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The Busyness Trap

As we begin the new year and I look back on everything that happened in the last, I thought that it would be a good time to continue the Red String story with a reflection on the busyness of life.

Have you ever said to yourself, "There's so much to do, so little will I ever get through it all?". And as you attempt to get it all done, you find that nothing gets done; all the while, more work gets put on your plate.

Being trapped in the busyness abyss can be quite overwhelming.

Writer and Nobel laureate, Hermann Hesse, talked about the pitfalls of busyness in his 1905 essay titled “On Little Joys”. He wrote, "the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy." Hesse continues, "The ability to cherish the “little joy” is intimately connected with the habit of moderation. For this ability, originally natural to every [individual], presupposes certain things which in modern daily life have largely become obscured or lost, mainly a measure of cheerfulness, of love, and of poesy. These little joys … are so inconspicuous and scattered so liberally throughout our daily lives that the dull minds of countless workers hardly notice them".

I call this the busyness trap.

It is a trap I unwittingly fell into as I began the tasks to establish the foundation. When I incorporated the foundation at the end of 2019, it hit home that creating the foundation would really happen. At the time, I remember feeling both excited and a bit anxious. I had neither established nor run a nonprofit before.

As a leader at Boeing, I was responsible for hundreds of employees; I had several tiers of management who supported me in developing strategies and accomplishing our goals and objectives; we had standard processes, systems and tools, and training; there were corporate, divisional, and program organizations, as well as functional organizations for human resources, finance, legal, communications, and government and community relations. It may sound complicated, but for a company that produces highly integrated and complex products, it was because of this infrastructure that we were able to run our operations efficiently, effectively, and safely.

As I started to establish Red String, I realized how much I took all of this Boeing infrastructure for granted. Although Red String would not be as complex as Boeing, there would be basic functions and human resources, policies and processes, and systems and tools required to run the business. On top of this, I still had a lot more work to do to establish Red String as an approved 501c3 organization, and much more to learn about the rules and regulations governing private foundations and public charities. As I wrote down all of the different tasks that lay ahead, it all started to feel a bit overwhelming.

When I was beginning at Boeing, I had a manager who liked to say, "well, there's 24-hours in a day". It was a time before the concept of moderation and work-life balance became main stream. As I gained more experience, I came to the conclusion that my manager was wrong. It wasn't the amount of time spent that was important, but rather, it was the process. I learned that even the most complex problems could be solved by breaking it down into smaller chunks, sorting what was most important, tackling first those tasks that were in front of me before moving to the next set of tasks, asking for help when needed, learning from my mistakes, and when faced with a roadblock, stepping back and taking time to think of a path forward.

In starting Red String, although there were plenty of times I felt lost, the destination was always clear. Along the way, I celebrated the small wins while learning from my mistakes. As I started to get tasks accomplished, I began feeling less overwhelmed and more confident; even more so, when our leadership joined the team. Each of our leaders bring a diverse set of skills, experience, and knowledge that makes us better as a whole. This realized synergy has and will continue to become only greater as more partners, volunteers, and supporters join our family.

I still have a lot to learn and Red String has a long way to go before we can claim success, but I am confident we will get there one step at a time while celebrating the little joys along the way.

(to be continued)

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