Yup. Lockdown has been a bit crap.

I felt it was time for a bit of real reflection as we move into level 2 soon so here it is.

I have been in a love hate relationship with the peppy personal trainers on Instagram telling me I can still stay sane and fit from home. I loved and loathed it when their honed and toned frames show me how I can replicate a pull up using my own coffee table (who’d have thought it had more uses than just holding those coffee table books I never read). I also learnt I can create dumbbells through filling up my reusable shopping bags with books as weights (desperate times). I’ve even been momentarily inspired to do yoga over Zoom with friends (I hate yoga) and I was personally most impressed with myself when I created a pub quiz I have been leading every Tuesday evening over Zoom with friends all over the world (turns out I have a second calling as a quiz master). This time has really brought out some creativity in people that whilst magnificent sometimes gives me an overwhelming desire to punch them in the face and leave me to eat my family sized block of chocolate in peace, in the dark, watching Netflix, by myself, without the shame . 

So let’s also take a moment to recognise how crap it’s been. I think we all too often get intoxicated with inspirational posts on LinkedIn and social media, or constantly reminded of all the good, charitable things others are doing to help, that you can be left feeling rather inadequate and like you’re not using this ‘gift’ of time wisely enough. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the good and the bad and remind everyone it’s ok to feel a whole spectrum of emotions and there have been times when I have experienced all of them in one day alone! If we are not careful I think we often feel alone in our feelings and can isolate ourselves further as a result because we ‘should’ be feeling grateful all the time for what we have got, rather than what we have lost. But I say wallow in your self pity, feel sad for your loss, just don’t let it overwhelm you completely. Take a moment for that when you need to but then pick yourself back up.

I had just started my own technology recruitment business back in January and things were ramping up. I was getting busy and having my first taste of success, giving me the reassurance I had made the right decision in going out alone. Fast forward 2 months and most of my clients have frozen or halted recruitment, a lot of my smaller clients can’t afford recruitment fees or recruitment just isn’t a viable option for the foreseeable future. All of these outcomes are understandable and expected but that doesn’t mean it feels great. I am someone that thrives off action, adventure, challenge, and doing my job. I love what I do and I thrive off helping others. Suddenly I had clients approaching me as candidates and candidates that needed my help with few to no jobs to present them too. That always feels crappy! So I want to own the fact that I have had a lot of down days during lockdown and I have been primarily alone which can magnify it.

But one of the reasons I have been able to stick at recruitment is my ability to turn adversity into hope and frustration into action. When I can’t succeed at one thing, I put all my energy into something else. This works a lot of the time but is tricky trying to keep it up for 6-8 weeks straight! So I wanted to look back at my achievements during this 6 weeks, and asked some of my clients, candidates and friends to reflect on this too and come up with their biggest achievement/most fulfilling moment during lockdown.

For me, 2 things came to mind the most. Firstly, I finally gave a consistent amount of time to my guitar practice and can now play the DMA’s version of Believe (Cher’s originally) relatively well, something I didn’t think was possible but that I really wanted to master. I am awful at the guitar and only started learning a few months ago so it’s been pretty tricky. I wanted to give some time in each day to a creative outlet and guitar and writing have been my main two.

Secondly – on my birthday, I had around 15 friends from all over the world join a zoom call where most of them didn’t know anyone else. Let’s be honest, it was a little awkward. But in that moment I realised I am not alone and in fact I have so many people that have enriched my life and still do, from all corners of the planet and that is an incredible thing to be blessed with. They all turned up for me, and that was very special. Just because you might feel lonely, it doesn’t mean you are alone and this is important for those by themselves in lockdown to remember.

My friend and fellow HR professional Lisa Harden, living in the US, had a similar feeling when she reflected on her most fulfilling moment. For her it “has been reconnecting with people who are my friends and family but usually I don’t see often. It’s been a reminder that I’m connected with family and friends from around the world and also across the US, who even though I don’t see often, I have this huge network of people who I have their back and they have mine. It’s amazing”

For Claire Bond it’s been something quite profound, “Relaxing without my usual feelings of guilt. I haven’t nailed it yet, but definitely made progress.” I know I can relate to that and it took a while for me to accept I didn’t have the work to fill up my days so I needed to fill my time with different activities and to not feel bad about it. Both Claire and I also reflected upon how these personal moments of growth inevitably will have a knock on effect to other areas of our lives, impacting us in both a professional and personal capacity.

My friend and ex colleague Kirk said for him it’s been the realisation ‘of the time we have available. I’ve really started to look at my efficiency with work. I can hear the kids playing and if I’m sitting there not giving 100% to what I’m doing then I kind of feel like I’m wasting time I could spend with the little ones. So I have become hyper efficient.” I think this is huge and for a lot of people something that will resonate. Having the physical reminder of what you are choosing to do, over something else, is really quite impactful. Time with family is so valuable and something before this we often didn’t prioritise. Now it’s up to us to make it work so you can maximise both and it really is within your reach. I am a huge advocate for working from home, although I know it brings its own challenges. But just think how much extra time you get for your family when you even just take away the commute! It’s crazy. 

Lee Young noted similarly that his biggest achievement was “finally biting the bullet and going down to 4 days per week at work so I can make a start on my own business plans that I’ve been putting off for months if not years!” Working out what should be a priority is really key and something a lot of us will have learnt during this time. Spending time with people you love and prioritising things you are passionate about will bring you a lot more joy!

And though I think for a lot of us out there the benefits have been felt mostly in our personal lives, there has still be successes in the professional context that are really noteworthy. Chris Tuohy, who runs Spark’s Agile Coaching Practice noted, “My most fulfilling moment to date has been witnessing our coaches helping our Tribes with their quarterly big room planning events using an entirely remote working model (MS Teams, Azure DevOps etc). We were geared up for our normal face-to-face scaled planning events and had to pivot completely to remote tooling in under 2 weeks to pull it off. The degree of commitment, accountability and creativity on display was impressive and we were able to achieve everything we set out to in difficult circumstances . A credit to everyone involved.” I think the transition to working from home and remaining efficient, as well as conducting meaningful meetings over video conferencing rather than face to face, has been tricky but over time its been proven to work. 

Chris touches upon the need for creativity and I think that’s been such a relevant word during these past 6 weeks. We’ve all had to become a little more creative and it’s so satisfying to see individuals and teams problem solve during these unique and turbulent times. I would never have described myself as creative before but I think we all have it in us it’s just that we live in a world where so much is decided and done on our behalf because we love efficiency, we don’t have as many avenues to flex that part of us. Suddenly we have been thrust into a world where we have to do it ourselves. I think that’s a really great way to grow and unleash our fullest potential.

I know something else I have found difficult has been the feeling of a lack of control. For all those with similar personalities, I don’t do well when I feel I can’t control my own destiny and where I can’t get myself out of a less than ideal situation. At the start I think I fought that and it brought me anxiety and a lot of comfort eating!! But then I started to look at what I could control – my exercise regime, my food intake, my communication with friends, checking in on clients just to make sure they were doing ok, and this was far more fulfilling than fighting against the changing tide.

A friend and avid surfer told me when I asked him for his achievement that “this time allowed me relax because there was so much to worry about yet nothing that could be done – it was like mind training, not allowing myself to solve problems that are unsolvable. The most satisfying part of the lockdown was actually the day after it finished when I could finally get back in the water, I scored a wave that is so rare and literally couldn’t handle the excitement. Every wave I was so ecstatic! Patience is a virtue I guess.”

It’s certainly not a virtue I was born with but even I am having to slow my mind down a little and learn some patience. I also have realised as my friend Cole did, that I can’t “solve problems that are unsolvable”. So I challenge you to reflect kindly on this lockdown period and look at what you have achieved, be it professionally and/or personally. Take the time to be kind to yourself and celebrate these achievements, no matter how big or small. Yes, there have been tough times and yes, there will be more to come, and don’t be afraid to admit and embrace that, but amid all the darkness find the light – I genuinely believe it’s always there (hopefully that didn’t sound too much like those inspirational social media influencers)

And finally, if you really still feel sorry for yourself after all that and think you have it the worst, just remember there are animals kept in cages their whole life and we haven’t empathised much with them before. So maybe now we can and realise it’s not that great and we shouldn’t support it (sorry, not sorry).