You can’t fight a global pandemic from your spare room – so be kind to yourself
When we first went into lockdown a couple of months ago, I went into rescuer mode. Like many others around me, my first thought was “Well, I’ve got to help those I can”, followed swiftly by “So what can I do to help?”.
Because helping people invent better futures is kind of what I do at the hub, this rescue thinking wasn’t just directed to friends and family; it was also about trying to help my peers – fellow creative freelancers and those running perilously tricky to keep afloat small creative organisations.
The result was a mind map of potential responses that would have kept the largest cultural organisation in the country busy for a few months, let alone a tiny one like the hub.
Fast forward a few weeks, and (along with a bit of baking) I think I’ve done alright on the helping front (even if that mind map has a frustrating number of ‘still need to do that’ post its on it).
I’ve launched a national survey for freelancers and others like me who run their own businesses, asking them to share how COVID 19 has had an impact on them and what support they’d find most useful in coming months, and teamed up with the Creative Industries Federation to share the findings and recommendations with funders and industry bodies with a view to informing future sector support.
Thanks to some seed fundings from South East Creatives, I’m about to launch a series of digital talks about personal and career/business resilience called BALANCE, that I hope will help freelancers better balance their minds and books over the coming months (thanks Colchester Borough Council for your seed funding, support and encouragement!).
And later in June, thanks to Emergency Relief Funding from Arts Council England I’ll be launching a national action learning programme for creative freelancers and entrepreneurs.
And I’ve done all that whilst also working with clients to try to re-purpose the work that was already on the hub’s books. Wow, even reading that back this Sunday morning is a bit overwhelming. Ding.
And that brings me to the real reason for this blog.
Fast forward across those weeks again, and there’s something else that’s happened. I’ve realised that – just like those peers I was so intent on helping back when ‘this’ kicked off – I also need a bit of help. Reflecting on things 7 or 8 weeks in, it’s obvious. I’m trying to help my PEERS… people like me….so if they need a bit of help, it stands to reason that so do I. Ding again!
I guess headline no.1 for me is ‘”You can’t fight a global pandemic from your spare room”. And that’s true even if you’ve bought yourself some new stationary to make things a bit better. I think I realised that about a month ago, although I’m still not sure I’ve actually given up the fight just yet.
Headline no. 2 has been (and this nugget came from a conversation with a lovely client, who’d got it from a friend who works at a university, so I really hope it’s doing the rounds) “We’re not working from home; we’re at home, trying to work, whilst in the middle of a global crisis”. At times when I’ve cut myself a bit of slack over the past weeks, it’s been because – momentarily – I’ve remembered that for myself.
And there have been other headlines, but those are probably for another blog, or I’ll be here all day. On a Sunday. Which would be a bad thing!
And that’s the rub. I spend hours every week helping people to make good decisions, that will hopefully help them (or others they work with) to have better lives and/or make better livings. And yet, more often than I’d usually admit, I can sometimes make terrible decisions for myself. Talking to friends and colleagues who recognise the ‘rescuer’ in themselves too, I don’t think I’m alone in this, especially given we work in a sector that’s known for being full of lovely, creative and generous people.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week, and this year’s theme is ‘kindness’.
One of the hashtags the Mental Health Foundation has been asking people to share is ‘#KindnessMatters’. And so the thing I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is not just about how I can be kind to other people, but also how I can be kinder to myself. I started out on the being kind to others early on; I remember, as a 6 year old, helping the dinner ladies in the playground ‘look after the little ones’. But I’ve never really mastered this being as kind to yourself as you are to others business.
And for me, a lot of this is about work. I absolutely love working in the creative sector, and like a lot of us, what I do feels a bit of a vocation. At it’s best, work gives me so much – the chance to invent and imagine with brilliant, lovely people; to feed my curiosity; to help others; to make a difference – and going to work is an absolute joy. But when I overdo it, work also has the potential to turn my day or my week from colour to black and white, to leave me with too little fuel left in the tank for me.
I often to talk to people I work with about the hub’s ‘KNEES’.
‘KNEES’ is a set of criteria we use to decide whether to take on a piece of work or develop a project idea we have. It’s an acronym of course (know a consultant who doesn’t have a favourite acronym?!), and the picture above tells you what it stands for. Every project we deliver has to develop our KNOWLEDGE in some way; there has to be an element of the NEW about it; it has to EXCITE us, be ENABLING for our clients or peers, and we have to be able to SHARE what we learn. Those principles have underpinned the hub these past 18 years or so.
But a few years ago, when I took a couple of months off for a sabbatical, on the advice of someone very wise I put together some ‘back to work’ guidelines. And in doing that I came up with a new set of ‘KNEES’, designed to help me achieve that illusive work/life balance that has always seemed to elude me. I dug those out a couple of weeks ago, as they felt like valuable principles to try to live by while COVID 19 continues to ravage the creative sector I’ve grown up in and that nurtures me. And I wanted to share them, because I think, even amongst my closest friends and peers, they might offer a bit of gentle guidance that might help ‘course correct’ a little bit. So here they are, as depicted on a different blue post it below…
Work should be KIND; it should NURTURE you; it should be EXCITING; there should be ENOUGH but not too much, and it should feel SUSTAINING.
A coach I once worked with for a short while told me that she admired my energy. “Ooh, that’s kind of you.” I said. She looked at me in a particular way, and followed up with, “What I mean is that you hurl yourself at everything with such might…It’s like you’re running at a high wall because you want to get through it, without realising that sometimes there’s actually a door that you could use, which would be much easier.”
I’ve thought about that a bit recently too. I think the pandemic might be the wall. And I think self kindness might be the door.
Headline no.3 would be “There’s no point in running really fast in a business as usual fashion if the planet is moving in a totally different direction”.
We’re each and everyone of us part of that. We’re all of us – even those who like to help/see themselves as rescuers – having a human reaction to what’s going on around us. While scientists around the world rush to find a vaccine, the fact of the matter is that NO ONE is immune to the effects of the pandemic on our daily mood, mental health and capacity to make it through a working (from home) day.
I started writing this for me, in a notebook I use to try to keep me on the right track, but then I realised that I’m likely not alone in struggling with how to balance life and work (and everything else) right now, so I decided to put in on the blog. If it helps even one or two of you reading it, it will be worth the hour or so I gave to it on this pleasant Sunday morning in my garden.
Take good care….
PS. The other thing I did was create a #KindnessMatters playlist. It’s got some absolute belters on it, so give it a listen if you need some inspiration!