As a coach I often ask people about what they want or who they want to BE, rather than focussing on what or who they are NOT.
By including “towards” motivation with the more natural “away” feelings it can bring fresh clarity and a sense of control over our own destiny.
Then we had 2020.
I’ve noticed a shift as I’m contemplating this crazy year – a massive shift – in what I and the people I speak with want and don’t want.
The “what do you WANT” question has almost become irrelevant! Yet I’ve taken some learnings already from this crazy year and the pandemic itself isn’t even over yet…
The experiences I’ve had and the stories I’ve heard from others are so broad that it’s impossible to draw a nice, neat conclusion from it all.
If anything, the main lesson seems to be in discovering how resilient we can be.
But even that seems a bit too “neat” to conclude such a messy year where some people have faced extreme challenges (in life and business) and used every ounce of strength to get through.
So let me share my “messy” experience of this year with you: the good, the bad, the ugly and, well, the “2020-ness” of it all.
The First Wave
When COVID-19 hit Australia in March this year there was a lot of panic, especially in the massage industry which is by nature very high-risk.
James and I responded the way we thought best – by standing firm, bringing calm and telling everyone it’s all going to be okay.
Just breathe and relax people, this will all be over soon enough.
“AHEM!” … cute right?
I feel like I was so naive!
But at the time I took to social media with my sometimes simplistic ways… got shot down… and was a bit shocked.
Now to put this in context, I’ve been an active user of social media for about 12 years. It takes a lot to trigger me online.
But when I posted something about staying sensible, a therapist in the USA who had seen there what we were still waiting for here told me directly that my overly simple thinking would cause lives to be lost and kill people.
This throw-away comment made me spiral – could I really be responsible for killing someone?
We have grown a fairly powerful social following over the last 5 years of running Massage Champions, and all of a sudden the reality of the impact we can and do make was made very tangible to me.
My actions, my words, my thoughts, could lead to people not doing what was needed and if that was the case (remember this was March me thinking) there was a possibility that those actions could lead to someone getting coronavirus and potentially dying.
Don’t get me wrong here: I was advocating an approach of following what our government and associations were recommending. So I wasn’t being a rebel: far from it! But I was leaning on the expertise of those in authority to do the research and understand what was happening more than me and even they were struggling to keep up.
The fear hit me that what if they might be wrong, who do you listen to? I might be wrong. Everyone was in the dark.
And it was at that point that something inside me retreated.
It was very confusing. Our Australian massage associations were taking very different stances on how to work it all out. Our government was doing its best to learn quickly and our health departments were busy figuring out what we should be doing.
Things were changing so rapidly. My best friend took a holiday to Thailand, had 2 incredible weeks with her family and then jumped on wifi to check in to her flights and said to her hubby “I think things have got real at home…”
When she got off her flight in Melbourne, they went straight home.
But at that stage not a single staff memeber on the plane or at the airport asked them or told them absolutely anything that they had to do.
Not one person said DON’T go shopping for food or to the chemist or even do a Maccas run on your way home.
They just thought that it seemed the reasonable thing to do.
When they woke up the next morning at home, they tried to order food online… but no luck – that had crashed due to the number of people doing online orders.
It was apparent that the systems and the structures we have in our country simply could not handle the chaos that was unfolding.
And like many of us I was losing faith in the authorities as I searched for answers.
Meanwhile, Job Seeker payments were announced here in Aus for people out of work, massage therapists were told to stop operating for about 5 weeks, and then Job Keeper payments were introduced as the government’s way to encourage businesses to keep their staff employed.
That meant more questions from businesses to try to understand a policy that was introduced in a hurry and as my wonderful accountant said “the devil is in the details”.
We as employers had to bankroll a large payment before being reimbursed. If you didn’t comply there could be fines – so don’t get it wrong. Everything seemed so important!
Then home learning became a thing.
I was home-schooled myself and made the decision many years ago I would NOT be home-schooling my children! And thankfully up until 2020 they have not needed it…
Next we were told to all wear masks – and not just any mask but the specific ones that require research and understanding to get right.
For me, I’m very kinesthetic in the way I connect with the world so ALL of this suddenly seemed to make life and work so technical and difficult, at the same time as severely limiting my kinesthetic connections!
And then a big personal loss when my Gran passed away. It wasn’t because of COVID itself, but the lockdowns affected the funeral and meant our family couldn’t gather to mourn in the way families should.
The world also seemed to be going a bit crazy. So many people blaming. The Government is not doing enough. They are doing too much. People protesting (what the ACTUAL HECK???!). State borders closing. Job losses. No massage. No hugging. So much chaos. So much out of control. SO much sadness. So much confusion. So much disconnection.
And for me personally business was another stressful place, as I’m sure many of you reading this will relate to.
My main business isn’t massage any longer, but our coaching clients are massage and related bodywork professionals. So when they are affected, we are affected too.
In just one week at the start of the first lockdown we had to lower almost every single payment plan clients had in place with us. Luckily most people were able to pay at least something, which enabled us to keep our staff (thanks so much to my incredible clients and community for that).
Meanwhile many new clients who had just started one of our course intakes suddenly pulled out because of the uncertainty they were feeling from the industry (very unusual for us to have a class suddenly half empty).
I remember one particularly painful day, sliding down my laundry wall – and sobbing.
Everything James and I had worked so hard to build was slipping away.
My positivity and energy and mindset couldn’t change a global pandemic. It all felt so overwhelming.
So we continued doing what we could. I almost felt like I didn’t know how to stop or give up, even though continuing was so frustrating and sometimes seemed pointless – I felt like I couldn’t see an alternative.
And what pulled me up off the cold laundry floor that day was actually the sense of responsibility I felt to my clients and the industry.
If I was feeling this overwhelmed there were sure to be thousands of others going through the same thing or worse! And my role is to help in whatever ways I could.
So we jumped in and served our clients with more gusto than ever before.
One of James’ projects was to immediately set up daily live sessions in one of our programs to help our clients pivot (yep – the new buzz word other than Zoom!) and to take their businesses online.
Yeah I know right – how do massage therapists go online? It’s surprising and inspiring, the ingenious and amazing ways that some people were able to rise to the challenge.
“Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.” – Brené Brown
While the rest of Australia came out of lockdown and remained largely COVID-free, Victoria had only a brief respite before a major outbreak caused us to be locked down again, even more severely than the first time.
This brought a whole NEW level of blame, fear, anger and protests.
For me there was a feeling like we’d already come through this so I knew we could do it, but at the same time there was no way I wanted to go back through all that AGAIN!
Plus the new lockdown brought new challenges for me.
There were people scared of the virus itself and those that despised the Victorian Government because we were so different to the rest of the country.
All I could see in our Premier was a man surrounded by experts doing his absolute best to lead his state. I’m guessing he didn’t sign up for Premier so he could lead through a global pandemic! Yet for his leadership he was being crucified.
Weren’t we doing all this to SAVE LIVES? There was a reason we were doing this! Wasn’t there? To keep our hospitals functioning and not have to choose 1 life over another for medical care if it was overwhelmed. The lockdown meant less injuries attending the Emergency Departments – no sport – less injuries – who knew?
It was hard for me accept people with different views because of what I had made the lockdown mean to me. I kept thinking “when did I start living in a community where money is more important than lives?”
And although my own business had mostly stabilised by this time, we were still relying on the government subsidies and I was still speaking with people every day who were doing it tough.
There was a day during this phase when I was in a meeting with Claire Steele, the CEO of Compassion Australia (a child sponsorship organisation we support).
I asked Claire a hard question… What will be the impact of COVID on developing nations?
Her painful answer was that many people who were in poverty before this would be pushed into even more extreme poverty and that it could put us back 5 years or more in terms of progress. People who live on less than $1 a day who rely on daily work and have no government support… were now forced to stay in their homes and would be punished for going out. YIKES.
Imagine that. And I thought home learning or not being able to hug my Grandpa was hard…
All of this weighed heavily on my heart.
There was another day that stands out to me from the second lockdown.
I had spent a lot of time and energy consumed by feeling the many challenges that others were facing, and the more I focussed on it the more helpless I felt.
I was being overwhelmed again but this time it was from empathy, and it was way harder to deal with than the first time around.
The State Government announced further lockdowns for Melbourne but with no end date – purely based on the COVID case numbers. I could see WHY they were doing it and agreed with them. But it seemed endless and I also know the pain the people of Melbourne were going though. My brother was now a working-from-home-and-teaching-his-kids dad while his wife was working at a hospital, and my other sister-in-law had just had a newborn and we weren’t allowed to go and see them, nor could their mums even go and help out.
I’m not sure why I was affected so much harder at that point.
Maybe it was because essentially nothing had really slowed down in terms of the chaos – maybe I thought it would all subside?
Maybe I thought it would just go away, like the bush fires we had at the start of the year… remember when a third of Australia was on fire? Yeah – me neither.
Instead I found myself confronted by the ongoing reality.
And at the point when I felt I really needed something to get me through – I found myself knowing that I can only control ONE thing in this world.
As I was thinking through the chaos, the confusion and the challenges that COVID had brought to so many people – I realised something…
I’m not a pandemic expert.
I don’t need to know how the virus works from a pathological level. I don’t need to know what the guidelines for each State are or the details of the policy that was behind the government payments.
There are other experts for that!
I also can’t control anything that was happening in India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Africa. I can’t influence anything in the USA or the UK by worrying about it.
I am here to help – but I am not responsible for fixing everyone and everything.
I am NOT a PANDEMIC EXPERT.
And oh my – I can’t tell you how much pressure this took off my shoulders.
I’m not a pandemic expert.
So then. For me what CAN I control?
My internal state, my energy and my ability to show up in my values.
There must be more ways I can contribute in all this, and everyone else too.
“We connect the dots retrospectively” – Masami Sato, Owner and Founder of B1G1
In that moment I thought about some stories I had heard about the Spanish Flu… so thanks to old mate Google I searched for “what did Victoria do during the Spanish flu?”
Did you know that there were three waves of Spanish flu in Victoria from about 1914?
They had to shut schools for six months.
Everyone had to wear a mask and there were people checking your permits or ID at train stations – HA! Sound familiar?
I kept reading.
Apparently the Spanish Flu came by boat into Sydney. People were meant to quarantine for 14 days but if no-one said they had any symptoms then the vessels did not have to quarantine… (Ruby Princess anyone?)
The Government had to make policies that had not been done before but they didn’t have an official medical body to ask… so the Australian Medical Board was formed.
The states formed a coalition to be a united front through the pandemic….. until NSW shut its borders and then Victoria said “to hell with you all” and went utterly rogue… I kid you not!
In fact the Government almost lost full control and nearly had to dissolve Parliament due to so much unrest.
That pandemic lasted 3 years… with no Netflix or Tiktok – OMG
And at the end of the day, lives were lost and it would have been tough as nails for people going through it.
But what we know is that the community and the economy recovered, and if we could recover that long ago then maybe (just maybe) we could recover from this too…
What I noticed was that as I looked to see what else had happened in our past, I was reminded who I really am and what I stand for. I could see that the values I believe in and live to had prevailed once before.
And the incredible thing was I saw others doing the same thing.
When I opened my eyes to notice, I could see so many other people also on the journey through the mess.
Our clients were a bright beacon of hope, peace, and joy in the chaos, to each other, to their clients and oftentimes, to me.
Depending on location, many were allowed to open and were rising to the challenge of running business during covid.
Many of them were having their best weeks on record. Best financial quarters ever. Hiring more staff and moving into bigger spaces.
And there was this humility in them, almost a hushed nervousness, to want to minimise the good results they were getting because so many people around them were still struggling. Even success brought a different type of challenge in this messy world.
I love this quote by Marianne Williamson which I have framed on my wall:
‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within all of us.
This quote seems even more relevant – and at the same time a little confronting – when read in a time of chaos.
But it’s a curious source of joy to me that, by returning to who I know I am and living my values, I have found my path through the chaos.
I know, when I write it down it seems kind of obvious and even cliché.
However, that doesn’t stop it from being true. Sometimes we travel the whole world looking for truth and find it at home when we return.
What I have found is that right now the levels of mess, pain, and frustration are lowering – although we’re not out of it entirely yet.
And like looking around the backyard after a gale force wind, there are a lot of things tipped over or blown away. But things that remain are the solid, important, powerful things.
In my life I feel I am more deeply connected with my authentic values than before, largely because many of the busy things of life were blown away and I’ve been forced to rebuild.
The gift of disruption
“We can measure the weight of what we put down, but we cannot measure the possibility of what’s to come.” – Kyle Cease
What if disruption highlights dysfunction?
2020 has introduced massive disruption. We have never experienced anything like this as a global community.
What if the disruption of COVID has highlighted dysfunctions present in the world?
For example, if someone goes into the garden with a leg length discrepancy, and digs and plants and ends up with a sore back or knee… was it the garden that caused it?
Or was it the overload of the extra exercise that highlighted the dysfunction that was already present in the body?
Maybe, as we sift through the mess, we might start to see what we are really capable of.
Maybe, like I experienced in my own life, the painful process of disruption can clear away the window dressing and allow us to peer once more at the values we built our lives on.
To reaffirm to ourselves why we need to stand back up and do this all again.
Let me repeat this line from Marianne Williamson, “‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”
This year has redefined what “fabulous” looks like for all of us, but I’ve found it has forced me to do some deep work getting back to the core of what I believe.
And through revisiting our core values we can return to our original source of strength and inspiration. And that can do more than just “get us through”… it can be a gift.
So please, I know this year has been painful, and there’s still pain to come before it’s over.
But let’s use it as much as we can, and do our best with what we’re given.
Be brilliant, be gorgeous, be talented, be fabulous.
We will make it through and create a new world in the process.
*Reference for the Spanish flu: