I had thought my toughest challenge this year would be adjusting back into full time work after maternity leave. I had never foreseen bouncing a 6-month-old on my knee whilst working from our lounge, constantly swatting his podgy hand away like a persistent fly from my headphones and the keyboard. I had never foreseen using any break between meetings as the opportunity to check neither he nor my 3-year-old daughter were eating out the bin or poking a fork in a plug socket before darting back to the next call. I had certainly never foreseen carrying my laptop (and therefore my colleagues) up to my children’s bedroom to pick my son up from his nap whilst continuing to discuss work because I didn’t want to disrupt the flow of a meeting!
Despite these bizarre challenges I know I’ve faced, I compared my situation to others and argued that I shouldn’t grumble as it could be worse. Yes, I had a baby and a toddler to work round, but some were having to home school. Yes, the only space for an ‘office’ was in the middle of our lounge, but at least I had steady employment. Yes, I felt like I might break down crying, but some would have to do that alone.
The danger of that mindset was that I’ve spent most of this year ‘powering through’, determined to show that I could cope, that I wasn’t grumbling, that I didn’t need help etc. Turns out, that’s not a sustainable way to survive. By the time September came around and I finally stopped balancing childcare and my job I realised I how truly mentally and physically exhausted I was and acknowledged that something needed to change.
I decided to prioritise myself and started getting coaching. I never realised what a fantastic decision that would turn out to be. Being able to commit to time just for me (and my brilliant coach) to reflect over actions, behaviours and decisions has felt like hitting a ‘pause’ button. It’s been time that I’ve protected to reflect and to recover from the barrage of activity and chaos that 2020 has brought along.
I have not only been able to see where I was going off course, but I’ve also been able to silence my inner critic that has spent most of the year telling me I haven’t been doing enough. Thorough lockdown and beyond I had been watching others and comparing. It had felt like everyone around me was picking up new hobbies, celebrating the slower pace of life, or praising being able to spend more time with their children. All whilst I cried out for just five minutes where I wasn’t needed and could just stop and recover.
The lightbulb moment for me was realising that just because the challenges I was facing were different to others didn’t mean they weren’t valid and real. Equally, just as the challenges may be different for each of us, how we’ve reacted and adapted has also been different. There’s been no easy way to get through this year, and there’s been no right way.
I haven’t learnt any new skills, but I have learnt that that’s ok. It’s ok if you look back at this year and are just grateful you got to the end of it. It’s ok not to have learnt Latin, to have knitted sweaters for the neighbourhood cats, or renovated your garden shed for a home office. It’s also ok if you did and sweater-clad felines are draped over your shed window whilst you recite non ducor, duco (NB. I don’t know Latin, I googled and this felt useful to know – ‘I am not led, I lead’).
If there’s one takeaway for me this year it’s to stop comparing. There is no competition in COVID but a need for supporting and acknowledging that you just need to do what you can, and give yourself permission for that to be nothing at all!
“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow’.”Mary Anne Radmacher