Rachel Varghese: “Coping skills become a matter of survival”

Coping skills become a matter of survival. What you need to stay positive and hopeful is an ongoing endeavor. During this past year, the effort to stay positive seemed to be an active, rather than passive effort. The world will not end if you do not read your email every day. In case of an […]

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Coping skills become a matter of survival. What you need to stay positive and hopeful is an ongoing endeavor. During this past year, the effort to stay positive seemed to be an active, rather than passive effort. The world will not end if you do not read your email every day. In case of an emergency, someone will call you. Shutting out the mental clutter has been a great way to stay calm and unruffled.

With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life.

As a part of this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure to interview Rachel Varghese.

Rachel Varghese is a brand consultant. She brings extensive knowledge in organizational behavior and creative content to brand marketing. She has a keen sense of understanding people of diverse cultural backgrounds and is able to teach them how to use it to their advantage rather than a stumbling block. She enjoys working with people in building their campaigns for long-term success.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I grew up in Texas, a state that prides itself in its independent spirit. My heritage is Indian-American and I have spent considerable time learning and traveling to understand cultural nuances and expectations. Travel and language open up the world to communicate. It sets the foundation for being able to understand and acknowledge others and their perspective. My current self is most defined by my perception of perseverance. My parents were relatively known and socially active so my own choices were touched by fear of what might happen if I stray from expectations. In time, as an anchor parent, I found that I would again make life choices based on what I thought would be seen as a proper parent. My sense of self felt like it was buffetted by losses in life. Something about the pandemic relieved me from this outer locus of control. It allowed me to reframe my own identity and find my own independent spirit.

Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?

Working from home has been a great advantage. I first started using Zoom in 2017 but with only a few people. With the use of online meetings, I find that we save a lot of time that used to be wasted not only with a harried commute but also in the small talk, included in where to meet or the weather, etc. I find that clients are also able to use their time better with online platforms. For the most part, clients have been very respectful of time but in case of an emergency, both of us have not expended too much time to the process of going to the meeting point!

What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?

As I was watching a movie last week, I heard the “ding-ding” of an airplane’s Fasten Seat Belts sign. I was flooded with the thought, that I really miss being able to plan a trip and travel easily. With my passport in hand, I always thought of the world as small. Suddenly, with the onset of a global pandemic, I lost that ease. My airport shoes were put away and my travel bags looked forlorn and neglected in the back of my closet. I never imagined a year when I did not venture farther than my own city. When I slipped away briefly to go see my father in the Northeast, the amber lights warning out-of-towners to limit stay was a jarring sight. I sat on the flight home, completely covered from head to toe in my no-nonsense travel attire, a mask and ridiculous hat with plastic screen, focused solely on whether my fellow passengers may or may not be COVID carriers. It is a whole new world.

The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?

Mental health has found its place in the sun. Suddenly, people realized that they had to admit that not all is well in the land of Oz. More than anything, I hope this pandemic changes the stigma placed on mental wellness. I hope we are able to acknowledge that it is common to have a bad day. We do not all have to be perfect all the time. We have our ups and downs — a normal part of being human.

What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.

I have heard something unexpected from several friends. We do not have to do what we thought we had to do. We are not forced to do anything that we thought was urgent or inescapable. All of us had this hamster wheel of life on which we ran without a second thought. I think I spent several years driving around a minivan, racing across town from one activity to the other. The pandemic brought all of it to a screeching halt. Even life’s big moments were encapsulated in shorter spurts. Weddings are a good example. Pre-pandemic, they were extravagant productions that took up hours, even as an attendee. It took hours to find what to wear, get dressed, go to the main event, wait for the reception, sit through the best man and maid of honor giggle at their amusing recollections of some debacle during college, all while you smile politely. Well, with the pandemic, we had the drive-by wishes for the only people who need to be special on their day — the bride and groom. The pandemic stripped all of us of pretense and forced us to prioritize what is really important to us.

How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?

Other than the inability to travel at a whim, the tedium of feeling locked in place seems to have been minimal. My inner circle of family and friends continued to be my inner circle. Yes, I missed seeing many of them, but somehow, I feel that unknowingly, I prepared for it last January. I had never had a TV in my living room but for some reason, I changed the layout from an entertainment area for parties to more of a home theater. Suddenly, we were watching films and shows we had kept aside for years. Some things, (certainly not all) which I had wanted to try, like attempting a new language or painting, felt possible. Suddenly, a good soak in the tub with a book was possible. Why did I forget to do that? It is almost like “someday”, arrived.

Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?

There is a feeling of general loss, helplessness, and grief that has permeated everyone’s conversation. Listening to other people’s sense of loss without the ability to reach over and hug them, has been very sad. If someone is hospitalized, you cannot go visit. You cannot send over food because we have all been disinfecting our groceries. It goes against what we all have done for generations. Caring for other people has changed completely. I think many of us have put in more time listening because we do not have the luxury of reaching out nor do we know what else to do.

OK, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Social distancing allowed all of us to get to know ourselves better. When you lose the ability to run from pillar to post, you have the mental space to think about what you want for yourself. As 2020 began, I was just coming off a series of losses and grief. I had spent the past several years caring for my aging parents. I had raced across the country and sometimes around the world, each time they were hospitalized. Funerals are never the end of grief. They are more social markers — the last hurrah. Knowing that I could no longer travel, forced me to take time to myself and grieve quietly. I did not have to make up a brave face for anyone. I allowed myself the reality that some things would never be the same. Had it not been the pandemic, I am not sure I would have allowed myself the time.
  2. Coping skills become a matter of survival. What you need to stay positive and hopeful is an ongoing endeavor. During this past year, the effort to stay positive seemed to be an active, rather than passive effort. The world will not end if you do not read your email every day. In case of an emergency, someone will call you. Shutting out the mental clutter has been a great way to stay calm and unruffled.
  3. The places you used to go are not really required. The ability to Zoom in and meet people without the need to stay long is a boon! In an effort to limit your physical presence in their location, businesses have become more efficient. What used to take time has now become “one, two, goodbye”. The normalcy of chitchat changed forever.
  4. If you have a “need to please” personality, social distancing lessens the places where it is required. I used to go places just because it was a social obligation. The pandemic allowed me to say “no” more often. Saying “no” to others allowed me more time to myself.
  5. Service providers became the lifelines to our collective and individual well-being. We are not longer required to go to the DMV. The UPS line is quick and limited in the procedure. Have the groceries and fast food delivered if needed. So many companies and government offices have changed to accommodate changes. These services allowed us to take care of ourselves.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?

The Serenity Prayer is probably the most apropos for the pandemic. We learn to accept things as they are, not how we wish, change what we can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Ted Hope is the first name that comes to mind. He has been in the film industry for so long and seems to know how to get things done.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I organize and process my thoughts best in words and have finally ventured out to post a few via Medium.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

The questions were very well written… thank you for choosing me.

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