Last March, when most of us were just starting to learn about COVID 19 and the world was shutting down, I asked a medical expert, “How long is this going to go on? When is life going to get back to normal?” She answered, “Probably late summer.” I was shocked and horrified. How on earth could we live in isolation that long? How would businesses survive? What would happen to family relationships, to our communities? I couldn’t imagine that the crisis could go on that long.
Yet here we are at the end of 2020, and there’s no sign of a return to normalcy. Sure, for many of us the isolation is not as strict as it was in those early months. But no one I know has a life that is in any way “normal.” I’m so tired of this. My clients are all tired of it. The whole world is tired. And once again, I’m asking, “When is life going to get back to normal?”
The answer is – no one knows. And that poses a unique challenge for all of us. How do you pace yourself – how do you endure – how do you run a race when you have no idea where the finish line is?
Learning a lesson in pacing from sled dogs
I was fascinated when a friend sent me an article that addressed that question in an unusual way. The article is by Blair Braverman, a woman who drives a dog sled team. She tells us that sled dogs are born to run. They run as hard as they can. And that’s great when the trip is 10, 20, or 30 miles. But what if it’s 100 or 1000 miles? The dogs don’t know how long the trip will be, and they don’t know how to pace themselves.
Many people are like those dogs. Give them a challenge and they will go at it as hard as they can. That works great – up to a point. But when the challenge goes on for an indefinite period, that strategy is useless.
Here is what Braverman has learned from her dogs:
- Front-load rest: You can’t wait until your sled dogs are exhausted to give them a break. You have to make them stop every four hours, even if they don’t want to. The same is true for managing yourself and the people who work for you. You have to schedule breaks and take them, even if you don’t want to. In my book, Curating Your Life, I talk about the importance of managing energy by taking regular breaks – every day, every week, every year. This rhythm is even more important when you’re coping with the extra stress of a pandemic.
- Build trust: By anticipating your own and other’s needs for rest, comfort, and sustenance, you create the confidence that you have each other’s back. Then, when you and the team have to meet extreme demands, you can do it knowing that you will take care of each other.
- Don’t expect you can plan for forever: Planning is great under many circumstances. But when you’re facing a race of unknown length, having a plan can actually create stress because you constantly have to break it. If you don’t know how far you have to go, you have to act as if you’re going forever. So focus on the present. As Braverman put it, “What matters most is eating a nourishing meal, telling someone you love them, walking your dog, getting enough sleep. What matters is that, to the degree you can, you make your own life sustainable every day.”
So that’s our challenge – to be both the sled dog and the “musher,” to manage ourselves and others for this long, difficult race we find ourselves in. If you’d like to talk more about how to do that, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.