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We’re all in the same storm but not in the same boat

Elle Bell, OneUpOneDown mentor and Managing Director at SpacetoCo New Zealand, reflects on how people have experienced lockdown, and how we navigate going forward, together.

One of the best decisions I made in 2019 was becoming part of OneUpOneDown. They help connect women across the global to act as mentors or mentees on the principle that we’ve always got something to learn and something to teach those of us one step ahead or a step behind in our lives and careers. I’ve had two fantastic mentors and had the joy of being a mentor myself. Every month we have a coffee catch up with a few of the amazing women that give their time and energy to be part of the program. We have a rich and illuminating conversation, where we share and connect but also expand our perspectives by hearing from this global community. 

During lockdown, these calls have been even more helpful, as they’re a way to make new connections and see other viewpoints – from the safety of our bubble.  I thought I’d share some musings from the call last week, to share the different perspectives that I found helpful.

One of the ladies, Joy Tracey, an experienced leader who is CEO for Eureka said ‘we’re all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.’ The phrase really stuck with me. It helped me put into words the different ways I’m noticing people experiencing life under lock down. I’ve been reflecting about whether the things we’re learning about ourselves, our businesses and our communities will serve us or hinder us as we move into the ’new normal’ post COVID-19. I think we can all agree that life will be different moving forward. There is no black and white, there will of course be darker new realities for many, as well as light. But will we be able to shift that balance towards a brighter future for people and our planet? Of course – that question is rhetorical and unanswerable. A topic that always comes up when people talk about how they have experienced lock down, is time. Whether things have felt fast or slow. I’ve captured the different perspectives I’ve been hearing below and tried to make sense of them.

On slowing down…

I’m willing to bet that before the crisis, if you had a genie in a lamp, every one of us would have used a wish for more time. More time with family, more time to read, more time for being outside, more time for hobbies. Well the COVID genie just granted that wish! Many of us have been forced to pause and slow down. But I’m also willing to be that this slowing down ended up being a pretty confronting experience.

It certainly was for me. I’m someone that wears my busy badge with relish. I like to fill my time with lots of things, it makes me feel needed, useful and like I’m being productive. Tash Pieterse, a life and career coach on the call said how many of her clients had felt the confrontation of what it actually meant to be OK with being quiet. By being quiet we realise that all of our over scheduling, over consumption and generally over doing it is actually creating noise that numbs us.

The noise drowns out bigger questions about whether your life as you’re living it right now, is what you really want. Whether you’re in a job that aligns with your purpose. Whether you’re spending time doing what you want to. Whether the people you’re with are positive or negative influences. This can feel pretty uncomfortable – facing into days with no normal scheduling and you have to start making different decisions about how you spend your time. There is the opportunity to lean in to this discomfort. To embrace the quiet, and ask big questions about what’s important, how you want to spend your time going forward. 

Many of us have re-connected with things we genuinely love doing. Baking, craft projects, gardening, art. We’re spending more quality time than ever with our families – be it in our houses or on the phone. We’re becoming producers, rather than consumers. Producers of our own food, our own entertainment and solutions. The great Kiwi ingenuity for innovation is stronger than ever. Number 8 wire, ‘she’ll be alright’ – our national rhetoric for making do and getting through are serving us well. I’ve loved seeing the creativity around our neighbourhood as people find ways to show remembrance during Anzac or solidarity during lock down. 

But can this reconnection to owning our time, to sustaining and fuelling our lives with what we have now continue beyond the crisis? Will we rush back into filling the void and turning the volume back up? Will we go back to accepting our time is not our own again. Will we reassume our ‘resting state of busyness.’ This is a state where we regularly buy into convenience solutions. The irony being that these ‘conveniences’ are hiding out the inconvenient truth that your compulsion to move so fast is creating the need to buy solutions to problems that you wouldn’t have if you just slowed down. And in the bigger irony that on a global scale, many ‘convenience’ solutions are creating much bigger problems e.g. single-use plastics.

On Speeding Up…

As we’re not in the same boat, we also heard from those on the call who have not experienced a slowing down – but a speeding up of their lives. Some people’s line of work has forced them to be busier than ever. This may be due to a genuinely increased workload – maybe because they’re providing an essential service or because their business is in hyper growth due to new opportunities presented by the crisis. But others may be experiencing a higher workload from a more pernicious source – fear.

 In a time where nothing is certain and financial hardship is almost inevitable, people are working harder and longer because they are afraid of becoming unnecessary, or surplus to requirements. Nat Robinson, co-founder of OneUpOneDown talked about how it’s so easy for us to fall back on the industrial era thinking that has shaped so much of the defaults of many workplaces – ‘if you work harder, you’re more productive.’ This may not actually be true, but it feels like a truism having been part of the fabric woven by generations of workforces.

I think another aspect of people’s desire to work harder during this time is also due to guilt. We all see how our key workers are giving so much for the benefit of our health and economy long term. I think many of us feel a desire to ‘do our bit.’ Fear and guilt are very powerful emotions that can create very unhelpful stories in our minds. Stories like ‘if I don’t work hard enough, I’ll lose my job.’ If I’m not available all the time, someone else will be.’ We’re facing a period of more uncertainty, an ideal breeding ground for fear and anxiety to proliferate, leading to the risk that unhelpful, overwhelming work pressures perpetuate. How can we help people find ways to work smarter not harder? 

There is another group for whom working smarter has become a fresh new reality.  People forced to work from home, having never felt that this could be possible or productive for their work are now learning new ways to work smarter – not harder. Liberated from punishing commutes, more focused deep work time, and leaning new connectivity technologies has opened up windows of opportunities for many. 

Many businesses have been forced to speed up decision making, the apparent luxury of time yanked away, they have had to create fast lanes through the internal traffic jams they had been creating. I’ve heard of companies fast tracking projects that previously would have taken months, providing improved technology solutions like conferencing, alternative payments and finding new routes to market. Can some of these new efficiencies in getting from concept to customer persist when ’normality resumes?’ Can those that have created healthier working practices, find ways to hold on to them, and protect the new found time they have realised?

On Time…

From exploring up people’s experiences of slowing down and speeding up during these unprecedented times, it’s clear neither holds clear cut positives or negatives for people and our planet. As with anything, there is no black and white – and we wouldn’t want that. We all live our best lives when we allow ourselves to truly experience the full spectrum of colour and shade that being human entails. Sometimes we need acceleration and sometimes we need to put the breaks on. I suppose whether it’s desirable to speed up or slow down at any given time, comes back to our perception of time. 

Time is of course an illusion we create for ourselves. Most of the time when we  feel like we’re going too fast or slow, it’s because we’re falling short of our own expectation of what we should be doing with our time, rather than anyone else’s. Our perception of how our time is spent, is one of the biggest determinants of whether we feel happy or dissatisfied with our lives. If slowing down has been confronting, that’s because our expectation of what we should be spending our time doing is greater than how we’re actually perceiving that experience. ‘Where do these expectations come from?’ and ‘are they real?’ are good questions to ask yourself. Similarly, asking ‘how can I improve my perception of what I’m experiencing?’ is another interesting question. 

For me personally, I know that my expectations and perception of time are in alignment when I’m intentional and present with my time. If I intend to speed up, work hard and lean into new challenges then whether I fail or succeed,  and I have experienced and been present in all the noise that comes with that time spent, then I’m happy. Equally if my intention is to slow down, go for a walk and be present in that experience, then I’m equally happy. 

My hunch is if people can take just a bit of time to reflect on their experiences of lock down. To think about what lit them up, and brought them genuine joy, and then worked out how to intentionally spend more of their time doing this as we move forward after COVID, then we’d have a chance of creating the positive changes I think many of us desire.  

If you would like to experience the joy and power of an amazing mentoring relationship, and be part of these big and bold conversations, be sure to sign up to OneUpOneDown and be part of their next intake. It could lead to life-changing friendships and relationships.

Elle is the Managing Director of SpacetoCo New Zealand. Her mission in life is to help people make the most of their time. At SpacetoCo we make it easy for people to find and use spaces in their neighbourhood, so they can spend their time creating their communities, businesses and connections.