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How to Thrive in Uncertain Times

Creative souls are good at thriving in uncertain times – the unknown attracts creativity, creativity embraces the unknown.  We reached out to our community of creative partners to ask them for a thought about how to thrive in uncertain times. Over the coming weeks we’ll post their words.  This is a series of personal tales, re-discovered wisdoms and new-found truths. If it chimes with an experience in your life please let us know and, if you’re happy, it can join the series.

Uncertainty fuels our ability to adapt – Eloise Maxwell

Community arts enthusiast & Producer for Creamer & Co., living in East London

Like many of my fellow contributors to this series, I’ve spent the duration of lockdown oscillating between wildly conflicting states of mind. Attempting all the while to maintain a semblance of calm. Some days I achieve this, but there are many days that I don’t. Much of my panic has stemmed from situations in which I felt my ability to make basic decisions for myself had been taken away from me, which in turn has led me to reconsider my priorities and the things I value most in life. In short – what sort of person am I? 

It turns out, unsurprisingly, I’m a very different person during a global pandemic. Or, more accurately, I’m many different sorts of person. There are days when I’m optimistic for the future and all I can see are silver linings, but these are countered by the days when I think the world is ending and the global economy will never recover. And then there are the days in between, when I’m bored of the whole thing and have no energy to engage with any of it. 

All this to say – we humans are changeable – no matter which version of myself I happen to be on any given day, I know that I might be feeling something utterly different the next day, or even within the next hour. And this, in itself, is comforting. Change is inevitable. It’s just that the change we’re experiencing right now is extreme – we’re being forced to adapt much more quickly than we’re used to. And adapting is precisely what we are all doing, every day – forging pathways through these uncharted waters as best we can. Some days this is cause for celebration, and others dismay – both are equally necessary. Indeed, together they form parts of our emotional apparatus for navigating the unknowable future. And there’s something very powerful in embracing the uncertainty; acknowledging how difficult this is, certain only of our ability to face this global, seismic change, even if we cannot know exactly how this will all play out in the months and years to come.

Create a routine of sound – Emma Haigh

A cappella choir member & Senior Producer for Creamer & Co., living in Surrey

We are a family that gains solace and security from routine. After the initial upheaval following lockdown, we quickly found new ones – we both walk the dog first thing in the morning; we often have a coffee break together mid-morning, in between the onslaught of online meetings and calls.

But what struck me recently is the routine of sound we have both developed; my husband listens to the same music at the same times of day – ambient Scandi stuff during the morning and Clair de Lune in the evening (before it breaks in to the cake-walk) with Café del Mar over weekend sundowners in the garden.

Music has long played a part in my day, too. When working from home over the past eight or so years I have nearly always had the radio accompanying me. But now that’s changed. 

For me the outdoors has become my audible routine. I have never been so aware of bird song as I am now. We’re lucky to live in a small village, where there’s virtually no traffic noise apart from the odd delivery van, and little else to interrupt the tranquillity other than the gentle roll of a child’s scooter or a barking dog. That leaves space in the audible landscape for a symphony of bird song: blackbirds, blue tits, robins and charms of goldfinch create the string section bedrock, with woodpeckers adding percussion. And at night the distant woodwind of hooting owls takes over.

I hear birds through my study window whilst working, and at weekends I routinely laze around on the grass just listening to their song. It helps me to be in the moment – a rare thing for my always on, busy mind. 

Their music, their existence, gives me total reassurance that whatever is going on in my day, or whatever is going on in the world, actually, all is well. 

Focus on accomplishment – Hans Hansen

Associate Professor, Management, Texas Tech University – living in Lubbock, Texas

One narrative that I had been going by was that time was equated to effort and presence was somehow conflated with responsibility. Now, there has been a shift to contributing and doing tasks, with less oversight, in unfamiliar contexts. I might suggest that with some increased isolation and independence, responsibility has become more important.

My measurement of effort has, maybe for the better, become detached from time. It has allowed me to focus on what I can accomplish, not how much time I have put in at an office. I myself have bragged about 18 hour workdays. “What did you accomplish?” I might now ask myself.

If time and presence are taken away as indicators, now the focus is where it should be – on accomplishment.

Have the courage to be uncomfortable – Paula Alexander

Director of Sustainable Business, Burt’s Bees, Clorox – living in North Carolina

As we teeter between now and next and before we can possibly predict the post COVID-19 world, I am filled with hope that we can hit a ‘reset’ button for our world. It’s part of my job, after all, to play the long game building sustainability into our brands and businesses and towards a goal of responsible production and consumption.

During this time, we get a taste of what a world could look like with fewer emissions, less pollution, more connections and concern for community, more concern for the waste we’re producing and more cognizant of what we consume, how quickly we use it up and how to make it last. If we want to have a world that’s livable for thriving future generations, we have to have the courage to be uncomfortable and the creativity to make the best changes lasting. 

We will need to work together like never before. Our global interconnectedness and therefore responsibility is evident.

Is it a coincidence that this virus affects our throat and lungs? The places in our energy bodies that are blue and green, vishuddha and anahata? The places of healing, of breath, of listening, of speaking our truths, the centre of dreams? On this beautiful, blue, green planet where we are all suffering and fighting for life, our focus on sustainability can get us through the darkest days, give us something to dream about and give us hope in these CV Times.

Absorb the gifts of the present – Chris Pote

Director of Devote, living in Warwickshire

I don’t have hope for the future. Right now, I don’t want to hope for it or dream about it.

What has been important to me for a number of years has been hope in the present!

It all started just over 13 years ago on 12th February 2007, when our eldest daughter, Taegen, was diagnosed with another dreadful disease. Cancer (Birkett Lymphoma to be precise!). My mind (and indeed my soulmate and wife, Jacqui’s) was consumed with hope and fear for the future (can you have one without the other?). What unfolded over the many months in isolation in hospital with our 5 year-old daughter was a revelation that we had everything we needed right there with us, but for a million different reasons we had not been as constantly conscious of it. The beautiful excuse that comes with work that you love and gives you meaning and has you addicted to the busyness drug, so we ride life rather than experience it. When you are with a little human 24 hours a day that just doesn’t happen. You suddenly STOP. You see the unconditional love of your family, the humanity of those around you, nurses, doctors, friends, strangers, even your own humanity. You allow yourself to hear a bird sing, and notice that it makes you smile. You would think that Taegen’s illness was enough to help me appreciate the present more profoundly, but what has always deepened my understanding of what is going on for me and around me, has been music. From the first moment I heard the Eurythmics as a teenager, music has been a central part of my life. It is my solace, my inspiration and my escape. It also motivates me and helps me see clearly. So there were many nights, as Taegen slept next to me, that I would lie awake with my iPod on, listening to music and it would help me make sense of my day.

As I sit here today, in what is once again an extraordinary time, music is as always helping me stay in the present. Helping me appreciate that I, and I believe humanity, have everything we need for the future already here. I have a strong faith in humans and our capacity for good to prevail, and that if we spent more time looking at what we have and less time focusing on a future we hope for, that tomorrow will be better than today, and the day after that will be even better. So I am absorbing the gifts that the present situation has shown me. To spend time with Taegen watching Star Wars obsessively and talking about life and how she is. Watching my wife teach thirty 9-year olds virtually and feeling immense pride in her ability and the importance of her work. Walking our newish dog with my youngest daughter, Brea, and seeing how caring and giving she is. There are many more, and of course through it all music surrounds me, and helps magnify the experience.

So we are now 13 years further on and Taegen is a wonderful 18 year old who has amazing aspirations and is ready to go out on the next stage of her journey and grab the present to create her future, I hope you are able to grab it too!

Be generous – Zena James

Senior PR advisor and jazz singer, living in London

It’s tempting to see ourselves as victims in Spring 2020. Victims of enforced change from ‘above’, victims of isolation and potential loneliness, victims of curbed freedom and victims of an almighty assault on our work landscape. 

But if you can enjoy the safety of a home you love, if you can somehow navigate the income-battering and if you have at least a partial hope of returning to work, this is an opening, not a victim-moment.  If you’re this lucky AND you’re not battling on the frontline, maybe this is your future narrative:

“Spring 2020 was a precious time to reconnect with neglected family and friends in real time – young and old, near and far. A passing chance to immerse myself in private escapes between work and caring endeavours, devouring long-anticipated books and rejuvenating dormant scrapbooks, unfinished songs, plays and paintings, long-silent piano sessions and uplifting garden/balcony/ sunny windowsill projects.  I gave more of myself to others and realised why I love the people and things I love.” 

I adore survival programmes and those documentaries about people attempting self-sufficient lives in some faraway isolated place. In a funny sort of way, we’re having to do that now. But for those of us who are safe at home in familiar communities, we CAN be resourceful. So let’s accept our new pace and space, and while we’re here, let’s find ways, big and small, to show our support for the heroes on the frontline.

Newfound perspectives reveal potential for growth – Todd Harrington

Creative Associate with Creamer & Co, living in New York

As Rumi said, “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.” And if this global pandemic has taught us anything already, it’s that we have little control over much of our lives. So, we now are faced with the challenge of embracing this “new normal”, and letting go of the fallacy of “control”.  On the surface, it terrifies us, but it also opens up a new door for us to examine some of our well-aged, even stagnant habits and beliefs we’ve latched onto for too long. And with this newfound perspective we may discover some untapped strengths that have been waiting patiently in the wings for the chance to step front and centre stage in our lives. 

On the theme of releasing control, I’ve been reading about schools that do best in standardized testing.  They focus the least amount of time on the test itself.  Most schools want to control the outcome, so they focus on teaching to the test.  But the data shows these schools don’t do that well.  The schools that do best have the mindset that kids have to be smart to do well, so they focus on how to make the kids smart.

Of course, for many of us, letting go of our old habits in light of this new world we’ve been thrust into will certainly be challenging. But just like the caterpillar that lets go of its old life, and changes into a new, beautiful butterfly, we too can change and let go of what we can’t control. And from that, we get to redefine what it is we want moving forward— both personally and professionally.

Let Go. Notice More. Use Everything – Lizzie Palmer

Brand consultant, facilitator and improv expert, living in London

As my wise, resilient and coping-brilliantly-Dad says, “This too shall pass.”  

Of course, things will never be the same and there is lots we need to let go of.  I’ve been working with the principles of improvisational theatre for sometime, and never more have I needed it. Some of the practices well summarised by Robert Poynton are: Let Go. Notice More. Use Everything.  What a joy it is to continue to work with these and really embrace them to adapt and change.

Letting go is one of those I am using the most, along with being really present (notice more) and trying to be fit and well.  I’m having to let go of a lot of things I am used to. Having my space to myself, my expectations – my work is much reduced – so I am letting go of that and embracing doing new and different things.  

I’m letting go of my classic work routine, morning used to be when I worked best, and instead I am taking Zoom yoga classes, walking and keeping fit in the mornings.  I’ve taken  an online  Life Drawing  class in the evening, and I am letting go of being face to face with clients, friends and relatives and embracing Zoom, Facetime and even the old fangled phone.

I’m keeping in touch via WhatsApp and letting go of wearing work clothes in favour of loose comfortable ones, unless I’m on a video conference call!  I’m embracing the constraint of cooking what is in the fridge (use what you have)  and loving that.  

I’m letting go of busy, and embracing this long pause.  Though it is weird how time stretches, flexes and shrinks.  Three hours can pass in a blink of an eye, whilst the time between lunch and a cup of tea can seem like an eternity.

I’m enjoying letting go of having to be in charge and what might be seen as ‘busy productive’, allowing time to absorb, think and let the subconscious do its brilliance. I’m letting go of control (or the illusion of it). There are many things I cannot control so I am focusing on what I can.

I’m enjoying letting go of being an extrovert and my introversion is (ironically) coming out.

I am staying cheerful and enthusiastic, oh and another piece of great advice, only look at one news channel once a day.

Find what is essential – Sophia Hill

Senior event planner, living in East Sussex

Here I am on a Friday, back from a run on the Downs, amongst the skylarks. In a quiet house, which has once again been hoovered.  Eating toast and trying to stay away from emails. 

I am down to part-time as we weather this storm. I spend days explaining to people they can’t get refunds for postponed events. And trying not to be stung by the sometimes vitriolic responses I receive. 

We are all in this together. 

I bake bread for our elderly neighbours. They give me jam. 

Someone leaves a kohlrabi on the doorstep. And a bunch of rainbow chard. 

As things fall away I am struck by the phrase ‘essential’.

It’s used over and again on the news, ‘essential travel’ ‘essential items’. Maybe we are being shown what is essential, if only we’d stop and listen.

I find myself staring out the window for long periods of time, watching the startling number of birds around the house. Goldcrests dart in the leylandii hedge over the way, goldfinches in charming gangs, drifts of long-tailed tits, starlings, a solo woodpecker. A blackcap whose inquisitive ‘twee-ee’ rings above the rolling croon of the wood pigeons. 

In a quiet world, they are busy doing all that is essential. Nest building, food finding, basking in the spring sunshine, raising young, squabbling and mating. Swooping on outstretched wings above our disintegrating priorities. 

On the highest branch of the cherry tree a blackbird sings the dawn into being. Replaced at dusk by a robin, whose liquid night-song continues long after we have clapped for the NHS. A desperate hopeful moment of distanced-togetherness. 

I get the sense that the birds have seen it all before. Or maybe they have been waiting for us to catch up. To realise the sheer absurdity of what our lives have become. 

And here we are, adapting, growing, listening, grieving, missing, trying to keep busy. Being commanded by an invisible, as yet unknowable creature, beyond justice, beyond nation, and being told simply, ‘be still’. 

I am trying, for my own sanity, to stay in the present (in a quiet house, surrounded by birdsong) despite all my work being reliant on ‘when this is over’ (quantify ‘this’, quantify ‘over’). But something in me hopes, longs for ‘this’ to last long enough for a new way of being to be planted and to grow. 

I take part in a video conference, a speaker has to get up to let her dog out for a pee. Another’s child starts to shout in the background. The signal goes down.  It’s glitchy, and funny, and human. I love it. 

I teach colleagues via Google hangouts to make bread. Conversations with suppliers, delivery drivers, venue contacts quickly turn personal. I have wished total strangers ‘lots of love’ on the phone. I chat with neighbours I have never met from the window. I speak with old friends regularly. I’ve learned to make cheese. 

This feels good. I don’t want to lose it.

So my focus in this time is to find what is essential and hold to that. In the hope that whatever breaks down and whatever comes next, I can follow this thread. That this time, with all of its strangeness, is enough to practice, to strengthen this resolve.