I co-lead a global business which connects outstanding legal professionals with organisations in need of their services. Our mission is to unlock pathways for our consultants to build 'successful, self-directed futures', a principle that permeates our culture. We seek consultants and team members who have this mind-set and also invest time helping them develop it. But what happens when the world you know is turned upside down and the rules you thought you were playing by, change so fundamentally?
I should have seen the pandemic coming more clearly, I lived in Asia in the aftermath of SARS and my team in Hong Kong and Singapore have been in the thick of it since January. I recall distinctly the first time it felt the virus might make Australian shores – a conversation with a friend who asked whether I should start stocking up on provisions in preparation for the imminent lockdown.
Comfort from simple pleasures
Fast forward to March and talk of state border closures; and now, for the first time in 20 years, I’m living in a multigenerational home with my parents, brother, sister-in-law and nephews. The same things that usually overwhelm me at Christmas (being surrounded by people 24/7) are the things that, all of a sudden, bring me comfort and seem so natural.
At the beginning of all this, I'd started mentally preparing a list of all the skills, courses and things I was going to attempt with my newly realised free time, but one month in, those items remain unticked.
But rather than beating myself up, I took some time to reflect. Firstly, on what a privilege it is to be able to share an unplanned meal with my brother and sister-in-law on a weekday evening. I relished the simplicity of participating in family life, bathing my nephews and reading them a story before bedtime. And while it took me a while to relinquish my Easter holiday plans, I spent the weekend helping my parents pack up our family home of 35 years as they transition to retirement. I feel very fortunate because I know so many people cannot be with their family and friends, and my heart is with them during this time.
In the midst of daily death tolls, economic stimulus and 24/7 media cycles, the barrage of negative news can be overwhelming. For my own sanity I have had to limit the amount of media I consume. That’s not to say I’m not deeply affected by the plight of those most vulnerable or in awe of the health care professionals who are the heroes of this pandemic. It’s to say, I know I only have a certain amount of energy and headspace right now, and with it, I’m focused on the simple things – the things I know to be true about life, the person I want to be and the business I want to lead. These are, the importance of:
Being connected. To my team, to our consultants, to candidates who are exploring their career opportunities because of the uncertainty they are experiencing, and to clients grappling with their organisations’ response. To friends, family and the stranger I smiled at during my morning walk.
Doing what you can. The guilt of not doing enough to help is significant. The privilege of being able to work from home isn’t something I take for granted. Right now I am very deliberately choosing how I spend my money by supporting businesses whose ethics align with my own, those whose primary purpose is to do good, and those who we will need to help restart our economy. Who in your community needs your help right now? If Captain Tom Moore, a 99-year-old war veteran, can raise over GBP20m for the NHS in less than a week before his 100th birthday, surely we can all do our bit.
Being kind. The grief we have for our old lives and the fear of what the future holds is unique to each of us. Hardship isn’t a competition. Listen, albeit virtually, and sit with people in their fear giving yourself permission to be vulnerable and not have all the answers. I have great admiration for anyone home schooling their children right now, and if there was ever a time to help a colleague manage their balance, it is now.
Recognising that life does go on. In the midst of all this, life’s miracles and heartaches continue, as should the safe celebrations and commemoration of these. Earlier this month our team held a virtual baby shower and together we eagerly await news.
Practising gratitude. The science of practising gratitude is significant, and even the most positive and resilient people need a little help. Take time to notice the good things, look for them, and appreciate them. If it works for you, write them down or share them with someone.
While this pandemic has a way to go, I'm hopeful about what we are learning as a profession. Almost overnight, Allen & Overy went completely virtual, like many others. Through necessity we have proven it is possible to work successfully, remotely. I’m hopeful that this experience will open up opportunities for our team and consultants to take greater control over how they integrate their professional and personal lives.
Personally, I’m doubling down on my commitment to learn a new skill – preserving! In packing up my parents' house, I found Fowlers Vacola preserving jars and right now, conserving and being mindful of what we consume really resonates with me. I’m also helping Darcy, my miniature schnauzer, prepare a letter to our firm, expressing his interest in joining the team – he fears for what my eventual return to the office might mean for him!
To discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Carolyn Aldous.