Where Sunlight Streams
Tomorrow there'll be sunshine
And all this darkness past
Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams
‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ by Bruce Springsteen
In our Perspectives Post two weeks ago, I talked about the extraordinary creativity emerging out of this global dark wood, bringing inspiration and hope to many. I also talked about my experience over the last few weeks and what has helped me come through my own dark wood: Crisis into Creativity: through the dark wood. We are living in one world, experiencing a common threat to humanity, but we are also each experiencing this differently and it is very tempting to descend into guilt or condemnation. The health workers battling on the frontline, the wealthy families out in the countryside, the person in solitary isolation living in a Metropolis with no outdoor space and no work are all seemingly on different planets, but beneath the surface and all the videos pumping out on social media, there will often lie a very different story. We cannot – and must not – pretend that the burden is shared equally. As Emilie Maitlis brilliantly put it on Newsnight: “The disease is not a great leveller, the consequences of which everyone - rich or poor - suffers the same. This is a myth which needs debunking. Those on the front line right now – bus drivers and shelf stackers, nurses, care home workers, hospital staff and shop keepers – are disproportionately the lowest paid members of our workforce. They are more likely to catch the disease because they are more exposed. Those who live in tower blocks and small flats will find the lockdown tougher. Those in manual jobs will be unable to work from home.” Maitlis’ insight was tragically validated by grim statistics released by the ONS this morning, indicating that Covid-19’s death rate in the UK’s most deprived areas is more than double the death rate in the most affluent areas. And yet, whilst acknowledging the unjustifiable inequality on display, we must also accept that we all need each other. This lockdown takes its toll in more ways than can be measured solely by the spread of Covid-19. While our attention is rightly fixated on the virus, people of all walks of life are being outflanked by the rapidly rising (albeit less visible) threats of depression, anxiety and domestic violence. We will not tackle any of these threats in isolation, or by exclusively looking after our own tribe. We will only come through this with our humanity in tact if we connect to a higher vision: that we can and must support our fellow human beings. What we need is empathy, smart thinking and innovative - without borders - solutions. My favourite question right now is: ‘How can we best help each other?’ I asked my clients how they are experiencing lockdown and how they are keeping psychologically healthy. And also, what mindset and behavioural changes they’d like to bring with them post lockdown. Elizabeth: Living in central London with her family and working in the corporate sector. 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. 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. And then came the sunny, 4-day Easter holiday weekend. I was able to pause and think! I realised that while I couldn’t control the Government’s decisions on managing COVID-19, I could control my own reaction and how I chose to deal with the challenges now facing us. It was clear the lockdown was going to go on longer than expected and to get through it I had to treat this like any other challenge in my life. From that point on I consciously changed my mindset and took control over how I was going to react and behave under lockdown. I chose to believe it was an opportunity and not chaos: an opportunity to spend quality time with my children, family and friends, even if done virtually, to still add value at work, and to change and develop new habits that can last past the lockdown. To maintain this “control” I need to keep my energy levels up by eating well, sleeping better and continuing with daily exercise even if only to take a quick walk in the rain. For me it is equally important that I remain flexible and open minded to spot new opportunities as they arise and to be able to adapt to changes as needed, even if it’s simply to allow extra screen time instead of reading. And to also let myself have a moment of sadness for the things/events I cannot control. Dylan:
Living and working in New York City.
The general mood in New York, and for me personally, is not to think about the crisis. The constant analysis and reanalysis feels a bit like taking toll in the wake of a bomb blast. The city is adopting this stoicism, doing what’s right, and waiting for others to do the same. That’s the best and only way we’ll manage in this very invisible but real crisis, and I hope others do the same. Some of the ways I’ve coped include finding outlets that are stimulating and fulfilling, including running further than I’ve ever, and delving into my passions with more time and care than I’ve had in years. These moments of joy are precious and not taken for granted, knowing so many cannot do the same right now. We’ll see what the future brings. But I won’t rush to get there. There’s not much else we can do but wait.
Tiffany Sword: 32 years old, based in London, MD of a privately run investment firm and 6 months pregnant. Whilst the lockdown has been disorientating, upsetting and at times, overwhelming in how drastic the measures and subsequent implications have been; for me personally it has also been a blessing in disguise. The main thing that has helped me during this period of ‘enforced pause’ is to treat it as an opportunity and there are a few learnings I’m going to do my best to hold on to when the lockdown’s over. Here are a few of them…
1. I had been rushing
The fact that we’ve all had to stay put for a while has made me realise the pace at which I was rushing around before. To begin with the slower pace was difficult, but over time I find that I’m thinking more clearly, better focussed on priorities and generally more effective. At 6 months pregnant, I’m very grateful to have realised I needn’t go at such a strenuous pace before the next phase starts…!
2. Meetings can be a total waste of time
Going into the office is a social thing as much as anything else and I do miss the team I work with, but I’ve realised that meetings can be shorthand for switching off and wasting an hour or so during the day. The disappearance of this type of meeting during lockdown has made me realise that I found them draining and unnecessary and will be avoiding them when we go back. It would be better and more fun to get stuff done then leave the office and go to the pub (I do miss pubs!).
3. I really like my husband
Obviously a more personal one but I’ve loved having lunch with Sam every day and generally spending more time together when we’re not both tired and depleted. During a time of uncertainty and sadness, it’s been amazing that we’ve laughed more. But maybe that’s what happens in a crisis, you remember that a delicious lunch in the spring sunshine is more important (and certainly more fun) than an empty inbox. Trey: A young professional in the Washington DC metropolitan area, working for one of the big four accounting firms. The sun illuminates every inch of my bedroom. My Boston terrier laying on her side, stretches all four limbs as if doing sideways yoga. She walks over and plants her two front paws square on my chest and stares right into my eyes without blinking. I slowly open one eye knowing that if she catches the slightest hint of either eye moving, she will commence licking my face as to say, “oh great, since you’re already up let’s start the day!” Some may find this method of waking up annoying, but the COVID-19 virus has placed me and many others in home quarantine; so I rather enjoy waking up to a pup that is excited to see me, and not the usual alarm blaring to force me out of bed. Being abruptly quarantined at home and taken out of the normal cycle of life may present social and economic challenges; it also presents an opportunity to build bonds with immediate family and restore faith in our ability to lay aside differences and selfishness to achieve a common goal. The recommended quarantine and social distancing practically eliminates all in person social gatherings. My family and I have found creative ways to deal with the issue of staying connected to extended family and friends. From using apps to facilitate virtual game nights, to teaming up and playing online with audio enabled games on consoles and watching the same films and tv shows then discussing them as a collective on social media. The virtual connections provide a sense of normalcy in this time that is anything but normal. The mandatory telework has given me the gift of copious amounts of time with family members in my household. My adult life has been spent working to provide for my family balanced with trying to enjoy enough time with them. For me, this extended quarantine removed the balancing act and inadvertently strengthened my relationship with every individual in my household. I choose to see every day at home as an extraordinary opportunity to seize time and hand it directly to those who give my life purpose. While we are living through an unprecedented and very difficult time where we have seen the closure of schools nationwide, millions of people filing for unemployment benefits, small businesses forced to close their doors, and widespread panic clearing out the shelves of grocery stores, humankind is extremely resilient. We have come out more knowledgeable and equipped to handle crisis after world wars, deadly pandemics, and devastating natural disasters. I have no doubt in my mind that we will learn from our mistakes, institute proactive measures to swiftly deal with a future outbreak, cherish the time we spent with family, and work to rebuild and restore the lives of people who have lost so much. Looking back, we will see that although we were challenged with a deadly outbreak that forced us to lockdown entire nations, we came together as one with the full force of mankind and were made stronger and more resilient in the process. Karin Verheijen: Living in the Alsace region in France and mainly working in Switzerland as managing partner of Exactio Ltd, a start-up consulting firm providing tax, social security, payroll and global mobility services. The Lockdown hit me in the face when I came down to the kitchen on that Monday morning, 16 March, to discover that my husband had set-up his ´office´ there and was already having his first Skype call with his team discussing the emergency situation. His company had closed the offices overnight as one of their employees tested positive with the Coronavirus. I was not allowed to make any noise, let alone using the Nespresso-machine to brew my much-needed morning coffee. Having just started working from home myself one and a half month earlier and still being in process of establishing my own routines, I felt that I already lost ´my space´ even before I had the chance to get more accustomed to it. So, I started this Lockdown feeling annoyed, scared and uncertain as to how I was going to survive this with a husband full-time at home and not being able to go anywhere, other than the grocery store. My biggest worries and concerns were that I could not meet up with my friends, colleagues or family and that we could not go on the various holidays that we had planned in the coming weeks. Having struggled so hard initially to accept the very restrictive measures taken here in France, it is very surprising – especially for myself – that now, after almost seven weeks’ confinement, I wish that we will not go back to ´normal´ too quickly. Even the cancelled holidays, the missed 55th wedding anniversary celebration of my parents, my husband´s 50th birthday, celebrated with just me as a party guest, and the numerous drinks, dinners and lunches with friends and colleagues that did not happen, does not change my overall positive feeling about this period. So, what helped me get through it so far and turn it into a positive experience? A few crucial decisions I made for myself:
Being already in a change mode and mindset professionally, after giving up a big corporate career and starting my own business, we decided to adapt our marketing strategy and use the extra time we got now with business stalling to do all those things we never have time for and to focus on being prepared for when the market picks up again.
I continued the focus on my own health. I went alcohol-free in January and decided to continue this at least until the end of the Lockdown, together with adopting a healthy diet.
I started to make daily walks in our neighborhood. In France, we are only allowed to be out of the house for a maximum of one hour a day so the rebel in me wanted to make use of this ´allowance' to the fullest. During these walks, I discovered the beautiful forests, hillsides and woodlands literally just on my doorstep, I am enjoying the gorgeous weather and see nature coming to life a bit more every day. My husband started to join me on these daily walks, and it has become our time for exchanging what was happening in our ´offices´ (he is still in the kitchen but the coffee machine moved into my office/room which has a closed door!) and how to deal with the unknown.
I make more effort to be in contact with my family and friends, using all the media and technology tools we have available now. It was great to experience how my parents and in-laws (both in their late 70s) embraced technology now that we are not able to visit them in person. There is no way in the world that my mother would have ever video-called on WhatsApp, or my father in law Face Timed, if we would not have been in the situation.
I am curious to see how the world and the ´new normal´ will look like whenever the Lockdown is behind us. I am convinced that we will be the same after this experience, and I also believe that society and business will be different. Many of us have realized that we do not need to be busy and ´on the go´ all the time, that it can be absolutely great to enjoy time at home with the family, that we do not need to be physically in the office every day, surviving horrible commutes, to be productive. What amazed me the most is how fast nature recovers and takes over again once humans give it more space. I am excited about my own experience and determined to stay on the positive path by continuing the lifestyle changes I have adapted during this period.