As I sat trying to write this blog in my apartment, at 4:45 p.m. on...what day is it?... during the social lockdown (no small feat in a place like Manhattan where being aggressively social is practically a clause in everyone’s lease) at the onslaught of the never-seen-before, life-changing Covid-19 pandemic, I gazed blankly out my window.
My Chelsea streetscape came into focus and I realized, startled, that suddenly the as-yet barren wintertime trees had real buds on them.
Even in the worst of times, life continues to go on...right?
This pandemic has me on my heels.
I’ve been through my share of absolute disasters during my 20 years in NYC:
→ On a personal level, I’ve experienced poverty (probably not an exaggeration by most metrics), literally robbing Peter to pay Paul, not knowing where rent was going to come from, and staring down the face of financial despair. Then there’s the myriad of interpersonal and relationship debacles, capped off with my business Uplift falling off a clift and closing with a slammed door in 2019.
→ On a societal level, I have lived through, not least, 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008/2009, and Hurricane Sandy; in between, I’ve been more regularly sick to my stomach about everyone from the homeless people on my block to the children ripped away from their parents at the border, to what’s going to happen on the Supreme Court when RBG retires or passes away.
The onslaught of Covid-19 feels like a compendium of all of the above.
Personally, I'm anxious and scared. I am, in essence, an hourly, in-person worker - my personal training clients aren’t really training right now, and my consulting clients are fearing the downfall of their own businesses, which means they may not be able to pay me. I don’t have a safety net, or a family that has the means to help me (though they support me in a myriad of other ways, and I have incredible friends, so I am not alone out here in the wilderness by any means). I also don’t have a life partner to hunker down with or just to work through all of this madness with.
Societally, well, you name it. The hourly workers and immigrants and small business owners and people who work in the service industry, and all of the income and other horrific inequalities and injustices coming to light. It’s enough to make a girl want to hang her head in her hands and just cry.
It’s all a fear of the uncertainty that everything is going to be ok. It may not be ok for sooooo many people. Including me in many ways. We just don’t know.
With all that on my mind, and roiling in my gut, it’s easy to see why me and so many of us are kind of paralyzed in this liminal space between what was and what might be. The total unknown.
Here’s what I do know:
In the face of the most unsettling occurrences or circumstances, it’s how we act that defines us.
And I am not exactly saying how we act outwardly, toward other people, because I’ve found in my life that humans are fundamentally good (yes, of course, there are plenty of exceptions) and will step up with decency and kindness when it’s asked of us.
When I talk about how we act, I mean it in terms of the action steps we take to move forward over, through, and beyond terrifying times.
So, I created an action item or two for each of my 9 Pillars of Female Empowerment (conveniently clustered in three areas--Clarity, Connection, and Consciousness-Raising--all things we all need very badly right now).
Maybe even just one of them will inspire you to put one foot in front of the other, even if that’s just across the 100 square feet of your Manhattan apartment’s living room.
Pillar #1 is INSIGHT: Insight and awareness into yourself and the world around you, framed by a Growth Mindset.
Action item: Read Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s a fast and fascinating read about what the growth mindset is (basically an understanding that you can always learn, grow, and change for the better) and how to attain it.
Pillar # 2 is CONFIDENCE: True confidence stems from its sister, vulnerability.
Action items: Listen to the Harvard Business Review Anxious Achiever podcast “Managing the Stress and Uncertainty of Coronavirus” It’s an interesting and practical guide to naming our fears and being vulnerable, thanks to the amazing Jerry Colonna. Also, read The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman: it’s a stories and science-based primer on confidence for women. Finally, any audio, video, or book by Brene Brown is a great take on being vulnerable.
Pillar #3 is POSITIVITY: Making a habit of turning negative thoughts, words, and actions into positive ones.
Action item(s): I know this one is really tough right now, but when you get up in the morning, make the conscious decision to be positive. Yes, it’s actually that simple, and further micro actions will carry you there: Get out of bed. Move a little. Do even a five-minute workout (I run stairs in my building for ten minutes). Drink a glass of lemon water (which also gets things moving!). Here’s the kicker: any time a negative thought comes into your head, try stopping it in its tracks and replacing it with a happy or positive thought, image, or word. It doesn’t take long for that to become a habit.
Pillar #4 is SUCCESS: The forming of positive habits (and the science behind how to do so), along with goal-setting, progress toward said goals using creative visualization techniques, and affirmations for personal empowerment, as well as the intrinsic understanding that the success of one woman benefits the collective.
Action items: Commit to doing one thing every single day, even if it’s tiny, to advance your career, passion, side project, whatever. In essence, one tiny thing to move your life forward in a positive direction. For me this means I read an article about female empowerment, write a blog, reach out to a business contact, or simply revamp my business to-do list. I’ve also made a list of positive affirmations to say to myself in the mirror if I’m feeling down or scared (“You’re good enough. You’re Smart Enough. And doggone it, people LIKE you.”). This might sound hokey, but doggone it, it works!
Pillar #5 is COMMUNITY: The ability to build authentic interpersonal connections, robust networks, and empowered community, in both business and in your personal life.
Action items: Community-building doesn’t stop, even during quarantine and social distancing/lockdown. I’m a huge extrovert and being isolated is particularly hard for me, but I’ve made the decision to take control of the situation (SEE #3) and that also means taking action to build my communities.
→ I created Google hangouts for my different friends groups and make sure we do virtual happy hours every few days.
→ I have reached out to friends I haven’t necessarily kept in close touch with to reconnect over Facetime dates.
→ I check in with friends and people in my life via text the second they pop into my mind just so everyone feels cared for and a touch less isolated.
→ I created a family Zoom account for daily family check-ins.
→ I started a virtual weekly happy hour with colleagues at the business I consult for.
One thing this whole time has taught me is how important cultivating relationships is, and how good it feels to know how many incredible people I have in my life. This is the chance of a lifetime to nurture those relationships even more. When push comes to shove, when you have your people--whoever they are--you have everything.
Pillar # 6 is RESILIENCE: The ability to move forward and thrive in life even in the face of major challenges.
Action item: And here we are. Learning (like I did with the blossoming of the buds on the trees on 23rd Street), life does go on, and importantly, we have the power to choose how it will go on. To drive this home, read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
Pillar # 7 is BOUNDARIES: The most compassionate and empowered people both build and respect boundaries.
Action item: Clearly the Coronavirus and its inherent social distancing is the epitome of boundaries, and if you are not respecting those, you MUST do that right now. It’s the difference between all of this taking a few weeks and taking months and months. It’s an important political act right now to stay home and not go near anyone else. Spread the word, to family, friends, on social media, wherever. Make your voice heard on this topic. And speaking of that...
Pillar #8 is VOICE: Achieving empowerment comes from both speaking up and out, as well as listening actively.
Action item: Use this #WFH time to make a list of all of your reps on a state and federal level (an easy Google search) and have their email addresses and phone numbers handy--if this crisis has shown us anything, the time is NOW for standing up for average Americans (with debt, no savings, student loans, etc.) and small businesses.
Pillar #9 is MEANING: Altruism and its sister activism are the ultimate road to empowerment.
Action items: Even when we seemingly have nothing we can all find something to give.
Study after study has shown that altruism has so many benefits for our mental health. Plus, similar to Covid-19, it’s contagious.
→ Even a few dollars to your local food pantry (mine is NY Common Pantry) helps feed a lot of people.
→ I’ve donated a few bucks to a few GoFundMe (or similar) campaigns that are helping small businesses (e.g., a favorite local bar and a favorite local tailor shop founded by my friends) directly pay their employees when revenue has dried up.
→ Artist Timothy Goodman is doing a Venmo-based crowd-sourced funding campaign to provide help for people who really could use a small infusion of cash right now.
→ Not all giving has to cost money, either: Take the call(s) you might not have had--or made--time for before. Give free business advice or assistance to someone without an ounce of resentment. Check in with your doorman or super and see if there is anything you can run out and grab for an elderly or ill neighbor.
We’ll get through this, together, and come out empowered at the other end.