COVID-19 has created much upheaval in our personal and professional lives. Those of us who love routine and tend to resist change, were totally knocked off balance. If you are an empath, someone who feels deeply, you may have felt almost incapacitated at times; as if you were carrying all the worries of the world on your shoulders and like you were on an emotional roller coaster, one day up and the other day way down. Others pivoted quickly, their creative juices flowed, and they were able to quickly adapt and adjust to an ever-changing new reality. Why and how is this so?
I believe it is partly due to personality, partly due to previous life experience and partly due to environment and mindset. If you believe that embracing change(and uncertainty – which is change that comes “out of the blue” that you didn’t invite into your life)is a creative process that opens you up to new possibility, the way you feel and act during times of uncertainty is quite different than if you fear and resist change and uncertainty.
If you live in a beautiful natural environment and can easily get out in nature on a regular basis (and at the same time maintain social distance), these past months have not been near as difficult for you as for those who live in densely-populated areas or concrete jungles with little or no access to nature.
A number of women leaders and colleagues I have spoken with have shared their experiences of what it has been like to live and work during these uncertain times. Many have found it challenging to deal with a number of their direct reports who are stressed and having difficulty dealing with working at home. Previous emotional tensions have been aggravated. Working at home with a spouse in close quarters, while at the same time trying to manage young children, is not easy. Many report having to work more hours than normal and having difficulty separating work from life. A number of women leaders are feeling “burnt out” and are also seeing burnout in their colleagues and employees.
So how can we prevent leadership burnout? Based on my own experiences of almost burning out several times in my career here are a few practical tips.
Set clear boundaries between home and work. If you used to leave work at 5 pm, turn off your computer at 5 pm and, if possible, go for a walk outdoors.
Establish clear expectations of your direct reports or colleagues. Let them know your hours of work and model work-life balance for them.
Take a 5-minute stretch and walk around every hour, if possible, to release the tension in your body and give your eyes a break.
When fears and worries about the future come up, take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth and notice how your body responds. When you take such breaths the hormone oxytocin is released which calms your body and your mind. Share this strategy with your colleagues and direct reports.
Spend some time getting clear on what is really important for you in life and in work and then create an action plan to move forward daily in those priority areas. Let go of people and activities that do not nourish you.
Communicate with others who are close to you. They will then understand how you are feeling and often “cut you some slack”.
Get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling really tired experiment with going to bed earlier.
Pamper yourself; have a bubble bath, massage, pedicure, make time to read a favourite author
Begin integrating mindfulness practices into your life. For additional strategies on how to prevent burnout and thrive in uncertain times, I invite you to check out my #1 best-selling book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”(which is also helpful for men) and emerged from my experience of almost burning out.
Over to you, what strategies have you found helpful to prevent burnout during uncertain times? I invite your comments below.
 Mindfulness practices help you “get of your head” and “into your body”. An example is mindfulness walking meditation which can be done indoors but is more powerful when done outdoors in nature. Rather than thinking of our upcoming meeting or the recent argument we had with our partner, we focus on all of our senses. We feel the wind on our cheeks, smell the salt sea air, hear the crunch of leaves underfoot and see the beautiful vistas that surround us.
COVID-19 has certainly put us all in touch with what it’s like to live with uncertainty. It has given us the opportunity to reflect on what uncertainty means to us, how we typically respond to it, and to unearth lessons from the past to support us during such challenging times.
What is uncertainty? To me uncertainty arises when change comes to us “out of the blue” or is imposed on us by someone or something that is outside of our control.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines uncertainty as: “a situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known for certain” and “the feeling of not being sure what will happen in the future” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org).
Uncertainty means different things to different people. I invite you to take a few minutes to think about your responses to the following questions. You may wish to journal about them.
How do you define uncertainty?
When you think about uncertainty what words or feelings come up for you?
I invite you to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 in relation to how you typically respond to uncertainty; 1 being “scares me to death” and 10 being “I thrive on it.”
What have you learned from past experiences with uncertainty that you can apply to your experience during these challenging times? What life experiences have prepared you to be less anxious and less stressed during this pandemic?
What I’ve noticed about myself, friends, colleagues and clients is that those of us who have had previous experiences with uncertainty and processed them positively, have coped better with the current situation than those who have not.
Here are a few examples:
Living and working in conflict zones and environments with restricted movement:
I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In Afghanistan I was driven to work every day in a bullet proof vehicle by an armed Afghan driver. We were followed by a “soft skin” vehicle with 3 Afghans holding AK- 47s. The first week I was rather “taken aback” by all of the military presence, but soon I relaxed and realized that “came with the territory”. Each day I didn’t know whether our vehicle would be pulled over by the police and be questioned about our papers and then taken to a nearby police station, or not. I lived in a state of constant uncertainty.
One day I was sitting in the rose garden of the Ministry of Public Health where I was working and having lunch with one of my female team members. All of sudden there was a huge explosion. A number of suicide bombers had attacked the military hospital across the road from the Ministry and killed numerous Afghan medical students, patients and their families. Immediately I received a text from my Head of Security advising me to stay where I was and that a vehicle would come for me soon/when it was safe to do so.
I lived in a small compound with 2 large houses and a small building that housed our guards and drivers. The compound was surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. There were 3 men with AK-47s guarding the inside our walls at all times. I had to sign a waiver and commit to not walking in the street or outside of the compound due the security situation. Sometimes after work I would walk in circles inside the small compound as I so craved exercise and being in nature. Thankfully, we did have a small rose garden on the property.
How did I deal with the uncertainty of living and working in a conflict zone? Here are some strategies I found helpful:
Did yoga every morning before heading out to work (sometimes with a colleague and sometimes on my own)
Skyped with my Sweetie almost every morning; connected with someone I cared about who also cared about me
Grounded myself every morning before heading to work
Worked out in the on-site gym on a regular basis
Often listened to music
Surrounded myself with beauty; e.g. created a bedroom that had some beautiful local art including several small carpets and a water-color painting I purchased locally
Started a gratitude journal and wrote down at least 3 things I was grateful for at the end of every day; Also journaled regularly about my feelings and experiences
When I noticed some anxiety coming up, I took three deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth (releasing oxytocin, the hormone that relaxes your body and helps you feel at peace)
Almost every Thursday night, I connected with my colleagues; other technical advisors and consultants who were working on various projects with the Afghan government. We considered this our weekend as Friday was prayer day and the only day we had off every week. We sometimes had a bonfire, roasted marshmallows; often we sang to the guitar music played by one of my colleagues. Sometimes we danced. We laughed and shared experiences together. Sometimes we drank a bit too much!
What I learned from these experiences was that I could live with uncertainty. I found that rarely was I anxious. I learned that I could live in a contained environment and still be happy, focused and do good work. I also learned some coping strategies that I can now apply to future times of uncertainty.
Over to you. What past experiences with uncertainty can support you during this challenging time? It may be that you were laid off from a job you loved “out of the blue”. It could be that a partner one day told you they no longer loved you and had found someone else.
If you have chosen to move and lived in many places or changed your work or career a number of times, this may also have made you more flexible and able to cope with uncertainty and change. Whereas, if you’ve worked for the same company for 30 years or lived in the same town you were born in, you may have more challenges dealing with uncertainty.
What I know to be true is that it is not enough to have had challenging and uncertain life and work experiences. We need to have processed them in a positive way. A helpful framework and tool to do this is my 5-step “Art of Change” Framework. Using this tool, you identify a change or uncertain situation you want to work on and where you are on your “transition journey”. You then do the work associated with the phase of the transition journey you are in; such as letting go of negative emotions, beliefs or behaviors that are no longer serving you, envisioning how you would like your life or work to look and feel like and then taking action to make it happen. This framework is underpinned by the belief that “embracing change (and uncertainty) is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”. To learn more, you may access “The Art of Change Framework” at: https://pamela-thompson.com/.
I believe that times of intense change and uncertainty provide us with the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, to dream big dreams and create new possibilities.
What previous experiences with uncertainty have helped you cope during this time? What tools or strategies have you found helpful to deal with uncertainty? I invite your comments below.
During these times of intense change you may be having difficulty focusing, feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster; one day energized and feeling those creative juices flowing and the next feeling sad, low in energy and like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You are not alone.
Researching and working with clients on change and transition for the past decade or more, what I know is that this is all part of the impact change has on us. Increasing your understanding of change and how you respond to it, and having tools and strategies to support you to move through it more easily can enhance your change experience.
As my gift to you, I’m sharing the video of a recent virtual participatory workshop I facilitated through Female Wave of Change. If you would like some support to better understand and move through a personal change you are experiencing, this gift may be just “what the doctor ordered”.
Here’s what you’ll receive. You will:
Learn what happens when we resist change
Discover a practical 5-step framework you can use to embrace change and generate creative solutions
Apply that framework to a major personal change you are currently facing.
Based on evidence from neuroscience, the health promoting and healing benefits of the arts, eastern psychology, and my own journey and work with clients around the world, the “Art of Change” Framework and Process can be your lifesaver during this time.
Here you go!
I am currently offering the one-hour workshop Embracing Change: Moving from Fear and Resistance Toward Clarity and Confidence as a stand-alone virtual workshop to groups and organizations at a special rate. It can be delivered as a “Lunch and Learn” or be the first part of a 2-part process for Leadership Teams, Project Teams, Boards, Community Groups … . This workshop focuses on personal change as change starts with each of us. Understanding how you and others on your team respond to change is invaluable.
Part 2 in the process is a 2-hour virtual workshop How to Move from Fear and Resistance Toward Creative Solutions during Times of Intense Change that focuses on organizational change.
The workshop helps to:
Improve focus and productivity
Leadership teams, project teams, boards, search committees have the opportunity to focus on a key change they are facing (e.g. new leadership, new culture, a change scenario to address something that is not working in their organization), apply the 5-step Art of Change Framework to a key organizational change they are facing, and through this process generate creative solutions to address it.
Each workshop includes handouts. In Workshop 2 as part of the process, ideas and potential solutions generated during the workshop will be typed up and sent later to participants in a short report.
In a recent episode of “The Art of Change” radio show that
focused on “The Entrepreneurial Journey” – http://boldbravemedia.com/shows/the-art-of-change/
– my guest, serial entrepreneur and Founder of the Westshore Women’s Business
Network, Deb Alcadinho, talked about grieving in relation to shutting down a
business; and she recalled one business in particular that was challenging to let
go of. On reflection, it struck me that in business we don’t usually talk about
and perhaps we need to.
In the third step of the Art of Change Framework, “letting go” is the work associated with the ending phase of a change or transition. According to organizational theorist William Bridge’s work, when we make a change it is important to do the internal psychological work, which he defines as the “transition”, in order to readjust and reorient ourselves to our new external reality. How often do we do this in life let alone in business?
I’ve launched four businesses since the early 1990s and realize that I didn’t take time to grieve any of them. When I no longer felt “juiced” by what I was doing, a new opportunity would present itself or I would think “What do I really want to do now?” and then think of who might be someone in that space to approach. Then, I would be off and running to the next project, or iteration of my business. I really didn’t take time between those changes to get in touch with my feelings or to process my emotions. So I’ve started on a journey to do that, and am openly sharing with you insights gleaned along my journey.
At this point in my life I am choosing to only do things that are fun and bring me joy. I’m noticing with my new “Art of Change” radio talk show that I’m energized, excited and having fun. I appreciate having a new focus in business and it aligns with my core values of contribution, adventure, connection and love of learning.
I’m also consciously filtering opportunities that come my
way through a new lens; that of will it
bring me joy and is it in alignment with my core values? Do I have space in my
life for this based on what else I’ve committed to?
I love the feeling of spaciousness I’m creating. I
consciously spend time in nature and notice when my body needs a “nature hit”.
I look forward to my bi-weekly Women’s Circle and include philanthropic
opportunities and a Women’s Business group in my schedule. I make time, more
and more, for friends, and continue to cherish special moments with my partner
and my family.
I feel like my priorities are shifting and with that a sense of no longer wanting to strive (which I thought I let go of years ago), but rather to thrive. To me that means awakening each day with a smile on my face and a song in my heart; feeling strong, healthy and flexible in body, mind and spirit; learning and growing through reading and courses; creating the program for my radio show; beginning to write a memoir; consciously tapping into and asking my heart and gut: What do I really want to do now? What will fill me up?
I consciously choose to let go of worrying about things I
cannot control and instead choose to focus on what I am grateful for and what I
In summary, how can we grieve in business? Here are a few helpful
Take the time to tap into and express your feelings if you are shutting down a business or changing direction. Ask yourself – How do I feel about this? Relieved? Sad? Lighter? It’s helpful to journal about how you feel. If you have friends, colleagues or a loving partner, you may find it helpful to share your thoughts and emotions with them.
Ask yourself: What is my experience with endings? Do you find them difficult? Do they cause you pain OR do you typically “Just get on with it” and not take the time to feel or process those emotions?
and acknowledge your accomplishments. This can include spending time
journaling about what they are, inviting clients and staff (and/or contractors)
to a party to celebrate the end of that business and how everyone has
contributed to it. It can be a small gathering of friends and colleagues who
respect and honor you; where they can share how much they value you, how you
supported them and you can also share your gratitude for them and how they
contributed to your business success.
on and write down the lessons learned from that business (i.e. what worked
well, what didn’t and then build on your strengths and learn from/shore up your
weaknesses moving forward).
a list of what you are choosing to let go of and consciously release those
emotions and beliefs from your body.
Remember that grieving takes time. Give yourself that time to feel, heal and to rest.
regular time in nature. Being among trees reduces your heart rate, reduces
your blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells your body
produces (i.e. strengthens your immune system).
Practice mindfulness (e.g. body scanning, mindfulness walking meditation, listen to guided meditations). These practices get you get “out of your head” and “into your body”.
I’d love to hear from
you about how you’ve grieved past businesses. Does this idea resonate with you?
I welcome your comments and suggestions below.
loss; change is the gaining of something new.”
Last night I attended the screening of a documentary film
“Metamorphosis” by Canadian film makers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper.
It was an informative, energizing and beautiful experience.
The topic was Climate Change. Many films on this theme are all “gloom and
doom”. In contrast, this film reminded me of the resilience and beauty of
nature and of the importance of slowing down. It gave me hope and inspiration
that we do have a “window of time” to make a real difference in the health of
We had an opportunity to meet and hear briefly from the film
makers about their purpose in making the film before it was shown.
The Documentary: Real
Through the use of dramatic cinematography a number of real
life examples of the impacts of climate change were shared through the eyes of
people who are/were directly affected. This included:
The drought in Southern California characterized by swaths of cracked and desolate land, which due to the diversion of natural aquifers for the irrigation of large cities such as Los Angeles, has changed green, thriving and water abundant areas, to desert. Data was shared including the fact that a typical lawn in Southern California requires 4 feet of water per year to stay healthy and alive and rainfall typically is 13 inches per year. The rest is made up for by irrigation.
More frequent and powerful typhoons in the Philippines and Caribbean resulting in loss of life, the high loss of homes (needing to be rebuilt) and the uprooting of ancient trees.
Higher water levels and more frequent flooding in Venice
Devastating fires due to draught. The experience of driving through a burning forest to reach loved ones. One family’s experience of losing their home and how their entire town was decimated.
The Documentary: Innovative
A number of innovative solutions were shared that are
currently being implemented in various parts of the world. They included:
Garden Pools – and the “army” of folks trained to convert drained swimming pools into gardens and ecosystems which are similar to what exists in nature; symbiotic relationships where one organism is dependent on another; e.g. ducks, fish (fertilizer), water from rain and dew, facilitating the growing of a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Grid “Collective” – installing solar panels on roofs of homes in low income communities and training others to do this
Sculptured Human Art – facilitating the growth of new coral reefs
Garbage Art – to increase awareness of how much garbage we create as humans and using it to construct colorful and fun art pieces
Earthships – using used tires, cans, bottles, solar panels as well as rain water capture to create self-sustaining homes that are “off the grid” 
Who was there and Why was it helpful?
After the screening, the film makers were joined at the
front of the room by an academic, and a local municipal councillor who is
advocating for “green” solutions, as well as a facilitator. The “floor” was
open for us all to share how the film impacted us, to ask questions and share
It was interesting to hear the different perspectives of the
panelists and the audience. A safe environment was created that enabled people
to share what they liked about the film, what they might have liked more of,
and how it impacted them. There was also a discussion of change and loss and
how it is important to grieve the losses associated with climate change, as
well as other environmental and life changes.
As the documentary touched on the importance of us as
members of communities sharing our gifts and talents to create innovative
solutions, a couple of special things happened that surprised me. One woman
asked for permission and sang a beautiful song about Mother Earth. Another
openly shared her painful, yet valuable learning experience of moving through
grief related to what we as humans have done to the planet, and how the
experience affected her mind and body; and the realization that this is part of
the process of change.
Lessons about change
that I took away from the film
The importance of slowing down and being
grateful for the beautiful world we have.
Reminded me that many of us are stuck in
“psychic numbness”; on a constant treadmill of making money, so we can pay our
bills, buy bigger and bigger homes and cars and consume more and more “stuff”.
Being on this “hamster wheel” prevents us from reflecting on our beliefs and
behaviors, experiencing and moving through the fear, anxiety and uncertainty of
change, letting go of beliefs and behaviors that are no longer serving us and
moving toward creative solutions.
The strength and resilience of the monarch
butterfly; how going through different phases from caterpillar, to chrysalis,
to beautiful butterfly and the 3000 or so miles each one flies each year, is
remarkable. The butterfly reminds us that change is normal and can lead to
increased strength, resilience and beauty.
The human imagination and how creative we can be
to come up with solutions when we put our hearts and minds together toward a
The importance of acknowledging that we all have
gifts and talents to share; uncovering and sharing those gifts to make a
The need to forgive ourselves and others for the
harm we have done to our planet.
The value of holding community conversations
around topics and engaging people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and
experiences to generate innovative solutions to “pressing” challenges.
The power of the collective and community to support
Reflecting on last night’s experience and what I learned from the documentary, I began thinking about the importance of grieving all changes. I started thinking about how we might integrate video and film effectively into organizational change processes and to support social movements and societal changes we need in order to create a healthier world for us all. What are your thoughts?
I’d love to hear from
you. Have you used film and video to support change processes you’ve been a
part of? If so, where and how and what did you learn? I invite you to share
your comments below.
Symbiotic relationships are a special type of interaction between species. Sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, these relationships are essential to many organisms and ecosystems, and they provide a balance that can only be achieved by working together.” (Source: https://study.com/academy/lesson/symbiotic-relationship-definition-examples-quiz.html)
I so relate to this definition from
Ashoka (https://www.ashoka.org/) that “a changemaker is someone who is taking creative action to solve a social
problem.” They go on to say:
changemaker needs to launch their own start-up or be the president of an
organization; changemakers can find opportunities to make a difference in any
number of roles. They may have no ties to an organization; they may take action
as an individual or as part of a group; they may organize as a part of broader
community or they may work within a formal organization. “
Are you a changemaker?
If so, it is critically important that you understand change and how you
respond to it. Here are a couple of questions I encourage you to think about
and write down your responses to:
When you think about change what words or emotions come up for you?
Rate yourself on a scale from one to ten related to how you typically respond to change; “one” being “scares me to death” and “ten” being “I thrive on it’.
Many of us who declare ourselves as changemakers, including
those of us who are leaders of teams and organizations, respond to question #1 positively.
For example, when I think of change, words such as: “excitement”, “adventure”,
“opportunity”, “creativity” come up. Based on my experience with other changemakers
and leaders they respond similarly. In terms of question #2 many changemakers
and leaders typically rate themselves as a “nine” or a “ten”. That said, when
they ask the same questions to members of their teams or groups, responses to
question #1 may be “fear”, “uncertainty”, “anger”, “overwhelm”. And for #2 their
responses may be closer to “five” or “six” on the rating scale.
It is important to acknowledge that how you respond to
change when YOU initiate it is quite different than when it is imposed on you. If
change is imposed on you, your reactions and how you rate yourself on the scale
from “one” to “ten” typically change toward the negative.
So how do you as a
changemaker and/or leader, effectively navigate change and support others
around you to embrace, rather than resist change? Learning some facts about
change and openly exploring how you and your team respond to change is a good
Some Facts about Change
Our bodies are hard-wired toreact to change, to protect us and keep us safe
Our amygdala (part of the brain) is constantly scanning our environment for potential threats including things that are different. When it notices something it perceives to be a threat, it sends messages to our bodies that put us into fight, flight or freeze. When we are angry, feel like running away, or our minds freeze, we are NOT in a good position to make any decisions, or to positively influence others.
2. Our past
experiences with change affect how we respond to it. For example, if when
you were a child a relative you were close to died and no one let you see the
person at the wake and didn’t discuss the person’s death with you, as an adult
you may fear death and not feel comfortable speaking about it. Similarly, if
when you were a child and when changes happened, you typically learned to “get
on with things” and to not express your feelings about leaving a particular
school, relationship, home … , then this will likely affect how you respond to
endings as an adult.
3. We store beliefs
and emotions in our bodies. Dr. Bruce Lipton, a stem cell biologist by
training, in his book The Biology of
Belief, documents research conducted by himself and others that all the
cells in our bodies are affected by our thoughts. Dr. Candace Pert, an internationally
renowned researcher and biochemist in her landmark book Molecules of Emotion, shares evidence of the biochemical links
between the mind and body. That being the case, if we have had negative past
experiences with change, that will negatively impact how we respond to change
in our personal and our professional lives moving forward.
4. The good news is that we can change the physiological structure of our brains (create new
neural pathways) with our thoughts. The implications of this body of work to us as leaders and changemakers, is
that we can learn, model and teach others how to embrace rather than resist
Why am I so passionate about this?
don’t learn to embrace change we:
keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and remain unhappy & unfulfilled
Feel constantly under stress leading to chronic health issues and negative impacts on our relationships & our businesses
Expend a lot of energy resisting change
bottom line is if we don’t learn to embrace change, over time it negatively
impacts both our personal and our professional lives.
How can we reduce our
fear of change?
Better understand how and why we
respond to change
Learn a proven model and tools to
help us reduce resistance, and embrace and successfully navigate any change
more you understand change and the more self-aware you are about how and why
you respond to it, the more easily you can embrace and move through it.
What has been your
experience with change? How have you effectively dealt with change in the past?
I welcome your comments below. Feel free to share this with people who you
think might find it of interest.