Is there a path to cope with adversity, to deal with uncertainty and to plan forward? If a silver bullet exists, it’s gotta build on Gratitude.
The entire world can be likened to my toddler’s playroom nowadays: total disarray! A pandemic and a lock-down. Enforced furlough and remote work schemes. Closed daycare centers and mandatory digital tutoring from 2pm to 6pm for all students. Disrupted routines. Fuzzy brains. One hot global mess, making it harder and harder to focus on a brighter side of life, especially if you are on the Working Parenthood front trying to make ends meet while clinging to some kind of sanity.
A crisis is every researcher’s time to shine, and I never really got over my early phD candidacy years. Ever since the pandemic came around, I have been focusing more on the interview parts of Project Mamager: the How She Does It and How He Does It columns. Been touching-base with parents from all around the world, building connections, and sharing experiences, in an attempt to capture the vibes and sustain that pulse. And boy has this been an enlightening journey!
I may be behind in composing new articles about the transferable competences of parenthood (like this one!) but I have come to talk to over 50 Parents these past few months, and I can tell you: everyone (and their uncle) is seriously worked up. The Pandemic is officially recognized as a ‘Mental Health Crisis for Parents’, in light of which caregivers (especially those with young children) feel stressed, with no signs of relief on the horizon. The situation is especially disheartening for Working Motherhood, a field where professional strain and looming burnout risk growing into major setbacks for the progress that’s been made toward gender-led workplace inclusion all these years.
The annual Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey and LeanIn (surveying more than 40,000 employees at 47 companies in the US and Canada) reports that “1 in 4 women are considering stepping back from their career because of the pandemic”. The so-called “motherhood penalty” faced by women in the workplace that societies were always reluctant to discuss, is manifesting in ways we can no longer afford to ignore. The glass ceiling was one cheeky bastard. The way our societies remain programmed to revolve around concepts such as primary and secondary caregiver (where the primary role lies on Mom’s end) is another one. When things get tough on Families, it’s the (tough?) Mothers who are expected to get going, and this is a very real and alarming theme that the crisis helped surface, sparking dialogue in an otherwise untouched theme.
Meanwhile, global momentum is gradually building. Freely available self-sustainability resources such as WHO’s #HealthyAtHome campaign gain traction with insights on how not to lose hope and treat the storm with grit. Private corporations are gladly hopping on the market share opportunity train. They go ahead and open up their precious corporate tools to the public (e.g. Microsoft has made MS Teams available as a free communication tool for Families and Friends) or offer complimentary accesses to their services for extended periods of time (Popular Meditation and Sleep App “Balance” turned free for an entire year!) Emotional check-ins during professional meetups have become the golden standard for Managers, while “Resilience, Stress Tolerance and Flexibility” are part of the Top 10 Skills of the Future according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report. The message is clear: humanity needs more than traditional KSAs and Technology to see this one through. We need a completely fresh perspective around the competences we truly need and how to build them.
If there’s one song to sum up my mood amidst the initial weeks of this lock-down, it’s this one from Jimmy Hendrix: “There must be some kind of way outta here, said the Joker to the Thief. There’s too much confusion. I can’t get no relief.” The stress was practically poisoning me: Were my family going to be safe? With our grandparents being our main support system to keep both parents in the workforce, how were we going to cope? Too many questions, and a long period of no real answers. Negative emotions arose. Meanwhile, I am an emotional eater. When stressed, I over-consume. Chocolate became my happiness-pill.
I kept following the death toll on a daily basis, packing my brain with all sorts of COVID19-related global data, trying to ease on the stress by being well-informed. How many people died? Which age groups were hit the most? I thought I could treat this extravaganza as a power-game where the more data I gathered, the merrier I would be. It wasn’t helping one bit: I can safely attest that getting high on information was making things so much worse. I soon reached this point that I was crawling to get out of bed to face my super busy working mom mornings. And that, for my standards, is the ultimate low. But you know what they say about reaching a low: there’s only one way left to go – Up!
I started reaching out to other Parents. People who were feeling and thinking like I did. I started with one-on-ones, but soon started taking part in virtual meetups, conferences, open discussions, whatever kept me connected with my peers and contribute to our common repository of shared parenthood experience. We opened up about our feelings and exchanged tips that helped us. As soon as I felt my stronger side slowly rising from the mental ashes, I went back to my vision and resumed interviewing Moms and Dads. But I’m not the type of person to attach myself to other people for kicks: an external force was something I used to restart and face the initial shock -and, indeed, proved to be far more powerful than initially anticipated- but I realized how I was lacking in self-reliance; a way to bring myself out of my lowest lows, with minimum external intervention (or chocolate for that matter!). That’s when I got back to my roots. To what I do best: dive deeply into upskilling myself around my blind spots as a means to craft my own solution.
I needed to grow into a self-reliant human being in the most sustainable way. See things from a brighter standpoint and reframe the situation. Acknowledge circumstances for what they are (ever-changing waves waiting to be navigated), but also what they could become: huge growth opportunities. The realization that overdosing on chocolate, data and community meetups wouldn’t cut it for the long run was enough to spark mental action. I needed something more sophisticated than that. Something I could learn from people out there who specialize in exactly that: reframing situational factors to achieve success, rather than avoid failure.
I took a Yale course a couple of years back revolving around The Science of Well-Being, and inspiring instructor Dr. Laurie Santos kept repeating how happiness is a choice, and not a gift. How it’s something you purposefully and diligently work towards, not something to anticipate from your environment. It took me some years and a pandemic to bring this concept home and start digging deeper towards my personal sense of meaning around this. Positive Psychology principles offered a much-needed framework to walk down the self-sustaining path I envision for my life. A place where I am included in my environment, and not consumed by it. The more I acquaint myself with the work of Dr.Martin Seligman and his academic peers from UPenn’s Positive Psychology Center, the more I feel as if I just struck my own definition of Golden Synchronicity: critically relevant information, at the best possible timing.
Practicing Gratitude lies at the core of Positive Psychology. It means shifting our focus from the output to the outcome. It’s magical, really. When we practice Gratitude we reframe any situation in a way that makes us feel better (and not worse) about ourselves and our state.
Practical Gratitude transforms early weekends and lack of sleep to a signal that there’s children to love in the house. Household chores mean more than a burden in our hectic schedules: they mean that our family has a safe place to live. Laundry means there’s clothes for everyone to wear. Dishes to wash means there’s food on the table. Those annoying crumbs under the table are a memento from a cozy family meal that took place there! Our ability to do grocery shopping means there’s money in our pockets to provide for our family. Sure, nobody likes to clean toilets, but ever wondered how many people in the world live devoid of indoor plumbing? And I, too, struggle with the constant noise and the need to find a quiet spot to wind down. Yet it’s that same noise that signals there’s people in my life and I don’t live alone anymore. Your kid’s incessant questioning about homework can be overwhelming, but this demonstrated curiosity serves to remind you that kids’ brains are growing one answered question at a time. At the end of the day most of the working Parents I spoke to report that they end up sore and tired in their beds. But we are still alive. And we are pulling through. And this deserves to be celebrated. Daily!
I still join virtual communities and attend meetups. I still go about seeking human connection. But now I go looking for a different kind of rapport. Rather than join spaces where people go to recharge by diffusing their negativity, I choose spaces where people go to grow their strengths. Elena, my new mindfulness coach and co-founder of the On.Purpose Studio, shared a mantra recently which resonated with me: “Resting is a revolutionary act”. Small daily doses of self-kindness became my new thing. Steering clear from toxicity and entering a more purposeful mindset works more effectively than any chocolate bar or glass of wine ever will. I now work towards mindfulness and gratitude to build a resilient attitude, and I feel I am achieving much more out of my potential this way.
As Global HR Leader Sonia Mooney (who is both a dear friend and my growth accountability partner) put in her infamous Resilience Recipe, “During challenging times our habits can make or break us. Investing in our well-being helps build and maintain resilience, giving us the ability to not only survive but to thrive. Enabling us to be there for our families, our people and our businesses, and to successfully navigate whatever life throws at us.” Sonia’s suggestions to strengthen resilience pretty much sums up my own newly acquired empire state of mind:
- Choosing positivity, especially during challenging times can transform our mindset.
- Meditation and mindfulness practiced regularly, can be a game-changer
- Creating regular space for moments of real connection – be that in person, or virtual fuels self-sustainability
As long as we surround ourselves with people and conditions that feed our strengths rather than feed off our weaknesses, we cultivate Resilience. As long as we are Grateful for our blessings, we set ourselves up to infinite abundance. It’s the Infinite Game my friend Simon writes about. It’s wearing the Green Superhero Cape that director of education and senior scholar at the Penn Positive Psychology Center James O. Pawelski explains in his classes. It’s Brené Brown‘s Rising Strong message. It’s On.Purpose’s personal leadership development regime that Elena and Carlijn diligently put out there. The theme is the same. The setup may appear different, yet the situation and feelings are analogous: work stress and home stress are one and the same. It’s bloody stress. And no matter which side you choose to look at it, the way around is Resilience through small daily habits such as Gratitude.
It was Thanksgiving last week in the US, and although we don’t celebrate it in Greece, I can’t help but join my voice with my mentor Josh Bersin who wrote in a recent article of his that despite the pandemic, we have a lot to be thankful for, and most notably:
- We all got closer together
- Leaders became more empathetic
- Well-being crawled out of the benefits department and landed on the desk of the CEO
- Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging went mainstream
There’s momentum, synchronicity and even a good excuse for all of us to take act. Realizing that there’s a different perspective to grow out of a bad state is merely the beginning to a life-long journey of sustainable self-growth.
It’s worth the effort, Mommas and Pappas. And we got this.