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3 lessons I learned during the most stressful week of my 25+-year career

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At the risk of adding yet another “what I’ve learned during the COVID-19 crisis” post to the internet ether, I just wasn’t sure what to write about this week. Clearly, COVID-19 has taken over our personal and professional lives. So, for the time being, it almost feels weird to write about anything BUT the virus.

But, for me, as with many others in our business, writing is cathartic. It helps us express our emotions and feelings in a different way. And, at least in this post, it will allow me to take stock and reflect back on one of the most intense and stressful weeks in my 25+-year career.

Because, there were a lot of factors playing into that this week:

  • All COVID-19, all the time. Obviously, you couldn’t get away from it this week. Many of us in comms are news junkies. We love to track the news. The more information the better, right? But, in times like this when the news is almost always negative, that is not always a good thing. For me, that was definitely the case this week. The more news I consumed, the worse I felt. So, about mid-week, I made the conscious decision to pull back on my news and social media consumption. I was unusually busy, so that wasn’t all that tough. But, I also retreated to my family. To my health (I ran EVERY day this week!). To music. That all helped–immensely. I plan to continue that approach this week, too.
  • Vacation hangover. Last week, when this was all breaking, my family and I were in Palm Springs with my parents. It was surreal to monitor all this from what I describe as “The Truman Show” (Palm Springs is sunny and 80 every day it seems–although this year, we did have two rainy days, which was a huge bummer). We returned very late Saturday, and had one day to get ready for the workweek. But, when Monday hit, it hit hard. I would have had a stressful week this week WITHOUT the virus news.
  • Learning to teach remotely–on the fly. We found out the University of St. Thomas, where I teach as an adjunct professor, would be online until after spring break when I was in Palm Springs. So, when I got back, I had to figure out how the heck I was going to teach my class ON MONDAY virtually–something I, along with my professors I’m guessing, had never done. I took a quick Zoom class on Sunday night, reworked my syllabus a bit and jumped in. I told the students we’d figure this out together. I told them I was stressed and scared, just like they were. But, that this too shall pass. We made it through week one with no visible scars. Zoom actually worked pretty well! And, while my class is going to change drastically as a result of not teaching in person, life, and class, will go one. We will figure this out. Together.

So yeah, stressful week. And, I know I’m not alone. I know all of us had stressful weeks last week. For some, a lot more stressful than mine. But, I also learned a number of key lessons this week that I will be mindful of this week, and in future weeks, as this crisis evolves:

  • Empathetic leadership will pay off. I was so impressed by one client this week who was managing a team remotely through this crisis. I’ve been on many of the calls, and through it all, she has managed with an incredibly high level of emotional intelligence. She’s quick to ask everyone how they’re doing on many of the calls (which might not be happening as much as you’d guess). She acknowledged hard work and team wins throughout the week (something we all need right now). She pushed hard, but she also did a lot of listening and leaning on key people to give her advice. In short, she was an amazing empathetic leader. I think those who lead this way through this crisis are going to come out the other end in a tremendously good place. And, I’m hoping we see a lot more of it in the weeks to come–because I think we’re going to need it.
  • You HAVE to step away from the computer. This whole “work from home” thing is new to the majority of the workforce right now. And, I’m sure many are struggling to walk away from their computers this week. Partly because it’s been “all hands on deck” and partly because they’re still figuring all this out, and work can be a place of refuge. But, as someone who’s been doing this for 10+ years now, I can safely say you have to step away. Even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes for a walk outside. Or, to meditate. Get away from your computer for chunks of time. Your health depends on it right now.
  • Human connection is needed more than ever. As the week wore on, I noticed something about myself. The more I talked to people (and SAW people on Zoom), the better I felt. I read something the other day that said they shouldn’t call is “social distancing” but “physical distancing”, and I think that’s so true. We need our social connections now more than ever. So, make sure to CALL people this week. Try a Zoom call with a colleague or friend. Heck, try a Zoom happy hour! (we did this with a couple friend of ours Saturday night). Sure, you want to stay connected with your family and extended family right now. But, don’t forget your work family, and your network right now. They’re stressed, too. They’re hurting. And, they’d probably love to hear from you.

It’s been repeated many times this past week, but I say it again: We’re in this together. Especially as communicators. We’re taking the brunt of it right now, in our day jobs. And, the stress doesn’t let up after we shut the computers. So, please, take it easy on yourself this week. Talk to friends, family and work connections. Practice gratitude. And, focus on kindness and empathy in your work lives. We’ve got a long ways to go, folks. Let’s take it easy on each other.

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3 lessons I learned during the most stressful week of my 25+-year career

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