“Storms draw something out of us that calm seas don’t.” – Bill Hybels
The COVID 19 pandemic has made 2020 a brutally challenging year for everyone around the world. It is fair to say that people have been affected to varying degrees depending on their personal circumstances. I noticed a quote the other day that highlighted this point for me “We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat”. This really illustrated for me the stark contrast of situations that many people find themselves in during these tough times.
Overnight everything changed dramatically. To vastly changing our personal lives and interactions so we can help protect each other, to businesses and governments radically altering how they operate to support their workers and at the same time stay open and operational.
For me I would say I spent the first couple months in a state of shock, with everything happening near and far seeming surreal. I, like everyone else, just tried to keep my sh*t together. Wake up, do my job, and don’t hurt anyone (rinse and repeat daily).
After a couple of months in this new COVID reality the shock started to fade and I could start to see my patterns of behavior a little more clearly. I discovered facets of my character revealed under the extreme stress presented by COVID and I can honestly say I have some character traits I can be proud of, and some shall I say that could use more than a little work.
I took notice that my words, spoken and written when even remotely negative had a tremendous effect on people’s mental wellbeing and even their ability to function effectively. Even my joking nature was starting to be taken out of context and having a negative impact on people I care deeply about. This felt new to me, as I have always prided myself on my professional business communication and felt I did no harm with my joking, laugh at life self.
My first reaction to experiencing negative feedback to my communication style was full-blown denial. People are too sensitive, I would say to myself. Don’t they realize we are all in the same boat and that we are all stressed out? Big babies! But then it started to sink in; my words are having a negative effect and I knew in my heart that this was never my intention. I started to see clearly our boats are truly different, and it was time for me to make some real and lasting changes.
If any hint of negativity was being amplified by the ambient or even overt stress we are all experiencing day to day, it was time to be fully aware the power of words and actions could have on the moods and attitudes of others. With this in mind I started interacting from a place of compassion and empathy, from there I could gain a deeper understanding of struggles in the moment. I took the position that if I could not be part of a solution, I would default to a neutral observer, with the idea of not making things more difficult for anyone.
From this new place of growing awareness and a genuine position of wanting to help, a strange thing happened, compliments started to spontaneously burst out of me. These outbursts often surprised me with the heartfelt recognition and compassion they contained. Over and over again I found myself noticing when people were being brave, vulnerable, and showing leadership, and I would often (sometimes randomly) step up and recognize them for their efforts. It started to go full circle as people started seeing a “positive change in me” and I began to be recognized from others. One positive vibe started to stack on top of another, building collectively a better situation.
What used to be sarcastic jokes are now heart-felt compliments; critical and messy moments are now an opportunity for human connection and understanding. These extremely challenging times have presented an opportunity to know others and myself at a far deeper level and get a glimpse of what is truly important in this moment.
I know being understanding, compassionate and trying not to be an a**hole sound like common sense human behaviors, but this incredible global stress we are collectively experiencing highlighted for me the need to lead with these behaviors, not after the fact harm has been done. My big 4 takeaways are:
- Pause and take the time to understand and appreciate other points of view.
- Understand and come from the place that everyone is doing their best at this moment.
- When I am feeling good, take the time to lift others up.
- See the messy and challenging moments in life as an opportunity for learning and leadership.
As I ride the waves of this COVID storm, I have become more aware of the highs and the lows. When I am on a high point and feeling good, I take that opportunity to recognize the good work of others, call them out for being awesome. When on a low and stuck in the muck of my own crappy stories, I take the do no harm approach, and take time to reflect, journal and reach out for insightful support.
As this storm passes, and it will, we will be faced with the storms of old and new that will be much more subtle and behind the scenes. Many will rush to have life “return to normal” and potentially lose the new insights and growth gained from the heightened sense of awareness COVID has provided. For me I plan to not only carry my new perspectives forward, but also continue to build on them and lock them into who I am daily.