We devote our lives to avoiding having to face the unknown. Our compass, our maps, our psychological ‘Sat Navs” are all set up to equip us with predictability, direction, meaning, and momentum. Mostly, we must know where we are; where we should be; and how we must act. Many of us are conforming creatures of the familiar that crave the rules of the game… And then boom: the future and present just fall away in an instance and your certainty and relativity is shattered by a damn virus. Welcome to week 6 (or so I’ve lost count) of lock down and forgive me if I reflect on my personal transition from manic behaviour at the start; to Covid-19 fever; to recovery; to now, re-evaluating what the future might hold for myself and our business.
Unfortunately, we value action so highly, that even this thought process is riddled with guilt that I should be doing something more productive. Are the accounts up to date? Are the invoices checked? Therefore, space to think is not valued; ignoring discomfort prized; fear remains unresolved and masked in long working hours and the physical symptoms of exhaustion, agitation and disorientation. These symptoms can be identified more and more across the client teams we work with. 14+ hour days are commonplace; weekends have blurred into the working week; regular meetings take place mid to late evening. Exhaustion and burn out are clear and present dangers.
So, if you can avoid avoidance and subdue your addiction to action (if only briefly) then let’s ponder the situation. As I see it, our predicament is that we have no stable picture of the future, and this is a massive shock to our psyche. We are on a journey into the unknown and for many of us that’s the highway to hell. And for good reason; this is threatening and could lead to the disintegration of many things we hold dear. The medical and economic news is perilous and the race against this virus looks more like a marathon that has no map. What we value today may become meaningless as what becomes vital in the future radically shifts our perspectives on life.
However, when considering the unknown we need to acknowledge the exciting and exploratory opportunities that come with this too. What about promise and hope? What about the end of what we just don’t need any more and the start of new more benign ideas and action? The examples are all around us of heroism and duty; of altruism and volunteering; of the dynamic efforts of organisations (public and private) to rally rapidly to a national cause. And perhaps a re-valuation of what we deemed important was required anyway. The environment is a case in point as pollution has plummeted alongside a realisation that much of our travel is not nearly as vital as we once habitually thought. I wonder if what we value will adapt to our new reality and as a consequence serve us far better. If so, then re-examining what is important will be a necessary next step.
Finally, let us examine how we may cope with the unknown. The first thing to recognise is that we cannot avoid it and we must get used to it because uncertainty is not going away anytime soon. We need to face it and stare it down. Uncertainty, under the right conditioning, can become normal, familiar and controllable. But as with any phobia treatment you don’t just place the tarantula on the patient’s hand on the first visit! (I literally can’t imagine anything more horrific). Repeated exposure over time will desensitise, but should be done as part of a guided process. This will need time, space, dialogue and expert support. Containment of deep emotions emanating from fear will be needed. However, if we can get this right then we have the opportunity to create the exploratory and courageous mindsets that will thrive in these uncertain times.