Kent , UK

Can I still bring my A game after the 2020 I had?

Coming back to work after 2 weeks of bereavement leave is tough at the best of times. I made all the right self-care choices (with a nudge from my counsellor) to not personally deliver training and coaching for 6 months, and to allow my business to grow organically rather than drive it forward. All good advice I know, because as a resilience coach I am always telling clients not to drive forward and try to build something on shaky foundations.

The bittersweet irony of returning to work after losing my husband to an aggressive form of cancer, was that after 9 years of hard work, strong ethics, a focus on quality not quantity and fierce protection over both my reputation and the values the business stands for, all started to pay off. And sadly, my husband Darren wasn’t here to see me start to really excel as a businesswoman.

As a previous high achiever, I was feeling battered and bruised from the trauma of navigating an aggressive cancer diagnosis in my family just before lockdown and a global pandemic. Then, to top it off, our family home flooded and home schooling was thrust upon us. What did I do?

I asked for help, and I have been honest with clients and my professional network.

Being honest and asking for help from colleagues to make things safe was key. What I mean by “safe” is: I run through my business and it runs through me. I have always aimed to make the business about what we offer, not me as the founder, so it was able to carry on providing a service in my absence. But I wanted and needed to be present in some way shape or form.

I asked my coaching clients to treat me in the same way. Expect high standards, but also be flexible if the situation became extreme and I had to reschedule.

What have I gained this year?

It would be so easy to look at what I have lost this year. My husband, my dog, my possessions, some freedom when shielding due to lockdown. And finding myself a single parent at 46 years old.

What I gained, however, was a deepening in my belief that humanity has great capacity for compassion.

In my work, I gained a certainty in my top team. I also started to gain energy after my second week back. I had faced my fear and reticence of getting back in the game. We were receiving requests for work, so I did not even need to worry about how I would create business development opportunities under the pandemic and its restrictions on what we called “normal” in 2019 (who can remember that?).

Reflecting on what I have gained rather than what I have lost has been the most valuable decision and gift of self-care. I hope to write every month and reflect on what I have gained through this experience, rather than what has been lost. Some key things that also helped in those early weeks back from bereavement leave:

  • I did not avoid the grief or feelings, I worked with them with the support of a hospice counsellor
  • Took one day at a time
  • Faced my fear and got back to work
  • Picked up the phone and spoke to colleagues or friends
  • Looked for a psychologist who specialises in post-traumatic stress conditions

The only way we have the power to bounce back is to reach for help when it is needed. As leaders, we of course need the personal agency to steer the ship alone and to be lonely at times if needed, but actually, the more resourced leaders are those who know ‘together we are stronger’.

In spite of being aware that my mental health has been challenged and I have work to do to address it, it has not stopped me working and I am grateful for that.