Guest Column: Always aim to ‘step forward into growth’

Published 8:32 pm Friday, June 1, 2018

Live United by Ann Austin

Ann Austin


I was at a meeting recently to discuss local program response to community needs. Part of the meeting included updates from different organizations.

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I listened intently to the updates others presented, but when it came time for me to share I was witless, left wondering: What updates did I have? Thankfully, the host prodded me and encouraged me to share what she knew we were up to. Things started to flow, and I grew excited by all of the opportunities we have as an organization and as a community.

My challenge — why I was witless and have felt a little unnerved as of late (or really, over the past two years) is the massive number of transitions that have taken place in our community. Transitions of programs, businesses, spaces, people. It seems the change is never-ending lately. And I find this exhausting.

But I limit myself with this thinking.

The famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow, is recorded as saying “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”

Stepping back into the “norm” feels good — it feels secure, like things will remain the same and normal — however we define normal to be. We all need a certain measure of safety.

But if we never step forward and grow, we will never realize what we could be or the adventures we may encounter.

I have a tendency to grow attached to people, especially people who have a positive attitude and lift one up when one is feeling too much heaviness of the uncertainty of our existence.

The past two years, our organization has experienced many challenges and many transitions. I have often wondered if things will settle down or if I will find a sense of normalcy. I have wanted to “step back into safety.”

However, stepping forward into growth has been the only option. I’ve been lucky to find partners along the way. They are people who have shared vision for our future, who lead me and our organization forward when I don’t see the path clearly.

I was going through many big transitions when Denise Tipton started her role as volunteer and outreach coordinator in August 2016. I had a baby that spring, our office changed locations in July, flooding events occurred in September, which we played a significant role in — and other issues I knew were brewing, finally came to light.

There was a great deal of uncertainty — but Denise took it in stride. She was even excited by the work that landed in her lap. She was a warrior and continued to be over the next two years — acting in any way possible to help our neighbors and community recover from the floods.

Denise’s last day was May 31. We are in a better place as a community because of her. She has been a gift. She will be moving out of our community, but I know she will be remembered by many — and welcomed back, should she return someday. I am so glad to know she will continue volunteering with disaster response efforts where she is going.

Denise gave the gift of her passion and enthusiasm, but she has also given a lasting gift to our community with her encouragement of others. She has ensured the work she started will be continued by people who are as equally passionate and dedicated as she has been.

Denise leaves me with a sign that I will keep on my door. It says: “Keep hope alive in your heart always.” This is who she has been to me and to us as an organization. She was a ray of hope during a time of difficulty and transition.

Denise made the transitions easier and helped us all “step forward into growth” because she had hope and faith that we would come out stronger, more sure of ourselves and our mission in this community. And we have. Thank you, Denise.

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.