Taking control of the yard. Side benefit: Yard work is a great antidote to laptop work!

Happy Monday, peeps! How is everyone holding up? We’re still in “as well as can be hoped” territory. All of us are healthy, we are fairly strictly isolated, the kids are doing fine with school, and Turtle is still working from home, which is an enormous blessing. I’m trying not to dwell on the fact that he’ll be going back to the office eventually, which will present a pretty significant exposure to all of us and be really stressful due to our daughter’s autoimmune issues.

Truth be told I am up and down a lot on the anxiety scale. Mostly I’m doing pretty well but some days I wake with dread in my stomach, that same cold terror that is so familiar from those months in 2013 when Jila was being treated for aplastic anemia at Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center. If it weren’t for that experience and the years of dealing with our own “new normal,” including some super helpful therapy when I found myself needing support, I think I’d be having a much harder time right now. But I’m doing OK.

I’m probably doing a bit too much work but for me, it helps to focus on something productive. But that’s not to say I think this should be everybody’s solution, and honestly I hate the notion that we all need to be “productive” while the world is shut down. Screw that! In fact, I think now is a great time to take a step back and think big-picture, and put a bit of extra focus on what’s truly important to you and take small — or, if you can, medium or giant — steps toward that.

If not now, when?

It seems to me now is exactly the time to embrace change and to take control of our futures. If you have dreams or plans on a back burner, now is a great time to see if you can move them closer to the front. It depends on your resources, of course, so you’ll just need to balance how much of your time and finances can be dedicated to those goals. What’s important, I think, is simply to realize that even small shifts here can be super powerful.

Many of us are in touch with our neighbors and local businesses in more meaningful ways than we ever have before, and I want to see that endure.

So, if you are struggling to survive right now and battling your state unemployment office or your bank for small business relief funds, then maybe your shift can be small — like, simply taking an hour or two every week to put goals into writing and identify the steps you’ll need to take to achieve them. See if you can work on turning this planning and goal-setting into a habit, an ongoing practice. It takes no money and not much of your time to do this. Then, when you are out of survival mode, you will have built a powerful tool to move your life or business into the direction you want.

If, on the other hand, you are doing OK financially through this pandemic and you have been thinking about a business or career change, but you never seemed to have time to put those plans into action, maybe now is the time for you to make those bigger shifts. Maybe you can actually rent that office space you’ve been dreaming about, or hire someone to build the prototype you’ve been designing, or otherwise take meaningful steps towards your bigger goals.

If not now, when?

I have found myself thinking a lot lately about how feelings of anxiety bring an impulsive desire to control things around us. It’s a practically universal human trait. The thing is, trying to control things can be positive or toxic, and the latter tends to occur when you try to control other people.

Applying yourself to your work, studies, creative pursuits, or other things is in large part a matter of controlling your knowledge and mastery of those things, and thus controlling yourself.

Getting irritated or angry or trying to micromanage other folks because they aren’t doing things right (yes, this is sometimes me with my children or husband) or they don’t think like you (see: millions of political arguments on social media happening right this moment) is trying to control other people. And this, IMO, is a doomed pursuit. 

Anytime I feel myself falling into this micromanager routine I make an effort to stop it, plus I make an effort to apologize and explain to whomever it is — husband, child, friend — “Sorry, I’m so anxious and crabby right now and I don’t mean to take it out on you.” Now that I understand my “anxious habits” better, I often proactively tell my family, “Hey, I’m feeling super anxious today so bear with me and I will try not to be snappish or crabby or bossy.” I find it helpful to put it on the table, and to normalize talking about it.

Anyway, I digress. The point I was trying to make is that anxiety-fueled control-freakish tendencies can be channeled positively, if you focus on controlling your own shit and not the people around you. And yes, you can take this too far as well and get too deep in a work tunnel to escape from your feelings, and that’s not healthy either.

So I try to keep it cool. The metaphor in my head is “leave something in the tank.” So instead of working through dinner and into the night, I try to put work stuff away, take walks with the family, chill out with a movie, play music for fun (music can turn into work for me too, so I mean fun music-playing). I’ve gotten pretty good at this and don’t feel too guilty about work jags I get into. It’s just who I am.

THIS should be the new normal.

So to bring it back around to what I started this rambly post with: Now is a great time to shift a little extra mental energy and/or time or money towards those big goals and dreams you have. Creating the life you want on your own terms is something you can control, in a positive way. And right now, in a world overloaded with anti-democratic corporations and governments and entities that really could not give two shits about regular working people, I am desperate to see more of us take that control.

I so deeply want to see a shift towards individuals and communities fueled by their own passions and ideas, and fed by the fruits of their collective work. I am exhausted and demoralized by all the stories of people abandoned by their employers (and I’m not talking about small independent businesses who are truly doing their best right now managing necessary layoffs) and treated as inconvenient-but-necessary capitalist casualties. There is no going back to normal after this, and of the many different routes our society could take, I want to see a path towards empowered individuals and local businesses, sustainable economic development policies and connected communities.

Many of us are in touch with our neighbors and local businesses in more meaningful ways than we ever have before, and I want to see that endure. From the local coffee shop that has been serving free pancakes to any kid who walks through their doors, to the local bakery that’s selling flour by the pound because the grocery stores are chronically out of stock, to the art galleries and rock venues moving their shows online, I’ve been witnessing a whole new level of community engagement that is astoundingly moving and makes me hopeful for our future.

This is the type of positive control I’m talking about: taking on problems and solving them with thought and care and in connection to the community. This is how we build strong social networks, and THIS should be the new normal. We are way overdue for a rebalancing of power in our society and to end the relentless widening of wealth inequality and social justice.

If not now, when?

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