Written by Serena Townsend | Chief People Officer | Silicon Labs
Every January, I have so many resolutions vying for my attention. Be a better partner. Be a more patient parent. Eat more vegetables. Eat fewer cupcakes. Get more sleep. Practice meditation. Read more leadership books. Read less Twitter. All perfectly respectable resolutions in any ordinary year, and those used to work just fine. I would ring in the new year, to-do list firmly in hand, 2021 kick-off meetings on my team calendar, eager to get started.
This January, with the events of the last year so fresh in my mind, those resolutions simply lost their relevance. Yes, I still care deeply about my job and enabling my team to do the best work of their careers. And yes, I still want to be a great mom, friend, sister, daughter, leader, and partner. But I was searching for something that could anchor me in a very different way. As I spent days talking to my kids about politics, pandemics and systemic racism, helping employees with tough challenges like social isolation, mental health & substance abuse, and generally navigating with no playbook, I needed something much more grounding.
In the summer of 2018, I had the privilege of participating in a charity climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. Not only was this a childhood “bucket list” goal of mine, it was for a cause I care deeply about, and with people I admire for the selfless work they do in global communities of need. In those seven days on one of the highest places on our planet, I learned life-changing lessons about human connection, perspective and resilience, and my climb team will be friends for life, simply for the shared experience. It was a big deal.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that trip these days, and one singular memory keeps insisting its way to the top. To summit Mount Kilimanjaro, you depart from basecamp near midnight, cold, excited and nervous about the seven hours of straight ascent in front of you. You must trudge slowly, as oxygen levels are low, it’s difficult to breathe, and you cannot stop for more than a few minutes each hour due to the dangers of being at altitude. The climb itself is beautiful to witness, with the dim glow of individual headlamps and the comforting songs in Swahili piercing the dark and stillness of the mountain. But it is hard. So hard that some turn back due to sickness, injury, or physical and emotional exhaustion. You can only make that climb by putting your full faith and trust in the people around you. It’s magical and brutal all at once. But what I remember most is the very unexpected dynamic between our team members as we struggled up the mountain. There was an almost constant alternating of giving and receiving support through that long night. The person who was champion and cheerleader one hour became the same person being talked out of turning back the next hour.
It was intense, impossible to predict, and we all had to adjust and carry the load, knowing our time of need could be around the next corner.
Here’s the reason I tell that story. In times of stress, strain and unpredictable outcomes, we all need different things at different times. And sometimes we can’t articulate those needs or even anticipate what they might look like next week. That holds true for our communities, our employees and ourselves. And we sure saw that play out in 2020. You can’t policy our way out of a pandemic. We must adjust, stay flexible, personalize our approach, and help carry the load. So this January, I’m not setting a resolution. I’m simply getting back to basics, taking a cue from a wise friend and starting each day “from the inside out”. That means centering on core values, prioritizing wellness, and staying ready to adjust to those around me. You never know what mountain they are climbing.
Serena Townsend is Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer at Silicon Labs. In this role, she is responsible for the company’s global talent strategy, people programs, and values-driven, inclusive culture. Townsend joined Silicon Labs in February 2017 as Director, HR Business Partners. She was promoted to Vice President, HR Business Partners in March 2020, and then to Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer in September 2020. Townsend has more than 20 years of experience in high growth technology organizations with a focus on high-performance global teams, alignment to business goals, and a people-first philosophy. Before joining Silicon Labs, Townsend held HR leadership positions at companies including Samsung Austin Semiconductor and HomeAway (Expedia). She holds a Bachelor of Arts from The University of Texas (UT), is a UT distinguished college scholar, and volunteers for organizations including Crossing Thresholds and Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas.