January 2021: Implementing Change

Greetings to you all.

As I write the January 2021 newsletter, I am aware of the big changes to all our lives over the past year. For me these events consolidated in my retirement from clinical medicine at the end of 2020, ready to take on another, different challenge. If you asked me how I felt, I’d probably reply: “No different!” Deep down, however I would have to admit that I feel as if my umbilical cord has been ripped away from my belly, and people around me expect me to now be independent…

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to use the newborn baby as a metaphor for what I want to say in the letter. My first observation would be that newborn babies haven’t worked out the social nuances of their worth to others yet. They simply demand to be recognized as is. When hungry they agitate; when they want to relieve themselves they just do it. When they want to sleep or wake that seems okay to them. What does that tell me? I want to assume now that I am retired that I have a place in the cosmos. I think I know where that is, and I think I know what it might look like. Just like the newborn baby, I will choose to not fret about it; and try to make sense of this new world around me.

My second observation would be that newborn babies grow fast and mature quickly from month to month. I truly believe that these next 6 months for me will look different from those that follow. Eventually, when I have understood what is expected of me during this retirement phase, I will move on to different challenges. But for now, it will be eat, poop, smile and sleep! All of this is to reassure you that I am in a good place.

So why continue to write a newsletter? In the light of where our society is at, and how the pandemic is affecting all of us, I feel compelled to maintain contact with those who want it. Most of us are struggling with just how different the world around us looks and feels. Many of us are profoundly uncomfortable; some angry, some depressed, some just out of sorts, some hanging on by their fingernails. My primary purpose for continuing to write a newsletter is simple- if I have the time and skill to put words on paper that bring some comfort to you, then I will continue to do this. If I sense that what I say has little relevance to you then I will stop.

My second reason for writing you, is to provide contact information that you can use (or provide to people who may want to make contact with me). In essence, I have committed to a few people that I will be there for them; whether in the form of personalized coaching or mentorship. Because there are those who have expressed interest in maintaining this contact with me I have maintained the Journey’s Academy framework that was developed in late 2019. It provides me the vehicle to tell you what I stand for and what I offer. Take it or leave it.

How will this work? I offer 4 discrete packages: cohort leadership development skills training (through Zoom); organizational strategic planning; personalized coaching/ mentorship (including career development for early individuals); the building of resiliency during crisis. Just to be clear: this is NOT a new career! This is NOT a money making enterprise! However, it has been my experience over the many years I operated as a leader/ mentor/ coach that things that are free often are regarded as “value-less”. Therefore, I have asked for a nominal fee in exchange for the work that I do with you or with other groups. I do it to challenge those who might want help to invest in themselves. The investment in yourself is worth the small fee that I will ask of you.

Finally, I want to focus our attention on the stream that I have called: “Building Resilience during crisis”. I do so because I think there are many who are lost and don’t know what to do. During uncertain times we become uncertain! We find it difficult to make decisions; or make bad decisions. This impacts our marriages/ relationships, our ability to work with colleagues, our stress level, and our enjoyment of work.

There is no tome that has been written about how to build resilience, and so I will use Nelson Mandela’s life to demonstrate how he was forced to be strong when everything around him appeared hopeless. I will humbly use my own experiences to validate some of the principles he embodied. This stream will be a dual pattern: group work that allows attendees to share with others (Zoom); and individual support to those who need this. Some of you will have experienced profound sadness during the pandemic, either as a result of death in the family/ friend, or feeling that so many of your traditions have been taken from you. I deal with this in my individual sessions.

What are some of the areas I want to address?

  1. The essence of what you are feeling – in uncertain times we are brought to our knees, and feel helpless. What does this look like, and is this you? We talk through this and offer tips on what to do.
  2. The first step to building resilience is to commit to dealing with one day at a time. Being focussed on what you will do and completing these activities help you to feel some control. Get into a habit of thinking of “one-day-at-a-time”. Nelson Mandela talked about forcing himself to think only about today.
  3. Learn to stay in the moment. Its too easy to adopt a doomsday approach to living; and social media allows us to become addicts of the quick news that is constantly thrown our way. Several important lessons are connected to this: reduce your use of social media; try to stay connected with others; and refrain from getting angry about what others are doing. Staying in the moment says that if you are to thrive, you need to focus on what is critical for you and your family; NOT on how others are failing themselves.
  4. Focus on what you can control. During the 20 odd years that Nelson Mandela spent on Robben Island, often in isolation, he developed rhythm in life. He had control over so few things, but those he did have were powerful: they included his thoughts, his relationships with his prison warders, what he wrote about, and what he did during the labour days that were his lot. What will we spend our time doing? Will we do things that make a difference in our lives, and those around us? Is it time to change a career, write that manuscript? Etc.
  5. Rein in your emotions. That’s easier said than done. Anxiety in uncertain times often controls us and makes us feel sad/ angry/ depressed. It seems to me that one of the premier struggles with being resilient is that you don’t feel resilient. You feel controlled; and at the butt end of a bad joke. Teaching techniques that allow you to overcome extreme anxiety, and to become self aware is a critical piece of this resilience.
  6. Try to find meaning. Self awareness teaches us that there is deep meaning to why we do things/ feel about others. For example, some of us find participation in groups difficult because this threatens us. Others become compassionate because they have experienced love and care from someone else. In practical terms, it is my experience that we fail ourselves when we only try to make sense of positive feelings! Exploring why we react with anger helps us control that emotion. Exploring why we react tearfully or positively to something helps us coral this when we need it.
  7. Force yourself to remain physically active. Our minds often are ruled by our bodies. When we exercise, we release endorphins that make us feel better. Taking our bodies for granted during uncertain times makes it easy to eat too much, drink too much alcohol and not spend any time in physical activity. Committing yourself to a regular amount of physical activity is a critically important area in your life

So, I write this to you to encourage you to stay strong. Be vigilant about your thought patterns, and your physical activity. Try to remain focussed on things you can control. Let me know if you want to be part of this first cohort group that will deal with resilience as an issue.

Blessing to all of you, Peter Craighead

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