Driving down the highway (before self-isolation of course) and seeing those big Atlas or Allied Van Lines 18-wheelers moving trucks has always given me a little jolt of excitement and a slight pang of jealously…someone is off on a grand adventure. I read the names of the companies listed on the trucks’ broad sides. Once in a while I spot “Collins Brothers,” the company that moved us from state to state three times, fondly remembering the exceptionally strong mover who carried my sleeper sofa across my Philadelphia lawn on his back…by himself. I love change and those trucks in which we pile all of our worldly possessions make me think about the grand adventures that could be in my future.
Not everyone loves change quite so much. For many it’s scary and anxiety-inducing. At The Riverbend Group, a lot of our work with clients focuses on how to lead and manage in times of change. We extoll the virtues of seizing opportunities presented by change since change is inevitable and those who embrace it can, literally, make their world, and the greater world, a better place. Under usual circumstances, it’s not terribly difficult for people to overcome the fear of change by shifting their mindsets to see the positive in change and digging in and uncovering how they can leverage challenges into new opportunities and positive wins. This time, with this change, seeing the positives is a lot harder and the fear is a lot more existential.
Anytime there are literally lives in the balance, it’s hard to find the upside in change unless it’s a moonshot kind of change where we have a strong sense of control over the outcome and a huge win at the end. And now, even if people we know haven’t been exposed to COVID-19 or our jobs haven’t been directly impacted, many of us are grappling things outside of our control like declining retirement account balances and the fear that our Amazon packages are contaminated with germs that we might bring into our homes. Often what breeds the most fear, whether we realize it or not, is the lack of control that we have over the change.
In normal circumstances, we encourage leaders to involve their teams in the change process to give them that sense of control. For most of us, staying at home is the most helpful and patriotic thing we can do right now. I would like to think that most of us would stay home because we know it’s the fastest way out of this, but in most cases it wasn’t a decision we made on our own, but one dictated to us. A sense of control can also be derived from having certainty about the change, understanding how things will work in the future, and being able to predict the outcome of the situation. All of these are exceptionally difficult right now because there is so much that we—and even pandemic experts—just don’t know.
In times as uncertain as these, how do we regain our sense of control?
1. Help others
Even if you’re not a healthcare worker or scientist, you can help. The obvious places in need of help—hospitals, caregivers, first responders—still need our help. So do food pantries, the American Red Cross, and many other local charities. I’m on the board of nonprofit Girls on the Run Atlanta and, like many other charities, we have had to cancel some of our biggest fundraisers, including our annual donor event and a fundraising happy hour (which we could all really use right about now), putting a huge dent in our budget and leading to some hard decisions about how we continue to serve the neediest girls in our community by caring for their social and emotional well-being and inspiring them to realize their full potential. You won’t have to look far to find a worthy organization helping people and donate to it.
To be more proactively involved in helping others, gather up your swim goggles for hospitals collecting them “just in case” (Emory in Atlanta). Have a sewing machine? Sew face masks for the scary possibility that hospitals will run out of N95 masks (lots of lists of hospitals collecting can be found online). Have a 3D printer? Print face shields for doctors’ offices (lots of patterns online). Donate hotel nights or money for short-term apartment rentals to caregivers who become sick and need to isolate from their families.
At Riverbend last week, all of our employees had $50 a day to donate to charities of their choosing. Sitting down, doing research on where people need help the most, and having conversations with my family and friends about who needs help in this crazy time provided loads of insight into the groups that are helping ensure that when the world opens back up, it’ll still be a place we want to venture back into.
2. Show Gratitude
This coronavirus crisis will pass, at least for the majority of us (hopefully), it will pass without too much lasting damage. Most of us are doing our part by being “stuck at home,” but many—too many—people have been directly impacted and their lives will never be the same. We need to remember those who are helping it just pass for the rest of us, those people all over our country who are caring for the sick, feeding the poor, and making sure we have a safe and functioning world to come back to once we can emerge from our homes. For that we will all be forever indebted and we should show all our deepest gratitude.
Now is the time to give thanks. Have a pen and paper? Write thank you notes for the heroes working in our emergency rooms and ICUs. Thank our healthcare workers and those working in heathcare settings doing everything from intubating patients and reading x-rays to cleaning floors and changing sheets. A doctor friend of mine spent four days at one of the hardest hit hospitals a couple of weeks ago and said that the orders of pizza and small gestures meant an incredible amount to them as they spent long days away from their families saving ours.
We should also being showing gratitude to those we’re stuck at home with. Will we all get on each others nerves? Absolutely. But take some time to appreciate the ones that are yours—both family and friends. It’s the time to hug our kids a little tighter, to really look at them and figure out what makes them laugh and what interests them most. It’s the time to reconnect with family members and friends and remember what they mean to us and what they bring to our lives. And to be grateful for all of it.
3. Build Resilience
Change is always going to be more effective, most positive, and lead to better outcomes when we have resilience. Without resilience, we can’t lead through change, never mind successfully manage through change, never mind work or live in an environment of constant change compounded by uncertainty. The good news is that resilience—our ability to recover, adapt, and grow in response to change—is like a muscle and we can develop it over time. To build resilience, try to be flexible and think proactively. Take a deep breath, reframe your reality in your mind, and work to see the positive—any positive—in this situation. Whether personal, like being home to tuck your kids in at night, or work-related, like having time to connect with colleagues you haven’t worked with in ages, there are things that we can do to make good use of our current situation. We can also look for inspirational stories of people and companies working together to make masks or retrofit assembly lines at microbreweries, like Old Fourth Distillery in Atlanta and Dogfish Head in Delaware, to make hand sanitizer.
By comparing where we are now to where we thought we’d be, we’ll just send ourselves into a downward spiral. Being proactive and using our time wisely to catch up on things that have fallen off of our to do lists will help us reframe our reality into a more positive existence. Taking action can give us a sense of control, making the change see less uncertain and, therefore, less scary. Stay connected to your friends and family. Check in on your parents, grandparents, kids, elderly neighbors (remotely of course) and make sure they’re okay. Thinking of others increases our own sense of capability and, in turn, resilience.
4. Manage Stress
Stop watching so much of the news. And when you do, pick the most objective coverage that you can find. (I was a journalism major in undergrad, so always happy to have the “news” versus “opinion” conversation one-on-one). Go for a walk or a run, whichever is your thing. If you’re not allowed out on the street, take a cue from the British man who ran a marathon on his 23-foot long balcony—way to go Elisha Nochomovitz! For those so inclined, meditate or do some yoga. And laugh, a lot if you can. Funny memes, videos, group texts, whatever it takes to try to keep things a little lighter will help us all get through this. Thank you to Chris Mann for your Hello (from the Inside)video on YouTube—brilliant. I had tears. If you need some amusing entertainment, turn on Cupcake Wars. Or, lightly binge on Tiger King and let Joe Exotic take you away to the land of crazy. Above all, get enough sleep. Binge-watching Netflix may seem like a great idea at the time, but will absolutely backfire into stress and anxiety and a feeling of lack of control before long.
5. Gain Perspective
Remember what is good in your life. Watch or read stories about people helping people. Think about those things for which you are grateful and about all of those people working hard to get us through this. Yes, kids, teens, and young adults will miss out on spring breaks and field days, proms and graduations, tournaments and maybe even (but hopefully not!) summer camps. Many of us will miss out on family get-togethers and Passover and Easter celebrations. But, in the greater scheme of things, with a little resilience and a lot of perspective, we will get through this intact and ready to power forward, maybe with a new respect for others once this is all said and done.
Each of us has the potential to influence our own reality and regain a sense of control. We can choose to hibernate and worry and be fearful or we can choose to help, to show gratitude, and to do whatever it takes, no matter how small a gesture, to make this horrible situation a little easier everyone. Things will go back to normal, maybe a new normal, but still a version normal. Humans have remarkable abilities to forget hardships and to carve out new realities. Until we get there, be a model for your family, your friends, your team, your tribe. Help them find some control in their days, weeks, and possibly the coming months. It might be impossible to embrace this change, but we owe it to ourselves and all of those on the front lines, to help where we can, to show gratitude widely, and to celebrate the good that we do see around us. We got this. Together (even while we’re apart) we can do great things. We should come out the other side more grateful for each other, for the gifts that we do have, and maybe with our priorities a little closer to the right place. These are certainly wins that we can embrace, at least a little bit, in this time of unprecedented change.
Stay safe and thank our healthcare workers.