Live, Work, Create, Renew, Repeat.

Above: Liz Kirkwood, who has been standing guard over the Great Lakes since 2012 as FLOW’s executive director, will be on sabbatical with her family from January through March 2020.

By Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director

sab·bat·i·cal /səˈbadək(ə)l/  noun: a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.

I always wondered why academics singularly embraced the tradition of sabbaticals and not other knowledge professionals. Having lived and worked overseas and across the United States, my husband, Pete, and I always dreamed of traveling with our kids and exposing them to different people, cultures, histories, and languages. After my seven years serving as FLOW’s founding executive director, what better way to do this than a sabbatical for the entire family?

Starting today, my three-month sabbatical to Argentina is one of both personal and professional exploration. Personal because this is the last time Pete and I and our kids can take a deep cultural dive together before our daughter heads off to high school next fall. Professional because I cannot not think about our relationship to water and how our children and all living creatures are counting on us to step up and become true stewards of this small blue planet.

Sabbaticals afford us knowledge workers the space and time to ask and to ponder the most important questions. New cultural contexts also help us identify and articulate what is most important, why, and how we can increase our impact toward a shared mission. These types of questions guided inspiring people like Pat Brown, founder of Impossible Burger, on his sabbatical. As a Ph.D. biochemist and an M.D., Pat focused on what he could do to make the largest positive impact on the world. Pondering climate change, the environment, and human dietary preferences, he realized that making an alternative to meat from plants would become his most fulfilling lifework.

I feel inspired by the thought of what we can do both individually and collectively to make the biggest difference. For me, I am interested in transformative changes and choices that we can make to establish a new course towards sustainable, carbon net-zero, and climate-resilient communities and regions in this century. To this end, I plan to spend a lot of time observing, listening, asking questions, and finding space to think about differences, similarities, and completely new concepts. I also plan to examine storytelling as a primary vehicle for advancing and accelerating human behavioral changes.

I don’t know what I will bring back, but I know that things will shift for me and serve to bring greater clarity to my Great Lakes work. Thinking about systemic change is at the heart of the work I do at FLOW, and finding new perspectives, new ideas is part of the work in which I am keenly interested.

I cannot begin to express my deep gratitude to my staff and board for agreeing to my sabbatical. Without exception, everyone has fully supported me in this pursuit. And I am so confident in our team to continue this critical work. This extraordinary opportunity is a true testimony to the culture of who we are at FLOW as an organization. My passion for the Great Lakes and for FLOW remains stronger than ever before. 

With gratitude and solidarity,


 P.S. You can find me on social media and occasionally on FLOW’s website as I plan to blog and post photos, short films, and observations about our family travels in the Southern Hemisphere.

4 comments on “Live, Work, Create, Renew, Repeat.

  1. Jim Lenfestey on

    Patagonia? Hell, Liz, there; one right down the street from me! OK, BAD JOKE. Excited for you. Susan pushed a similar trip on us when our eldest was about to go to college, our youngest 3. They still talk about it.
    Here’s something for u to ponder as you wander. What if the Great Lakes continue to rise? Mackinac already facing problems. I didn’t see this coming. Let’s see what next summer brings. But a worry, and maybe major policy implications? Just to keep you sleepless in your sleeping bag!

    • Jim Olson on

      Thanks, Jim Lenfesty. For starters on water levels, see letter at FLOW submitted to IJC last summer. We intend to expand this to Compact and Great Lakes Governors, and a section in a forthcoming Great Lakes Compact and Diversion report, as well as seriously connecting the dots on climate events, changes, and those responsible wuth demand for action to protect the public trust in Great Lakes. Best to you and Susan in the coming year. Jim O

  2. Patty Peek on

    A well deserved “breather” Liz. Your commitment to protecting and preserving our Michigan resources will most assuredly be magnified by your sabbatical. The best to you and your family on your journey.

  3. Heather Abraham on

    What a wonderful opportunity and investment in restoration and growth, Liz! Warm wishes to you and your family as you embark! Thank you for all you have done–and continue to do–to protect our most valuable resources!


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