Six months ago, I went to the dentist for a check up, filled up the gas tank, and then went to the market to pick up a few things. After that, I returned home to work on a new presentation for a client. No fireworks, no catastrophes, no uncertainty. Average days tend to blur.
Fast-forward to today. I sit at home by the front window like a child on Christmas Eve. But instead of hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa and his flying reindeer, I wait expectantly for the UPS truck to appear with my long-awaited shipment of toilet paper.
“Nothing Ever Stays the Same”
My dear grandma Carbonara used to say those words all of the time. Some days she would say it as a way to show progress, like, “They didn’t have oranges at the market when I was a little girl. Nothing ever stays the same.” Other times, she brought it up to signal disappointment, like, “They just cancelled Blossom. Nothing ever stays the same.”
Nothing ever stays the same. It doesn’t mean worse. It doesn’t mean better. It just means different. And different requires a different mindset.
“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear . . . . It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”
This New Uncertainty
Yesterday was predictable. We might not have loved every minute of it, but we knew what to expect. Traffic, long lines at the grocery store, working long hours, last minute work assignments, petty squabbles with your spouse about whose turn it is to take out the trash, and guilt from being away from family so often.
Today, that’s changed. There’s no traffic. I don’t know if there are lines at the store, because I’m not leaving my house. I’m not working in the traditional sense, and I can see my family simply by opening my eyes.
It’s all changed. I should be happier, but…
There’s Nothing to Hold Onto
We entered COVID-19 being told to wash our hands. (My mom taught me that when I left diapers behind; others, I guess, had a longer learning curve.) Then we were told to not gather. As an introvert with social anxiety, I feel trapped when I can see another person. No fear of me gathering. When stores started closing, I shopped online.
News stories of impeachment and primaries got squeezed out by updates on coronavirus, Wuhan, doors being welded shut, pandemics, cruise ships, Italy, tragedy, economic collapse, spreading death. The media had a megaphone that could not be shut out.
We were told to prepare for a sprint; it’s become a marathon. But unlike an actual marathon that is 26.2 miles, this one doesn’t have distance markers, a clear finish line, or any timetable attached to it. Our fear is the unknown, the uncertainty of what will happen next. And will there be a next?
Replace Uncertainty with Action
What can we do when we don’t have the answers? Where can we turn when fear surrounds us like insects on a sweaty, hot afternoon?
1. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, look in a different direction
When I was a kid, I complained to my dad that my finger hurt. He offered to step on my foot so I’d forget about the pain in my finger (which explains my sense of humor as well as my ongoing therapy bills). Seriously, even as a kid, I understood what he meant: focus on something else.
I spend much time these days walking through my gardens, scratching my dog behind the ears, walking, listening to music, and reading. When I’m involved in those activities, I’m engaging in things that fill me with hope and happiness instead of despair and darkness.
Where can you look to transport to you a happy, peaceful place if only for a short time?
2. Count your blessing, not your curses
If you are not a chronic complainer, bless you. Some people have an easy time finding new things to be upset about (i.e., getting a raise becomes, “Great! Now my taxes are going to go up!”). While uncertain times create stress and fear, there is more reason for joy in your new status quo than you can imagine:
- If you’re reading this, you have sight, technology, time, and the ability to breathe
- You likely have a place to live
- You likely have access to food and clean water
- You have time to do nearly anything you can dream of doing today, right now
When you can’t change your situation, change your mindset to one of gratitude for the little things.
What are you grateful for today, right now?
3. Work like everything is up to you, pray like everything is up to God
Do your part to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Wash your hands. Stay home. Build your personal health by taking supplements, walking, and eating the most healthful food you can find. Those things are on you.
But pray. Pray for our world. Pray for our world leaders. Pray for your country, your community, your neighbors, your friends, your family. It’s okay if you’re an atheist and don’t believe in God. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t believe in you. And from a practical standpoint, praying (or thinking about others if you don’t pray) takes your focus off YOU and puts it on others. There are more of them than you. That should remind you that you are never alone. You aren’t suffering alone.
Who can you pray for or send good vibes to today?
I fervently pray that COVID-19 passes. With time, uncertainty will give way to facts, better preparation, and answers. But I hope what we learned about slowing down, simplifying our lives, remembering how to “plant [our] own gardens and decorate [our] own soul[s]”, expressing gratitude, and praying for the world around us never go away.
(Let me know if I can help in any way. I’m unable to fly and speak today, but I am still speaking virtually, coaching, consulting organizations on the people/communications side of change, and helping others write their books. Reach out. You are not alone.)