Day two of the Friends for Life Bike Rally is the longest day. It’s 130km, some of them fairly hilly. It’s the day after your first night in a tent, and you’re still figuring out the rhythm of what to eat for breakfast, how to do this thing in a big community, how to deal with the bits of your body that don’t seem to be working after the day before. This year, we woke up in the rain. I hadn’t worked out my morning routine at all, and I had to climb onto the truck that carries our gear in my cleats three times to find my asthma inhaler, gloves and socks. (The “Rubbermaid Rustlers” in charge of our team’s truck got to know me well).
Barely an hour into the ride, people’s tires were popping all over the place, as wet gravel was churned up in the rain. Susan and I were riding close to Ian from our team when his back tire blew. As we stopped to help, lightning flashed all around us and the downpour started for real. A quick phone call for help from the mechanics made it clear that they were dealing with at least 3 other flats upstream and we were on our own.
As we bent over, helping Ian get his tire levers moving in the pouring rain, Susan and I looked at each other and said, “this is weirdly fun, isn’t it?”
A Rally van with two of the leaders showed up when we were close to finishing, and we took shelter for a few minutes. The storm was loud and flashy, we were soaked through and I had a little cushion of water in each shoe. I crouched in the back of the van and ate some kind of bar and felt 100% satisfied with the world. “How do you decide whether or not to pull people off the course?” I asked Mike. We chatted about how hard that decision is, and I realized how much very very much I was enjoying not being in charge.
In 8 days, I will be doing the Triadventure. I’m not the only one in charge of the Tri and I don’t actually run the event, but I am the lead on Nikibasika, the project it funds (a learning program for youth in Uganda), and I’m one of the three volunteer directors who is legally liable for everything related to the event and the project. Making the Triad successful is absolutely critical for the project — not just for the funds in any given year, but to generate a good experience for the community so the event and the support have legs over time — until the group of kids we support is finished growing up.
During the rally, Susan wrote a wonderful post about what she was loving about being a leader. As I sat in the back of Mike and Todd’s van, soaking wet, I realized how much I love NOT being in charge. And how rare it is. I love the Triadventure — but my usual experience is running, paddling and riding while also being part of the decisions about whether or not it’s safe for people to continue to ride (or, like two years ago, to pull everyone off Lake Couchiching halfway through the 14 km paddle in the middle of a windy thunderstorm), or worry that the vegans and gluten free people don’t have the right food, or notice the possibility of hypothermia setting in on the two people with blue lips after the swim, or have to deal with the fact that our usual accommodation had to change at the last minute, or or or or or — all while being deeply conscious of needing to project calm and keep sharing the stories and impact from Uganda because it’s the only time the community really gets a chance to reflect on the difference they are making.
Events like the #F4LBR and the Triadventure are an amazing blend of having a chance to push your body, find strength and resilience, all while creating community and making a significant, long-term difference. Even more than most charity events, living in community over a number of days creates a sense of shared responsibility for each other and for the cause — this year, we have several stalwart Triadventurers who are taking a year off for various reasons, but they’re still raising money because they are long-term committed to the kids of Nikibasika. It’s a huge privilege to be part of creating this kind of community, people doing things with their bodies, finding strength and being connected to the ripple effect — the community in Canada is intimately connected to the youth in Uganda, and circling around those two communities are the hundreds of people who donate, every dollar a symbol of trust, generosity and a desire to do something with lasting impact. I love being part of this.
And this year, on the bike rally, for the first time in my life, I really felt the joy of being a participant in this kind of event instead of being in charge. The day of 30 flats was interesting to me as a narrative, rather than generating anxiety about whether the mechanics would keep up, whether people would get fed up and grumpy. I felt delighted to see the fundraising tally hit the desired $1M, without bursting into the tears of deep relief and gratitude that I feel when we hit our equivalent $130K for Nikibasika. I got playful (and possibly slightly flirtatious) and started a facebook page for Fans of the #F4LBR mechanics. On Light-up-the-night night, I was grateful to say encouraging things and lie in the vulva chair enjoying the glow and the music while several of our team members created “the fairy nest” in a completely improv way.
I’m a leader type person, and I don’t lie around much. In my work life, I am a partner in a small consulting firm, and I do a lot of teaching and facilitation — I’m in charge of most rooms I’m in. I took on Nikibasika as a 15 year commitment in 2007, and anxiety and creating solutions about funds, the kids, the health of our director, civil unrest in our region, homophobic laws in Uganda — these things thread a steady pulse under my day to day life. It’s what I do, and it makes me happy. (And we really need support this year — consider donating please!) But on the Bike Rally, I loved just riding my bike, not making any decisions, achieving that mindful mindlessness of feeling like there was nothing but riding. Just me and my bike, me and my team.
I loved being a participant, and I loved being on a team. The only tears for me on the Rally were when we arrived in the finish line in Montreal, overcome with the joy of doing this huge thing in this community.
At the finish line, Mike gave me a huge hug and thanked me. “For what?” I asked. “Because when you were in the van during that storm, you were so calm and positive. You made me feel a lot less anxious.”
I laughed and told him how much I appreciated his leadership, the incredible work and how much pressure I know it is. I told Sam and Susan that over and over as well. I felt so lucky to be able to be in a group that could revel in the space created by other leaders so I could find my own strength in a newly joyful way.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and educator in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also coleads an all-volunteer learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda, for which she would love any support: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/nikibasika-development-program-66/ . She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.
One thought on “On the joys of not being the leader (Guest post)”
Yes, yes, yes. Love this. When I show up at conferences I haven’t organized or attend a workshop where I’m not speaking…such a relaxing feeling, especially when it’s well done and I’m not in charge
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