In uncertain times like these, navigating a complicated environment at work and at home is not an easy task. 2020 surprised all of us as the past year seemed to be filled with fear and uncertainty. Many people around the world are still struggling with COVID-19 and with the results of a sluggish economy. Additionally, the U.S. experienced social unrest caused by the death of George Floyd, by some law enforcement agents use of deadly force on people of color, and on January 6, 2021 Americans witnessed violence at the U.S. Capitol. Unquestionably, these times are testing many of us and are pushing us to get out of our comfort zones.
If you are anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed you are not alone. Everyone is dealing with economic pressures, family, and the uncertainty the virus is bringing to all of us. Local government professionals have concerns tied to family, safety, and budget related matters as the revenues are falling short due to COVID-19.
The path of resiliency
Staying resilient is becoming an important leadership skill as managers need to adapt to new and unfamiliar circumstances. Still, the role of the manager doesn’t end with the budget and with managing the daily operations of the organizations they belong to. It may also include being the source of comfort and courage for weary employees.
Psychologists and social researchers claim that resilience is not a personality trait and that building resilience takes time and being deliberate. To me, resilience is how well a person bounces back and recovers after suffering a loss and also how a person deals with adverse circumstances.
Now more than ever organizations across the U.S. and around the world need resilient leaders. I personally learned more about being resilient after suffering the loss of my parents, first my mom to diabetes and later my dad to cancer. No child is ever prepared to handle such a loss. During those times, I experienced the betrayal of a loved one. I also had a professional opportunity presented to me and based on a decision made higher up in the organization I wasn’t allowed to take advantage of such opportunity. My understanding was that such opportunities are reserved for senior managers only.
The difficulties I faced in the past remind me of a metaphor a good friend and mentor once told me: we all need to be like a palm tree that bends during the storm but it does not break because the palm tree is strong and flexible. These remarkable trees have roots that spread across the upper levels of soil to hold a large amount of soil which will serve as an anchor during inclement weather. The leaves of the palm tree resemble feathers that during good weather make a fine canopy but in stormy weather, they fold up and withstand intense and sometimes furious conditions.
As I recall, it was not easy to navigate through such difficult circumstances. Sometimes, I wanted to throw the towel as those situations seemed to be unbearable. I could have dwelled in those times and felt sorry for myself. However, I took the time to grieve, time to forgive, and time to evaluate my career aspirations and I can say now that these circumstances helped me to change the way I see the world and also helped me to value and understand what is important for my life.
As a local government professional that cares about the wellbeing of my staff, my community members, and my family, I will say that is better to take time to refocus and work on what you need as an individual.
The recipe to stay strong and resilient when we are going through difficult stages of life will be different for everyone. In trying times, I have taken the following steps to flex my resiliency muscle.
Focus on gratitude
Being grateful is a skill that when practiced gives you happiness and joy. Some people may tell you to be thankful and out of all of these chaotic circumstances good will come out. Others may say, how can I be grateful if I have no steady source of income due to COVID-19, or if I have been stuck at home for so long? Well, the answer is to look around you and reflect on what you have. You and your family are still healthy, you can still enjoy small things like playing with your children or with your pets. Meditate on what is positive and good, read motivational books, encouraging quotes. Likewise, a good technique to focus on being grateful could be journaling and writing every day about one positive thing that happened to you or writing about three things that you are grateful for.
Make time to exercise, eat healthy. You don’t need a rigorous exercise plan, a 10- or 15-minute walk could help set your mind in a positive state and you may also relieve some stress. Your overall wellbeing is important, nurture your body, your mind, and your spirit. As you grow stronger and healthier, you may have also developed a healthy habit.
Lean on your support group
Remember to rely on your family, friends, and trusted colleagues as they are your support group. They will be by your side and encourage you as you move forward with your life. Stay in touch with them as much as possible and also reciprocate if at one point in time a member of your support group needs encouragement and a helping hand. Life is a journey and what you freely give, you will also receive.
Work on your skills
If you are fortunate to have a job, do webinars, participate in conference calls, volunteer on task forces i.e. creating policies for hurricane shelters keeping in mind the COVID-19 guidelines. If you are in a transition period and looking for a job, don’t fall into despair, work on the skills you need for the job you want. Also, take time to reconnect with colleagues from past jobs and with college friends as they may point you in the direction of your new job. Remember today is a good day to sharpen your skills and to keep your eyes on the prize.
Look at a setback as a setup
Change your perspective, a setback could become an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of professional and the kind of person you are. If you are in the middle of turmoil, don’t give up, things will change and even these times will serve you as a stepping stone for something better.
However, if you still need help, don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance as a coach, a mentor, or a counselor could guide you and help you refocus and overcome challenging situations.
Take heart, better times are ahead. And remember this too shall pass.
Adriana Trujillo-Villa, AICP, CPM is the operations manager of the City of Haines City. Connect with Adriana by email.