Especially during the first two weeks of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I had a difficult time accessing that focused and motivated professional I prefer to be. First, I was in shock by the escalating severity of the situation. The college where I work part-time quickly closed the campus and shifted to distance learning, which left me unsure if I would be laid off or if my job would be eliminated. Next, it hit me that I might not be able to pay my bills–an experience that causes a lot of shame. I grew up poor, and my family takes great pride in being able to provide for our own needs. Add to that the growing number of COVID-19 deaths, clients closing their businesses or unable to pay their bills, loved ones losing their jobs, colleagues on the front lines, and two family members visiting emergency rooms for non-COVID emergencies, I could barely hold back the tears. Sometimes I didn’t even try. I just cried. Or I dropped a series of f*** bombs.
With a little help from some colleagues, who used my own words to help me, I was soon able to take a look again at what was really going on. When I am stressed (and in this case, grieving) I forget:
1 – My brain plays tricks on me.
The amygdala interprets far more as life-threatening than is truly terminal. In the case of Coronavirus, I am at risk of contracting it. Medical experts suggest I already have it. Although I am not at high risk for a poor recovery, there is a risk that I might not recover, if I have to go to the hospital. Here in New York City, our hospitals are overwhelmed and under-supplied. Still, my risk is far lower than my brain thinks, if I follow the recommendations of the experts.
This is not the first time my brain has malfunctioned in this way. It has told me to fear all sorts of things that weren’t helpful, from who I should trust to what I can’t do. It functions a lot better when I actively manage it, especially when it’s under stress.
2 – I have tended to be motivated more by others’ expectations than my own.
My emotional exhaustion was a result of this little flaw. It’s not the worst flaw most of the time. I love helping people and when I meet their expectations, it’s a nice ego boost. I feel like a good person that my mom would be proud of. When I get paid, it helps me meet my financial obligations and feel even better. Those good feelings can be addictive, and just like alcohol or another addiction, I will likely feel empty when the high wears off because I’m living someone else’s life, not mine. I am happier when I manage others’ expectations and focus on my own.
3 – There will always be someone trying to kill my dream.
I don’t know why this has surprised me during the pandemic. I am more stressed and slipping into bad habits. It’s only natural that others are, too. It’s okay that a high school classmate trolls Facebook, looking for an argument to justify her complacency. Or that a man with too much time on his hands wrote obscene comments during my Live Q&A feed. I don’t have to be stopped by people who are hurting too much to help. There will always be obstacles. I choose whether they stop me.
4 – I am sometimes that dream killer.
I am really good at sabotaging myself. Arguably, I had almost mastered self-sabotage. I even tried to kill myself (the ultimate self-sabotage) a few decades ago. Then, I learned about Upper Limit Challenges and how to push through them. I’m still building the necessary skills, but one of the first ones I developed was the courage to look my fears in the face. Often, when I want to scrap a project, run somewhere new, or hide from the world, it is not the sign I think. It’s not that I am in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am at the edge of my comfort zone. Instead of stepping back, I need to leap. And it’s okay if I leap gently, multiple times, to build my courage.
5 – When I get stopped, all there is to do is start again.
After I was violently assaulted in 2014, I often said that my injuries slowed me down, but they did not stop me. When I couldn’t even walk to the drug store around the corner from my apartment, I called my chiropractor. Then, I hailed a taxi to her office. It meant no more long-distance runs, but I learned to swim. When the pool closed to reduce the Coronavirus spread a couple of weeks ago, I started exercising in my apartment. I have a mean walking backstroke that I look forward to taking to the water again in the coming months.
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Nance L. Schick, Esq. is an attorney, mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City. Her goal is to keep people out of court and build their conflict resolution skills. She helps managers and business owners have the difficult employee conversations that others avoid so everyone can focus on creating the results they want. Her holistic, integrative approach draws from her experience as a business owner, crime victim, employer, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative.