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An open letter to anyone struggling with the combined events of the last 12 months

Resiliency has been a topic I’ve read about in the context of business over the past several years. The idea behind resiliency applies both to business and personal ability to weather change and find the opportunity in the challenge. This post is about the concept above through the lens of unprecedented hardships that we have experienced.

Emergency

Much of the world found itself sick, out of work, working from home, or facing an uncertain day to day life, heroically, on the front lines during a global health crisis nearly 12 months ago. It’s all we’ve heard about, experienced, dreamed of since. This kind of stress takes a toll on one’s psyche. No matter how resilient a person is. For me, it was kind of like this long weird moment that stretched out across months that felt like hearing the Dr tell me, “you had a heart attack.” The moment, six years ago, for me, when everything changed. However, this was not a cardiac event. But a shared trauma with tragic losses and grinding anxiety that wore on us in ways we could not anticipate. Game face or not, we would all need help, and every bit of strength, to get through the coming challenge.

Isolation

Enter a reality where the folks I work with, my parents, family, and many of my friends found our lives wholly centered inside the confines of our homes. While this was great at first for the freedom to have slightly looser schedules, #NoCommute #NoPants, it came with many drawbacks and some long-lived positives.

Some of the best things included, tongue in cheek, the above hashtags; however, more seriously, we saw groups of us begin to use the Internet in much more productive ways. Not just for business purposes but interpersonal uses. “Zoom” became a thing. Microsoft Teams, Google Meetings, and FaceTime became lifelines to keep our networks intact. We also saw a great deal more shared experiences, as if the collective trauma taught some of us how to hone our empathetic skills. Possibly because we were all, to a degree, facing the same challenges. The risk was to do this on our islands, by ourselves, in our own homes, alone. However, I believe that, from personal experience, we emerged from those caves with a deeper understanding of the importance of other people and our relationships, the ones that count, and what they mean to our internal engines.

Another positive is that working remotely actually does increase our flexibility and efficiency. Given, yes, some of us have struggled to make the adjustment to full time remote, others have taken to it and flourished. Hybrid models, going forward, I have to think, are the way of the future. For good reason as well. Perhaps it will bring Global companies like mine closer together in the end. More efficient and capable of greater agility not to mention finding higher utilization across practices and dispersed geographies in order to make even more creative solutions for our ever increasing portfolio of partners.

The year of empty offices, restaurants, theaters, streets and cafes

Yet, for all the positives, there’s always another side of the coin. Still, I have to think that this is yet another thing that the global shift has uncovered for us, as humans, to solve. I was in a team meeting yesterday that my boss runs for all of us folks. It was one of the best sessions after the highly stressful events of 1/6/2021. The exercise was to lay out one thing we were doing to reduce our stress today and then one thing that we need help with. Mine was seeing a therapist for depression, and the area I stated I need help with was skilling up. Since we all work in a highly technical field, you can imagine that this is an arena that most days run at 100 mph on the change and evolution front. One of my colleagues came back with the thought that this might be a bit of impostor syndrome, which I admit, it’s always there for some of us in the background, but we learn to quell that over the years through experience. No, what I was talking about was that in the vacuum of working from home, we are missing out on these ambient problems solving and lessons learned conversations that taught me so much.

For example, I used to work at a long table in an open space. There is a collection of Dev Ops minded folks, interspersed with me, some data science, and some project services people as well. The conversations were incredibly engaging, and the atmosphere is something I miss every day when I roll out of bed, go down to the kitchen for coffee, do my morning routine, then “commute” back to my bedroom/office, and log onto work. These folks would, oftentimes, pop off frustrations with certain pieces of technology and then how they solved them or various learnings in a free and open format. I never knew how much I picked up just from simply being around these conversations and participating in them until they all disappeared. That is a problem that I think I will try and dedicate some thought to in 2021 in the context of remote collaboration.

Motivation

In talking with some colleagues, candidly, I hear a recurring theme of not feeling as productive in some cases, hyper-productive in others. A75%/25% split if you will. The fella I was speaking with shared with me that he feels as if he’s been 75% successful at retaining the same level of productivity while at home where his family resides full time, and 25% not so much because of the break-in his routine, which we used to call work-life-balance. Those scales have, obviously, tipped in many directions, in different ways, for all of us. Even for myself, especially back in the April/May 2020 time frame, it was a challenge I was ill equipped to face.

Reinvention

Now that I feel like I came out the other side of 2020, somewhere around September, for me last year, I have the following suggestions to share that I am doing for myself, which keep me more on track and productive as a remote worker. I find that through these practices, my motivation has been steadily restoring itself.

  • Spend time to focus on career goals
  • Actively upskill: work on personal projects but also explore the idea of pair programming with peers (an idea floated by my boss)
  • Refine alternate scheduling paths: reference this post specifically his “knowing the right time of day…” section
  • Working on soft skills and other supportive practices like public speaking in an era of online presentations/meetings
  • Do something good in the world, or for some person in your network who needs it, or do something nice for someone once a week

Activity

My step counts plummed from 20k/day +/- to between 2k & 3k/day. That was probably a significant factor in my depressive state back in April/May of 2020 (and the period of time that I had the most difficulty emotionally). As such, I’ve been putting together a modest home gym, switched over to a standing desk, and practice the following on a weekly, more structured (aka scheduled), basis.

Stress

We all have felt the impacts of this and know what the effects are, but sometimes, it manifests in different ways for all of us. A new one for me was neck and shoulder muscle aches to the point where, for a time, I had a headache 24/7 for about two week increments. Here are some of the techniques I use to manage the severity of this on my person.

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation (as suggested by my therapist for the neck and muscle pain + plus the standing desk)
  • Meditation/prayer (lot’s of info out there on this but don’t make a big deal about it, start in small 1 to 5 min increments but do it daily, it helps)
  • Breathing exercises
  • Therapy/friends (I can’t emphasize this enough, reach out to people often and regularly)
  • EDMR (most of us don’t have this equipment, but you can get the same effect from only trail running)

Connection

In an era of Microsoft Teams “auditoriums” and custom backgrounds, or the Hollywood Squares effect as some think of it, our lives have become increasingly smaller. I used to enjoy being glued to my computer. My hobby was tech, as was my career back in the late ’90s through the mid to early ’10s. The funny thing was that after my cardiac event, I realized there was more to life than just learning stuff about computers or experiencing “life” through an LCD panel. Enter the past 12 months, however. We’ve had to learn how to live with our lives digitally for the most part.

Finding ways to connect with other human beings physically is incredibly important. Hell, I suffered a resounding hit when one of my friends, who is less concerned about the pandemic than I am, decided I was a jerk by not spending time with him recently. I told him I understood but, inside, I was crushed because he effectively ended the friendship. What I took away from that was, of course, we all have different needs, but more importantly for myself was the idea that I still have people who love me and whom I love back. It made me double down on my efforts to make sure they felt it too.

Our Christmas visit with my mother in law; dropping off treats

I send handwritten letters and cards to folks; I actively engage in video calls for personal friendships now (which I don’t love but am dealing with because we have to). I am working on creating an as “airtight” as possible microbubble of friends, so far two – my husband Eddie and a friend from High School, Patty, to hang out with in person.

Regardless of the radical changes, as creative folks, we all need to maintain as much “presence” with other people as we possibly can. In the absence of O2, fires die.

Realization

However, it was not until Christmas when Eddie and I had a Google Meeting brunch with my long-term friend and former wine sales colleague, Lisa, that I realized something. She’s been unemployed for a good deal of time now. She’s dealing with an underlying condition and lives alone with her dog. As we talked over the course of our three-hour visit, she, matter of factly and without lament, talked about things that she’s lost. A budget that closed in upon itself. Doing what she can with less—The uncertain future. She told us that even as tomorrow, she may not have the same staples in her kitchen as she did today, that she has, and always will “have enough.” Hell, if that’s not resiliency, I don’t know what is.

Christmas brunch circa 2020

That thought kicked off the machinery of my heart, and I found myself in a new gear entirely regarding how I think about 2020, the pandemic, the state of the world, and the reality of remote life. When I looked at it all again, I realized that from here on out, I am going to be aware of what I have today and that, I too, have what I need. It’s no longer about what I lost, what I miss—the long-distance trips out backpacking, which were canceled. The backpacking group of friends I found in Kentucky is now scattered to the far corners of their own paths. Disbanded. The friend who walked away from me in anger. The loneliness of being at home 90% of my days or the darkness of Winter. The loss of close contact with my colleagues and clients, which I value so damn much. No, instead, it’s time to stop mourning 2020 and the tumultuous times we find ourselves living through. We have a choice to remain stuck thinking on and feeling that grief or, like Lisa, we can smile, laugh, and share what we have with others around us. I hope this post does exactly that for someone. I had some rough spots in 2020 so I am in no way patting myself on the back here, but I’m not unique in that. Still, maybe that’s what I needed to understand not just myself better, but the importance and meaning of my relationships, career, and the things that give life true meaning.

I have what I need, it’s time to pay that forward.

Even alone, the are so many ways to spread joy to the world
Published inpersonalprofessional

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