John Ainley: Don’t let the pandemic ‘flood’ your emotions

Don’t let the pandemic ‘flood’ your emotions

On Christmas Eve, the area where I live in Norfolk began to flood. Then the water started to lap at my door. Initially, my wife and I were able to mop up the odd leak here and there, but – as King Canute realised – holding back the incoming tide when nature has other ideas is a futile endeavour. Eventually we had to abandon the house as water poured in through every door, leaving us to save what we could.

Accept your emotions, observe them, be kind to them
The emotions we went through as this drama unfolded were many and varied but it strikes me looking back – now warm and dry in our temporary home – that when events like this unfold entirely outside our control, the most powerful thing we can do is accept what is happening, observe our emotions and be kind to ourselves.

What I mean by that is the chances are, similar misfortunes will be happening elsewhere – and they certainly were over that rainy and sodden Christmas period – and rather than rage against it, it’s more powerful to notice what’s happening, how we respond and remind ourselves that it’s not a normal experience we’re going through; things will get better.

Managing our response
I see my house flood as a watery metaphor for how the pandemic has impacted many leaders. Just last week we saw the head of a major accounting firm in the UK step aside after admitting he was “truly sorry that my words have caused hurt amongst my colleagues” during an internal meeting with staff. I wonder if this is another example of how the stress of running a business over the last year has boiled over for many executives into provoking a reaction that in normal times, wouldn’t have happened or been far more measured. In the words of the psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.

Be kind to yourself
The answer is, I think, we all need to accept we’re working in extraordinary times and many of us will have been close to the ‘edge’ at some points. Simply acknowledging that can help us all to understand that it’s okay to feel out of control at times and adjust our mindset accordingly. How we manage ourselves through these difficult times is critical. Accept the adversity. Observe it. Know it. Be kind to your response and to the people around you. Remain grounded.

And what of our house? It won’t be habitable again until next Christmas but, on the flip side, we have a second chance to rectify all those interior decor mistakes we made when we first renovated it. Opportunity really does come from adversity.