After 2+ years in the pandemic, COVID-19 finally hit home in the last week. I am amazed, beyond everything else, about how we got used to living with it but there is still no clarity about how it started and what can we learn to prevent something similar to happen in the future. It is so unclear, so mysterious and so scary at the same time. Make me think and wonder, in whose hands are we? Something that is so basic and natural in business and in life like understanding what happened, learning and applying those learnings for the future, has been, at least to my knowledge, hidden from the public. We learnt a lot about managing a pandemic but not sure about what we have learnt to prevent another one. But this is just a reflection before I go ahead with my post which is about how COVID came home, what I learned and re-learned about work and life.
I tested positive on a Thursday and for the next 48 hours I felt a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. I asked myself many questions. How do I take care of myself, how do I protect others at home from getting the virus, what do I do with work, what happens to all the plans for the next 10 days, etc. Those two days I couldn’t work. I wasn’t feeling 100% but I couldn’t focus either. I attended a couple of key meetings and that was it. The next week, I was feeling much better but still in quarantine and since Sunday with my two girls being positive as well. We were in a time machine back to the worst part of the pandemic. Working fully from home with kids fully at home. Luckily, my in-laws were at home as well, one of them tested positive and the other one negative. My wife was negative. With four positives and two negatives, we split the house to protect the negatives and make life easy for the positives. I was in and out of work, I was in and out taking care of the girls. During this quarantine, I reinforced a couple of key leadership and life lessons:
1. PRIORITIES: It is ok to prioritize your health and wellbeing, mental and physical. Nothing happens when you step out of work for a week or even two weeks. And what I truly mean is that things keep progressing because you have a team that you can trust and you have a manager that supports you while you are out. Since I moved to the US 7 years ago, I have struggled to understand why people take only a 1-week vacation and why they put on their out of offices that people can still email or text them. I think it should be ok to disconnect from work while you are out, I believe we can trust teams to cover, and I believe leaders must reinforce this and allow people to take vacations and time off without the need to be available. It is possible, we can do it! It is a culture change and it needs employees and leaders to commit to it. Make sure your health and wellbeing rank #1 in your priorities, it is your responsibility!
2. EMPOWERMENT: If you are a micromanager, you can’t expect that your team will jump in for you from one day to the other. Empowering teams, trusting people that work with you, making decisions at the lower level possible is a daily exercise that we should do so it becomes the norm of our team culture. When this is already embedded in your culture, it is much easier to take the needed time off knowing that your team has your back.
3. COMPASSION: I liked a lot a post from Susan David Ph.D. that I have seen recently about the difference between Sympathy (I am sorry you are in pain — Distant), Empathy (I can imagine what this pain feels like — Shared) and Compassion (You are suffering and I will do what I can to help — Connected and action oriented). I was able to experience a lot of compassion last week. From colleagues and team members checking in and willing to go the extra mile to cover to my wife and her dad taking the lead of everything at home, checking in with us and making sure we had all we needed. It did not end in empathy, they all went above and beyond with compassion, they all did what they could to help!
4. SUPPORT NETWORK: Since I am not a native, I googled “support network” to make sure it means what I wanted to say. And my google search was spot on: “A support network refers to the people in your life that help you achieve your personal and professional goals”. To me it is all about family, colleagues and good friends. Family to take care of you when you need it most, colleagues and teams that make sure you can take time off and the boat keeps moving and friends that come by and leave you treats to enjoy while you are sick, that can take care of your kids or do what ever they can to help. Small acts can go a long way, we all need to feel we have people we can trust and count on.
5. PERSPECTIVE: Sometimes life feels so rushed… When COVID hit, my life was kind of paused. I was at home, I had to quarantine for at least 5 days and live with a mask for another 5 so I minimize the spread. I will never ask for pandemic but there is no doubt that we have win some things with it and there is no doubt that in all the craziness I lived through during the last 10 days, there were also things that I enjoyed a lot and helped me put life back in perspective:
a. We are not indispensable. It is ok to bring our best selves to work and I am convinced about it but as much as we would like to think we are indispensable, we are not. We are part of a team and it is the power of the team working together what is indispensable, not the individualities but all of them working together. The team is the hero, the team has a support system for every player. The culture of work has made people fear about being replaceable and in the end we are. But showing our vulnerabilities and asking for help is ok and does not make us more or less indispensable, it does not show weakness or a sign of giving up, it shows resiliency, strength, humility and openness to what is possible.
b. Life is beautiful: As we split the house between negatives and positives, I have been sleeping with my younger daughter and I have to admit I loved it, every night, every morning. At the same time, I missed my wife. We lived in the same house but we were so far apart. And I realized I have taken for granted every night that we slept together, it has become part of the routine and it shouldn’t, I missed her a lot, every night, every morning. During the quarantine, I was able to be close to my girls 24/7. It is stressful but priceless. Playing games, watching TV, eating together, helping with homework, sharing the same room, it is all worth it! At least for a few days 😊
c. The grass is not greener on the other side: Stop thinking that way. Be grateful about what you have and who you are and have compassion to help others as much as you can when they are in need. It was hard to test positive, the symptoms, the isolation, feeling helpless, missing out, etc. It is also hard to be a negative helping a positive. Suddenly, everything is on you and despite you being healthy, your life is impacted. There is no heroes and villains, there is no better side, we are teams in the office and at home and we should all do our best and assume positive intent to help each other to accomplish our goals. You may be on the side of help needed today but you may be on the helper side tomorrow. That is life.
If I can leave a summary of all of this in a few words I would say:
- Life is beautiful.
- Freedom is priceless.
- You can’t buy health, prioritize it!
- Surround yourself with a strong & genuine support network.