Seeing What Will Be

Seeing What Will Be

Last week one of my clients said it feels like we are all stuck in a perpetual game of Donkey Kong. We laughed for a moment and I agreed, saying that every time we think the coast seems momentarily clear, that blasted gorilla throws another barrel in our path.

There is no question we have all been forced to overcome unexpected obstacles on a daily, if not hourly, basis — way beyond what we were used to in the “normal” course of business prior to 2020. It is certainly not as amusing as playing a silly video game, but we all keep forging ahead because our mission and the people we serve need us to do everything we can, but retreat.

Yesterday, another client’s e-newsletter arrived with the following “Mindful Minute.” (The intended audience is the first generation college students they work with, but my sense is the wisdom here is universal.)

Seeing What Will Be -John Horan

One fifth of a second.

Not a very long time to be sure. But that is the amount of time your eyes (optic nerve for you biology majors) take to transmit a hundred billion signals to the brain.  When it comes to “seeing”, your brain does almost all the work.

The brain takes the hundred billion signals from the eyes and interprets them.  It makes sense of all the information your eyes send.  It processes movements, colors, and shapes and sorts them into coherence.  So, what you “see” has actually happened 1/5 of a second ago.

Then the brain does one more extraordinary thing.  Because there is a 1/5 of a second lag between what the eyes see, the brain forecasts what the world will be a fraction of a second from now.  That forecast is what gives us the present.  Amazing!!

We never see the world as it is at this very instant, but rather as it will be a fraction of a moment in the future.  Thanks to the brain we see what will be

It helps us live in a world that does not quite exist yet.  And that should be comforting in these times of not knowing what will come next.

Things are not clear.  There are a hundred billion uncertain signals.  What will come next with our education, politics, economy, health, our city, our environment, and our hunger for racial justice?

We have to live in anticipation of world that does not yet exist.  Amid all of this uncertainly, we have to see what will be.  We have to forecast what we long for the world to be.
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I was stuck by John’s message on several levels, not the least of which were these words, “We have to live in anticipation of world that does not yet exist.

Whatever role you play on your organization’s team (staff, volunteer, donor), you’re invested in this work because you are driven by a desire to make your neighborhood, your city and/or the world a safer, better place. And, despite the obstacles that the past several months have thrown at us (and the ones yet to be launched in our direction), we all have to keep looking forward, seeing what will be. There is too much at stake for the people and the families we serve to do anything less.

The good new is, unlike Mario, we don’t have to face the challenges on our own. Your team and your colleagues and friends in the non-profit world are here to help and support you. If the barrels are coming too fast for you to handle, reach out and ask for help–even if you just need someone to empathize with you.

Even better, what if -once a week – we all committed to calling one of our colleagues or staff members at the organizations we support, just to let them know we are thinking about them and we’re willing to lend an ear or a hand. The truth is we are all doing our level best and the reality is, for some people, the challenges can sometimes feel overwhelming. Having a reminder that someone is in their corner might be just the boost they need to jump over the next few barrels.

Thank you, as always, for the life-changing work you do everyday!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

PS: September is also Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This two-page resource offers information on getting involved, including tips on how to take action to help prevent suicide in your community, such as learning about effective suicide prevention, sharing stories of hope, and empowering everyone to be there for those in distress.  Suicide Prevention Month – Ideas for Action Remember, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at, 800-273-8255

Appreciate the ordinary

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Unless you’ve been living in a remote corner of the country without cell service since February, you’re probably struggling with maintaining sanity given the state of our world. My feelings over the past 6 months have been a mixture of anxiety, confusion and stress. When was that Zoom meeting scheduled for? Did I forget a mask again? How many hours have I been staring out of this window for?

I get it. We’re all struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy while living through a time period that feels more like a Black Mirror simulation than reality. Especially now, as work and school seem to be ramping up, with no vaccine in sight, thinking about our circumstances can be a bit disheartening. 

Recently, I was supposed to meet friends out for a drink at one of our favorite outdoor patios. After a long work week, I couldn’t wait to catch up with friends. I was the 7th and final person to arrive, and as I walked up to my the table I could practically taste the frozen gin & tonic that I’d been salivating over since Tuesday. 

There were only six seats, so I asked the waitress if she would be able to pull another chair over. I was quickly informed that, due to COVID regulations, no table could have more than 6 people. My friends and I were a bit confused, but figured we could split up. No big deal! Except that the next available table would be a 45 minute wait. As my friends began to pack their things up, insisting we try somewhere else, I assured them it wasn’t the end of the world and that I could just grab a coffee around the corner and meet up with them afterwards. Under the obvious condition that they bring me a frozen G & T in a to-go cup.

I grabbed my coffee and sat down in a little park that overlooked the lake. Initially I was disappointed, maybe even a bit mad, even though I understood that these rules are put into place to protect me and the rest of society. As I drank my coffee in the park, I could feel a wave of calmness washing over me. Everything was so still, so quiet, so ordinary. 

I realized that I had been letting the anxiety and stress of COVID dictate all of my thoughts. I hadn’t taken a moment to sit and check in with myself in a long time. There was always something to distract me; a new article by Fauci, coordinating socially-distanced meet-ups with friends, reading through my emails.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough “alone time”, in fact I’ve had more of that than probably ever before. Instead, it was the realization that I hadn’t been utilizing this time effectively. I had filled this time with worries. Trying to get ahead of schedule. Ahead of my own nerves. Ahead of the pandemic.

But, at the end of the day, we can’t get ahead of all of these things. We need to reach a point of acceptance where we are able to process the world around us, while still being able to sit with our non-anxious selves. Watching the horizon line fade into shades of amber, listening to the current lap against the rocky shore and sipping my sub-par coffee gave me the feeling of stillness that I had unknowingly been craving for months. 

To be our best selves, we have to know when and how to relax. The world is asking a lot of us these days. It’s easy to understand how we’re feeling physically trapped. We can’t travel, we can’t meet in large groups, we weren’t even really supposed to leave our houses for a while. Yet, I think we also need to think about how we’re feeling mentally trapped. Trapped by that need to try to get ahead of everything. 

So, my expert-advice-from-a-21-year-old this week is to go to a space where you feel comfortable and to just be there. Sit and notice what’s around you, stay mindful of the positive things taking place in every direction you look. Appreciate the ordinary things that we take for granted in times like these. This might turn out to be much harder than it sounds, but I promise you the results will be worth it.

by: Ben Matejka, Summer Intern HPS Chicago

Coming up for air

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Summer is here.  The days are long, the weather is finally hot.  Businesses are beginning to cautiously reopen.  It feels as though we are emerging from a long period of hibernation.  Given that we have been relegated to one location and limited in our personal interactions, it may seem as though we have been on an extended break.  My guess, however, is that this period of time has felt nothing like a “break”.  It has been filled with uncertainty, anxiety, worry, stress.  We have been required to reinvent the way in which we meet, communicate, connect.  We have had to reimagine events.  Carefully consider our words.

Summer is a time when things slow down a bit, we catch our breath.  Families take vacation.  What plans do you have in the coming months?  It may seem fruitless to plan a vacation this year, but I encourage you to reconsider and reimagine this idea.  Vacation comes from the Latin word vacātiō, which means “exemption from service, respite from work”.  Consider that definition.

Exemption from service.  Respite from work.

Although a European vacation would be wonderful, there are other ways in which we can take a holiday.  One of my clients rented an RV and is driving with her husband and two small children to Florida.  Another is planning to visit several local state parks.  Perhaps it means staying home and reading novels or spending time planting a vegetable garden.   Or volunteering (which I realize sounds like work, but for many, it feeds the soul).

So, while you may be thinking, “ why bother to take time off?”, do what you have had to do every day these past few months: recreate.  Walk away from your computer, your phone, your daily responsibilities.  Think about simple ways to find joy.  Reconnect with your family.  Recharge your spirit.

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

A Little R&R

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A Little R&R

I write this blog post as I head to the airport for a little weekend getaway. All week I thought about what topic to write about. What news might I share about…. Major gifts? Events? Relationship building? Spring appeal? Board development? Did I have a fun story that might be useful to share with all of you?

Well, I came up with nothing. Why? Because sometimes we just need to take a break….pause and exhale. Our weeks are filled with meetings with donors, phone calls, perhaps writing a grant, and more. Sometimes our daily work can make our heads spin because we are always “on.”

Technology and all the social media tools we use daily help us stay current and connected. Yet, as great as it is, it makes it more difficult to step back and unplug from our busy work life.

So today, as I head to Florida for a few days and see some sun, walk the beach, and read a good book, I’m going to put my work aside and recharge. Time for a reset. It’s important every once in awhile to be present in the moment, and put away our phones and leave email for another day and just simply…be. I encourage you to do the same across the year so you are fresh and ready to do your best work for your not for profit.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Feeling Stressed?

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It’s hard to believe the holidays are upon us once again.  Where does the time go?  Are you feeling prepared?  Or are you feeling stressed and overwhelmed?  In the midst of the last-minute holiday rush, it’s often hard to find time to enjoy those around you and appreciate all of the gifts that we have.

I learned a new word the other day: HYYGE.  It is a Dutch word, pronounced “Hue-Guh”, which really doesn’t translate into an English word.  However, it is a word that we should know and a sentiment we should understand, especially during this time of year.

As I mentioned, hyyge does not translate into any one word in our vocabulary.  I would describe it as more a “state of being”.  The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment of well-being.”  It is a word to acknowledge a feeling or moment as cozy, charming or special, one which requires a certain slowness or consciousness.  It is not just being present, it also requires you to recognize and enjoy the present.  So, let’s think about this.

Quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality – When was the last time you felt coziness and comfortable conviviality?  Think about it – and think about the circumstances surrounding that time.

Engenders a feeling of contentment and well-being – When do you truly feel a sense of contentment?  What contributes to this feeling?  What distracts from it?

It’s not just being present, it requires you to recognize and enjoy the present.  My guess is that the last time you felt that sense of comfortable conviviality you were truly “in the moment” and present with those around you (or by yourself!).  Recognizing and truly enjoying the present is a gift to yourself; it is part of practicing good self-care.

So, during this season of “busyness”, how can you possibly find time for hyyge?  It probably feels somewhat counterintuitive, right?  Ironically, hyyge is an energy booster and can be a way to replenish your strength.  And as you probably guessed, it does not come in a magic pill.  But it also isn’t rocket science.  Below are a few simple ideas to help you get started;  perhaps take a few minutes each day to truly focus on hyyge.

  • Find a quiet spot to be present – alone or with a family member or friend – and truly focus on listening and being present/mindful
  • Unclutter your surroundings, but also consider introducing something that makes you feel more calm or present, such as a candle or soft lighting or music
  • Give yourself permission to be still for a few minutes
  • Take a few cleansing breaths
  • Count your blessings

My hope is that it will help you will find a little more joy and peace  – and a little less stress – this holiday season.   Wishing you joy and peace.

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions