CISWTM is a semi-regular series of observations, best practices and frameworks focused on both excellence in delivering customer service and managing teams as a servant leader. The author has an MBA from Harvard Business School, focusing his studies on service operations, organizational behavior and leadership. He has worked at/with some of America’s most recognized brands including American Express and Tesla. He is available for consultative work for individuals, teams and organizations. Views expressed are solely his.
“How can you fill up other’s cup if you’re not taking time to fill up yours?”
At various points in my career, friends have had to remind me – at the stage of near or full burnout – that I need to care for myself if I want to be able to more effectively care for others. The advice is sound and reliable: it is what you hear every time you board a plane – secure your own mask before assisting others.
It is very easy to forget we are in the midst of a global crisis even if we are not directly impacted by COVID-19. However, we do feel the impacts within our homes and heads. While I am fortunate enough to not be directly impacted by COVID-19, I have felt as if my cup is operating very near empty. But I am not responsible for a team, targets or any meaningful responsibilities right now. Yet, I feel the psychological effects of the global pandemic and the state-imposed containment orders. There are many well-researched impacts of social isolation; in fact, our brains process these feelings similarly to physical pain.
When in pain, I reach out to my social/emotional support system: my closest friends. I shared that I didn’t feel much joy anymore though I had ample time on my hands, plenty of books to read and endless personal development projects I could tackle. Her knowing my strong orientation toward achievement (see prior post), she gave me an assignment: Create a List of What Sparks Joy.
Knowing myself and my tendency to procrastinate (and the endless amount of time I have), I asked for a deadline and naturally pushed back on the deadline. We’ve been friends for 6 years now, so I’m assuming she anticipated that. We connected on the exercise, she raised a few more questions based on my iterating on the initial prompt and then challenged me to Plan My Ideal Day. Connecting these two exercises will be both introspective and productive for making the most of social isolation.
Summary of Exercises:
- What Sparks Joy
- Generate List
- Provided additional detail
- Plan Ideal Day
- Reflect on prior vacations / days off
- Identify ways to repurpose this time of social distancing to an ideal day
Details / Commentary (Review After Completing the Exercise):
What Sparks Joy
Generate List. You should feel free to reference any things that bring you joy – personal, professional, leisurely, etc. I included on my list dancing, writing, strategy games
Additional Detail. I skew toward the analytical and the introspective for any open-ended task. I wanted to ask myself why those activities spark joy, what that joy looked like pre-quarantine, how it has shown up (or not) during quarantine and then hypothesized how I could adapt it for this period of social isolation. I’ll share two of my examples: reading books and organizing events.
- Activity: Reading books (why: I love the escapism in fictional worlds that make me forget about current reality. pre-quarantine: I stocked up on books before the shut down. during quarantine: I’ve completely neglected my stack of library books. re-sparking joy: I want to explore starting a book club to connect and have a reason to read).
- Activity: Organizing events (why: I like the orderly nature of planning and the satisfaction of meeting audience needs. pre-quarantine: I had done nothing recently. during quarantine: I organized a recipe share, though it was very small-scale. re-sparking joy: I will start planning for a webinar series about management).
Categorize. I once had a therapist that asked me “Of all of these great achievements of yours, how many of them have you done for just yourself (and not others)? That framing was my reasoning for adding in categories. If most of your joys are based on extrinsic reward, social isolation will be most challenging and really require creativity to re-spark joy. If you’re a cerebral type, many of your activities will keep you in your head. It might be helpful to look for activities that find balance between mental activity and physical activity – give your brain a break during this time of massive uncertainty.
Introspect. One of the highlights for me was looking at the patterns of the rationale behind my joys. For me a lot stemmed from the role I play within my family – a natural role in that comes easily to me even if it does not truly spark joy. Another highlight for me was realizing I love dancing because it is one of my only joys that requires no effort and I have never had to practice much to be good at it.
Plan Ideal Day
I approached this task by thinking about the best vacations I’ve been on and planned for myself. My fondest vacations always include museum visits and walking tours; a mix of familiar and foreign foods; and thriving nightlife. Whether I’m visiting Istanbul for the 3rd time or enjoying the FIT museum, I enjoy cultural exploration.
Museum visits. This inspired me to approach my free days like my vacation – instead of visiting a museum in person, I could get the same joy on a personal research project like genealogy or learning Python.
Food exploration. I’ve been pretty tired of making the same foods. And doing this exercise I realized I could theme each week with a type of food. Last week was Korean inspired with at-home-beef bowls and this week it has been beef kefta.
Nightlife. Part of the thrill of nightlife is observing how the same American music is enjoyed abroad and hearing the music of other cultures. My new trick was to YouTube dance tutorials and workouts from other regions.