The Olympics! It is such an exciting global event. It shows the sportsmanship, the joys, and the hard work it takes for athletes to perform at their best for a few seconds, minutes, or hours while the whole world watches. As we sit in awe, excitement, and sometimes shed tears with the athletes, what we do not see is the time it took for these athletes to get to where they are. A lot of these athletes invested years (or decades!) to become Olympians. The gifted, the talented, the passionate, and the persistent — they all come together every four years to test the abilities and skills that they trained so hard to achieve while juggling life’s other commitments. We know that the athletes who compete in the Olympics would not be where they are if they did not invest the time and resources to do things right.
I am not an Olympian, but I have a fair share of experience investing my time and resources to participate and perform in sporting events. When I made the hasty decision to sign up for three sprint triathlon events two years ago, I immediately realized that I had some work to do. I started doing tons of research, reading books and articles, listening to podcasts, watching videos, and eventually joining a triathlon team to learn more about the sport and to surround myself with a supportive group of triathletes.
One of my more difficult realizations was that teaching myself how to swim correctly in open water was not going to cut it. I had to hire a swim coach to help me with my form and technique if I ever wanted to finish a triathlon. I also joined an open-water swim master’s training program to help me overcome my fear of open water. Although I am not going for podium wins, I want to finish all of my races and test what I am capable of. I understood early on that making the commitment to train was necessary even if all I wanted to do was to “just finish” the race. Finally, if I want to keep racing and improve, I know it is important that I continue to train and invest more of my time and resources into the sport.
What lessons can we take from triathlon training (or training for any sport), that also apply to an individual’s or an organization’s effort to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive? Just like sports performance, building muscles to address diversity, equity, and inclusion won’t happen overnight. Here are some thoughts I have about the parallels between sports training and building our justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion muscles:
Doing your own research is a great way to start learning. There are plenty of rich and valuable JEDI resources including books, podcasts, journals, etc., available. Once you get grounded, you can apply what you’ve been learning; This is where you begin warming up your JEDI muscles.
FINDING AN INSPIRING COMMUNITY
Your hunger for more information and knowledge will eventually kick in and learning and doing things by yourself may not be enough. Finding a community or group that shares the same aspirations and goals as you, from whom you can learn, and who will support and help you deepen your understanding of JEDI work is supportive. This community or group can help motivate and inspire you to build your JEDI muscles so you can do the work confidently.
PARTNERING WITH AN EXPERT
Along the way, you may realize that JEDI work is a multidimensional process that requires a long-term, strategic focus. While you may have believed that the strategy and plan you designed yourself would work, it can become clear that for your JEDI strategy to be most effective, partnering with JEDI experts and professionals is very valuable to the success of your JEDI initiatives. You know that they can help you build an effective JEDI program and avoid strategy pitfalls.
INVESTING TIME & RESOURCES
When you start working with JEDI experts to help you build your JEDI muscles, you are committing to investing your time and resources to do the work. Resources include people — people around you who need to be involved and part of the JEDI work. Time is also required because it takes time for this work to be effective and long lasting.
COMMITTING TO THE PROGRAM & SETTING INTENTIONAL GOALS
This is where the hard and real work starts; you’re going to start with internal work. It’s going to be uncomfortable at times. You may feel vulnerable, and you may experience shame and guilt, and that’s okay. This is part of building your JEDI muscles. You will likely start setting goals that you want to achieve and you will want to be intentional with your JEDI goals. How does this work align with your core values and beliefs? Is it going to help you and your organization move forward? Why and what does JEDI work mean to you?
CHALLENGING YOUR JEDI MUSCLES IMPROVES & STRENGTHENS IT
Committing to change and transformation is not easy work, so don’t despair. If you are doing the work so you can do things right, any hurdles, obstacles, and challenges you put to your JEDI muscles will improve and strengthen them. There’s no shortcut or quick fix when creating lasting change.
BUILDING STRONG JEDI MUSCLES REQUIRES CONTINUOUS WORK
JEDI work is not one-and-done. This is where building your JEDI muscles and continuing to train them becomes important to the movement. If you stop stretching, challenging, and training your JEDI muscles, the impact of your JEDI work will be short-lived and could seem more performative than genuine. The more you do the work to realize your JEDI strategy, the stronger and more resilient your JEDI muscles and initiatives will become. At this point, you may become inspired to learn how to empower other leaders who want to do the same kind of JEDI work at their organizations.
RESTING & RECOVERING JEDI MUSCLES
JEDI work is not easy. As you build your JEDI muscles, at some point (or many points), you may feel exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed. You may feel like you’re failing because nothing is working, and you are not seeing the results and improvements that you are looking for. JEDI muscles will become sore and sometimes hurt. Burning out doing JEDI work can happen. Remember to rest your JEDI muscles and to take care of yourself. If you fall down, give yourself the space to reflect and learn from what happened, then get back up when you’re ready. Check in with your team and be open about your challenges. Create an environment where you and your team feel safe to say, “I need a break”. It can be more detrimental to your JEDI goals and your organization to keep pushing hard on your JEDI work when those muscles are sore and tired.
While we can all wake up one day and say, “Hey, I am going to do a triathlon,” we can’t wake up every day up to race day without training and expect that we will feel prepared and confident. There’s a huge possibility that you are putting yourself and others in harm’s way participating in a triathlon event unprepared. Similarly, being ill-prepared to do JEDI work could cause more harm than good to your organization and your team. So, take your time, partner with experts, continue to learn more and build those JEDI muscles with your team as you build your JEDI strategy to create a more just, diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for yourself and your organization.