I work as a marketing director at a medium-sized firm and I’m a longtime reader of your column. My company reacted quickly to the warnings about COVID-19 and sent all of us home last week. My spouse is a frontline manager for a larger firm across town that couldn’t send employees home because of the type of work they do (customer service center), so they are practicing social distancing.
Our daughter came home from college after her university shut its doors. Our parents are doing well—even though they aren’t being as good at social distancing as they should—and the pantry is in decent shape for the next few days. My question is “Now what?”
It looks as if we are going to be in this situation for at least a couple of weeks—possibly longer. What advice do you have for me as I make the transition from being super reactive to having a broader sense of what’s next? I know it’s going to be different for everyone based on the various situations people are facing. Some of us are bored and inconvenienced, like my daughter who is mad the retail stores are closed. Some of us are scared we might lose our jobs until customers come back. And others are working harder than ever trying to find short-term solutions to the sudden drop in business.
Any thoughts on smart next steps?
Dear Now What,
We are all facing the specter of a potential new normal. People are struggling with how to manage workers who have never had to work from home. Some are facing extreme isolation and loneliness with the loss of their regular workday structure and environment. And hourly workers in the hospitality and service industries are completely without income right now. I was my hairdresser’s very last client a few days ago and she hasn’t the vaguest idea how she is going to make her mortgage payments.
I was recently up in the middle of the night wringing my hands over the fact that three of my four adult children will not be generating much revenue in the next few months. I finally remembered one of my favorite coaching techniques: Worst Case Scenario Thinking. I realized quickly that, worst case, they could all move in with my husband and me. It would be tight, but worst case, we would ration food and repeatedly run out of hot water. And I would have to kick one kid out of what is now my office during the workday. If we were to lose our house, well, I guess we would go camp out at my in-laws.
I do think that the banks and landlords are going to have to forgive mortgage payments and rents for a while. We are, very literally, all in this together. Governments in every nation will have to step in to help those who are now unemployed.
For now, use other classic coaching techniques to get yourself grounded:
- Take a step back and try to see the big picture.
- Distinguish between what you can and cannot control.
- Tap into sources of strength and grace you didn’t know you had by accessing your vision of your best self and trying to rise to it.
- Brainstorm ways to take best care of yourself, your team if you are a leader, and your loved ones.
- Make choices about what you will and will not focus on.
- Create a new structure to manage your new normal.
We simply don’t know what’s going to happen next. All we can do is stay present to what is, and respond as best we can. Find someone who needs help and help them. I’ve found that reaching out to those who are in a bad way by lending an ear helps me to keep from obsessing about my own worries.
We can all still get outside. Go for a walk. Go for a long walk. Go for two walks. Wave to your neighbors. If you have an elderly neighbor, volunteer to take their dog with you on your long walks. Walking has been scientifically proven to make us better creative problem solvers. Being outdoors, especially in nature, has been shown to boost endorphins. My daughter in New York City is finding all kinds of hidden gems in her neighborhood—a beach on the East River! A sculpture garden! Who knew?
In terms of your wayward parents, it might help to remind them that if they end up very sick, it is going to be on you to navigate the ER with them and fight for the services they need.
In times of great crisis and uncertainty, each of us will toggle between rising to our own vision of our best selves and folding like a lawn chair. That’s OK. You can choose to be your own hero—and if you crumple to the floor in a heap of overwhelm and have to take to your bed, so be it. You’re allowed to pull the covers over your head or binge-watch the first five seasons of Friends for a while. You might find that breaking down causes a breakthrough that results in hidden reserves of grace, patience, generosity, and kindness.
Be prepared to settle into the long haul with this. It looks like it could be a marathon. Stay calm, stay grounded, and be kind to yourself first and then to others. I hope like crazy that the loss of retail therapy is the worst of it for your daughter. In the meantime, tell her to read a book!
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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