Jenn Hoos Rothberg -

Aug 23, 2023

The Indigo Girls and the Power of Two

communities gathering and building

I have loved the Indigo Girls for as long as I can remember. No matter where and when I listen to their music, they immediately transport me back to many carefree car rides of my youth, singing along with my two sisters in their quintessential two-part harmony. From “Power of Two” to “Secure Yourself” to my older sister Michele’s favorite, “Kid Fears,” featuring R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe’s backup vocals (please listen to that one!), the Indigo Girls’ music is the soundtrack of our adolescent lives.

When Michele turned 16 and was old enough to drive us to school, I followed her lead and sang whichever part she wasn’t singing. We never talked about who sang what; we just fell into it naturally. When Michele went to college, it was my turn to drive my younger sister Stephanie to school. She knew her task, and her musical capabilities far surpassed mine: Stephanie could seamlessly trade parts of the duet whenever I accidentally switched from one to the other.

We sang along to the Indigo Girls in moments when the hopefulness and serenity of the lyrics fell in stark contrast with whatever challenge, concern, heartbreak, or upset was present in our lives. “This world falls on me/ Hopes of immortality/ Everywhere I turn all the beauty/ Just keeps shaking me,” goes a verse in “World Falls” from their 1990 album.

Whenever all three of us found ourselves back together, between semesters, jobs, summer breaks, or Jewish holidays, with ease like that of our childhood, no matter what song was playing, no part was missed. It didn’t matter how long it had been since I’d last heard the song (sometimes years or even decades), the lyrics and melodies comfortably reappeared like old habits or a pair of well-worn jeans.

Being the middle child, there was comfort in knowing that I could always count on someone to pick up the other part. Our differing vocal ranges and styles allowed us to contribute in ways that always sounded much better together. In this great symphony we call life, the magic happens when we see ourselves as part of a chorus. “Everything in the universe has a rhythm,” said Maya Angelou, “everything dances.” We are asked to find our inner metronome, listen deeply to other voices, and find moments where we can sing and dance in unison.

“Maybe this is why I feel deep in my bones the belief that we are better together.”

I get excited about doing things collaboratively, knowing that having more perspectives, more experiences, and more divergent viewpoints at the table gets us to the most innovative solutions. And selfishly, collaboration gives us more brain power to process complex information and come up with new ideas – especially within the context of an attention economy, where our focus is constantly interrupted by endless social media feeds, a 24/7 news cycle, and personalized consumer choices right at our fingertips. It’s hard to get things done, let alone get into a flow state long enough to do our best work.

Every time I fall prey to these disruptions or the individualistic belief that I can figure out whatever it is on my own, I often end up feeling stuck, anxious, and depleted. In moments like this, I have to actively remind myself to reach out to those around me to help carry the load.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to join the 2023 Activating Change leadership cohort led by another dynamic duo Tuesday Ryan-Hart and Tim Merry of The Outside. Tuesday and Tim are experts in shared work and communal problem solving, and I first learned of their approach through our partnership with The Perception Institute as part of our diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging journey.

Over the six-month fellowship, I became a student with 40 other leaders working around the world seeking to advance positive and collaborative social impact. This circle of trust opened me up to people and experiences outside the spaces where I typically find myself. We were there to grapple with the big leadership questions that are often asked of us and of our teams: What is the work we want to advance in the world? And how can we most effectively work with others to move that work forward?

The Shared Work Model felt deeply resonant with our work at Einhorn Collaborative and spoke directly to my core values, instincts, and beliefs: we must bring people together, especially those with divergent views, and nurture the connection between them. In doing so, we have an opportunity to craft something more beautiful than when we do things alone. In short, it’s my way to move from “Houston, we have a problem” to the U.S. Women’s Soccer team’s rally cry, “Let’s f— go!” While not all collaboration ends in winning World Cup championships, without it, we can’t even get to the qualifying games.

One of the many gifts I got from this fellowship was seeing our work through a systems-change lens. I was reminded of something I already know deep inside: if we want to build a better future, then collaboration is imperative. Not a moral choice. But rather, a necessity to make lasting change.

In a recent gathering with my Kitchen Cabinet, we did an activity where we each shared “five songs that bring me back to me.” One of my picks was the Indigo Girls’ “Fugitive.” The song’s crescendo creates the kind of alchemy impossible to occur without harmony; distinct voices fused into a truly awe-inducing sound.

Melodic harmonies like that of the Indigo Girls not only transport me back to some of the most powerful memories of my adolescence but also get me out of my head. They put up a temporary Stop Work Order to my running list of to-dos, worries, expectations, and fears, and bring me to a spiritual place of wonder and possibilities.

In his latest book, Dacher Keltner, Founding Director of the Greater Good Science Center, described awe as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world.” I’d love to know the five songs that inspire awe and bring you back to you.

*A quick postscript: I took my six-year-old daughter to see Barbie after drafting this piece. Nothing delighted me more than singing along with her to “Closer to Fine,” a song she knows quite well from hearing it played on repeat in our house. If only she knew how far the Indigo Girls had come!

Jenn Hoos Rothberg leads Einhorn Collaborative. Learn more about our work and more about Jenn. Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter and be the first to read Jenn’s blog posts.

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