HomeNewsDirector’s Almanac: The impact of patience

Director’s Almanac: The impact of patience

You know that pause, the moment of anticipation, right before something important happens? Like the breath an actor takes before going on stage to perform, or the pregnant pause that, cleverly timed, makes a great speech? 

Those moments remind us that, more often than not, impact hinges on patience.

For those of us working on sustainability or the environment, “patience” isn’t always top of mind. At the Institute on the Environment, we often put “urgency” at the center of our work, knowing that action is needed – now – to make a better future possible.

A sense of urgency drives our Impact Goals, our way of not just working on important topics but also directing our research, education, and storytelling enterprise toward tangible socio-environmental outcomes. And, no doubt, we made great progress on catalying teams, convenings, and student action around our three Impact Goals this year. 

But “patience” is part of urgency too. Patience – persistence in the face of challenges and setbacks – is critical to building a sustainable society. Patience is needed to do the relationship work that sustains genuine, quality collaboration. Patience is part of designing, piloting, and, yes, revising an actionable idea. And we’ll need patient, deliberative, in-it-for-the-long-haul work to make progress on racial justice too, a priority in IonE’s strategic plan that I see as more important than ever.

So however urgent we may feel, it’s patience that quietly carries us forward. The patience to accept that we all work every day to bring about a future that feels too slow in coming. The patience it took to make it through a year like 2020.

In ways professional and personal, many of us were pushed to our limit this year. Yet at IonE, across the University of Minnesota, and among our partners and collaborators, I’ve also seen remarkable resilience and creativity. I’ve seen people move cutting-edge research forward, pursue creative virtual engagement, and continue putting sustainability into practice when so many forces were pushing in the opposite direction.

This is more than run-of-mill endurance. This is radical, strategic, mission-oriented patience. I’m in awe of this capacity for persistent collegiality and dedication – and it makes me truly thankful to be part of this network we call the IonE community. 

I’d like to address a special thank you to the staff of IonE who this year made a rapid transition to work from home, who contributed to the stability of the University through pay cuts and furloughs, who supported the needs of friends and family, and still kept our organization humming. We implemented a number of changes at IonE in response to COVID-19, some that we’re eager to build on and others that we’ll be ready to jettison when the pandemic is over. Needless to say, the Institute would not be the welcoming, ambitious, and intellectually invigorating place that it is without our extraordinary staff.

I plan to carry this gratitude forward into 2021, where much need and opportunity awaits us. Importantly, next year brings the responsibility and necessity to #buildbackbetter from the devastation wrought by COVID-19. At IonE, I’m looking forward to announcing some new programs and ambitions, including financial support for work on Impact Goals and new opportunities to gather around the goals toward collaborative action. And the Institute will be right there with the University as it rolls out its system-wide strategic plan, including one of the three “MNtersection” pillars that is focused on helping bring about a sustainable future. Of course, we’ll welcome new affiliates and new students as the new calendar year unfolds, and that will be an exciting time of new possibilities too.

I’ll look to our extraordinary Faculty Leadership Council, External Advisory Board, and other formal and informal advisors to the Institute to make sure that we’re up for the challenges ahead. With great partners and collaborators, I have no doubt that we can continue to rise to the occasion and do our part to build a future where people and planet prosper together. 

In other words: We’ll get there. But we’ll most certainly need a bit of patience along the way.

In planetary prosperity,


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