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Hovering in the Doorway of Freedom: How to Face the Fears, Tears and Unsteady Careers

The Senior Leaders we support at Untapped AI tell us they are concerned about the imminent transition back to the office. While some team members are chomping at the bit to get back behind their old desks, others have a sense of being institutionalised by their own homes and feel trepidation about social interactions and the pressures they may have to face. Add to that the worries around keeping their roles in a period of inevitable recession, and it cumulates in a quagmire of fear.

Many of us still feel stuck, but it is also time for us to start getting stuck in. As the restrictions are tentatively lifted, we hover in the doorway of freedom, confused about what’s normal anymore and wondering how we might navigate this post-lockdown existence? It’s hard to be stoic when the wake-up call we’ve had to endure again and again is that life as we knew it will never be the same. And that can feel terrifying.

Us humans like knowing where we stand. Often, our default setting is to control situations and when we can’t guarantee an end result or have influence on an outcome, it really disturbs us. People can usually endure the most traumatic experiences if they play some part in moving events along. It’s the helplessness that tends to knock us sideways.

And right now, we are in a state of transition. The government in England says we can mix again outdoors, the hairdressers (thank goodness!) are opening, and some people are heading back to their offices but many of us remain riddled with disabling feelings of acute vulnerability which can only stunt a positive re-entry into this new world.

In a recent article in the Guardian, psychotherapist Julia Samuel talks about her experience as a grief counsellor. She mentions studies around ‘post-traumatic growth’, citing people who rigidly stick to continuing on as before as more likely to struggle. While others who recognise and grieve their losses, acknowledging the impact and processing the change trauma brings, can eventually learn to move on and grow. The same principle can apply to the fallout from this Covid-tinged existence. We cannot control the insecurity it brings, but we can accept this different reality – warts and all – and embrace it.

People talk about wanting their old life back and wonder about the ‘new normal’? But when any momentous event takes place, life shifts irrevocably. The old life has gone, and the new normal is simply our life now. The difference boils down to our response, and fundamentally, our willingness and ability to adapt.

I am a person who, before Covid, threw a safety net of control over everything. At the start of each week, I’d write a daily plan for each day, from meetings with clients to exercise classes to what I needed to buy from my local shops. I’d even add ‘brush dog’s teeth’ (her breath is bad!) in there. Friends would laugh that they’d have to book themselves into my year planner if they wanted to snare a dinner date with me. Every weekend I’d have a list of ‘extra curriculum’ (i.e. catch up on Ted Talks, trawl through neglected emails) that I wanted to achieve. The pandemic has showed me there is a different way. My life won’t fall apart if my inbox is cluttered and my obsessive list-making was an acute sign that my brain was overloaded with to-dos. I’ve learnt that being continuously ‘on’ is not a healthy way to exist. And, boy, what a relief.

So, what are we encouraging our clients to do? Make communication the key. Leaders should talk about concerns with their teams, normalise the dread people might have, listen to what they have to say, offer praise when things go well, and especially, remember that an individual approach is crucial. While this experience has happened to every single one of us on this planet, we all have our unique perception of it.

To find the resilience needed to adjust successfully and thrive in an unlocked world, it’s also time to make our peace with change. Because by truly accepting that certain elements must be left behind, and we will be stronger because of these lessons learned, we will be more able to handle the inevitable messiness of what comes next.


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