What Holds Us Together?
Whatever your industry or your location, news of COVID-19 or the virus itself is no doubt impacting some part of your job, daily activities, and perhaps your sense of security and certainty. Here in Northern California, schools are closed and many are working from home, as we have been instructed to shelter in place.
In light of all this change, I’m writing to you today about how, in this moment, we can take a long, hard look at the way we work. Business as usual has been upended, and it’s giving us an opportunity to assess the norm and ask ourselves some hard and crucial questions about how we work and live together.
What’s Been Driving Us?
At a recent Leverage to Lead Mastermind Meeting, I spoke with my clients about their industry’s slowdown. One of my clients finds herself fortunate enough to have more time for self-care, personal reflection, and space to really think about what’s essential. And she expressed relief at not, for the moment, having to keep up with her usual pace of productivity.
It is sad that for some of us it has taken a pandemic for us to take stock of our time and values, and how unsustainable our work lives have been.
This is a moment that is forcing us all to ask ourselves some hard questions.
Am I driving my career, or am I being driven by demands that don’t align with my values?
Am I relieved that this public crisis has forced me to change the way I work?
How can we come back from all this having learned something and ready to do better?
Can I better see now how connected I am to others?
There is Only Community
If you didn’t believe before this outbreak that we are all deeply interconnected, now is the time see the truth. COVID-19 has affected celebrities, politicians, children, the elderly, and many other vulnerable populations around the world. It’s not discerning about who can be infected and who is vulnerable.
And consider what we’re being told about staying home, avoid crowds, and washing our hands. Taking personal responsibility to actively halt the spread of the virus is not so much to protect ourselves, as the majority of persons vulnerable to the virus. We’re taking all these measures so that our already limited medical resources don’t become overwhelmed. And because we have an obligation to the sick, elderly, and otherwise vulnerable whom we don’t even know personally. We’re sacrificing individually to help the greater community good.
The Vulnerable We Already Know
That said, there are many other groups whose deep vulnerabilities are being exposed right now. The hourly workers, the uninsured, day laborers, gig workers, and anyone else without worker rights, protections, or paid leave. These are mostly people of color and women. These are the largely invisible foundations of our economy and right now they do not have the luxury of slowing down, putting work on hold, and taking stock. They are beset with anxiety over their paychecks. And they are, and have been, working inside our organizations all this time.
What if we took our new community health mentality and applied it to those already in closest proximity? The housekeeping, food service, and delivery staff? We don’t have to look far to find the members of our community who are subject to unequal structures and distribution of resources.
In some ways, COVID-19 is modeling all the challenges we haven’t acknowledged about failing to be equitable and inclusive.
And so the real question becomes, if we’re willing to make personal sacrifices for the medical health of vulnerable strangers, why not work to create an equitable system for the economically vulnerable we know?
Letting Go of Individualism
One thing we can learn from this outbreak is that our idea of community needs to be more inclusive. And that we are part of it. This feels like a cultural shift for many of us raised believing the myth of rugged individualism. And for those of us who often feel isolated as an F.O.D. pushing against systemic biases.
But what if we all moved forward inside of interconnectedness? What if this moment teaches us how to really see inequality, and gives us the opportunity to show up differently?
Combating deeply embedded inequality starts with connection and conversation. It may not seem groundbreaking, but our first step is to create opportunities to ask hard questions together.
What does this look like practically?
We email, call, check in, and really connect with people.
We ourselves share with openness and vulnerability.
We acknowledge what we don’t know, what we need to learn, and how we are going to be accountable for that learning.
We ask for and value people’s experiences, values, personal growth, innovations, and questions.
We brainstorm collectively about how we can show up differently when work gets back to “normal.”
We expand our definition of community to include work, home, family, school, neighborhood, religious bodies.
We approach all of them with principles of equity and inclusion.
We hold each other accountable for truly seeing the inequalities and showing up to disrupt collaboratively.
Connect with Me
Finding opportunities within the current situation doesn’t mean I’m not concerned or that I don’t understand feelings of unease and even panic. But I would find it tragic if we came out of this COVID-19 experience unchanged.
My work has long been about bringing bias and disenfranchisement out of the shadows and into our consciousness, so that change can be possible. It’s also been about reframing the work itself and bringing us out of isolation. It’s been about creating resources for the support and safety of all community members. Right now, our collective consciousness needs to look toward others, and “the other” living on the margins. We need to see our obligations to them ahead of ourselves.
In my series, A 10-Week Journey to Audacity, last week has been dedicated to showing up. I want to keep our conversation alive with a new webinar on March 30, Time to Reset, where we can all dig into our interconnectedness as a community. I want to offer a space for us to think, reflect, and plan together – I want us to reset. I want to offer opportunities to gain purpose, clarity, and reassurance as we all figure out how to show up and lead through this time. All are welcome. There will be no space limitations.
Our obligation, in the midst of this viral outbreak that has already taken lives, is to each other. We have to come back by coming together. I look forward to talking soon, and more.
Jennifer McClanahan-Flint is an Executive Career Strategist and the founder and CEO of Leverage to Lead. She helps women and people of color build careers with audacity and authenticity. If you would like to receive her articles in your inbox, you can sign up here.