Remote…and a Downshift

Every summer, my director tries to get me to downshift shortly after school ends. I’ll go in, expecting to find people and work on projects, chatting about next steps together, and instead I find that everyone has closed up shop and downshifted into summer and though they did tell me they were gonna, I never quite believe them.

We’ve been forced into a downshift that none of us were prepared for. This is our school’s spring break, which typically would involve meetups with friends during the day for breakfast or lunch, hikes with people you can’t see while school is on, and relaxing a bit at home or somewhere exotic (like the Hot Springs) or maybe getting to all those home improvement projects you notice needed doing during a long weekend.

This downshift, though, is different. We’re not on a formal quarantine as in other parts of the world, but working from home and staying at home as much as possible is kinda the norm right now. As much as I have always wanted to have a flexible schedule and work remotely from home, I realize that a piece of me hasn’t been ready for it in long stretches and definitely wasn’t ready for it to happen quite the way it did. Last week was VERY difficult for me, in that while I had check-ins with other staff and emails and such, I had no true purpose–I hadn’t had time to process how this all might work. There was a lot of napping and snacking and taking the dog for walks and social media–note that only one of those was really healthy.

Sundays at 9:30am, I hold what I call a “Mindset Meeting” with myself. I’ve done it for a little over a year and I have found that it’s helpful to set the tone for how my week will go…or at least how I would LIKE for it to go. During the late summer and early fall, I’d go to a coffeeshop, get a latte and quiche or breakfast sandwich, and plan out long term projects, make note in my V.E.P. (very expensive planner here) of upcoming meetings, due dates, tasks to be done, and appointments. I continued this every week at home once the weather got colder, sitting on the floor as I am now, at my coffee table (because my dining table is housing placemats and dishes for cat dining so the puppy won’t wolf down their food too) and schedule a session using Focusmate, which pairs you with a random human for accountability while you work for about 50 minutes. Not only is there accountability (it’s video so you see one another) but it’s also focused time to plan the week…to reflect on what you accomplished during the last one too, which is something we all forget to do because by Wednesday, the whole week is effed up completely anyway, right?

I was paired with a gentleman from Barcelona this Sunday. We chatted a bit before our session began and things are much worse there than they are here…not as bad as in Madrid or anywhere in Italy, he noted, thankful that while he’s having to stay home, it could be worse. He’s used to working from home, but the constraint to STAY there and use Zoom or Google meet is really difficult. We worked together on different projects for about an hour, wished one another love, light, and good health, and went on with our day oceans apart. That hour-ish made the world a little smaller…to be together in the room with someone else experiencing the same things you are, with many of the same worries and fears running in the background… It put things into perspective a bit. We aren’t alone in all of this.

I sat down this evening after devouring my empanadas and glorious Raspberry Milkshake IPA from a local food truck and neighborhood brewery, and started to really think about how I can make this remote work work. How can I find a sense of purpose and make this time, for however long it may last, worthwhile and productive so that my job isn’t deemed unnecessary altogether when things return to whatever our new normal becomes? How can I continue to maintain connection to my tribe when we are all so far apart?

I listen to a number of podcasts, and tonight, this one was most helpful as I go into tomorrow. Both Focus on This and Michael Hyatt’s are the ones I like to start my week with. Usually I listen while I’m in the shower getting ready for work–it’s a nice way to begin the day and focus my thinking around being productive and how I can best use my time to serve the kids and adults I work with. Tomorrow, I’ll rework my plan…make lists of projects I can do that will be helpful, and make lists of connections I can make remotely (for now) that can become something bigger in the future…when we go back to normal.

I have many friends who have been laid off altogether or furloughed indefinitely, and know lots of small businesses that are up against a wall–closing completely may very well lead to bankruptcy (because no one cares where their money comes from, just that it comes and it’s on time), while remaining open, even limited hours and contact, might generate enough to keep the doors open until this is over and they can go back to a somewhat normal existence. Everyone has an opinion on what small businesses ought to do, how they should modify their existence…but few with opinions have a true stake in the decisions being made by the small business owners.

The fact is that our work lives, whatever they looked like a week ago, have changed. Whether we’re working remotely from home, downshifting into uncharted territory, or thinking of creative ways to keep ourselves afloat and sane for a while, we’re in this together. We’re not alone.

To the gentleman in Spain, thank you for sharing an hour-ish of your Sunday with me this week and helping me understand that this downshift is bigger than all of us. Teachers often say that it takes a village to raise a child, and I think that it will take all of us together to make it through this mess, supporting one another however we can…granting grace to each other and practicing kindness.

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