The coronavirus crisis is challenging our sense of self. Some of us are busier than ever as our work continues, pivots, or comes into an unexpected spotlight; others of us are suddenly finding ourselves without a job, or furloughed, or wrestling with what it means to be labeled “non-essential.” Whatever part of that spectrum we’re on, most of us are struggling with the challenge of “sheltering in place,” where our homes can feel more confining than sheltering. Stress, fear, and despair vie with hope and newfound appreciation for our connections to nature, family, friends, and colleagues. In effect, we’re navigating a re-demarcation of who we are as people and professionals amid this pandemic.
On April 20, the Teal Team held a Distanced Discussion on this very topic — of how we are defining our “whole selves” these days, and what struggles we’ve encountered in reaching that definition. We welcomed participants from across the US and in varied professions, from authors to start-up founders to marketing executives to journalists.
Other than learning that an hour wasn’t nearly enough time to even scratch the surface, much less plumb the depths of this multifaceted topic, the group did bring to light a number of themes, insights, and open questions that we felt could be useful to share with our broader community. Perhaps some of these will strike a chord and ignite further Distanced Discussions, self-inquiries, or shifts in perspective. Or perhaps they will simply help illustrate, once more, that none of us is alone in our identity curiosity, if not identity crisis.
- Boundary Definition. Almost every breakout group grappled with boundaries, with one in particular tackling the dichotomy of boundaries we need (such as turning off the computer) versus boundaries that limit our whole self from emerging. In a time of blurred boundaries (tied to the idea of “how much home is now getting into our work,” a flip from what used to be work bleeding into home), we owe it to ourselves to actively define what feels personally right for each of us. (Many thanks to participant Clea Karlstrom for capturing this point.)
- Personal Connection. While the question of boundaries is a hindrance for some, it’s creating more space for others: people whose work previously had a transactional bent are now finding more personal connections and aspects of relationship permeating their work. Even for those of us who didn’t operate purely in the transactional space before, our interactions have deepened. In other words, we are having actual conversations with real people.
- Going Back to the Core. One participant (and, incidentally, an expert on identity), Larry Ackerman, brought up the idea of our core identity being “the port in the storm.” This core may be expressed differently over one’s life, but, especially in turbulent times, identifying and returning to it may offer some respite.
- A Potent Pause. Particularly for those who may not yet have a good sense of their core, many of us talked at length about viewing this pause as an opportunity to ask ourselves the “difficult questions.” Can we take this pause to question who we are in a way that the frenetic nature of “normal life” didn’t allow for? (Or that was used as a handy excuse not to face our unknowns and fears…) This is our chance to slow down, recognize, and appreciate what we have, and perhaps redefine our ideas of purpose or achievement.
- Vocabulary Test. Finally, there was an inquiry into terminology and definition. Two terms that were thrown into question are “normal” — What does “normal” mean today? When will we be at equilibrium again? How can we return to “normal,” but not return to its past incarnation? — and “essential” — who has the authority to label someone’s work “non-essential”? What does it mean when we are seeing so many examples of people breaking the paradigm around that term, where heretofore “non-essential” workers are being called upon, and vice versa?
We are humbled and honored by the many thoughtful and insightful voices that joined us in this discussion on April 20. We hope very much to continue the conversation and to welcome more of our community into it. We will be learning and adapting with every step, and are eager to hear your reactions to the points above, or your thoughts on other topics that would be of interest to you for these Distanced Discussions — please feel free to comment below!