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Lessons from 2020

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We spent much of this year in a reactive state.  The coronavirus, wildfires, politics, the economy and even a new way of working are all things we’ve had to adapt to.  The only constant has been constant change.  Now, ten months into the pandemic, it’s no longer just the frontline workers that are exhausted and burnt out – it’s all of us.  Whether it’s from spending hours a day on Zoom calls, trying to navigate the boundary between work and home or just the drain of trying to ‘hold it all together’ – we all seem to be ready to put this year behind us.

And yet, when I reflect on this past year in my conversations with my clients, I realize just how many valuable lessons were learnt and just how much resilience and grit we’ve built up.  Here are some insight highlights:  

  • Breaking a negative pattern.   There were so many moments where we found ourselves worked up, frustrated about things that were out of our control, wanting things to be different.  The cue “Is this useful?” that I learned from my meditation app (10% Happier) turned out to be extremely powerful for breaking the negative train of thought.  The best part? It wasn’t a judgmental prompt – telling me to suck it up or to not feel the way I was feeling.  Just one of curiosity. 

  • Persist.  When the pandemic started, I was determined to not have myself or my  clients fall into the category of “just trying to cope”.  I knew this was going to be a long road ahead and going down the path of just counting off the days to freedom was not going to work – there were simply too many unknowns.   I challenged myself and my clients to rebuild foundations and ground ourselves with a couple of goals that were good for our well-being and mental health (taking walks, meditating, exercising).   And, we practiced following through and learned to persist every single day.  Life became about the journey, not the destination. 

  • An experimental mindset.  Because we were unable to do so many of the things we took for granted – it was necessary to get into the mindset of trying things a new way and adjusting and adapting as we went along.  Clients I worked with experimented with their work schedules, taking lunch breaks, sleep schedules and office configurations.  Neighborhoods and trails were explored, new games were played, new meal routines were set.   The key was having an attitude of “let’s just try this and see how it goes”.  We left the big expectations behind and realized outcomes didn’t have to be just as good or better than what they were before.

  • The power of a positive attitude.  Yes, we complained.  Yes, we struggled.  But we worked hard to keep an upbeat attitude and look for the positive in what we had.  The stoic philosophy of negative visualization was really helpful.  Reflecting on just how much worse things could be did help in getting us through the current challenge (the pandemic, the fires, bad air quality…)

  • Expand your horizons.  We were forced into rethinking how we went about our days and as a result were able to find new and better ways to live our lives.  Here are some of the wins from my clients:  

          Rising naturally vs.waking up to an alarm clock
          A morning routine that does not involve looking at the phone first thing
          Having regular sit down meals with the family
          Weekend cooking and baking with the kids
          A daily exercise routine in the backyard
          Declaring a definitive end to the working hours

As we approach 2021, how can we take what we’ve learned and lean into the future? 

  • Important, not just urgent.  It’s time to lean into what’s important.  When the pandemic first started, it was natural to have our ‘fight or flight’ response triggered.  You had to focus on what was urgent and put off everything else for once this was all over.  Development plans, longer term initiatives, goal-setting, crafting a vision.  Now ten months in, we understand that it’s a longer road ahead.  We can no longer put off goals, initiatives and development without there being a significant cost.  It’s time to take a deep breath and start planning for the future ahead. 

  • Compassion and containment. Working in isolation, rapidly shifting priorities, health concerns and job security have led to increased anxiety, loneliness and challenged our sense of well-being.  As a leader, it’s critical to listen and be present with the challenges, share your own struggles and offer guidance and support.  However, it’s also important to balance that with an attitude of “we can get through this”, “enough is enough” and rally your teams to take back their power and focus on things that they have control over vs. going down a path of doom and gloom.  There’s time to provide comfort and acknowledge that it’s hard. And then there’s time to rally the troops and say “we can do hard things”. 

  • Manage your Energy. What do you need to show up at your best? At least eight hours of sleep? Exposure to the outdoors? Quiet time for self-reflection?  This year has brought to light what really matters and key levers that have to be pulled to show up at your best.  Make these non-negotiable for you.  You may think you can keep grinding but deep down you know that sooner rather than later, if you ignore this, you will crash.  As we approach 2021, you need to be ready for the transition that’s coming.  Create structures around the key habits so you can be ready for peak performance.

Wishing you and your family a safe and happy holiday season!

Pooja Dang is a Women’s Executive Leadership Coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area, serving clients globally at companies such as Google, GoPro, Dropbox, and more. With over 15 years of experience in coaching, advising, and propelling women towards rapid career advancement and promotion, she specializes in high-impact workshops and dynamic 1:1 coaching, delivering breakthrough outcomes and accelerated change. Pooja has a proven track record of coaching women into the C-suite and is a trusted expert in growing executive presence, expanding influence, high-stakes negotiations, and leadership development. Using proven scientific strategies, transformative behavior tools, and a no-BS approach, Pooja is on a mission to empower more women to live confidently at the top of their game. Book your free consultation today. #ExecutiveCoach #LeadershipDevelopment #WomenInLeadership #BehaviorChange #CsuiteCoaching


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