lone wolf – noun
a person who prefers to work, act, or live alone
Note: I wrote this original version of this post in December of 2019. I’ve been reviewing old blog posts this month as part of a reflective practice. I thought it would be interesting to update this post and re-share it with you all. Hope you enjoy it – and – as usual – feel free to comment.
A few years back, I chose to hand over the reigns and step away from a successful nonprofit organization (White Pine Programs), after serving as a co-founder and executive director for twenty years. It was a premeditated, difficult decision that has significantly changed my life. In reflecting on those twenty years, it became very clear to me that I was intentionally cultivating and tending to hundreds of relationships: kids, teens, & adults in programs; parents; partner organizations; vendors; school & municipal leaders; funders; a robust peer network, etc. In fact, most of the success we experienced as an organization the was based in these relationships. On top of that, most of my cherished relationships today, started while growing a small business into a robust regional nonprofit. You reap what you sow.
Now, did ALL of my interactions & relationships leave me smiling and content? No. Like any ecosystem, interactions can be complicated and not every plant and insect are mutually beneficial. Parasitism is real, but, mutualism (symbiosis that benefits both organisms involved) is much more common.
When I shared the news that I’d be stepping down, I heard from a lot of thoughtful people. They’d often say something akin to: “Congrats! You should be proud of what you built and all the people you reached.” OR “Well done, Dan – You’ve enriched so many lives.”
“Thank You.” I’d politely, tell them. Then, I couldn’t help but edit the narrative – mostly because it’s just not accurate. I’m no “Self-Made Man,” “Solopreneur,” or “Lone Visionary.” Did my 20 years of work include a lot of time working alone, being creative and carrying a vision? Heck YES. Nonetheless, very little of what I achieved would have been possible without the kind, consistent, and vital support of many, amazing connections. Here are just a few significant people in my relationship ecosystem who’ve contributed to my success:
- CONNIE (Mother) Gave unconditional love & support, even when she didn’t understand what I was doing. Checked in on me via the “magic network of moms.” Busted me when needed. Lifted me up throughout. Had my back when things were hard. Thank you, Connie.
- Jon (Mentor) Stoked my curiosity as a teenager while creating space for me challenge myself in nature. Made me look at my responsibility as a caretaker. Treated me as a colleague while I cut my teeth in the professional world. Gave me unconditional love & support. Thank you, Jon.
- JUANITA (Family) Cared enough to pay attention. Took me camping and noticed my love of nature and nourished that passion. Gave me access to college by offering zero-interest loans. Served a role model naturalist, observer, artist and advocate for the wild. Thank you, Juanita.
- ROGER “DOC” (College Professor) Showed me professional paths I didn’t know existed. Shared the refined skills of a hunter-gatherer-mentor. Role-modeled empathy, ecological thinking and top-notch, authentic networking. Thank You, Doc.
- KATE (Partner) Taught me generosity in ways I didn’t know possible. Challenged me to do better, think bigger. Stayed beside me during hard times. Role-modeled a life change designed to bring one’s gifts to more of the world (and she made many amazing pies, muffins & salads along the way). Thank you, Kate.
The achievements of my life so far are because of the privilege (access granted, support given, etc.) and the sum of my connections: ancestors; family; friends; teachers; adversaries; supporters; students; non-human beings and places; and much more. Doesn’t really sound “lone wolfy,” does it?
HOWEVER…in my decision to stray from my previous pack and all the known comforts of the den, I was taking a page from what we call “dispersers” in wildlife ecology. In fact, dispersers in wolf packs are vital to the well-being of both larger wolf populations (think genetics) and the landscapes that support wolf packs. The “lone wolf” moniker can evoke images of a long life of solitude. The fact is, dispersers are rarely alone for a long period of time.
Dispersers are usually sexually-mature wolves that have chosen to leave (travel far from their home territory – sometimes hundreds of miles) in order to find a new mate and start a new pack (or to join an existing pack in a support role). For many wolves, this dispersal is a survival adaptation – as the resources (space, food, den sites, etc.) of their natal habitat can’t support an endless stream of wolves. Dispersing wolves are often a temporal phenomenon – marking a rite of passage as a young adult. That said, some wolves choose to disperse later in life, despite the known risks.
At Lead with Nature, I serve as a consultant for many types and sizes of businesses. I get to work with the equivalent of dispersers in the professional world. Whether they’re co-founders like me who are ready for a new habitat or visionaries who can’t get bogged down in one space for too long, some human beings take on the role of disperser – often to the benefit of their prior pack and to the benefit of the larger landscape in which they seek to find a new territory. Even a lone wolf can use a little help.
To Sum it Up: Every wolf (or human, or bark beetle or apple tree) is the sum of its relationships. And…as long as there are habitats that dispersers (canine or human) can migrate into, there will always be successful “lone wolves.”
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