On the morning of Friday the 13th of March 2020, I had a call with Business Women Australia (BWA) National Director Lyn Hawkins. There was one big question: ‘What are we going to DO?’ We had an event planned to be held with WeWork and BWA in Melbourne and wondered if we should cancel the event, or bring it online.
The feelings of uncertainty and fear of the unknown that had been starting to creep in already seemed well and truly at home. But there were decisions that needed to be made then and there. Mid-March was when things got serious in Australia with the fast spreading virus COVID-19 being declared a pandemic on 11th March. Although at the time there were no official social restrictions it just didn’t feel right to host large gatherings.
The days following were a blur. I remember talking to friends and family members analysing the information we had access to, always ending our conversations with a more sincere ‘stay safe.’ We were listening to news 24/7 yearning for clarity, a plan, an explanation but receiving only worrying stats and projections.
The Fear of the Unknown
Then clients started to cancel or postpone. Within a matter of days, I was faced with the promise of very little paid work. That Friday was one of the most significant and terrifying days of my life. It was obvious, that the pandemic doesn’t discriminate, and it was here to stay. Like many others in my situation, what I was feeling during those first few days was mostly just sheer fear. Fear triggered by uncertainty. My head was spinning and I lay awake many nights worrying: ‘How long is this crisis going to last? How will I get through this? How will my clients get through this? Will my parents be ok? How long can I pay my rent and bills without any income?’ Projections in the media ranged from three months to two years but no one really knew. The prospect of not having an income for two years simply terrified me. No sleep and that constant inner voice had a massive effect on my physical and mental health.
I knew it couldn’t go on like this. It had taken me by surprise: the struggle was real. I always looked at myself as a resilient person. But why couldn’t I shift past these emotions initially? I had always thought you either have resilience or you don’t. And if you have it, you always have it. That’s not the case. You can be resilient in some parts of your life or situations but not in others. And you can grow and build resilience.
Changing My Behavior for The Better
My old behaviours weren’t helping me and so I had to start doing what was actively needed and start thinking clearly. I began to limit listening to the news to once a day. I practised meditating, yoga and walking every day, taking the time to reflect. I wrote a list of things I could actively change and took stock of my finances.
Reworking my daily routine allowed me to focus on accepting the changing parts of my life rather than being afraid of the unknown. I stopped waiting for something positive to be able to move forward and make changes in my life and business and learned to be ok with how I was feeling in the moment and move through and ahead anyway. Dr Adam Fraser calls it ‘The Happiness Movement.’
Our perception of negative emotions being bad and positive emotions being good has perverted our relationship with struggle. If we wait to feel good before we take action, we just end up procrastinating. Resilient people who deal well with struggle don’t think they have to be positive to take action. I realised how I was feeling but I had to move on and change my business anyway. However, it wasn’t long until I went from feeling confident and strong with a plan in hand to those anxious feelings returning.
Acceptance is The Key
When the Government in Australia started shutting down businesses and enforcing strict social distancing rules, I returned to sleepless nights and anxious days. How could this happen again? Why is this repeating itself? When we face traumatic events, such as the COVID-19 crisis, we go through something similar to a grieving process.
Swiss psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, describes five stages of grief as Shock, Denial, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance. We need to let ourselves go through this process without rush or force. We need to apply (self) compassion in the stages of shock and denial, support in the phase of anger and depression and motivation during the final stage, which is acceptance. It’s not about waiting for these stages, rather accepting them and having conversations with yourself and others.
In the end, Lyn and I did change the workshop event as our first Victorian networking event to be transitioned to online and hosted it out of Melbourne. It meant that members from all around the nation could join in.
I have adapted my entire coaching and leadership program portfolio to be in digital form – for the time being anyway.
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