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  • Writer's pictureHannah E Greenwood

The Arc

Exactly two years ago I celebrated a threshold birthday: three weeks later there would have been no celebration as we were brutally thrust into lockdown. In a Perspectives Post in early February 2020, I wrote: ‘I shall be celebrating a special birthday in three weeks. Until December, I had been in deeply resistant denial that I could ever reach this age, batting off all heartfelt attempts to persuade me to start planning celebrations. And then I realised in a moment of shock what I was unconsciously almost wishing for: that I would never reach this birthday. I shook myself awake and accepted that arriving at each year/decade is a cause for deep thankfulness and celebration. And, as Mick Jagger once said, it’s way better than the alternative! True Mastery

Then in early March 2020, two weeks before that first lockdown, I wrote: ‘Crossing a threshold into a new chapter is always going to be unsettling at some level. Even if it’s a change we have yearned for… a new home, a baby, a partner, a new job/career…this is not a ‘pick and mix’ change where we control what we want to change and what we don’t. Threshold change is transformational change, internally and externally. It’s about letting go of our known and familiar world and launching into unknown territory and there is bound to be turbulence as we transition from the old to the new’ Crossing the Threshold

Hush my prophetic soul! I was writing about personal and individual change, about how we can empower ourselves to develop an innovative and agile mindset that can respond fast and wisely to external events. It’s what Cascãd does: our clients are all successful transformational change-agent leaders and change always has to start from within, with understanding and changing ourselves. As the pandemic hit, and subsequently progressed, our clients were in a very strong position to withstand the turbulence hitting all aspects of their lives. And they’ve all come through, battle weary yes, but even stronger and with a greater ownership of their power, gravitas and integrity. One of my clients looked at me shortly after we began our coaching relationship four years ago and said: “What you’re really doing is training us to be Jedi Knights.” How right and intuitive he was!

The title for this Perspectives Post is called ‘The Arc’. The Urban Dictionary cites this as ‘the internal change the hero goes through in a story.’ These last two years has been a catalyst for many of us, propelling us on our Hero’s Journey: Our New World: beyond the tribal mindset

Back in May 2020, six weeks into the first lockdown, one of our contributors, Elizabeth, an American living in central London, wrote: ‘I compare the start of the lockdown to taking my family on holiday to an amusement park; we were together, creating our own fun, avoiding crowds and ensuring our children felt safe from scary rides, in this case the news reports. Emotionally I was on a rollercoaster for the first few weeks as I started in denial, then went into a black hole where I emerged feeling ‘thrilled’ at the newness of it all. We entertained ourselves by cooking family meals, playing games and going on long bike rides in deserted London. The days grew busier and longer. Almost overnight I had become both a working and a stay-at-home mum, two for the price of one! My day job was in full swing, only the location had changed from office to the apartment and now I was also the nanny, responsible for the cleaning, cooking and managing the kids 24/7.

I went into autopilot, focusing all my energy on getting through each day. News of COVID-19 continued to be confusing and we soon realised the schools were not going to open after the Easter holidays. Then the feeling of fear came: I was on top of the roller coaster ride and about to fall! I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I had no control. How was I going to be able to get through this lockdown which was turning into chaos because of the uncertainty and the continual restrictions being placed on us? I was exhausted both physically and mentally.’Where Sunlight Streams

Little did we imagine the pandemic would last this long or that it would be internally transformational for so many of us.

And where are we now, two years on? In preparation for this Perspectives Post I asked 5 people to contribute: two in New York, one in Dublin and an American and Australian in central London. This was their brief: ‘As you know we’ve been chronicling the pandemic since April 2020. It’s been a unique experience for everyone and 2020 was very different in feel and energy to 2021. Here’s the question:

‘Having reflected on your experience and observations of these last two years, what learnings/insights regarding your new behaviour and mindset do you want to bring with you into this new post pandemic world?’

Elizabeth: Two years later, we are finally shifting out of the pandemic. It’s been a very challenging two years for many reasons. Not being able to meet up with family and friends was very tough - you can’t imagine what it’s like to travel to my homeland and not be able to see friends for fear they may catch something from you. I have an elderly aunt who I have no idea if I will see again because she is still so scared of catching it.

I have learned to keep a positive outlook and maximise the joy in life by consciously focusing on what I can control, including my own reaction to external events. Having faith and adopting an open mindset with the ability to pivot and be agile is something I am working on to ensure my children incorporate into their lives as they grow too. I’ve become more conscious of my health, eating well and exercising to keep my energy levels up.

Thomas Cardone: With the unexpected 2021 closure of the studio I worked at for the last 17 years, career and lifestyle change was thrust upon me. This pandemic-related transition was painful and unnerving. One that I would never have embarked on otherwise, and I had no choice but to embrace it. The same circumstance that took away my secure routine offered me alternative and fruitful ways to better my work/life balance. I discovered I could be creative about how I work and earn my living. Less guaranteed, more open ended. Working from home has given me the gift of more time spent with my family and schedule flexibility with time for things like exercise.

I came to trust my ability to find rewarding work on my terms, to take some time to find the right situation. I am aware of how fortunate I am for the opportunities I’ve had in my life. The breadth of experience, and where I’m at in my career, afforded me the time to do this. The last year reaffirmed something that I’ve always known: that it’s our relationships that are important in life. All that remains and matters when all is said and done. Breaking away from daily face to face interaction with colleagues/friends this past year, highlighted this for me, once again. The strongest bonds remain and rise to the top.

Settling into my new way of working, and a new structure for my industry in general. I will always cherish what was lost this past year, but I am also excited about the new form it has taken and where it will lead.

Thomas Klemm: Without a doubt - the last two years have been very demanding in so many ways. When I started to think about Hannah’s question, I realized that it might still take me years to properly reflect on what we learned during the pandemic, but I want to highlight 3 thoughts:

1. It’s incredible how humans can adapt! In 2018 we moved from Germany to New York, our favorite city. Only six months after our daughter was born in August 2019 in Manhattan, morgue trucks were lining up in front of the same hospital, one block away from us, and the entire city turned into an epicenter of the pandemic. While it was grim, the thought of leaving the city never entered our mind. We did not come all the way to live our dream to turn around. This city and nation would not exist with a run-away mentality. We felt such a powerful and special bond with those who stayed in the city, and we will certainly not forget those weeks. As a COO, part of my job was to work with my colleagues to keep an organization running and people safe - this was the mission, this is what we had to accomplish. We quickly found ways, adapted new technologies, cared for each other and our clients. While work and our little one kept us busy, we observed how the city recovered - so much quicker than anybody could have imagined - and the city and its people have grown - once again - and reinvented itself.

2. Embrace precious in-person time with family & friends. Certainly, in the 2nd year of the pandemic, ongoing travel restrictions became a real burden to properly connect with family and friends. Couples got separated and could not see each other and even worse, I know too many people who could not even say goodbye to parents or family members who passed away. When my parents were finally able to visit us in New York after more than 1,5 years, I genuinely felt how special the moment was and how much I had missed the opportunity to simply hug them. In this moment, I realized how harsh the pandemic had cut into my closest family relationships, and how precious these personal moments are.

3. Trusting our intuition and values. Reflecting on politics over the last 2 years and how the pandemic was handled across the world is not easy. Which government got it right? In the US, did the Democrats really step up and end up doing a better job than the Republicans? How could supposedly well-organized countries like Germany fail so miserably in dealing with the pandemic? What role did the media play in making the situation more and not less bearable? It’s impossible to properly arrange those thoughts in one paragraph, but I think we saw more chaos and friction than great leadership which did not make it easier. It made me also think how critical it is to trust our own intuition when we make decisions on what to do or whom to follow and listen to.

Damien: Lock down enabled a deepening of friendships. My friends and I usually chat about sport, politics, economics and whatever our children are getting up to at school. However, the nature of our friendship and topics for discussion changed over lockdown.

During this time, one of my friends separated from his wife. It was the first time in my life that any of my friends really opened up on a level I had not experienced before. Having separated from his wife and family, he was isolated from his wider family and other social circles. He really needed to talk: we listened, we enquired, we empathised and slowly we too started to share more about ourselves. I know that I wouldn't have felt comfortable sharing on this deeper level had it not been for one of my friends taking the risk to share more deeply with us. It's as if when one person is deeply truthful, open, honest and sincere about something personal it almost behoves us to reciprocate this deeper level of sharing.

This extraordinary time has shown me that it is good to talk openly. This more personal talk now finds a space in our weekly chats and I'm happy…and thankful…that it does.

Leighton Sharpe:

1. Motivation fluctuates: Life is cyclical. There have been moments in my life when I have been riding a wave of success. Pre-pandemic, I put pressure on myself to ensure that the ‘wave’ of success never crashed. And my motivation for the success had to keep increasing exponentially. Recently I have been quite hard on myself because I have lacked some motivation. There was this pressure to hit the ground running the moment the pandemic was over. I am trying to be gentle and bring kindness in by reminding myself that we have all experienced a trauma in one way or another and that if I hit the ground walking, then that is fine also.

2. Protect my energy: I am a certified ‘yes’ man! I often find myself over-committing/over-exerting myself to the point where there is no fuel left in my energy tank. Through Acting and teaching I’m constantly giving out: offering and exerting my energy. Granted acting, performing and teaching are my passions and fulfil me in different ways and I also love bringing joy to others. But, in the past, I occasionally forgot to love myself too and would neglect my own needs. Moving forward I am trying not to over-commit myself and learn that is okay to simply say No.

3. The Job I do, does NOT define my success: What I do as a career does not define who I am as person. The frenetic energy of my pre-pandemic life was one that I convinced myself I craved and needed in order to achieve life success. I gained validation from each job I booked. This proved problematic once the pandemic hit. Not defining my success by the jobs that I book, has perhaps been one of the greatest life lessons I have learned: that it’s ultimately about who I am, not what I do.

And how about me? What’s been my own Arc over these two years? I know I am not the same woman who entered that first lockdown in March 2020. As I’ve written in other Posts, I was hit immediately on all levels and found myself in solitary isolation and in a very dark wood. Everything was cancelled, personally and professionally, with no sense of when or if the lockdown would end. I am a very tactile, social human animal and before lockdown, I had built a rich tapestry of a life: it brought in my emotional and psychological well-being, my happiness, and also my livelihood. Lockdown was brutal and I reached a very low and dangerous point.

And yet, out of this darkness came immense light and profound internal change.

It took the catalyst of isolation in that first lockdown to force me to own and show my vulnerability and my need for others in a way I have never really done before. I couldn’t have got through this pandemic without the extraordinary love and support of my family and friends but ultimately, I had to fundamentally change my relationship with myself. My ‘critical parent’, that inner voice that drives us so cruelly, was killing me. I had to let go of that judgemental voice and instead develop and listen to my ‘championing parent’, our inner voice that protects and loves us unconditionally and is passionately supportive of our becoming our highest potential as a human being.

And out of this deeper and richer relationship with myself, my relationships with others simultaneously blossomed. All of us here are talking about love and how it took the intensity of the pandemic to force us into awareness of what really matters. As Thomas Cardone says: ‘The last year reaffirmed something that I’ve always known: that it’s our relationships that are important in life.’ And this pandemic has taught us that unconditional love can only start with the relationship with ourselves. Imagine a spring of water, ‘La Source’ in French, deep inside us. If we nourish this ‘source’, it will flow out to others and the world with such joyful abundance.

John Lennon captured this beautifully: ‘It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love or how you love, it matters only that you love. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create.’

Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood


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