To Be of Use

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To the Fringe community, this month, I wanted to speak directly to you — not about management, or bias, or skill-building, but about the human experience.

I’ve never been someone who struggles to fall asleep. Before this year, I could drift off as soon as my head hit the pillow. But I’ve recently found myself lying awake or waking in the middle of the night with my mind racing. What’s keeping me up are the very real challenges we’ve been discussing in our work and personal communities. The difficulty of this moment seems so overwhelming that it can’t be held entirely in consciousness. Instead, it must spread into the unconscious

Yet our conversations about wellness, well-being, and boundaries are increasing at a rapid rate. We seem to be collectively searching for relief from the neverending barrage of discomfort, trauma, and the profound work of structural, individual, and community-based change. 

If you’ve read this far and hoped that an answer was coming, I apologize. I have no answers.


I have tools, resources, exercises, and initiatives, but I have nothing to offer to stop the “what if” and “why now” questions from raining down on us. What I do have to offer is simply an insight that has helped me keep going in the past and helps our company today, and I hope it will help our community move forward into the future. 

When the restless nights and challenging conversations are constant and compounding, I often need an anchor that connects me to reality and helps me stay focused but afloat amidst a formidable storm. When I used to participate in endurance racing, these anchors would be mantras that I’d write on my hand or say to myself hours into the long — and often profoundly uncomfortable — journey to the finish line. 

The discomfort of 2020 is equally relentless, painful, and easier to manage by focusing on the next transition. The mantra I turn to currently comes from an unlikely source. Early in quarantine, a poem kept coming to me. Yes, you read that right, the poem came to me, first, during a virtual wine tasting, next in a collection of Passover readings, but always the same poem. 

To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy has been calling to me this year, and it has become our driving force at Fringe. When the darkness of this year washes over our team, we ask, “How can we be of use?” “How can we support our community?” “How can we make sense out of a year with so much senseless pain?”

This anchor has not (and cannot) return our collective physical or mental health, but it can help us do what we needed most: Continue. It’s given me, in particular, a direction for how to engage as a business owner in a time of unrest. I tell myself that if I can just “be of use,” then all will be well. 

As we head into what’s bound to be an anxiety-ridden period of elections, socially distant holidays, shorter days, and longer nights, I hope you can find a mantra or an anchor. I even encourage you to be as cheesy and “woo-woo” as you want — whatever keeps you and your teams moving forward to that next transition. 

Endurance racing gave me many gifts, but the knowledge that human beings can suffer greatly and still keep forward momentum might be the most useful gift of all. These days, we just need a little mantra to keep us pushing on. 

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