28 Dec. 2020
Today has been a rough day – not because I have a lot to do or I’m stressed or I’m riddled with deadlines. In fact, I’m home alone and have had an empty calendar all day. I’m used to having scheduled meetings, and today my husband Tim returned to his 12-hour work days after the long Christmas weekend, and my sons returned to their homes in LA and Chicago. I woke up feeling . . . off.
Tim and I were up by 5:00am, and as he made his coffee, he asked about my plans for today. I said nothing except to write. Then I reminded myself that writing is something and that writing is hard and that writing takes discipline. But I had no plan in my writing, so I struggled with the point. This is a huge problem. Without purpose, why bother?
So I ordered New Year’s cards and deliberated about the wording in the message. The pursuit of perfection in phrasing is a curse. The words would not flow. How do you write a chipper happy 2021 card after 2020?
My attempts at creativity fell flat. There’s nothing funny about not being about to visit your 93-year-old mom in the nursing home or having had a child in a psychiatric hospital for over ten weeks only to be told there is no relationship with us. There’s nothing cute about the illness, death, isolation, loneliness, and loss of employment caused by the Coronavirus.
And there was nothing exceptionally wonderful about a Zoom-filled holiday. We were troopers, and troopers we will always be. It’s in our blood. And we laughed, chatted, played games, and opened gifts via the screen. We made the best of it, but nothing replaces real-life bear hugs, shared kitchen blunders, and being together. I’m so glad that the boys came home, and I realize now that it’s not fair for me to burden my kids with my happiness. Christmas joy is always there – in each of us, not in co-dependency.
I decided to be honest in the New Year’s card and write about cultivating awe, generosity, gratitude and growth in 2021. I believe that inspiration is everywhere and can be experienced through paying attention to goodness and beauty and through bearing witness to the examples set by small children. Reading, listening, learning, and great movies help, too.
I ordered the cards, did laundry and avoided the keyboard. I washed sheets, towels, and Christmas placemats. I packed away Christmas dishes and probably would have taken the tree down, but Tim hates when I do that too early. The looming Peloton enticed me aboard. For the first time, I wanted the instructor to stop talking. I just wanted to hear the music. I was seeking something unknown, and I’m still not sure what.
I finished the ride and took a bath. Who takes a bath in the middle of the day? That’s when I realized that I was in trouble. I meditated on what I was feeling and did not like it one bit. I felt lost, untethered. So I toweled off, cleaned the bathroom and reached for a small booklet published in 2017 by the Harvard Business Review entitled Emotional Intelligence: Resilience. You’d think I was a business owner or CEO or military leader with my enthusiasm for the topic.
In the first chapter “How Resilience Works,” Diane Coutu argues that resilient people are realists who find meaning in what’s happening and then improvise solutions. Many say the pandemic has helped us determine what really matters in life. Zoom and other technologies have been much-needed innovations to help me cope. I now even resort to actual phone calls once in awhile. Deep down, I know I need to find deeper meaning in terms of my vocational calling, but I’m saving that for another day.
In “Resilience for the Rest of Us,” Daniel Goleman argues that mindfulness is the key to resilience. Like other advocates of meditation, he recommends pausing, breathing, and letting thoughts go. I did this today in the tub until the water got cold. It worked to a certain extent.
Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone write in “Find the Coaching in Criticism” that when faced with unwelcome commentary or negative evaluations from others, we should see the input as opportunities for growth. They also recommend taking what we can learn, experimenting with small changes, and being aware of the personal choice to embrace or disregard the suggestions. They say resilience is boosted when requesting one single recommendation from others. An onslaught of ideas is overwhelming. Believe me, I get this. I have lists upon lists of things to do better, things to change, courses to take, etc.
Jeffrey Sonnefeld and Andrew Ward’s article “Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound after Career Disasters” is incredibly inspiring. They list CEO’s from Ford, Bank One, Coca-Cola, Citicorp, Home Depot, and Apple (guess who?) as leaders who do not blame themselves for the past but look to the future. I’m no CEO, but I did raise five children, and Sonnefeld and Ward’s advice applies. I cannot look back, nor can I turn back time. I can look to the bright future including 2021 and pray like crazy that my kids share their gifts with the world, a simple key to happiness in my own book of resilience.
The last chapter “Resilience is How you Recharge, Not How you Endure” by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielen assured me that my mid-day retreat today does indeed add value. Never again will I tease Tim about his Sunday naps. We all need to refresh, rest, relax, and unplug to generate creativity and spaciousness. We also need those breaks to foster presence and happiness.
And here I am inspired – butt back in chair – giving this writing thing another go. I’ve not spoken to a soul in over ten hours – not my norm, thank goodness – but an invaluable small experiment in pausing to ponder. Perhaps that will be my innovative 2021 resolution. It beats the usual lose five pounds.