“Turn failure into Victory, don’t let your courage fade; And if you get a Lemon, Just make the Lemon Aid (sic).” ~ Men’s Wear, Vol. 26, page 65
“He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand.” ~ Elbert Hubbard
The poor lemon — which is actually a healthy fruit, delicious garnish for food and drinks and frequent ingredient in many recipes — has been used to illustrate anywhere from defective automobiles and other consumer products to professional and personal failures or disasters beyond one’s control. And now the world has been handed a global mega-lemon in the form of COVID-19, but if we follow the advice of wise people such as those quoted above we should be flooding the planet with lemonade.
Many who are caught in this hard-hitting pandemic are on the front lines of fighting it: healthcare professionals, fire fighters, police, grocery owners and staffs, sanitation and transportation workers, farmers, factory workers and other truly essential personnel. They are not only taking care of patients and the general populace but in their various positions they are putting their lives on the line every day. They are making their own kind of life-saving and life-serving lemonade and helping to protect and accommodate those of us who are sheltering in our homes so we can go about attempting to make our own lemon beverages.
Getting the Lemons
Not only do we have to listen to the grim news reports about COVID-19 every day, 24/7, but so many of us to some degree are juggling sheltering, working, schooling and caring for others at home these days. How are we supposed to get a handle on our lives and careers?
Thus, surviving the pandemic goes beyond avoiding or recovering from the disease itself; it is surviving the drastic changes in our new life situations. So many have lost their jobs or are struggling to do them under difficult-to-impossible circumstances. Many are also struggling financially to pay rent and buy food and other essentials, or if they have funds they cannot get food deliveries or find essentials anywhere because the supply chain has run dry.
Recently, I blogged about some of the challenges of working from home during this crisis in my post, Tots, Toilet Paper and Technology. As the world, our nation and especially our respective regions struggle to get this virus under control, we each must adapt to operating on all fronts from our new Master Control — our homes sweet homes.
I have grappled with my own situation, even though it’s easier than many because I was already working from home on my own time and dime, having retired from my Wall Street corporate job some years ago. And while one of my chief goals is to inspire and train others to succeed in the workplace, it’s important that I keep up my own learning and pay homage to and share my sources of inspiration. One of those sources is my technology guru, editor-at-large and sometimes training partner, Lyn Leis, who is also my daughter and a career coach. Lyn and I have been collaborating to train and inspire others in how to plan and pursue their career choices since she was in middle school. Together we designed and implemented seven consecutive Take Our Daughters to Work Day annual events for the daughters, eight to 15 years old, of the employees of my company. The events presented interactive themes to inspire girls to start thinking early about the various careers to which they could aspire.
As well, I have long been an admirer of Bonnie Low Kramen and her team, and have been inspired by the webinars Bonnie has produced during this crisis. One that I especially enjoyed features Ann Hiatt, who has held high-level positions supporting the leaders of Amazon, Yahoo! and Google. Ann spoke about surviving our new normal during the pandemic, and provided helpful advice on organizing and innovating while working under very tough circumstances. She pointed out that there can be opportunities to step up during a disaster to reassess and even advance your career.
Making the Lemonade
Ann’s presentation reminded me that in my corporate career, I received recognition on two occasions because of my visionary work that helped with the resolution of a crisis management situation, and then again because of my work before and during a disaster recovery operation. Those two events helped to propel me from executive assistant to vice president. Urgent and difficult situations often expose people’s talents, expertise and leadership abilities.
Being able to adapt quickly to a new environment in the wake of a crisis or disaster is crucial to survival and recovery, as well as being able to transition effectively (and, it is hoped, smoothly) back to normal — or the new normal. Consequently, if you have no choice but to be at home for an indefinite period, use any extra time that you have gained by not having to commute to and from the office to up your game and polish your professional and personal skills. For example, learn those new technologies, organizational techniques and innovative methods that you need to get your job done from home. Those accomplishments could help you advance in your career when you return to your regular office. Perhaps your productivity and creativity will help ease your manager’s and coworkers’ struggles and raise your profile.
And while you are juggling work with home schooling you might be discovering more about how your children learn and what their strengths and weaknesses are. This information will help you to support and guide them more effectively through their school careers. There might even be more time available to spend with the kids, playing board games and throwing some balls around outdoors. And then there are the pets, which reportedly are over the moon that their humans are home full time to provide laps to sit on, keyboards to share, more walks and joining in that ball-throwing.
You can assess your home office and ensure that it functions optimally, not only during this emergency but whenever you need to work productively from home. Even after this pandemic passes you might find yourself at home more frequently, as employers are finding out how important it is that their employees are prepared to work remotely. Many of us are learning that a file cabinet, phone and computer are no longer enough. We might need hardware such as a webcam or headphones, furniture such as an ergonomically constructed desk chair to accommodate more hours in front of the computer, and enough supplies to see us through for weeks, maybe months. As we are also discovering, it’s extremely difficult to find such items to purchase when we are in the middle of a crisis. So we all need to devise our own home emergency plans, because this one won’t be the last.
Then there are the personal tasks that we never find time to tackle: the attic, garage and closets that need cleaning out and organizing; the photo albums that need assembling, pictures and artwork that need hanging, and the people we need to call and catch up on their lives. And how about those books you’ve wanted to read? Now might be the time for some or all of these things! Then those are the folks who are sewing protective face masks and other accessories for health care workers and the general populace.
And on the chance that before this virus reared its ugly head you were thinking about selling your home; to be ready to move this project forward, decluttering should be on your list of tasks to tackle while you are spending a lot of unexpected time in said home. I will soon be posting a series that describes the experience of selling my home of 30 years and moving to a new one.
Making such lemonade out of life’s lemons can in itself reduce stress. Keeping in touch with coworkers during the workday via teleconferencing, attending webinars and Skyping with family and friends can stave off loneliness if you are sheltering at home alone. And if you are sheltering at home with a houseful you might need some alone time to curl up with a cup of tea or glass of wine and a good book (for entertainment, not work).
For those who are staying out of the stores you might be finding that it’s been challenging to get food deliveries; but it’s important to try to eat normally and healthfully. Exercise is also important, so try to work into your day walks outdoors or aerobics in front of the TV.
One of my favorite stress reducers is power posing, which I have been promoting since I first saw Professor Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on body language. Try her techniques and feel some of your power and confidence returning!
But the most powerful stress reducer is simply to give yourself a break and realize that you are not alone in your situation, your feelings or your struggles. You have the company of millions in the same boat trying to row in the right direction through these dark waters. And most have the same worries — their job or lack of one, their kids, their finances and maybe all of these and more. We all need to be there for each other, however we can, to get through this surreal experience together.
Speaking of lemons and stress, I want to end this post with a semi-light anecdote. Several years ago, my family and I were dining in a neighborhood chain restaurant. The place was jammed and the service was excruciatingly slow. After watching tables at other stations fill and empty while we still waited for our orders to arrive, I made the mistake of going to check out the situation amidst the chaos. As I walked around the bar I saw our server pick up lemon wedges with his fingers and drop them into drinks. Just then he looked up, saw me and indicated that these were our drinks. I expressed to him my preference that he use tongs instead to pick up the lemon wedges and requested new drinks. In response, our server picked up another lemon wedge and threw it at me!
Obviously, the timing of my critique of his lemon handling was the last straw for this very stressed young server. I was put off by his behavior, but regretted saying anything. After all, I once waited tables and know how stressful it can be. But in an amusing twist, following the incident I came across this article published by the renowned Cleveland Clinic, entitled: “What you should know about Dirty Lemon Wedges at Restaurants”!!
So. Lemons. Enjoy them in reality; don’t let them get you down, figuratively. As long as we keep making that metaphorical lemonade, we will get through this pandemic with our mental and spiritual health reasonably intact. We’ll continue to listen to the medical experts and responsible government leaders to shepherd us through in an effort to keep our physical health intact. And we’ll try to be patient and kind.
My wish for you is that you keep your spirits up, stay in touch with your family and friends, keep informed and stay sheltered as much as possible. Take good care of yourself. You are stronger than you think, and valued more than you know.
Until next time,