April 6, 2020

Caring in Times of Crisis: A Letter From Dr. Jackie Ogden


These are certainly odd times. As some of you know, I just moved to Washington state from Florida—yes, in the middle of this craziness. It was somewhat dystopian. Lots of empty towns and hotels along the drive. Luckily also lots of beauty—wildflowers, gorgeous rocks and mesas, mountains. I had a lot of time to think about all this. And much of it has been about you and our community. 

I feel for all of you. These are such terribly difficult times, and none of us has a roadmap, even if we’ve been through previous crises. 

Our community is filled with caring leaders. This was demonstrated so well by AZA’s chair Chris Kuhar’s recent note. And I see it and hear it from all of you. But you read notes from other industries, other walks of life, where the caring isn’t as prominent. And I know sometimes it’s hard to demonstrate your caring. We’re more physically distant than we normally are. Many of us are introverts. Showing that you care makes you vulnerable—and men, in particular, are often told that it makes you look weak.  

It doesn’t. In my experience, it actually shows your strength. This note is my encouragement to make yourself vulnerable, to show others that you care. I promise it will help them, and it just might help you as well. 

I say these things at the risk of annoying you—because most of you know all this and could give me advice, rather than the other way around. But sometimes it’s easy to forget what we know when we’re in the midst of craziness. 

First, take care of yourself. 

I must confess that I have long sucked at this (I swear more during these times!) Selfcare is a continuing journey for me, as I learn healthy ways of selfcare that do not involve chocolate or wine. But I’m now exploring virtual time with friends, my dog, walking, nature, tea, and writing. And my dog, and walking. Did I mention walking my dog? Try to eat well. Try to fit in some time to do what you’re passionate about. Focus on conservation, on animal welfare, on social change. Write. Meditate. Do yoga. Go for a run or a walk. This is also important for anybody in any sort of a leadership role right now. What you’re going through is tough. It’s exhausting. And lonely. Which brings me to…

Lean on people. 

I’m working with Zoo Advisors now and am finding them to be terribly helpful during this period. We’re spending time thinking about how to help our community—you all. That’s part of why I’m writing this—my perhaps misguided thinking that it might help one or two of you. I know I’m leaning on many of you—more text messages, phone calls, and video conferencing.

Once you’ve taken care of yourself, take care of the people around you.

I’m on “nextdoor” in my new neighborhood—great app. A guy came on last week and said that he had the afternoon off and offered his help to run errands for anybody who couldn’t get out. Wow. It inspired me and I’m committing to do the same this week. But this is as simple as reaching out to everybody around you. Checking to see how they are. How their family is. Giving them a safe place to talk. Especially if you have folks that you work with that tend toward anxiety and depression normally—reach out to them. And if you’re leading a team and in the midst of horrible decision-making, let them know that you’re working on things that are confidential, that you’ll share when you can, that you know that it’s rough, and make yourself available to listen, and to talk. Even if you can’t share much. Acknowledge that this is a difficult time—that things suck right now. Also remind people of what’s important to them. Encourage people to think about the mission. To think about animals. About nature. 

Appreciate people. In any way you can. Bring in donuts, flowers from your yard. If you have a donor that wants to do something but is afraid to give money right now, have a pizza party. As I mentioned, my colleagues and I at Zoo Advisors met earlier this week to talk about how to help our clients. So we’re scheduling pizza parties for them—a couple a week. It’s a little thing, but a way to show that we care, during what is obviously a sucky period.  See, there I go again. 

Be grateful for what you have

Wow. That sounds CRAZY during these times. But, in fact, the vast majority of us have plenty for which we are grateful. The value of being thankful isn’t news—smart people have been encouraging this for a long time. It works. It’s an indicator of mental health. And it helps you feel better. 

Finally, try to focus only on what you can control. This is truly uncharted territory. Which makes it especially hard for those of us who have what is called a low tolerance for ambiguity. Which translates into a need for control. This is one of those times when we all need to focus on what we can control—rather than what we can’t. It’s why I’m limiting the time I spend watching or reading news. 

I have no illusion that any of this will fix things. But please know that it’s heartfelt. Know that I care. Know that I realize this is a difficult time, and that I hope you take care of yourselves, and each other. 

I’m so proud to be part of this community—that cares about the world and about each other. This is a sucky time. Do the best you can. Be gentle with yourself. Let me know if I can help in any way. My heart goes out to you all, your teams, and your families. 

Please take care.


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