Climbing Out of the COVID Rabbit Hole and Looking Back, Forward and Up

It feels like I’ve been in a rabbit hole for the last 8 weeks. 

Photograph by Richard Barnes. Set Design by Jill Nicholls

Who knew Hey What’s Next?, would be THE question on everybody’s mind these days?

It feels as if we’ve been under some kind of weird siege and we’ve had to “hole-up”
until there’s some sort of all-clear signal. My personal time/space continuum has gotten seriously messed. Tuesdays feel no different than Saturdays and it all just kind of melds together.The crisis has been physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, political, and existential.
It’s individual and collective. Hope you and yours are doing ok.

I’m more grateful than ever for coffee!  My morning coffee ritual has been one of those little things that help “ground” me. One of those familiar and comforting constants that stays the same when all else seems to have changed.

What’s helping keep you grounded and going these days? (In a good way) However small or weird it may seem, if it’s working for you, please share. It may help others as well. Shoot me a note and I’ll share it with everyone next time. Deal?

BTW. Feel free to pass this along and invite other readers. Easy signup here. 

Yup. I’ve had that holed-up feelin’ for about the last 8 weeks now.

Finally, it’s semi-safe to pop my head out and have a look around. (appropriately masked, gloved, and socially distanced of course)

Much like the fierce rabbit characters in “Watership Down” (a tale of survival and adventure) we all had to scurry to our respective warrens and hole up ‘til the outside threats of danger subside. The pandemic has upended things with breathtaking speed.

Our hopes and plans for the future have been compressed to almost nothing. We’re flying blind into a foggy future. If we make plans or draw assumptions that don’t embrace uncertainty as an all-encompassing factor, we’ll get messed for sure.

Side Note Rant Re: Uncertain Times

The ubiquitous phrase “these uncertain times” bothers me in several ways.
It dismisses the pain and disruption that many people are experiencing right now.

Yeah, we’re feeling uncertainty alright. But many are feeling far worse as well. Some are dealing with the certainty of being painfully sick. Others are worried sick about their loved ones. Millions are grieving the certainty of loss, while others are living in fear of layoffs that are certainly coming. Hordes of people are feeling intense loneliness, confusing disruption, or getting squirrely with cabin fever. So, these are not just “uncertain times.” They are also painful times, distressing times, sad times, frightening times, and so much more. “Uncertain times” seems like such a woefully inadequate description.

It also feels like a phrase coming from a position of considerable privilege, people who haven’t lost their jobs, who aren’t worried about their health, whose loved ones are well, and who are relatively comfortable during this pandemic. The worst thing in their lives is right now is the inconvenience of uncertainty.

Truth slap!  I’m probably one of these people, at least so far. My angst these days is mostly due to uncertainty related inconveniences.  My decades in the housing and health sector taught me that there are those around us who are poor or powerless, people whose lives are regularly disrupted or devastated by things beyond their control. They live with a measure of uncertainty that—honestly—is rare in my life.  I need to remember that millions of others are struggling with much worse.

I’m thinking of those, and I want to be compassionate and helpful in tangible ways.

Looking Back 

Realize this. Our generation has never had to face a world event of this magnitude. My pattern-seeking, data gathering brain immediately goes into hyperdrive to make some sense of it all.

Just one hundred short years ago, the civilized world was reeling from the effects of WWI.

By the end of 1918, twenty-million people had been killed. In that same year, 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic broke out. Combined these two world events killed approximately 50 million people, which included mostly young, healthy people.

Then came the roaring 1920’s and people felt good for a while. That is until the Great Depression began, putting 15% to 25% of people out of work for years. And what was it that ended the Great Depression?  World War II, which caused the deaths of about 70 million people between 1939 and 1945.
For almost the first half of the 20th century, the world was slogging through one big honkin’ disaster after another. Those were hard times, but people got through them, and later prospered like never before.

COVID-19 is a big problem, but in hard comparison to past world-shaping events, it’s not quite as catastrophic.
Our familial grandparents and great grandparents had to walk through all this stuff. Both world wars, a global depression multiple economic collapses, political revolutions, and much more.

Each time, they didn’t acquiesce and say “well, I guess this is the new normal… we’ll be at war or depressed forever.” Yes, those events shaped them and changed their worldview, but it wasn’t like they emerged into a completely new way of living.
They adapted and moved on. They innovated.

I suggest we’ll do the same.

The takeaway? Own your mindset. Protect it

“It’s entirely possible to be both realistic and optimistic at the same time.”

Yes, it’s a tough time, and there’s a chance of more difficulty before it gets better. It’s important during this time to stay clear-headed and acknowledge the challenges while maintaining a sense of hope in the midst of it all.

Hope is not just a feeling. It can also be a plan.

Looking Ahead  

Of course, the immediate future presents a difficult set of problems.
All the easy ones are already solved.
Difficult problems are precisely what we as leaders sign up for, right?

Here, in no particular order, are a few emerging trends that I think will become more mainstream.

URL (virtual connecting) AND IRL (in real life)
It’s like these two very different things got popped into a high-speed blender and totally homogenized. Can’t say I’m totally used to this yet, but adapting.

Touchless – I love hugs and handshakes.  This won’t be okay, at least for a while now.  On another front, public touch screens and keypads will still be the enemy, too. Touchless payments and digital transactions will be a big part of the new normal.

Concise and to the point- We’re in attention overload. Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock, pointed to the overall mental state brought on by unrelenting change.

This pandemic has been the tipping point factor that’s caused a lot of people and situations to hit a wall. The result is that people will begin to need everything to be brief, compact, and repeated. More prompting and instruction could be the new protocol.

Green(er) – It’s hard to want to go back to driving my car everywhere when I see satellite images of how air pollution has dropped since we all were forced to stay home. Luxury travel and exotic vacations via planes and boats all are going to get a serious re-think.

Different /Better Work – Work colleagues have seen us in our jeans and a hoodie now. Kids and dogs are increasingly a part of Zoom business meetings. Why do we have to stay so formal? And why waste so much time?  Meetings for the sake of meetings has never been my thing!  Learning to teach, lead, and manage remotely just became the new must-have skillset.

Gig Economy – and work from home. Job monogamy has been in decline for some time now It appears we’re going deeper on this one. Big corporations are taking notice and following.
We have a capacity for more fluid interactions. More than one boss. More than one team.

Creative Renaissance – What’s happened during quarantine? A lot more art. More music.
A lot more business creativity. It seems forced downtime gets the creative juices flowing.

Take a moment to think about whichever ones resonate with you.
Better yet, shoot me a note or book a “let’s just talk” time. I’d love to hear
your thoughts and ideas around this.

Looking Up 

Generations of writers have used the “peaks and valleys” of life analogy, so let’s go with that for a bit.

Each successive change in life comes with its own built-in dip. You know – a downside, a trough, and an upside. Change management researchers tell us we can’t avoid the dip. We just have to find our way through it.

This infographic courtesy of J.M.Fischer explains it beautifully.

On the downside of the curve, we experience a whole range of seemingly unrelated random negative emotions (of fear, anger, denial)

At the bottom, or the trough is where the existential questions arise. Who am I? where am I going?

The trough is the fertile zone for finding resilience. Bill George in his book True North calls these times “crucible moments”

This is where we re-prioritize, rediscover, or perhaps reconnect with a personal faith tradition. We human beings are after all spiritual beings with intellect, creativity, will, and purpose. (not just a bunch of sophisticated bio plumbing with a survival instinct)

Other sample questions might be:
What brings me meaning and joy? What do I really want?
Where do I want to be? What do I want to build?
What do I have control over/absolutely no control over?
Where do I need to fight?
What do I need to surrender?

By processing the negative emotions that come on the downhill side and digging deep on personal meaning, goals, and direction, then and only then, can we begin to contemplate processing forward and looking up. Here’s where individuals find their resilience factors

If you can find your way past “the trough” then there’s really nowhere to start looking other than up.

Face it. Everything just became so different. Life and work just got more intertwined than ever, and really, none of us have enough time left on the planet to hide and worry.
The pace of change in and of itself can be mentally exhausting and physically draining.

There’s an additional undercurrent of anxiety and It doesn’t take much to set people off or get a little bonkers. I’ll pick up on that thought next time.

Meanwhile, stay safe and strong.

Until next time,

Lorne