What a rollercoaster of a month it’s been here in the UK. (And globally of course – but most of us can only manage to keep abreast of our situation nationally, which has been changing quickly and has been unsettling and anxiety-ridden.)
I am generally able to cope with a high level of uncertainty; it comes with the territory of running a business. I’ve also had the ‘benefit’ of having been through some very difficult life experiences, meaning I’ve acquired tools and knowledge on how to cope with trauma and crisis. Building resilience; bouncing back from setbacks; looking for creative ways to respond to problems; managing customer disputes; motivating team members; negotiating with suppliers: it’s all part of an average day for me.
Things are rarely predictable (and if I’m honest, nor would I want them to be!). It’s part of the appeal of entrepreneurial life: constantly adapting, responding, problem-solving, growing and learning.
But this current situation has felt chaotic on a whole other level – mostly because so much has been out of our control. It’s felt unsafe. It’s felt surreal. It’s felt dangerous. Decisions have had to be taken quickly, often without the facts to hand, and communication – which is always key to leadership – has been difficult to maintain (or at least, difficult to do honestly, because there have been so many unknowns.)
I’ve watched so many people struggle. People who are used to routine, security and safety. And for those who were already vulnerable and lacking safety, it’s been heartbreaking to see the situation unfold and to feel helpless and frustrated about how to help.
Over at The Broadroom, I ran a series of webinars with my partner Lucy Whittington called ‘Uncertain Business’, which helped me feel like I was contributing during the immediate aftermath of the crisis – just simply using my voice and my knowledge to try and help people. We delivered ‘Intro Tables’, so that small business owners could sit and talk about immediate business challenges, get help and input at an affordable price and seek objective and rational support from a peer group.
I’ve focused on my own wellbeing, my business, my family, my friendships. I delivered the #flowernews daily online, summarising the government daily briefings, because I knew that so many of my friends were avoiding the news and were struggling to stay positive. I did all the immediate smart business reviews: finances, speaking with current customers, updating cash flow projections, and streamlining offerings (not least to accommodate having my two small children at home for the foreseeable future, with all the challenges that brings.)
Overall, I’ve managed to stay buoyant and positive.
There’s been darker days of course (it would be totally weird if there hadn’t been), but I have cultivated high levels of resilience over the years and have very close and valued relationships which I have leaned on. My biggest frustration has been caused by feeling redundant, unable to help ‘enough’ or do ‘enough’, wishing I was a key worker and making more of a tangible difference.
At the age of 18 I was directed to decide between being a doctor and a lawyer, and given I hate the sight of blood, law was the route I took. This past month, I’ve wished I had chosen a medical route – simply from a desire to be in the midst of doing something that felt valuable and useful at this time. I think that stems from the same innate desire to overcome fear and uncertainty: a need to be in action, making a difference, feeling focused.
What I’ve noticed more than anything is the way that individuals (as per human nature!) have defaulted to behaviours which are their natural settings – and these then become amplified.
I defaulted to fact finding, calm communications and strategic action behind the scenes. I quietly got on with serving my customers, helping people wherever I could, and focusing on my own wellbeing, in the knowledge that without my health I am of no use to anyone. I am excellent in a crisis, but I know damn well that if I spread myself too thinly and try and do too many things I very quickly become depleted and unable to serve.
I’ve taken time to consider, reflect, be introspective, and get clarity on the way forward. And now I’m powering into action. I enjoyed watching myself go through the motions, which told me a lot about who I am and what makes me tick.
It was equally fascinating to see in others. Those who are often fearful and anxious became even more so, tending to sensationalism, conspiracy theories and sharing information with the potential to incite and worry others.
Those who are extraverted and crave human interaction and validation became very noisy online, and there were lots of launches and pivots and online seminars about selling and creating wealth (7 figures in 7 days, buy a Ferrari type stuff!).
Those who radiate kindness and compassion at their core went into service mode, getting behind charitable pursuits, raising money, spreading stories of those in dire need, volunteering at food banks.
Those prone to anger could be found venting online: cue lots of trolling, disputes and disagreements, with divisive and difficult discussions popping up all over the place.
I’m sure you have all your own observations on this. What did you notice?
It’s all a primal fear response.
When our safety is compromised, we look for ways to create certainty and to get back to normal (whatever that means).
In my Greenhouse membership, I delivered a training on the Change Curve Theory: the stages we go through when dealing with crisis, moving from Chaos to Acceptance and then from Acceptance to New Normal. As leaders, we can notice where we are on that curve, and try to actively move through the chaos phase so we can become more creative, rational and calm, and take others with us on the journey. Looking for opportunities, letting go of things we have lost, embracing new experiences and making space to move forward.
(btw I’m also delivering a version of this training to make it applicable to everyone – support you as we recover from this pandemic. Sign up here for the live version and/or a copy of the replay)
The great thing is, as humans, that we are always changing and evolving. Whatever our default settings, whatever behaviours we usually follow, we always have the option to create new ones. We can always choose to do things differently, to create new and more powerful thoughts, to decide which actions to take and which habits to drop. We can choose how to respond during times of uncertainty and we can either fight change or we can welcome it, with all the pain and joy that comes with that.
Remembering of course that nothing in life is certain.
Every day is a gift, and one we shouldn’t take for granted. It’s often said that the only thing certain in life is death.
So, living each day as if it might be your last is a great way to make sure you’re doing the right things at the right time (of course following medical and scientific advice!).
We don’t want to stay home much longer, of course.
But, whilst we’re still doing so, you can think about change and uncertainty and decide what you are going to do differently, once your freedom and your choices are slowly returned to you.
You get to decide.
You can embrace change and you can introduce a ‘new normal’ that feels right for you. You can let go of things, take brave decisions, live with a little uncertainty for a while in pursuit of a longer term, better way of being. You can ask yourself difficult questions about what to prioritise, what really matters, who you want to be and how happy you are with your default settings. You can reboot, computer can say no, you can reset and reprogram.
You can be certain that I’ll be doing the same. This is too good an opportunity to miss.
We get to look for the Gift (and you can watch my video on that topic here).
What might become different for you?
P.S. don’t forget to sign up to the free webinar to help you in your understanding of how to support yourself – and others – emotionally as we recover from this crisis. Sign up here