Back in late September, with less than a month to go before the virtual 2020 SHPE National Convention, I got a call from one of my team members. She’d just been told by our convention production team that we needed to record and submit approximately 120 industry expert-led videos (in collaboration with our partners and sponsors), to ensure the sessions would be edited and uploaded on time.
Oh, and we had less than two weeks to do it.
I tried not to panic, but in the back of my mind, I wondered how we’d ever pull this off. Most of the people we’d asked to participate are executives at big-name companies. People with demanding jobs and busy lives and schedules that don’t allow much room for recording hour-long presentations for nonprofits. Some of the sessions required the coordination of multiple panelists. We’re talking hundreds of emails and phone calls, extensive back-and-forth on dates and times, and enough pivots to fill an NBA basketball game.
Unlike the Houston Rockets, however, we didn’t have a playbook for this. It was an extraordinary challenge. To borrow an old (and very accurate) cliché, we literally had to build the plane as we were flying it: creating virtual content that replicated the look and feel of past conventions, while bringing value to our members, partners, and sponsors at a time of unprecedented uncertainty.
And we pulled it off. Sure, it took nearly 20 people working around the clock for two straight weeks—exhausted, exasperated, running on fumes—but we did what needed to be done. In keeping with the theme of this year’s Convention, we not only ascended the obstacles in front of us; we transcended to that which we believed we were capable of.
In hindsight, the experience was a microcosm of what we as an organization and Familia have had to endure these past eight months, from the early days of the COVID crisis to our massive pivot to hosting our first-ever virtual convention. Through it all—the fears and doubts, the long days and nights and working weekends—my team stepped up. They pushed and persevered. They learned new skills. Most important of all, they came together.
This CEO Corner is dedicated to my team. The Team. Thank you for all you’ve done—and continue to do—to keep our SHPE Familia together. You’re the most driven, nimble, and thoughtful group of people I’ve ever worked with, and the contributions and sacrifices you’ve made have been indispensable to SHPE’s growth and success.
Because of you, we were able to pivot our operations and strategies to create a bevy of dynamic new virtual programs and services. Because of you, we raised nearly $1 million in grants and scholarships to help our members weather this economic crisis. Because of you, we managed to take our most important event—the National Convention—and transform it into something brand new (and incredibly cool). Something special and unique. Something that will empower the SHPE Familia for years to come.
Whether you attended the convention or not, I want to give you an idea of what our team accomplished. Nearly 10,000 people signed up—more than what we had at our convention in Phoenix last year. There were more than 200 expert-led sessions and panels. Thousands of members were selected to be screened and/or interviewed by some of the most highly regarded companies in the world. The engagement and enthusiasm we saw far surpassed even our loftiest expectations.
SHPE’s first ever virtual convention was a huge success, and while we hope things will be back to normal for the 2021 convention in Orlando, the lessons we learned this year—what our strengths and opportunities are; how we communicate; the kinds of programing we offer—will serve our Familia and the Hispanic community long after the pandemic subsides.
As I reflected on the incredible work my team had done in the lead-up to the convention, I started reading a book that’s been on my need-to-read list for some time: Stealing Fire by Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler. In it, the authors explore the concept of ecstasis, or the act of stepping outside of one’s self and embracing the cohesive, seamless power of a group or team. Using the Navy SEALs as an example, Wheal and Kotler show how, when a team is motivated by a shared cause, a “merger of consciousness” takes place, to where every move, every decision—indeed, every mission—becomes a shared endeavor.
After a particularly harrowing operation, one SEAL had this to say about his unit’s experience:
The whole wasn’t just greater than the sum of its parts; it was stronger and braver too.
Confronted with seemingly insurmountable odds, these SEALs were able to “flip a switch”—to stop acting like individuals and start operating as a single unit, a kind of “hivemind.” When that hivemind is reached, the team is better able to find its “flow,” a state of being where, no matter what’s happening around you—noise, darkness, enemy fire coming in from all sides—you feel truly connected to those around you. Your people. Your team.
As I read the book (which I highly recommend), I kept thinking about my team, and the harrowing missions we’ve endured together. While I’d never compare our work to what’s required of Navy SEALS, the metaphors are hard to ignore: heading into unknown territory; the surroundings pitch-black and ominous; everyone on high alert (with plenty of adrenaline pumping). In situations like these, it’s all about finding that flow—that one wavelength binds the team together like an invisible chain.
That’s *exactly* what my team did. Every single person. Confronted with seemingly insurmountable odds, each and all rose to the occasion. They ascended *and* transcended. They exemplified what the SHPE is all about: Familia. Serving others. Always Learning. Being resilient, with an unwavering drive and commitment to reach that next great summit.
When we look back on this chapter in SHPE’s storied history, we’ll read about the trials and tribulations, the moments of fear and doubt. But we’ll also read about the triumphs, about teamwork and tenacity, and how we tuned into the wavelength we needed to accomplish our mission.
Most important of all, we’ll remember the time when the whole wasn’t just greater than the sum of its parts, but stronger and braver too.
Thank you, team, for teaching me—and all of us—how to ascend and transcend. And how to do it with purpose and verve. I can’t wait to trek and climb the mountains ahead with you.
Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO