Surviving and Thriving in Change. Blog 4: Making sense of our experiences in lockdown
The final blog in a series of four by Creative Coach Auriel Majumdar exploring the impact of Coronavirus. Written in real time over April, May and June 2020 they look at how the new reality is affecting us as individuals and those around us. Each blog also gives tried and tested practical strategies that help us navigate the way forward.
This final blog in the series has been a long time coming. Sitting down to write at the end of May I was thinking about lockdown easing and what it would be like to go out into the world again. Then the Dominic Cummings scandal hit and, to be quite frank I was thrown into a state of anger and mistrust that blocked my voice. We were just starting to adjust to the implications of that situation when the dreadful events in the United States blew up and suddenly the Black Lives Matter movement became even more urgent than how we were all responding to the pandemic.
I was talking to an artist friend of mine recently and she said that whenever we think we’ve reached the bottom, that things are as bad as they can be then the bottom falls out again. I really identify with what she said but I’m an optimistic person at heart and so I’m going to use this final blog as a chance to think about how we can make sense of our experiences in lockdown and find joy while we are living in turmoil. If this is the new normal, how can we support ourselves and each other to flourish and thrive in the face of an uncertain future?
Let me start by saying that I firmly believe that good times will return eventually. I’ve been around long enough to know that things always change and I’m with the poet Stephen Spender when he tells us to ‘accept what passes and believe what stays”.
At the start of the pandemic we had high hopes of each other, we stood outside our homes in solidarity with and clapped for our carers. We came together as communities and this support felt real and important even though it mostly happened online. This hasn’t proved to be a passing fad as the huge support for the Black Lives Matter movement has shown. We may be mostly living isolated lives but together we have educated ourselves, we have discussed racism with our friends and families, some of us have donated money or spoken out on our social media platforms or braved the coronavirus to stand in support at protests. We have stood up for what is right.
This is what is giving me most hope at the moment – imagine if we could continue to speak our truth no matter what the future brings.
Like many of us, the last fourteen weeks since I went into lockdown have given me plenty of time to think and here are the things I’ve learned. I share them here in the hope that they might support you as you draw your own conclusions about how you want to live and work.
Connection and Flexibility
- I’ve been working with many organisations during lockdown and the most successful ones are those that understand the importance of connection and flexibility. Paying attention to how people are doing and providing opportunities for teams to come together informally really pays off in terms of enhanced wellbeing and motivation. The organisations that have flourished are those that aren’t afraid to show their human face and who value more than performance and output. I have worked with one great arts organisation for instance who have rotated their furlough arrangements so that everyone takes a turn and no-one is singled out. Another large organisation has put in weekly no-agenda zoom meetings for coffee and checking in with each other. Arrangements like this need careful managing but are really worthwhile for the human benefits they bring. As individuals we can take this approach too, connecting in ways that suit us and being flexible and creative about how we interact with the world.
Leadership - modelling hope and encouragement
- It seems to me that one of the main functions of Leadership during the pandemic has been to model hope and encouragement. Leaders aren’t fortune tellers and can’t predict how the virus is going to take its course. But they can remain optimistic, they can re-assure people that they will be honest and transparent and they can commit to communicating well. Being this sort of leader means that you have to take care of yourself too of course, you can’t pour from an empty cup as they say. And this is true whether you’re in a formal leadership role or home-schooling or supporting those around you in any way. I firmly believe that learning and reflection are essential components of self-care as I’ve described in a previous blog. Making regular time for stillness and reflection even in the midst of rapid change shows a commitment not only to yourself but also the people who rely on you. Make sure to do what restores you so that your reserves of energy don’t run dry.
Take a shorter-term view
- It’s very easy to be discouraged in the face of uncertainty. No-one can tell us if or when a second wave of the virus will come and the economic forecasts are catastrophic. Looking too far into the future is not helpful though and I would suggest taking a shorter-term view. What can you control or influence today? And this coming week? And this month? I am currently supporting a leadership team in their strategy development and they have decided to focus on the next six months. They know what their ambitions are in the long run but agreed that setting themselves targets for a year’s time or longer might be to set themselves up to fail. On an individual level I’d suggest this approach too. Dreaming about the future is necessary for all of us but set yourselves near goals too so you can have a sense of achievement now when you need it most. I have just booked myself onto a poetry-writing workshop with a poet I love, Kate Clanchy. It’s a small thing but I’m excited for it and know I’ll feel great afterwards. And who knows where it might lead. One day at a time seems a sensible strategy to me at the moment. Enjoy the sweet moments of each day, the days will add up and before you know it, we are in the future we dreaded and all is well.
Moments of crisis are also moments of opportunity and although this pandemic has done great harm it has also brought with it a chance to re-evaluate the way we do things, to decide what is important. Who would have anticipated the new ways we have found to work together and the things we’ve shared? We have valued the important things in our lives, health, support and togetherness and I hope that never changes. We have had conversations about meaningful things like never before. I also hope that this blog series has helped you through this strange and difficult time and encouraged you to notice the things in your life that bring you pleasure and affirmation so that you can take those forward with you into whatever comes next.
Main image: © David Shrigley
Aurel Majumdar, Creative Coach, June 2020