Through our effort to elevate the voices of diverse leaders in our community, we’re proud to feature Janet Chen, CEO of ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, to share her experience in leading a nonprofit throughout the past 18 months.
By leaning on her resilience, Janet has led ProMusica to provide the power of music to our community during a time when we need it most. Thank you, Janet, for your dedication to the arts and those that it serves.
— Mollard Consulting
As the chief executive officer of a nonprofit arts organization, I am often asked what it’s been like to lead during these challenging times. While my experience over past 18 months is difficult to articulate, I offer this snapshot:
I am suddenly walking on a path in unknown territory. I’m a little confused, and not sure where I’m headed but know I must do everything possible to carry myself, and all the people walking with me, to our place of familiarity and safety. At first, I think we’ll get there quickly — we’ve all had enough collective experience to make educated decisions to get to our destination. However, after a while, the path becomes very unclear. There’s dense fog, the kind that is so thick you can barely see what’s ahead of you. Faint signs are in the distance, hopefully to point us in the right direction. But when we get to the signs, there are multiple forks in the road, and quick decisions need to be made of which direction to go. I pick a new path that seems to be the best choice, but there continues to be many curve balls and blind spots, forcing us to sometimes turn and re-direct another way. Some of those with me are getting weary, frustrated, and upset, asking many questions of which I don’t have answers to. And although I am running low on oxygen and fuel, I remind myself to guide with empathy, encouragement, grit, and determination.
I believe many leaders, especially nonprofit leaders over the past 18 months, have all experienced the journey described above, or at least some version of it. Many nonprofit organizations have been on the frontlines since spring 2020. We are surviving a global pandemic that interrupted our lives; fighting for important issues on racial justice and social equality; and worrying about the future — our own future and that of the next generation. Our emotions have been stretched to places that are unfamiliar. We’ve had to lean into circumstances that are uncomfortable and totally foreign.
So how do we handle the tremendous weight of it all? It’s resilience.
I’ve recently been asked how I would define resilience. For me, resilience is hard to define in words, so I’ll try to describe it through (more!) imagery:
Imagine that you are tasked with climbing a mountain to reach the peak. You first map out the best path forward, assessing your route and planning ahead to mitigate any potential problems. As you set forth with your backpack of resources, you make adjustments along your route that you didn’t foresee. As you climb higher, setbacks begin to occur. The air and environment around you begins to change. An unexpected storm rolls in, which now delays your journey by days as you take cover and wait for clarity. The weight of your backpack feels heavier and heavier and it gets physically and mentally harder to push onward.
At this point, you have now fallen seven times… but you’ve gotten up eight. Despite the challenges, you persevere. There is a support system of individuals that you carry with you in your heart along this climb. Ultimately, you push forward and arrive at the peak knowing you have overcome obstacles no matter how hard or unimaginable it seemed.
In my own journey, I have realized that resilience does not happen overnight. There have been many experiences in my life that helped build my own resilience. Having to face challenging decisions, struggle for things to make sense, and endure unexpected setbacks have all been extraordinary moments that have made me stronger over time.
The past 18 months has continued to test my resilience. What has kept me up at night? The livelihood of musicians and artists if live concerts cannot resume or audiences don’t attend. The even more limited access to life changing experiences for students and children to learn a musical instrument. And, our community being denied of the healing power of music and the arts at a time when it was most needed.
To me, being resilient is honoring the incredible human capacity to keep moving forward in the face of tremendous uncertainty. It is to remain kind and compassionate, and to remember to lean on the people in my life that inspire me and to stay aspirational. I hope that by honoring my own resilience, no matter what year it is or what circumstance, I can continue to create positive change for our society and this community.
What does resilience mean to you?
Article by: Janet Chen, CEO, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra