Never in a million years when I decided in January 2020 to be intentional about leading wellbeing conversations with clients, friends and family could I have imagined what was to come. With COVID-19 ravaging the world, the overdue racial reckoning, record devastation from climate change and perpetual political turmoil, wellbeing became one of the most desired and elusive things in our lives.
I originally decided to focus on mental wellbeing, i.e., emotional, psychological and social, in addition to physical, spiritual and societal wellbeing. I was not going to explicitly focus on economic or workplace wellbeing since all of the aforementioned domains are interdependent with the latter. As it would happen, every wellbeing domain was in play this year and with the amount of suffering that people have endured, the need was, and continues to be, overwhelming.
I quickly realized that the impact of my wellbeing conversations was not going to be simply talking about it, writing articles or posting interviews on social media. Rather, impact was going to happen in the trenches, one day at a time, one moment at a time. And it was going to take every ounce of my being to do the work. My own wellbeing took a hit. Not surprising, given my track record.
Here are my three key takeaways from being in wellbeing work this year.
Feelings Finally Got “the Lane”
In my coaching and training work, I always, always ask people how they are feeling. I found that folks do not spend a lot of time actually reflecting on and articulating their feelings. That is a major blindspot because feelings are present in all that we do (or don’t do).
This year, the depth of the suffering that was present made it such that people could not look away from their feelings. Could not mask that feelings are the essence of our humanity, helping us process and express what we are experiencing. Unpacking feelings around navigating the novel coronavirus or how to talk to colleagues about racial inequities required a deep understanding of “self”, especially our identities, and a great deal of patience. Working with clients to develop that muscle of intrapersonal awareness usually occurred through intentional reflection and curiosity. They did their work and I had to do my own.
It was a challenging process – for some it was like pulling teeth – and there was an acknowledgement that it was worth the payoff. The more people noticed their own feelings, the more present they were to that of others. With this awareness came greater ease at identifying needs and, ultimately, solutions to fill the needs. And this work will always continue because there will always be new information to process, new or evolving relationships to navigate, new experiences to have and new challenges to overcome.
Old Habits Die Hard
When we are thrown into uncertainty, we revert to our individual default settings. Those settings may not serve us in any way/shape/form. And there is no judgment. We are human. That is natural. For me, that was focusing on the needs of others over my own, reducing physical exercise to almost nothing and working way too much.
Time and time again, I had to remind people (and myself) that we were doing our best, given the tools that we had at the moment. The key was helping people figure out what needed to be in their toolkit to get to that resilience everyone kept talking about. And once a tool was IN the kit, the focus shifted to knowing when to take it OUT.
Revisiting that conversation over the course of these many months as the world around us continued to shift was imperative to support new or modified habits becoming a new practice. And, real talk, being kind and compassionate to others AND to ourselves was a mantra worthy of repeating as one of those tools.
Full disclosure: My toolkit consisted of healthy eating, daily journaling, weekly therapy, focusing on what I was proud of and getting quality sleep. Do I still struggle with exercise? Yup. And tomorrow is a new day!
Being Open Was a Path to Success
The complex, significant problems of the world meant that individuals and companies had complex, significant solutions to create. Oftentimes people did not know where or when to start nor how to think through how to get there….Wherever “there” was. There were many plans that got derailed and there needed to be a new plan. And the need for a new plan kept changing. And many folks were simply stuck. Being stuck led to anxiety, frustration and fear.
Those who made the most progress overall, in my experience, were open to learning, exploring, experimenting, listening, iterating and questioning. They were open to asking for help. They were also open to starting small. “Starting small” means letting go of needing to have a complete roadmap to future success and taking one deliberate step forward. It involved an intentional desire to stretch outside of a comfort zone. Being vulnerable. Building trust. Doing something new or different without being clear about the exact outcome. Of course, my job was to help bring clarity to the outcomes and the small steps.
I am truly grateful and honored to have walked alongside so many people this year as they persevered…And there is more work to be done. I am optimistic and hopeful about the future because I believe that we will continue to feel, to learn, to do our best and to add new tools to our wellbeing toolkits as we face new challenges together.