The writer of the Blog is Amudhan Manivasagam, an undergrad student of Kumaraguru College of Technology from the Computer Science and Engineering stream. He currently runs a small web-dev team and also serves as the Regional Director for India at mymun; among another role at the South Indian Model United Nations.
I’ve been thinking about the current madness balancing love, work and parenting in lockdown and there are four recurring themes in every lockdown-related conversation/thought experiment I have:
The Fall of the Personal/ Professional Wall
Much like everybody else, my first month was successful. I figure that any situation is manageable, if they get themselves organized and focused. As humans, we’ve been able to power through everything else in life – work, love, complicated families. Why not a pandemic?
What’s collapsed as abruptly and spectacularly as the Berlin Wall, is the barrier the business world has long imposed as sacrosanct: the line between the personal and the professional. Everyone is visually and viscerally watching The Wall fall. Our videoconferencing screens are revealing us as we really are – hopelessly out-of-control with moody, uncooperative families and unmade beds. It’s humbling. It’s gorgeous. It’s transformational. One young woman admits she’ll never see that difficult boss through the same eyes again, now that she’s seen him helplessly melt as his 3-year old daughter barges into his board meeting demanding a kiss.
Because yesterday’s 24/7, always-on bosses, who’ve never had to worry a day in their life about childcare, are suddenly finding themselves negotiating with their own dual career spouses for an uninterrupted 4-hour window locked in the bedroom – with a 12-hour-day’s-worth of work. It’s even more eye-opening for those, like one of the young dads I spoke with, who reports into a boss who has a dedicated home office and a partner who doesn’t work, and who really doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.
Integrate your life. Delight in the unusual acceptance of the personal encroaching into the professional. Own the humanity that results. Don’t try and hide it, flaunt it. A boss who kisses her baby on zoom is role modelling and normalizing what leadership will look like in the future.
It’s time to lower our expectations. Of ourselves first and foremost. No, you are unlikely to be the perfect parent, partner or child throughout a pandemic. Now that you’re home, dial up the stress by a factor of a thousand. You can’t control it. You CAN’T CONTROL IT. When did we ever become such control freaks? When did we ever have the hubris to believe it was because of us that things seemed under control in the first place? This loud ripping-the-band-aid-off-our-illusions is painful. So many successful people are realising just how much they took for granted a constant high-stakes competition (often with themselves) to be the best everything-to-everyone they could possibly be. We’re not talking about just a little adjustment here. The famous 80% rule doesn’t cut it. We’re going to have to go much, much lower than that. To levels we can’t believe we would sink to. Having idlies five nights in a row, with negotiations on-going for chicken the other two nights. Not reaching your targets, losing that deal. Tearing your hair out with your team. Gaining ten pounds. Crying in front of your boss – online. We are mostly going to get out of this imperfectly. We are going to disappoint ourselves – repeatedly. But if we can humbly own our shadowy awfulness and share our embarrassing vulnerabilities with others, we may yet build resilience into both our personal and professional realities.
It’s time to channel your inner Reinhold Niebuhr: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Dump perfectionism, clarify your short-term priorities. No. 1 for most of us: to get ourselves and our loved ones through this alive. The rest is detail.
Know Yourself (Compassionately)
Nothing like a crisis to reveal a lot about people, relationships and leadership. You begin to learn who will yell and who will shine, who will cry and survive, and who won’t cry but give up silently, maybe secretly. It also reveals a lot about oneself. What and who will you stand up for? Who do you help and what do you drop? Who do you become when the going gets claustrophobic and scary? Are you a climbing-the-walls extrovert, like one woman I spoke with from Paris, hanging off the balcony to wave at little-known neighbours passing by? Or are you, like me secretly enjoying being given the permission to hide out at home in your pyjamas while all the usual social niceties and professional clutter fade from your agenda?
“If you can’t go outside, go inside.” And this is a great time to learn to watch yourself and your loved ones react to highly unusual circumstances. Understanding what they need – and what you need – to get through it is not obvious to everyone. I asked one young mother what she wanted going forward. She couldn’t answer the question. She was too busy driving determinedly through her to-do list – and judging herself for everything she wasn’t getting done – to even contemplate her own desires, boundaries and goals. If she doesn’t know, she can’t ask for the support she craves. Get clear, then start negotiating…
Study yourself, non-judgmentally. Become aware of the systems and patterns in which you operate at home and at work. They may never be revealed again quite so clearly. Getting to know (and love) the human who emerges from this crisis is something you can control. Self-awareness and skilled relationships, notes Thomas Hubl, are the best immunity to illness and depression.
Contract with Everyone (including yourself)
It’s pretty well researched that teams that learn how to contract with each other are much higher performing. They create a degree of ‘psychological safety’ that allows each individual to contribute comfortably
- Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
- Acknowledge your own fallibility.
- Model curiosity and ask lots of questions
We all have multiple teams, at home and at work, and each could benefit from a well negotiated contract. Sit down to draw up your own. Run it as you would any important team meeting. Include the three characteristics above. Who does what in the new reality, for how long? Be open to new roles. Don’t unthinkingly default, as many people I speak with are, to the usual gendered roles, with higher-earning spouses using economics to lean into inequality. Children learn about gender equality (or its absence) when parents display it. Own your model or use the crisis to renegotiate it. Use the same tools at work. Contract with your boss about what you are and can’t do and deliver. In all these discussions, it’s less the outcome that matters, than the buy-in and trust you build when all parties feel they are fully involved in defining the democracies in which they aspire to live, work and love.
Use self-understanding, honesty and transparency to negotiate mutually acceptable and eventually highly innovative ideas and solutions. It may make you and your teammates emerge from lockdown … uplifted. With their relationship muscles strengthened, even if their stomachs run to flab.