I remember Before Now. I used to get on planes and hop time zones and teach leadership programs and give speeches that made me vibrate with anxiety beforehand. I used to have a gruelling schedule, and have dreams about packing, and often wake up confused about what country I was in. And now I sleep in the same bed each night. I have homecooked, healthy meals every day. I commute downstairs to my home office. I go for walks with Aidan and Aria. And by 8.45 at night, I’m exhausted.
Some of it is what I think of as the Covid Tax—the 10 or 20 or 30% of energy that gets sapped away just by living in this extraordinarily unpredictable and anxiety-creating world. Some of it is the Zoom effect—the way our brains are searching for in-person information and, failing to get it, are wearing themselves out like a cell phone too far from the tower. But some of it is because the nature of my work cycle has shifted so dramatically so fast, and I have lost touch with what pieces are most restorative for me. For me, the battery is on and draining, and I haven’t found the charger.
I have been astonishingly lucky to have had a professional life that is as energising and engaging as mine has been. I swim in a sea of meaning and purpose and connection, and I find that I often have access to my biggest self—my work draws her out and I feel myself at the growing edge of my capacities, my creativity, my compassion. In that bigger self, holding space with treasured colleagues, I have been able to make a real difference in other people’s lives.
In these last eight weeks, the pathway to that difference has been washed out, replaced by a mass of sand and mud and fallen trees. I spend my days on Zoom or Skype or MS Teams, talking to clients and potential clients, having webinars, planning with colleagues, and all the while I’m scrambling to find my way through the slip. It’s hard to know if I’m making a difference; it’s hard to see the lights come on when someone has had an important insight; it’s hard to find those spaces of laughter and ease with a colleague in our 60 or 90 minutes on Zoom.
I did not realise how much of a positive feedback loop I was in Before Now. These connections were fostered by my being in my bigger self and they also created the conditions for me to be in my bigger self. The whole system worked.
And now the feedbacks are broken. I find myself too often in a smaller version of me, mindtrapped in my own simple stories, flailing around for control, and clinging on to an old version of the world, of my identity in the world. I have been searching these last couple of weeks for a way to recreate some of these feedback loops again and find myself. But this search too is leaving me exhausted, and I’ve started to believe it’s moving in the wrong direction. I am not going to find this bigger version of me in the places I used to find her, I think. Many of those places are closed for a while, some perhaps forever.
Instead, I’m searching for pearls of restorative moments the way I used to search for shells on the beach. I want to string them together and drape them around me to create the first pieces of the new necklace of Now.
The first pearl on the necklace of Now is shaped by my friend Amy, who reminds me that there is no way to be doing it wrong right now. It is right to be irritable sometimes. It is right to be exhausted. We are tossed in a massive storm—we are likely to spend some of our time wet and seasick. The second pearl on the necklace of Now comes from a letter from a coachee who tells me how much he has changed as we have walked this path together, how much he treasures this journey. The letter reminds me I am still me, that my life’s work is still there for me even though the context is different. Some things don’t change, aren’t changing, won’t change. In the storm everything is tumbled, but there is sea, there is sand, there is sky. The third pearl is the small prickle of excitement in my belly as I talk to a new client. There are new possibilities for the future. Yes things are broken, will be hard, will die. But this is a birthing of the new as it is a dying of the old. There are things to mourn, but there will be unexpectedly glorious things to celebrate in their time. It is too soon for me to see them, but the cycles of life give me faith that when the sun shines out again, there will be beauty in the new world too.
In truth, this doesn’t shift my exhaustion. I still brush my teeth most nights by 9. But I am less often closed in on myself. Even in the darkest places, the first pearls on the necklace gleam.