Living the dream and working from home.
Except it’s not a dream. It’s not normal. It can feel like survival from all angles — professionally, personally, emotionally, and mentally. Working from home through a pandemic is an adjustment we all have to make, and with it comes challenges to face.
I’ve struggled with mental wellness for most of my life. I have felt helplessness that has derailed my progression and held me back — in almost every aspect of my life. I have felt the bitter sting of derailed efforts, disappointment, sadness, fear, and the hopelessness in it all. In this sense, it never felt “okay to not be okay.” I felt like these emotions were somehow wrong.
It came to the point where, instead of just merely surviving, I needed to better understand what my individual challenges were and how I could work to overcome them. I had to live for all the joy and growth I could. I had to learn that it’s okay to not be okay. I discovered that what I needed was not to be rid of my challenges, fears, and struggles, I needed to simply accept them instead. There was a power that came from that acceptance and understanding of myself and my mentality. In all my years of coaching, training, and career development, the best growth opportunity I gave myself was accepting my struggles and working to build my overall wellbeing. This is where I learned how to thrive, as it gave me the power to overcome my obstacles.
The things I have learned from my personal struggles with mental wellness prepared me to thrive and coach my team to success through this pandemic and our work from home situation.
Most individuals have thought about working from home in some capacity. We enjoy the fun moments of making designated spaces to work in, trying to figure out where to put our desks and cameras, eliminating commutes, and being close to family. Optimistically, working from home was exciting and gave us more flexibility. My productivity and the productivity of my team actually went up. However, after the initial phase of excitement settled, reality set in for so many of us — working from home is hard!
That’s when I started to realize the real struggle. Even with high productivity and success on my team, I recognized the emotional stress and challenges that working from home was having on my team members. Each situation was unique, but a common thread was we were all in “survival mode” — thinking about and fearing for our families. When we do that, we naturally aren’t thinking about working to build a productive model of daily structure. Some common concerns were…
Is my family safe?
Will I be able to help my child with their schoolwork?
Will I be able to get something at the store that I need?
What if I need support from my team?
What if someone gets sick?
Where do we go?
What do we do?
Who do we turn to?
Because of all these emotional and mental stressors, many on my team were not okay.
As a leader, my team depended on me, but even I was faced with new challenges working from home. However, the more I evaluated my actions and what I could do, it seemed that the answer was quite simple. I had to help them realize that they matter and that it is okay to not be okay. I worked with each individual to help them overcome their unique challenges themselves. This is what I do with myself and in my own family, and I believe my team to be an extension of my family.
Too often we ignore our own personal struggles through the veil of reasoning and justifications. We convince ourselves everything’s alright. We are doing ourselves a disservice when we don’t allow our fears and hardships to breathe. Instead, we should remove the veil of reason and justifications, so our fears and struggles help us understand who we are and how we can overcome them. We need to accept that it’s okay to not be okay. We have had to face obstacles none of us predicted or could have ever imagined. We have worked to build ourselves up and to address what the new normal means for us within our families and at work. This has brought on emotional exhaustion. I have found the best thing to do is acknowledge the new chaos, be forgiving of yourself, and be okay with not being okay. It’s a mindset, with just one simple philosophy: fear is not your enemy, it’s just a sign that your heart is beating and that you are human.
As I have pushed the core principles of family, empathy, and mental wellness into our team culture, I have watched my team adopt the same mentality. Collaborating and supporting each other through these uncertain times has been incredibly humbling. I appreciate my team for that. With our families we naturally move to protect, support, and build them up in every way we can. With our work teams, when they are an extension of your family, it results in organically creating a collaborative, empathetic culture — one that builds up and rises to unique and challenging times. I highly recommend it. In so doing, it gives you the permission to depend and lean on each other.
This doesn’t mean that the struggles go away. We have seen more emotions involved in this way of thinking, because we are “allowed” to be emotional. The key is not to completely avoid emotionally driven conversation, but to refine communication and thrive in those spaces. And in the current pandemic situation, we can acknowledge emotionally driven approaches are happening more often. It’s best to understand and empathize with each other, and to use those emotions to passionately move mountains together, as a team.
Wellbeing in ourselves is a subject that we often overlook and too often minimize in others. We humans have levels of complications — complications that are still yet to be completely understood. My personal battles with mental wellness and the things I have learned along the way have helped me support and coach my team to a healthy overall wellbeing. I recognize my understanding and support can only go so far. It is up to each of us, to take it upon ourselves to shape our overall wellness. Nobody knows your struggles, lifestyle, and story better than you. The longer I’m in leadership, the less I know about leadership. Instead I know more about the realization — it’s not how you prepared for a role or position, but what you do with each individual situation, that matters most.
As you give space for your emotions and as you work to build a healthy overall approach for yourself, you will thrive and overcome any changes, challenges, and obstacles that come your way. You will become empowered with a force of will and determination you didn’t know you had. You will have more empathy and be better able to help those around you. You will not be intimidated or scared by not being okay.
You will know that … it’s okay to not be okay.