Well, Stress Awareness Month, otherwise known as April, is past, and May has begun. I hope the posts were helpful. For me, the biggest learning is understanding that, although everything is changing around me, small bits of time spent in exercise, or meditation or laughing, can make a big difference in my own stress level, my outlook, and the way I interact with those around me. Music is a constant in my life, but I have been listening to different sorts of music lately – less pop, more classical. I find it comforting to realize that something written one hundred or two hundred or more years ago can still speak to me today. That sense of being a link in a chain that existed before me and will continue after me provides comfort but also perspective.
To quote a well-known musical reference “the times, they are a changing.” Some of us are returning to what we would like to call “normal.” But whatever we want to hope for, this pandemic has changed life as we know it. Some have lost loved ones, others have struggled with illness, both physical and mental. Healthcare and essential workers have experienced heartbreaking loss. The changes we have experienced are unlike any seen for generations. And the change has not stopped, and we have to learn how to navigate a new and challenging environment. It does not matter how many stores and businesses re-open or whether you can get your nails done or whether the supermarket shelves are full. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Change. There are a hundred clichés about change: the only thing certain in life is change; what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger; when one door closes another opens; be the change you want to see in the world. Most of these statements are intended to be encouraging, to help us see the positive side of the change and soldier on through the negative. Because, let’s be honest, change can be really hard. And, here is another truth about change, even when we really want the change we are seeking, it can be hard to stick with the plan and even harder to accept the unforeseen results.
When we feel we have some control over the change, it is easier to accept. If nothing else, when we want to quit, we can remind ourselves that this was our choice, so keep running. But when the change feels dictated, our reaction can be quite different. I remember when my oldest child would not put on his shoes to leave the house. My sister and my husband were both doing the “good parent” thing – “but you want to go to the park, and we can’t go without shoes!” “let’s sing the song about tying shoes while we put your shoes on.” “This will be fun.” I was out of patience. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and shouted “stop negotiating with a three-year-old. Tell him to put his shoes on because we are leaving the house NOW.” Not my finest moment, perhaps. Sometimes, change makes us like that three-year-old. We have our own agenda. We don’t want to put on our shoes, we would rather keep doing what we are doing, and you can’t make me. We want to believe that we are in control and we choose our paths. Now here comes something that is largely outside our control and all our plans must be re-examined. It makes us scared; it makes us angry, and it is stressful.
The past two months have been hard. And all we know for sure about the future is that it is going to look very very different from the past. Sure, we can try to hold on to what we had, and in time we may find a way to return to having large gatherings, and sitting in stadiums with thousands of strangers and riding the subway with hundreds of people. We can walk around angry and frustrated until that time comes, assuming it does. But until there is a vaccine or some other preventive measure for COVID 19 (and again, that may be a big assumption) we are going to be re-examining many of our choices. And that means we are going to have to change. A lot.
I have studied and thought about and struggled with change extensively in my personal and professional life. Over the course of this month I want to share some of those very personal experiences. They have shaped who I am today, the way I run this business and the way I look at the future. There may be something there that speaks to you, and I know that sharing those experiences and my feelings is part of my journey in learning to deal with change. The biggest lesson I have learned about change is that we can live one of two ways: with fear and anger, or with acceptance, even if it is grudging acceptance at first. I confess, fear and anger has been my default more than once. But as I have matured, my approach to change has evolved. It is a work in progress, just like me.
Like grief, most people work through change in steps. And the first step is usually disbelief and shock and the second is anger. While we may want to believe that things will return to “normal,” they will not. Just as we have accepted all the changes that come with travel after the shock of 9/11, we will in time come to accept all the changes that come as a result of living through and managing a global pandemic. And as the country starts to stumble toward that new normal, we need to work on moving past shock and disbelief. It is ok to grieve. But it is not ok to pretend things will ever be the same.
Find a (socially acceptable) way to process that grief. Talk to a friend or loved one, write it out, paint, knead the bread longer and harder, run, turn on the music and cry. The feelings are real, and they are yours and they are valid. And you cannot move on until you accept where you are.
And, although you may be tired of hearing me say it, find something good in each day and be grateful. Finding just one thing for which you are grateful is enough. Because when you acknowledge that one good thing you can see that not everything has changed – the flowers are still blooming, there are still people in your life who care about and love you, and there are still reasons to have hope. And with hope and gratitude, everything will be all right.