Let me be crystal clear: No one is an expert at navigating this current situation.
I hesitate to advise anyone right now on coping because I’m having my own challenges. However, I’m making some things work and I’ve tried some things that didn’t work. My hope is that what I’ve learned can also be of value to you.
Before COVID-19, I thought I had working from home mastered. I did, in fact. I had a routine and it was all on the calendar. I had an app my clients could use to set up appointments. I was prompt. I liked being prompt. I had my business stuff together.
I spent the first couple of weeks in the Poconos with my family. We were as secluded as we could be from people. I have suffered from serious respiratory illness for two years in a row. One of those years nearly broke us financially, so I was not about to take chances in my lovely, close-knit neighborhood. We taught our kids how to properly social distance, but the moment a dog came by, they completely ignored us (I also have one kid with ADHD who lacks impulse control.)
Those two weeks in the Poconos felt a little like a vacation. I continued to work, albeit with a spotty internet connection. It wasn’t sustainable, but it worked for the time we were there. I kept all of my appointments. I even landed a new client. I set realistic deliverable dates for my client’s work and scaled back my curriculum for my students.
My kids logged into school apps even though they weren’t required to, so they got a taste of distance learning.
We didn’t have the usual chores. We didn’t see many people at all. We went to the lake, played ping-pong, worked on puzzles, played card/board games and watched movies. We celebrated St. Paddy’s Day and my first born’s big 10th birthday. We had plenty to eat and drink. For the most part, it was an ideal way to transition into stay-at-home life.
We returned home to a missing chameleon and a dead turtle. Right away, my anxiety spiked.
I knew there was a lot to do, but I felt a bit frozen. I gave myself grace.
That kicks things off with lesson #1.
Lesson #1: Give Yourself Grace
There’s already so much to feel anxious about. Give yourself grace when it comes to getting things done on a normal timeline. Don’t commit yourself to anything too soon. Allow for those times when news hits you like a ton of bricks. We are all grieving our old lives! You might be angry, frustrated, worried, glum, whatever… Allow it. Allow everyone else to feel their feelings as well. Extending grace to others doesn’t mean accepting abuse, but it might look like taking a few verbal punches you don’t need right now. Walk away when it’s needed. Feel free to communicate, “It’s okay to be angry (or whatever,) but it’s not okay to take it all out on me. Find another outlet (see below.)”
Lesson #2: Communicate Specifically What You Need
Last week, I set an expectation that since I am the primary worker bee, I’d need support to make sure I have ample time and conducive conditions to work. Once we got home, I was interrupted many times by kids not knowing how to log in, missing passwords, not understanding assignments, etc. My husband was busy, too, but with basement organizing.
I didn’t communicate my expectations clearly enough and I left my door open, which was misleading.
Clear delegation: I had to have another talk with my husband while keeping in mind he is stressed and losing patience, too. I specifically told him I need him to be the point person. I need him to check for e-mails from the teachers daily. I passed on to him everything I know (so far) about what websites they need to log into, passwords, hours I’d need him to reliably be supervising the kids, etc. At school, our youngest daughter had an aide, someone with divine patience, to make sure she was on task. This wasn’t going to look like just letting them log in and leaving them be.
Boundaries: I used the whiteboard to start mapping out a schedule so that everyone would know when I was “on the clock” and not to be disturbed. I made it clear that there would be certain hours during the day that they would not be able to ask me a question. They might see me getting coffee, stretching my legs, etc., but that was not a signal that I was free.
Systems: I explained to my family members that the tasks I usually spend time asking them to do should just be automatically done – picking up socks, putting away toys, cleaning up the table after meals, etc. This has never worked before, so my fingers are crossed on this one. I made a list of all the fun family things we can still do together, then explained that if my work gets interrupted, I’d have to take things off that list simply by virtue of the fact that I will not have the free time to do it. This has made this concept a little more tactile.
Once I know that we have found a flow, I’ll adjust my appointment calendar and be able to let clients self-book once again. It’s all felt so unpredictable. My brother and his family are 3 weeks into distance learning and they’ve settled into routines and seem much more relaxed. I’m looking forward to finding that rhythm and predictability.
Lesson #3: Find Several Outlets
A physical outlet: Playing ping-pong (Huller-pong, technically – as we play full contact) was awesome! It was physical (our way of playing is) and it was hilarious. It allowed us to let off some steam in a healthy way. Find something physical you can do alone and with your family.
A cathartic outlet: I see a lot of people clearing out their junk drawers and basements. Don’t feel like you have to tackle that right now if you don’t feel up to it yet. You can start smaller, like coloring or organizing your sock drawer.
A consumption outlet: Find something you can consume every day (photos, stories, videos, music) that uplifts and grounds you.
A creative outlet: It matters not what you create, just that you create! Paperclips, paper, strings hanging off an old shirt, there’s bound to be something in your home you can use to create. Learn how to make masks for your local frontline healthcare workers or food preparers. If there’s nothing physical, create in your mind such as a story, a song, a poem, you get the idea.
A nature outlet: I see many people are starting gardens. If you don’t have a yard and the parks by you are closed, bring some nature inside. Order a plant to be delivered to your home, especially if you live alone! I also see people are adopting or fostering pets.
A negativity outlet: When it really gets bad, have a go-to – a pillow you can punch or scream into, something (not living) you can squeeze. Destroy some weeds or lanternfly eggs.
A quiet/calm outlet: Create as much of a sense of calm as you can as often as possible. Breathe. Zoom in and notice the detail on things of beauty, especially in nature. The more calmness you can create in your mind, the more you can prepare your brain for higher levels of conscious decision-making and action. You can’t change the circumstances you are in, but you can change your reaction. You’ll thank yourself later.
Of course, you can also quiet your mind by journaling! Your descendants and even future strangers will want to know about this time in the world. Put your thoughts down. Get them out of your head. Negative thoughts will lose their grip the moment you put them on a page for the light of day to see. It is so very helpful in creating peace in your mind.
A learning outlet: Maybe it’s time to see what kind of software came free on your device that you never tested out. There are so many online learning opportunities right now. Epic Careering will soon launch its own Corporate Consciousness Ripple Blueprint program to help more conscious leaders and aspiring leaders master influence to move their companies toward making conscious decisions with reverence for people and the planet. For more details, contact me directly through social media or join our Facebook group: Raising Corporate Consciousness.
Right now, it’s okay to not feel okay. Do what you can as you can. As time passes, some things will get easier and some things will be harder. We will get through this together.
Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a 13-year-old leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where some of her students won the 2018 national competition, were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award.