Optimism, relearnt

Culture and values
Melanie Small
By Melanie Small | 10th July 2020

Were you furloughed due to COVID-19? Did you work from home during lockdown? Perhaps, like me, the events of the last few months required you to work in new and challenging circumstances. As life opens up, and our work patterns change again, how do you feel about adjusting to the new normal?

While some people are excited about returning to the buzz and camaraderie of office life, in a recent CareerBurst webinar focused on overcoming re-entry challenges, many participants reported feeling drained, wary, concerned, apprehensive and anxious. Some were reeling from a cocktail of emotions all at the same time.

This experience is typical and to be expected. For me, emerging from lockdown, or what Sarah Setterfield referred to as the 'WTF! Anxiety zone' in the webinar, is bringing back memories of the reintegration anxiety I felt following my maternity leave some 11 plus years ago. Back then, in a leadership and revenue contributing role, I was facing a new structure, a new reporting relationship and some new processes across the organisation — all while navigating early parenthood. My employer at the time, and my manager, were incredibly supportive, yet this phase threw every aspect of my life into sharp focus.

The practical, step-by-step, adaptation technique that Sarah shared during the webinar would have been invaluable to me back then, just as it will be to those feeling challenged now.

The technique — borrowed from American Leadership Coach, Marshall Goldsmith — is founded on adopting a mindset of curiosity. In Sarah's experience, this can help propel us out of our comfort zone, through the anxiety zone and into the learning zone, where a new version of success and happiness awaits.

Marshall does this by asking himself 32 questions every single day. This commitment to curiosity has transformed his life, and I can understand why. When I returned to work after maternity leave, having time to reflect on my commute to work was crucial. Contemplating my day helped me move out of my period of pause, past the apprehension and angst and through a seismic shift in my new normality.

But being open-minded and curious when we're feeling tired, anxious and apprehensive is a big ask. During the webinar, Sarah honed in on 6 of Marshall's questions, which feels more realistic in our current situation, when many of us have very little space for reflection.

These questions feel like a way to build optimism, set intentions and contemplate issues as we move into the next phase. 'They are excellent practices to start building those positive neural pathways!' Sarah promises.

So, if you're struggling with the thought of returning to an unfamiliar workplace, why not make time during your morning and evening routine to ask yourself the following:

Did I do my best to:

  • Set clear goals today?
  • Make progress towards my goals today?
  • Find meaning today?
  • Be engaged today?
  • Build positive relationships today?
  • Be happy today?

You'll notice the questions all prevent blame-shifting and encourage us to take responsibility for our efforts. They also force us to confront how we live our values every day. Comfort zone, be gone!

For me, the questions are also a great way to build on the learnings gained during recent months. Home-schooling — two words I thought I’d never utter in the same sentence — and life coaching a tween during lockdown, forced me to redefine personal resilience. I had to reassess my priorities and responsibilities, build on capabilities and find new ways to complete tasks. Daily intentions and goal-setting were suddenly critical for the whole family. They were powerful, and the benefits were many.

Reflections during lockdown also reminded me of the importance of company culture. I’ve always benefited from the supportive ethos at TWM. But the collaborative spirit and freedom to live my values every day was invaluable during tough times — when I appreciated it even more.

I will cherish this realisation from the pandemic: that optimism must be an active, mindful practise that we commit to every day, as we reemerge from lockdown and beyond. Because in the words of Henry Ford, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you are right."

The recording of Sarah’s webinar ‘Back to work: Overcoming re-entry challenges’ is available here. If you would like to grab a virtual coffee with Melanie, please get in touch via melanie.small@theworkingmanager.com

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