I don't know how many of you have read the book, Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. For those of you not familiar with this book, it describes a young boy named Alexander who chronologically details one terrible event after another terrible event, such as getting a dumb toy in his cereal box, his brothers getting cooler shoes than his, ice cream falling onto the ground, and getting in trouble from his dad. Well, I don't know about you, but I've had a number of these "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" days lately.
Of course, it all started with the virus. To date, here is just a short list of the personal impact of COVID on me:
Delay of a major training contract
Cancellation of a family cruise which we've saved a long time for
Cancellation of two training contracts
I didn't get to watch my kids in their spring sports seasons
We couldn't refinance our house (meaning we will continue to pay our PMI)
We canceled a boys hiking trip
Postponement of four training contracts (one for an entire year)
Taking out a business loan (hopefully, it will be forgiven)
Cancellation of our rescheduled family cruise
Getting a second job to survive
And to top it all off, I really wanted a Coronavirus puppy, but no matter how much I begged I just could not convince my wife.
Can you relate? I'm sure each of you probably could make a larger and more "terrible" list than this. Let's be honest, all of this really stinks!
For me, this all came crashing down on Sunday, August 2nd. We went to church like normal and everything seemed good. Then, just as we arrived home, it was like demons took over my mind. I was in such a negative funk. Worse yet, that day we celebrated my birthday with the in-laws. The typical positive, optimistic, fun and friendly Jason turned into a dark, depressed, sad, and somewhat angry monster. It was a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" day and everybody could tell. (Just to add a little icing on the birthday cake, I actually teach the opposite of this. I am supposed to be the model of optimism, of hope, of leadership, but not lately)
That's when it hit me…I'm stuck in the middle. The middle is that horrible space between the start and end of something bad. It's like a tough workout. When we first get into the workout, it may be hard but it is something we can deal with. We also have great visions of how we are going to feel when it is all over. The middle is when we are 25 minutes into it, sweating our butts off, pushing with everything we have, only to recognize that we are not even halfway through. We just feel like giving in and giving up.
When the virus first hit, all of us were concerned. All of us wondered what it was going to mean. Yet, we were "all in this together" and we had the energy and rush from one of the best starts to a year. "We got this," could be seen on doors and sidewalks across the nation, kids cut out hearts, and the government continued to reassure us that they will take care of us. Additionally, we all thought we could see the end. "Let's just brace ourselves, endure this trial, and in a few weeks, it will all be over," we optimistically ensured ourselves. Unfortunately, the few weeks have turned into a few months which is now starting to look like a year or more. My friends, welcome to the middle!
In this middle, we are confused. We are anxious. We are tired and probably have found a few things to be bitter about. We are not our best selves. We don't know if we can, should, or even want to continue to try to "make the best out of this pandemic." We want to quit, to give up, to cast blame. "Let's just throw in the towel and end this workout right now!" If it was just a day, like Alexander's, we could do it. But it is day, after day, after day. A constant barrage of disappointing news…deaths, second waves, a culture of cancellation, postponements, restrictions, riots, violence, and hate. When will it end?
The truth is, nobody knows when this will all end. That is what makes the middle so difficult. Unlike the workout that finishes after 60 minutes, this challenge is so complex and there are so many variables that even the experts don't dare talk about a finish line. So, what are we to do. How can we not just manage, but master the middle?
5 Tips for Mastering the Middle
#1 - Keep Perspective.
My great, great grandfather was persecuted for his religious beliefs. Numerous times he was attacked, beaten, and left "neigh unto death," as described in his journal. My grandfather served in World War II. His family faced uncertainty every single day for six years and one day. When I consider that we've been in this for a mere 155 days, my perspective changes. If my grandfathers can endure their trials, I can deal with slow business, missed sports seasons, canceled trips, and masks. In fact, when looked at in comparison these seem like small and trivial things.
#2 - Have Gratitude.
One of my favorite authors is Robin Sharma. He says, "Gratitude is the antidote to fear." We are all looking for the antidote to COVID and I honestly don't think we are going to find that any time soon. However, we can rid ourselves of fear in moments, if we have the discipline to reflect and recall all of the amazingly wonderful things that we do have. I've got an amazing family, great friends, I've built a business that will succeed, its summer in Minnesota, and I've gotten more time on my motorcycle this summer than any other summer. There is a lot to be thankful for. About two years ago, I was challenged to make a list of 100 things I was grateful for in order to increase my degree of gratitude. Boy, that was hard but it is also something I still look at to this day.
#3 - Work Hard.
Sometimes I feel like COVID has given me an excuse to take things easy, to relax my routine, and to not give things in my life 100% of my effort. Besides, how many other people have binged watch multiple seasons of many different shows, couldn't I? Why do I still need to get up at 5 AM when there is no business? What is the point of reading 2+ books a month if I don't have anyone to share it with? I hate to admit it, but I have fallen into the easy road a few times and what I've noticed is that it allows me to start taking pity on myself, to look for someone to blame, and to become bitter. Yet, when I work hard, all those feelings go away.
#4 - Express Faith.
If you are not a person of faith, you can skip this tip. I struggle, however, to understand how anyone can go through a significant crisis without faith in something bigger. Call him what you will - God, Allah, the Higher Power - I find so much peace when I recognize that this is all in a plan. The plan may be something that I completely don't understand, and at times it may seem like there is no plan at all, but my faith has helped me endure and to know that there is a purpose to this. That this is a test. A time for us to prove our ability to trust in him. A time to be humble, to call on his name, and to see his hand at work. Watch for the miracles.
#5 - Serve Others.
Even during the good times, whenever I feel down or depressed I've found that turning my heart to others almost instantly changes my mental state. It can be as simple as a positive comment on someone's post, a text to a friend, or a phone call to a family member. It can be a complimentary note to a coworker, cake in the break room, or jumping in and volunteering for a task at work. It can also include serving in at your local food shelf, collecting donations for good causes, and making masks. The number of service opportunities during this pandemic are countless. President Russel M Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, "Just think of the good that each of us can do during this time of global upheaval!"
I know that the middle is hard. Nobody wishes for this, but it is our reality. Let us be people of hope. Let us shine our light in the dark. Let us not just manage through this crisis, but to actually master the middle by seeing this in the right perspective, having gratitude, working hard, showing faith and serving others. I can't promise that if you do these things, you will only have great days ahead. But, I can promise that if you do, the likelihood of a great day dramatically increases.