Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ode To The Midwest City That Healed Me: Minneapolis

My beloved Twin Cities, although I spend most of my time in Minneapolis

Approximately one year ago, I made the final decision to let go of my marriage that I was clinging to for dear life in the aftermath of my husband's depression and subsequent spiral out of my life.  After a tough but awesome 2015, I decided not to enter 2016 trying to repair what was clearly gone. I vowed to "Recalibrate" my life in 2016. And recalibrate I did. But I could not have done it without Minneapolis Minnesota and my almost monthly treks there.

Let me count the top three ways Minneapolis forever changed me for the better in 2016.

The People

Literally, the people of Minneapolis carried me. First, there was the business colleague turned friend who runs a national conference for a downtown university. Opening his home and friends to me on a very tough trip in the middle of 2015, I cried my eyes out and poured my heartache out on his back patio on a warm Monday night in June. That vulnerability led to a bond and set of friends who would buoy both me and my kids during this entire year. From the freezing cold thrifting day in January to the pilgrimage to Paisley Park in July, one member of that group has become a constant each visit and I don't know what I'd do without him. Or I could also give credit to the two different new friends I met flying to Minneapolis this year - the middle seat on his way back from the Cayman Islands friend who actually kept in touch and the young man  rainbow spiked hair I had an intense conversation with on his way back from RiotFest in Chicago this past fall - both of these men have been bright spots for me and great new additions to my personal tribe. I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to the business colleagues who also enveloped me and my kids with love as we explored the many parks and recreation facilities across the metro. From the ski instructors on the bunny hill to the paddle board rental manager, we were welcomed and treated so well by every person we encountered on every trip to Minneapolis as a family and that goes double for all the times I flew there alone.

The Work

The work I've done for my largest client in Minneapolis has challenged me beyond any other work since I started my business. From the complexity of the ask originally to how we have evolved our relationship over the last two years has grown me as a consultant and strategic partner by leaps and bounds. One great example is how they constantly question how we accomplish their goal to raise their relevance in the their area. We co-created some great work on unconscious bias and continue to push boundaries on why and how to push an inclusive leadership agenda forward in an organization that is not traditionally accustomed to speaking about equity, diversity and inclusion. This work with this agency has opened the doors to other agencies in the area. When I stop to really think about it, it was in Minneapolis that I launched the inclusion and diversity service offering in 2014 after my business was a a few years old and constantly asked to bring our perspective on inclusion and diversity to clients we had up to that point. It was at the Forum on Workplace Inclusion (the country's oldest and largest conference dedicated to diversity and inclusion)  in 2014 where my debut talk was the top rated talk out of 65 that year and I solidly earned my spot as a fresh and leading voice in the space. I have been a faculty member ever since with this coming spring as my first time in 3 years that I will only attend the conference and not present. I look forward to seeing the conference and my work there from a completely different perspective.

The Discomfort Converted Into Healing

Anyone who knows me knows I have never been one to hang out outside much. Cold or hot - I tended to be more of an indoors type of gal. Working with a majority of my clients as a parks and recreation agencies - you can imagine, I've had my share of invites to outdoor activities.

Denise, when you gonna come ski my hill?

Will you make it to our fill-in-the-blank-outdoor-festival?

Have you been on our hiking trail, lately?

Some of the many questions, I've faithfully dodged over the years and made many legitimate excuses to never partake in the the Illinois parks and recreation community. Not one Illinois parks and rec person can remember me taking them up on the many invites over the years. Boy, did they take notice this year when I was tweeting and posting from various parks and recreation sites in western Hennepin County starting in January with a video of me tubing down a hill in Elm Creek Reserve. I had vowed not to tube leading up to that trip. Barreto kids cajoled and park district employees ribbed but I was certain, I'd not do it at all or maybe only once. It was a negative 25 degree day in January and I was sure that I'd flake on the tubing and that the kids would join me. I was wrong. I went down that hill not once but three times. And my kids went down many many more. By nightfall, I was up on skis on the bunny hill behind Evan snowboarding for the second time in his life. We had a blast but most of all, I pushed past the cold and discomfort of being outside and enjoyed myself. I had no idea that would lead to a year full of outdoor activities and breathing of fresh Minneapolis air. I found myself getting to work sites 30 to 40 minutes earlier just to walk around the properties and "take in the scenery" the lush or barren landscapes - all beautiful, all serene, all wondrous.

This past summer, a boat ride turned into hours of paddle boarding when the boat "did not start". And while I don't believe to this day the boat didn't actually start- I am glad it didn't as paddle boarding became a thing at the Evanston beach this summer for my kids. I also liked it and would have done it in Jamaica had Hurricane Otto not come and followed us on the Thanksgiving vacation. We sat for hours in a cabana by the beach in Jamaica and read for hours in hammocks between trees almost every day of our vacation - a rarity for me. And it wasn't just in Minneapolis or Jamaica that drew me outside. I made it a habit back home with my Illinois parks and rec clients to arrive early and/or stick around post meeting and walk outside surveying the outdoors, breathing the air, quieting my soul. My initial discomfort with the outdoors melted away and provided a solace for my most frustrating moments. I live across the street from a park and now, I often step away from my desk to get fresh air -- outside.

Minneapolis, there were so many more aspects to how you assisted me in recalibrating this life of mine but none greater than your people, my work there and the way you made something uncomfortable for me before, absolutely irresistible to me now.

You did it. I am an outdoor gal.

Thank you.

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