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By the way, what do I do now?

posted 16 Apr 2020, 17:37 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 16 Apr 2020, 17:42 ]

By the way, what do I do now?

One of the challenges I have faced personally and professionally over the past 6-8 weeks is deciding where to put my time and effort. It has been very tempting to either fall into a stupor and do nothing or race around jumping from task to task. This is hardly surprising given the range and pace of change that has hit every aspect of our lives: health, finances, places of work, loss of employment, restrictions of movement, social distancing and much more. There has also been a spiritual aspect over the past days with churches and synagogues closed for Easter and Passover for the first time in 100 years and traditional family time and holidays disrupted. 

On reflection, I believe that there are 4 areas we need to pay attention to now and into the future:

- Responding as best we can to the challenges we face moment to moment, day by day

- Preparing for the “new normal” post the immediate covid-19 crisis

- Looking out for friends, family, neighbours and the vulnerable 

- Mental, physical and spiritual self-care

My suggested priorities are not listed in order, we are best to move between them as needed and as we are able.

Respond as best we can

I imagine many of us have done just this in recent times – responded as best we can to the many unwanted and complex challenges that presented themselves. I have sometimes felt I should be doing more, particularly more in a 24-hour period, but chastising myself for not being on top of everything does not help. We now know we are running in a middle-distance race or even a marathon, not a sprint.

One wise mentor of mine, when asked what his leadership philosophy was, responded by saying: ‘I do the best I can and accept the results I get. I then try and do a little better the next time.’ There is a refreshing pragmatism in this view, one that speaks from hard won life experience. 

In the past weeks, this has often meant putting off until tomorrow that which I really can’t face doing today – the opposite of my pre covid-19 approach!

Prepare for the ‘new normal’

It is clear that life will not be returning to normal as we knew it back in February 2020. Life will stabilise again, but it will be different. Until the advent of a vaccine, money will be tight, many more people will be unemployed or under-employed, whole industries such as travel and air transport will face massive ongoing challenges, some regions – particularly those recently struck by bushfires – will be disproportionately impacted, retail, the arts and hospitality will struggle to bounce back, investment in health will be much higher and on-line meetings may be here to stay! There are and will be new opportunities to be had, but I have focussed on the challenges as I feel I must highlight the need to plan for a NEW normal. I cannot envisage a situation whereby the majority of communities, businesses, NGOs and individuals immediately re-commence life as we knew it once the restrictions come off.

It is almost impossible to offer blanket advice on the new normal except to encourage us all to develop at least 2-3 future scenarios. One scenario might be quite radical in a good and bad sense, another might be more moderate. Put another way, we have to try and visualise a radically bad future, a radically good future, a moderately changed future and hybrids embracing several combinations of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let’s hope the nasty scenarios never happen, but in articulating them we are at least prepared mentally for the worst.

Look out for family, friends, neighbours and the vulnerable

I am sure that you have noticed that some people are coping well and some not. Some of us, myself included, are coping OK one day, and not coping the next. Stress and anxiety are running high so it should be no surprise that alcohol sales are up – alcohol has always been used to lubricate and self-medicate!

If we wish to exit the current crisis as a functioning society with functioning communities able to sustain functional employment, as many of us as possible need to reach out where we can to assist others. In recent years the term pastoral care has come into more general use. Once applying largely in religious entities, schools, workplaces, hospitals and whole communities now embrace the term. Pastoral care has its roots in the Latin root 'pascere' (to feed). In a Christian context, Jesus was described as the good shepherd (pastor) who took spiritual and physical care of his flock – a metaphor that was and is particularly powerful in agricultural societies.

I am amazed how grateful people are of a simple phone call. Just this morning I received an encouraging email from a colleague that in a moment lifted my whole psyche. Others have reported finding a gift package on their doorstep or an unexpected offer from a neighbour to assist with shopping or other tasks. In addition, it is so important that we do not neglect to support the frail elderly and disabled and those who care for them.

It is my hope that we emerge from this pandemic with a new-found respect for, and practice of, pastoral care across our nation and around the globe.

Mental, physical and spiritual self-care

Some would argue that self-care should come first – it is certainly not an add on. The more anxious, concerned or uncertain we are, the more likely that we neglect to look after ourselves. One wit recently quipped that she expected half of us to emerge from isolation overweight and the other half as alcoholics. A respondent immediately commented that he expected to emerge overweight and an alcoholic!

What a blessing that many of us can get outdoors to exercise, for example, which sharpens the mind and gets our heart rate going. I’ve read some great advice on mental health which includes avoiding too much negative media and taking time to stop, reflect and meditate.

Our spiritual selves crave nurture. How important then is music, poetry and the great spiritual works that are written for times just like these.

Philip Pogson FAICD

April 14 2020.

Philip has been a company director, Chair and business owner for more than 20 years. He consults and advises on strategy and governance across a range of business sectors and also co-owns and operates a music production and promotion business.