Here we are, at the beginning of another calendar year – and nearing our second full year in a global pandemic. Who would have thought as most of us headed to work from home in the first quarter of 2020 that we would still be navigating this uncertainty two years later?
Even as we navigate the pandemic’s continued impact, those of us who work with business leaders are also watching closely as “the great resignation” continues to unfold, throwing many organizations into additional turmoil. As I reflect on this phenomenon, I find myself wondering: how much of the foundation for the great resignation was laid by the pressures and lack of fulfillment people experienced in pre-pandemic work? Were those strained working conditions unable to withstand the additional challenges brought on by COVID-19?
In our work at MRG, I have the privilege of not only supporting coaches in their work, but also providing coaching directly. I am astounded at how often clients tell us that coaching is the only time when they get a chance to pause and to reflect. They reveal how much it means to them to have a safe place to talk, to reveal, to wonder, to rage, to quake, to imagine and to ponder. And I’m struck by the realization that while this need is not new, in our current reality, the need is more intense and more urgent.
I’ve also been reflecting on the importance of the roles we all play as coaches, as consultants, as teachers, guides, and facilitators. As the fault lines in many organizations grow wider and individual resilience and motivation wobbles and wanes, our services are so urgently needed. While we once provided lift, we may now be providing a lifeline.
And while many of us are not facing the risks nor experiencing the weariness of front-line workers, most of us would acknowledge we too are weary. In the words of psychologist Adam Grant, we are languishing.
So, if we are feeling depleted, even as clients need us more than ever, where do we go from here? Well, if you have spent any time with me, you know I love a Zen saying: you can’t serve from an empty vessel. Long before the airlines were telling us to put our oxygen masks on before we helped others with theirs, Zen teachers knew how important it was to take care of oneself in order to have the energy to take care of others.
However, in a pandemic world – when stress is high and opportunities for relaxation and self-care are exceedingly rare – what does this look like in action? As I have been pondering this, I have been reminded of something many of us did as children. I remember collecting shells, sea glass, rocks and leaves and cherishing them as if they were rare treasures. Maybe you did the same – or maybe your collections included cards with sports players on them or stamps or bugs or gum wrappers or comic books. Seen through the adult lens all of these objects may seem quite ordinary. But with reflection, I can reconnect with my youthful sensibilities and feel the thrill of discovery and the unbridled joy of beholding my collections. I wonder if it is possible to take a page out of our childhood wisdom and find wonder and joy in more ordinary things.
My work-from-home desk faces a window, and for two years I have been marveling at the birds (so many birds!). I have been struck by the ingenuity and tenacity of the squirrels (…at least when I’m not yelling at them). I get to watch the amazing changing of the light over the course of the day. Yesterday, I made my first cold brew batch of coffee and I’ve signed up for singing lessons. Of course, none of these small moments feel the same as travelling the world for work and pleasure, or a weeklong rejuvenation retreat, or even a full on family gathering. They may not even equal the feeling of going out to eat or going to a show. But bits of me are coming back, I feel a little more full, a little more complete, a little more energized and curious. And so – with my vessel just a bit more full – I have a little bit more to give to my family, my colleagues, and my clients.
So, my wish for all of us – beyond health and safety – is that we find ways to fill our vessels so that we, in turn, can help others fill theirs.