Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jenn Labin.
Starting March 13th of this year, the concepts of routine, consistency, and productivity evaporated from many people’s lives, including mine. (Side note: I wanted to use “sublimated” but found out that word also means, “to divert something into a more socially acceptable activity” and now we’ve all learned something.)
As I was saying, many people have been floundering around for months, trying to find stabilization. I’ve observed resilient, upbeat, positive people coping with mental illness like depression and anxiety for the first time in their lives. I’ve also seen people who were full-on couch potatoes before, transform into community volunteers and avid runners. Whether you’ve found your nemesis in the lady who grabbed the last roll of toilet paper at the store, or you’ve found your calling with a YouTube channel devoted to sourdough cooking — this year has impacted pretty much everyone in totally unpredictable ways. Like me, you are very likely looking around and thinking, “How did I get here?”
In the before-time, I thought my super powers were:
- Thriving in chaos (customer changes direction on project daily? No problem!)
- Making quick decisions (with great results, #NoRegrets!)
- Getting Stuff Done (best compliment: “I don’t know how you do it all!”)
And now? Ugh…
- I’m fed up with change, surprises, and changing direction constantly
- Cannot. Make. One. More. Decision. (Partner: “What do you want for dinner?” Me: *Sobs uncontrollably*)
- Unpredictable productivity at best!
Here’s the problem — my biggest strengths are gone. The way I’ve measured my value in terms of both personal and professional worlds has completely changed. Which means, a part of my identity is just… gone. There is a void where those positive characteristics were, and that risks being filled with criticism and negativity. The outcome of hammering away in a futile attempt to recover pre-COVID productivity is predictable: I will be exhausted and frustrated. I will engage in self talk such as, “Why am I so tired? I haven’t done anything today! I feel like a failure!” That kind of judgmental treatment is insidious and damaging. If I keep doing the same things day after day, I will cement the truth that I have lost what made me successful.
Finding Your New Strengths
So, I choose to change my perspective. My priority is no longer to move quickly and check as many things off my to-do list as possible. Instead, my first priority is to identify my new strengths that will help me thrive right now. (Tweet this.) It is essential that I recognize I am not less of an amazing human, I’m just a different amazing human. (Yeah — I own my brilliance and you should, too!) Without a commitment, I would be giving into helplessness. Essentially making myself a victim to external forces. However, committing to shifting my perspective is taking back control and declaring victory.
The reasons WHY it’s important to shift your perspective are pretty obvious, but of course, the next question is HOW??
Here are a few small steps that can help you shift your perspective, identify new strengths, and prioritize yourself.
- Update Your Routine!
Remember how you spent time figuring out what time to go to bed, which days to get groceries or do household chores? Remember how you figured out how to squeeze in a workout during your lunch break? Well, very likely none of that is true any more. Most people I know have shifted their waking hours later and don’t have the same definition of a “work day.” The first step is to reassess what’s needed from your days and weeks to better support yourself right now.
- Show Gratitude
In the before-time, I kept a gratitude journal and wrote down three things I was grateful for every day. That is… until I realized I was writing the same things over and over again and stopped. Recently, I picked up the habit again and use the 5-Minute Journal app every morning first thing. My big “a-ha” moment was when I truly felt like I had a better attitude in starting my day even if I wrote similar ideas every single time!
- Sketch It Out
One of the most enlightening steps I took was to draw a Venn diagram, with one circle labeled “Strengths Before” and one was “Strengths Now.” In the first circle I listed everything that I knew contributed to my accomplishments and pride. In the second, I reflected on shining moments from the past six months and listed what I did to get there. Obviously, anything that was true for both went in the overlapping middle oval. Coming up with new strengths was hard at first, but I made myself come up with ten items. By the time I got to #10, the ideas were flowing and I had just as many on that circle as I did on the “before” circle.
- Build the 5-Month Plan
One common coaching method is to have the person being coached write a narrative of their life 5 years in the future. They write pages of detail from what time they wake up and what their morning routine looks like to the kind of work they are doing that day, to how they plan to relax and transition to bedtime at night. It’s a powerful visualization exercise that I’ve repeated a couple of times over the years. Unfortunately, I have no idea what life looks like 5 years from now and honestly, it’s too overwhelming to even try to think about that. Instead, I adapted the exercise to just focus on 5 months from NOW. Of course, there are plenty of unknowns even then. What does the winter hold? I’m not sure… but I have some direction on what I would like to happen and how I can help it along.
- Ask Around
Another important step for me was to stop trying to transform myself by myself. I spoke to a younger family member who lives far away from me and found out she had a scary encounter while out running recently. I was so angry that she hadn’t told me sooner so I could help her process the fallout from that situation. That’s when I realized I was doing the same thing! By reaching out to my closest support humans, I heard what a great job I was doing from people whose opinions truly matter to me. I can’t stress this one enough — to your friends and family!
The strange truth of 2020 is that we’re all so disconnected and many of us feel uniquely challenged. We are acutely aware of our weaknesses, and it’s all too easy to let them take over how we define ourselves. If that is even a little bit true for you, I hope you find some ideas here to help you take a step forward. I hope these thoughts will help you shift your perspective and recognize your own brilliance. More than anything, I hope you will hear that you are not alone in your faults, but you are uniquely brilliant in your strengths — and the world is waiting to see it.