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  • Tanya Alden

47 days, 8 states of mind and (probably) 1 way forward



A few words on how, with the onset of the COVID19 era, the vast majority of us have had to make considerable changes to how we lead our lives. We now find ourselves in unexpected and unprecedented situations at work, at home and with our loved ones as we adapt to a new normal. A tweaking of priorities has likely proven helpful thus far - no doubt that a pivot of mindset has proven absolutely essential for all. Some thoughts on a few shifts in perspective that may sound familiar right now…

Pride vs Purpose

In a world where many of us feel pressured to show our glossiest side through stories, filters and carefully curated angles, it’s no surprise that a sense of pride is one that we seek to experience and manifest every day. Pride in the important client deal we just helped to land, pride in our Spring wardrobe ready for its debut in, erm, late July now? In the quease-inducing workout we endured at 5.30am, in the keto-paleo-10-calorie meal we cooked with 2 ingredients in a slow-cooker. Over the past month, however, as notifications have trickled, then poured in, updating on financial decline and devastating personal loss, we’ve likely dialled down that desire to constantly show our very best lives to the outside world.

The question is, faced with our inner worlds, and with entirely new challenges, can we pivot to see the silver linings and, more importantly, the opportunities that may present themselves? The answer is probably yes, providing we take time out to reflect (how can I pivot my role to do more of what I want post-furlough? How did I not realise I LOVE making things? Why do I always feel the pressure to stay busy?), as well as time out to rebalance our self-expectations to a more realistic and, perhaps, a more fundamental level. Occupying a place in the world where we are surviving, caring for our loved ones, remaining relatively healthy and finding some purpose, however large or small, is enough right now.

Being Right vs Being Cooperative

With the ‘Pride’ thing often comes the need to be “right”. To be the one with the solution, the quickest off the mark, signing off on that last word. What if these times, with reduced teams, reduced revenue streams and (potentially) reduced morale, showed us how to simply cooperate? Increased face time with lesser-known colleagues via video, more questions being asked, getting the necessary done as everyone simply mucks in? Many of us will be finding ourselves actioning tasks that are not part of our usual remit. This will sometimes be unenjoyable (homeschooling, anyone?), and perhaps painful — but no doubt we will learn from it.

And that actually feels rather good. What if these times reminded us that we are more agile and available than we thought? That doing our elderly relative or neighbour’s shopping isn’t all that much of a strain on our time? Neither is having proper telephone calls with friends, breaking into the minutiae of exactly how we’re feeling that day and what we plan to eat for our second lunch. Nothing like a global pandemic to remind us that we are all working together, striving towards making life as bearable as possible and that everyone’s job is, really, to be helpful.

Working Fast vs Working, well, Slow.

Must.Finish.This.One.Little.Thing. Then I’m done for the day and can leave the office with a sense of achievement and worth. How many times have you found your brain telling yourself this at 7pm? Working from home during a lockdown brings some unique challenges — children, pets, flatmates, partners, parents, small spaces, uncomfortable chairs, one screen vs the usual three, to name but a few. None of these are particularly conducive to speedy, efficient work.

So what if we accepted this and for now, committed to completing just two or three key missions per day (I like to call my tasks missions, it makes everything that little bit more exciting). Turn off the messaging apps and with them, the temptation to fling ourselves into the depths of never-ending Slack/Teams/Hangout chats. Because let’s face it, it’s all under the pretence that because we are the Super Speedy Responder, we are oh-so-productive and can leave the work day feeling that we’ve done “enough”.

In the Whose Schedule Are You On? episode of the Hurry Slowly podcast, Jason Fried (CEO of Basecamp) promotes the value of spending chunks of time focused on one task only, of sticking to an 8-hour workday and of shunning those evening and weekend emails. When our brains slow down and shut out the noise for an extended period, productivity is the natural outcome — leaving us with more quality time to spend with those we share our home with, rather than simply existing within the same four walls as one another. Note that this conversation between Fried and Jocelyn K. Glei actually took place a couple of years ago — yet the message has never rung truer. Give it a listen.

Control vs Vulnerability.

This section was almost sub-titled Control vs Helplessness. However, considering the multitude of human initiatives and the resilient spirit exhibited by people all over the world over these past 6 weeks, this did not seem quite the right term.

Nevertheless, all of these shifts centre around loss of control to varying degrees. To go from living in a world where every day we are fed messages around control as king, our omnipotent key to the career, the body, the power and the life that we all want — to a drastically new universe where a handful of experts and political figures tell us we are not to leave our homes — is a shock to our society’s system, to say the least.

Add to that the drama added by the media, plus an internet full of self-proclaimed advisors and experts all too keen on sharing their “knowledge” on the novel virus and how to cope, and it creates the perfect storm in which even the most resilient can feel extremely vulnerable. Not to mention those who really are in desperate situations. However, despite this harsh reality, and alongside our giant step into the unknown, there is no denying that good things are happening. From huge global fundraising efforts, to local residents helping out with food parcels or lending a friendly ear, or even that little bit more empathy we have for our peers and colleagues, an awareness of ours and of others’ vulnerability has opened up in 2020. Long may this awareness continue and long may it spur us into compassionate action.

So what can we take away?

If our eyes (and our hearts) are open, it’s what this whole situation can do for our attitudes. To our careers, our communities and our cause. That if you’re not doing your job, filling in for a couple of colleagues and starting a side hustle at the same time, that is okay. That if today all you did was eat and breathe and get the kids dressed, that’s alright too.

It’s all too easy to settle into a certain mentality, whether we are a comfort-zone dweller or the type A high-achiever we met earlier. Whilst certain personalities will seek to chop, change and be challenged consistently, many of us are content within the humdrum of “life as we know it”.

However, COVID19 has not given us a choice in the matter. Life as we know it has changed. We are now forced to choose between feeling stuck, helpless and waiting for it to pass, or making a shift to make it all easier. We could use this time to lose that last few pounds, learn to bake a perfect sourdough loaf and spring clean the entire house — or, we could go a little lighter, a little kinder on ourselves. We can embrace the pivot! As long as whatever changes we make feel kind and sustainable, it’s probably going to be okay.

Let’s remember that we are going to be those annoying elders who, in 30 years, will tell our grandchildren that they’ve never had it so good whilst we bore them with endless stories of the sacrifices we endured and the way we adapted, just to get by during this period. That we were united, strong and didn’t shrug our shoulders and accept the status quo. So whether a tiny change to a daily routine or a huge 18-wheeler in a cul-de-sac scenario, having lived through the last 47 days, I think I would choose the pivot every time. It keeps us alert, it keeps us alive and it proves time and time again how great us humans can be, when we put our minds to it.


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