I have started writing what is now this blog post at least a half a dozen times over the past few months. My 2020 – like most of yours – has been marked by a number of changes, crises, and new experiences that have shifted how I see and show up in the world around me. In this mini-series, I want to share about a few of these experiences and how I am leading through them.
In the 30 day span between mid-February and mid-March, our lives were turned upside down. Our second daughter, Winnie, was born on February 13th. The night of March 2nd, a tornado ripped through our neighborhood. That whole next week, we were without power and dealing with the aftermath of the tornado, including a shattered front window and other small damage to the exterior of our home. In that period, the COVID-19 cases were on the rise throughout the US leading to lockdowns in California and New York. After my parents left Nashville on March 15th, Andi and I made a decision to go into self-quarantine to limit exposure for ourselves, Lucy, and especially Winnie since she didn’t have all her shots. The next week on March 23rd, Tennessee issued their own “Safer at Home” order further reinforcing our decision.
I was on paternity leave during this time, so was able to deal with the all the changes without the added stress of work. But even then, I was overwhelmed. This led me to trying to escape – primarily through hours on Instagram – which only further caused me to be overwhelmed. It was this tremendous feeling of everything continuing to pile on – without any space to process what had already happened.
Leading through change requires you to find a way to break this cycle. For Andi and I, breaking the cycle looked like incorporating specific routines in our monotonous quarantine days. A few examples include one hour of alone time per person per day, daily work-outs on the Peloton, and twice daily emotional check-ins. Leading others through change requires leading yourself through change first.
Start with you. Identify where you are and what you need. Using distractions to avoid introspection impacts your mental health and creates an internal crisis on top of the external one you are already experiencing. Distractions can be generative (for us, post tornado, this was supporting organizations that were rebuilding the community) or destructive (spending 4-6 hours on social media). No distraction is inherently bad by itself, like the lid on a pot of water – it being in place only starts to cause problems when external forces (heat) change the internal make-up of the water causing the pot to boil over. Removing distractions forces you to deal with your internal reaction to external forces.
For me, the transition from new baby and lack of sleep to the tornado to days without power to COVID-19 and isolation was a pot of boiling water on which I put a lid. The boiling over then manifested in anger, frustration and shortness with my family. Taking the lid off – removing distractions and introducing some new, specific routines – helped to break that cycle and admit to myself that I was “not ok” and come up with new ways of to move past my feelings of helplessness. A few of my strategies:
- Identify the things you aren’t confronting and the things you are using to distract yourself from them
- Reflect on what a healthy response would be to those things. Mentally take yourself out of your shoes – if your best friend was sharing these experiences with you, what advice would you give them?
- Write out a list of things in your control and things our of your control
- Come up with a game plan: 3-5 specific, different actions you are going to take to refocus your energy on the things in your control
- If you get stuck in the cycle again (and it will happen), hit “pause” and go to the top of this list!
This is the first post in a series of four posts about leading in crisis. Stay tuned for the second post soon!