I’ve been spending many hours reflecting on toolkits.
We are barely conscious of it, but we spend our lives lugging two sets of tools to help us navigate the world we inhabit. The first set are primitive implements, designed to help us survive and keep us alive another day in an unforgiving environment. The second set are aspirational and reflect the uniquely human capacity to project a vivid image onto a rock and carve out a better life for ourselves and our families.
Now think back to the moment the ball dropped in Times Square. We enthusiastically marched into 2020 slinging tools built for an age of prosperity and relative stability. Fast forward six months, and many of those tools are useless for the challenges we contend with in a given day.
Running home schooling for a 7- and 9-year-old who think mommy’s on vacation while your boss calls an all-hands staff meeting in the middle of English. That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a boss, unlike 20% of Americans who are now looking for work. Or trying to close a sale over a Zoom call with someone you never met. Navigating a PPP loan from the government and hitting refresh on the SBA site to see if the rules changed again today. One morning you’re running a local store on a bucolic Main Street; the next, you’re cramming a lesson on ‘SEO’ and figuring out the difference between Fulfillment by Amazon and Seller Fulfilled Prime.
Keep your family safe. Keep your head straight.
Wear a mask.
We need to be retooled in a hurry. And there’s one tool above all others that we need to carry at all times.
The new normal is a steady state of abnormal. We are going to spend years inhabiting the gray space that makes humans very uncomfortable. Lingering questions will have no concrete answers, not even from science, the supposed last bastion of objectivity. In a fast-moving crisis, science synthesizes new insights and updates guidance. The CDC first said masks don’t help for the public at large; three weeks later, everyone was told to wear masks.
Will there be a second wave? When should offices reopen, and what’s the ideal configuration? What about public transportation? Is it safe?
When it comes to Covid-19, there is no flipping a switch and normal life resumes. Policies will change to accommodate new information, new challenges, new pockets of outbreaks and rolling lockdowns.
Don’t bet on a vaccine to save us. Bet on resilience.
So how do you cultivate a flexible mindset when all anyone craves is to stand on terra firma?Three suggestions:
1) Start by letting go: Rigidity is the enemy of flexibility. And what drives rigid behavior is the need for control. We need control because we fear the unknown. To be flexible, you have to let go of the need for control and accept that during a catastrophic event (of which a global pandemic certainly qualifies), events are out of your control. Let go.
2) Build an oasis of stability: The one area of your life you do control is your mindset. No virus or person can rob you of your outlook. So construct a universe of one that is sacrosanct, full of habits, rituals and affirmations of your own making. This oasis will give you the comfort you need to float everywhere else and stay nimble.
3) Believe in your infinite capacity to thrive: Imagine the most unimaginable situation you ever endured. It could be death of a loved one, divorce, illness. That one time in life that was so acutely painful you felt there was simply no way you could go on another day. I’ve been there. But since you are reading this right now – and I’m writing it – we both did in fact endure. We put one foot in front of the other, and we found a way forward. We are resilient creatures. It is our greatest gift. And you – we – will get through this, too. The fear that we are not equipped to handle a pandemic hinders flexibility by driving us to seek the reassurance predictability offers. Let the background noise of your personal trauma remind you that you can handle anything thrown your way.
In this perpetual state of flux, rigidity is the enemy of resilience. Make flexibility the one tool you carry with you at all times – and I promise you, you’ll be unstoppable.