Allowing for – and alchemizing – grief in our teams

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I’m going to drop a few quotes to kick this article off.

“You don’t have to experience grief, but you can only avoid it by avoiding love. Love and grief are inextricably intertwined.”

This is David Kessler, grief expert. He also writes, “Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.”

And what about, “Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.” This is from the book ‘The Smell of Dust on Rain’ by Martin Prechtel.

So – why am I sharing quotes with you about grief? What possibly might grief have to do with great company culture – and our journey as entrepreneurs?

Well, Kute Blackson offers us the idea that “the degree to which we don’t allow ourselves to feel grief is also the degree to which we limit our heart’s capacity to feel joy, bliss and happiness.” So. What kind of companies – and company cultures – (not to mention human beings) are we left with when we have routines and rituals that (perhaps unintentionally) curb our team members’ joy and happiness…rather than allowing space for those emotions to swell?

In many cultures, grief – as an emotion – is acceptable in our ‘personal lives’ (especially when it comes to grieving the loss of loved ones), but not so commonly brought up and honored in our ‘work lives’. But why might that be? Although some people – as Conscious Leadership Coach Barbara Mutedzi explains – wear ‘masks’ at work, we are ultimately just one person underneath…regardless of where we are, what activity we are engaging in, or who we are engaging with. The masks we wear – ultimately – do not make us immune from the feelings that crop up for us in any given situation. (Let’s remember: “All feelings remain present until fully felt.”) Therefore, why would (and should) the notion of consistently addressing loss – and the emotion that follows it, grief – at work be any different from how we address it ‘at home’? Well, perhaps it’s time to reconsider how we think, act and ‘be’ – when it comes to grief – in all of the different spaces where we show up.

But first, let’s take a look at some examples of how loss and grief have been rearing their heads here at Growmotely…

(1) Last week, I understood – somewhat belatedly – the full landscape of a process change that was being implemented at Growmotely that would affect my work. I hadn’t fully realized the extent to which the process was being changed, and once it ‘clicked’, I felt an immediate wave of sadness and loss wash over me. The new process – although in many ways ‘cleaner’ – had removed two real-time co-creation sessions that, although time-consuming and often emotionally taxing, had given me tremendous satisfaction and injected connection and beauty into my week. I felt the loss immediately and shared it with the relevant team members. There wasn’t anything for them to action when it came to what I had shared; it was simply for them to know. After all, feeling and expressing grief equates to giving praise, given that grief comes from losing something or someone that you have loved.

(2) Elsewhere in the business, Jess Rowe (our Partnerships Manager) – still in the process of grieving a career path that she decided to end in the film industry – is packing her bags next month to move from the US to the UK. Having ‘only’ an Australian passport, she wasn’t able to secure the visa that she was hoping for in the United States, a visa that would have allowed her to continue to reside here. Consequently, she has now chosen to head east to the UK…despite her preference being to stay put in her current North American home. How can she effectively navigate the grief of a life that she thought she was going to have…but now will perhaps not? And how might her relationship with her grief catalyze her own work and the work she co-creates with her team members? If we take Kute Blackson’s statement as truth, her capacity to feel grief speaks to her heart’s capacity to be open, and just think of how much more beauty we can inject into our lives and companies when we are able to remain open-hearted. She shared: “I am so excited for the next few months but there are so many emotions coming up for me around leaving the States and essentially leaving a life I thought I was going to have. So there is quite a lot of grief in my life at the moment and its very interesting to witness, feel and move through.”

(3) You may or may not have heard that our Head of Growth – Carlos Cole – was planning to move from Mexico to the country of Georgia in 2022. Well, he took his flight from Mexico City to Madrid on Saturday, 12th March as planned, and although he’s decided to not continue as far east as he was originally planning to (because of the current ‘instability’ in the region), he has indeed ‘moved East’, and has set up a temporary stomping grounds in Romania. His departure from his native Mexico – and the family and friends who are there – did invoke feelings of grief for him, despite feeling with certainty that this was indeed the next best step. He writes, “Moving out of Mexico was a statement of freedom and empowerment and also a grieving moment in which, symbolically and physically, I was leaving my comfort zone and safety net.” For his fellow same-time-zone team members, this has – of course – invoked feelings of grief for us as well.

(4) And finally, I will take us to our Founder and CEO at Growmotely – Sarah Hawley – who is no stranger to grieving, nor is she afraid of it. She says, “I grieved a lot during the pandemic for how things were, knowing they wouldn’t go back. Inside grief lies the seed of what’s to come. With death, there is so much new life.” Had our Founder and CEO had a ‘less enlightened’ relationship to loss and grief – would Growmotely be here today? And in its current resplendent form?

So – having acknowledged that grief weaves its way in and out of our ‘work lives’ and our companies just as it does in our ‘personal lives’ and our families, what steps might we take as leaders of teams to model and promote life-affirming ways of acknowledging and alchemizing grief? Here are a few ways at Growmotely in which we are exploring the answer to this question.

(1) Theodora Gatin – our Chief Brand and Marketing Officer – is holding a Grief Ceremony for everyone on her team this Friday – at 9:00pm Eastern European Standard Time (which is also 9:00pm South Africa Standard Time), 2:00pm Central Daylight Time, and 12:00pm Mountain Standard Time. (These are the time zones in which the members of the marketing team are currently residing.) The reason she has called this gathering is to acknowledge, lay bare and work through the grief that is hitting us all. Together. For those who feel called to join.

(2) Before Carlos’ move to Europe, the two other team members who are living in Mexico at the moment – Adriana Mendoza (our Community Manager) and Nayeli Cruz (our Founder and CEO’s Executive Assistant) – flew to Mexico City to participate in a week-long ‘sending-off ceremony’, that had them living and co-working together in the Cuauhtémoc neighborhood of the city. Creating such a memorable event around what was going to be a big transition for everyone, marked the importance of the imminent change, thereby validating any and all feelings of grief (or other feelings) that would ensue after Carlos’ departure. Carlos writes, “Sharing that specific last week with a freely-chosen family with shared values and ways of seeing life was one of those choices I’m sure I’ll look back on in several years and smile about. It was such a magical and special week.”

(3) It’s easy to overlook (or flat out deny) the impact that people leaving certain roles, changing teams or transitioning out of companies completely can have on themselves and the people around them. But how might minimizing – or altogether ignoring – these ‘small deaths’ negatively impact us? One of our beloved team members here at Growmotely – Lisa Stephenson – recently transitioned out of a full-time internal role and transitioned into a new role as a personal development coach in our burgeoning Benefits Marketplace space. This move was planned from the beginning; yet, this fact, did not lesson the blow for those of us saying goodbye to her. In an effort to acknowledge the transition officially, our Community Manager, the aforementioned Adriana, organized a virtual (surprise) leaving do for Lisa, whereby all team members could drop in and express their gratitude for her. Our feelings are there – regardless of whether or not we allow them to rear their heads. Why not ritualize this kind of transition more often rather than less often – and give our team members a space to acknowledge the feelings that come up for them…these same feelings that then often transform once felt and expressed.

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What about you? Do you have any regular ceremonies, rituals or practices in your teams at work when it comes to acknowledging and honoring grief? And what about in your ‘personal life’ or with your family? If not, what might be a first step towards creating an appropriate event, practice or ‘container’ for this powerful emotion that is universal to us all?

Here at Growmotely, we don’t claim to have all the answers on this front, but we certainly are committed to being curious (one of our company values) about how we can (1) destigmatize the ‘tougher’ emotions – like grief – at work, (2) be open to receiving the gifts of these emotions, and (3) use the wisdom we gain from said emotions to create more beautiful companies and richer lives.

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