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The Paradox Lessons of COVID-19

We are all in a liminal space. The shock of this global pandemic has started to wear off, and yet the ending point isn’t quite clear yet. We’re in the in-between, which feels really difficult, but also full of possibility. Contradictions and paradoxes abound.

Transitions feel uncomfortable, but they also give us the opportunity to see the nuance in our truths. It allows us to see that there are less either/or’s, and a lot more both/and’s.

I’m wondering if what you need right now isn’t more tips or resources. You know what you need to do, but you’re swinging between overwhelm and unknowns. Looking ahead at how this thing might come to an end, both grateful and a little bit sad. If that’s where you are as you read this, I’m right there with you. They are somewhat contradictory, but the juxtaposition helps me find the truth.

#1 It is necessary to hustle and work harder than ever, but I also need to give myself permission to be less productive.

This unprecedented time (how many times will I say and hear that phrase?) has been a catalyst of rapid growth—we are all rising to meet the challenges we’re facing. At the same time, this is not a time to try and force productivity.

As business owners, community leaders, partners, mothers, daughters, students, and all of the hats we wear, we rarely have the luxury to sit back and just see how everything plays out. We must find ways to pivot our businesses and take care of the people we love. We’ve had no choice but to sit through the hours of being on hold to get our SBA loans. We’ve had to muster up the courage for multiple hard decisions and even harder conversations

But all of the calls to action with “making the most” of this time can feel shaming and overwhelming. At some point, pushing through the exhaustion to accomplish one more thing doesn’t work. I know from experience that if I push myself on Tuesday past when my body tells me to stop, it will cost me. Sure I’ll get a few more things done, but then on Wednesday and Thursday, I’m not nearly as effective as I would have been if I’d listened to my gut.

In this new Not-Normal, we’re finding new rhythms. We need to get clear on what actions will help us move forward, and we need to be able to execute on those tasks every day. But in factoring what is most important with each day, we must factor in our own wellbeing and mental health.

#2 I can’t skip to optimism prematurely. But it is very helpful to look for moments of joy.

I don’t know about you—but I saw a lot of “look at the bright side” posts in my Instagram feed right as all of this was hitting. I recognized the good intentions, but the optimism felt forced and actually kind of toxic.

We’re all grieving right now—if nothing else than the loss of “normal.” Jumping to the happy ending where all of this makes sense without going through the messy middle of sadness isn’t helpful in the long run. It’s not a kind way to treat ourselves, and it’s even more unkind when we expect it of others.

It feels scary to sit with complicated emotions, and much easier to stay busy and numb while reposting the “bright side” posts. I’m not asking us to wallow in despair. But I’ve found that if I give myself space to notice the range of emotions, I can move through the sadness and anxiety and also find moments of surprise and joy.

#3 I need guides to help me get through something I’ve never been through before. And I need to have the space to hear and trust my own gut.

In the first week of sheltering in place, I took in so many webinars, podcasts, and news articles. In the face of something I’d never experienced, I sought out guides to help me think through the new tools I’d need to get through this. I craved the clarity of someone telling me what was going to happen and how I should respond to it.

But about seventeen webinars in, the information overload set in. Classes popped up, and more invitations to listen to the latest updates, likely to change tomorrow. At first, I listened to these experts because it helped me feel like I was doing something. But after a while, it felt like I had no margin left to accomplish the tasks I needed to. It seemed like everyone had urgent advice about what to do, and I felt overwhelmed with which direction to head.

When I started limiting the amount of input I was receiving, I was better able to focus and hear my own thoughts. Letting my own thoughts unfurl without interruption lessened my anxiety and gave me a clear idea of what I needed to do next. In other words, even in the midst of social distancing, it’s been helpful to isolate myself even more—just for an hour or a day at a time—so that my creativity and intuition can get their voices heard.

Sometimes it’s allowing the pendulum to swing.

Other times it’s standing in the tension.

Looking for the nuance and refusing the ultimatum of either/or of:

Hustle and rest.

Grieving and gratitude.

Community and solitude.

Trusting myself and asking for help.

Routine and spontaneity.

Bravery and vulnerability.

Illuminated Actions

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