds near 85 mph. Produced hurricane-force wind gusts along the entire coast, significant coastal flooding from high storm tides (including a record level at Fort Pulaski), and very heavy rainfall (widespread 6 to 12 inches with locally higher amounts near 17 inches) which led to significant freshwater flooding.
  • 2017 Sep 10-11 Irma Made landfall in the FL Keys as a Cat 4 hurricane and then moved along the southwest coast of FL as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm then moved north near the west coast of FL while weakening to a TS before moving into southwest GA and continuing to weaken. Produced significant coastal flooding, rainfall flooding, and river flooding as well as near hurricane-force wind gusts and 4 tornadoes

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