Balance Beyond the Beam

Taking Cues from Olympian Athletes During COVID-19

I am a huge fan of the World Olympics. Hands-down, my favorite sport is women’s gymnastics. I sit in awe of the balance beam routines. Watching elite athletes like Simone Biles, Nastia Liukin and Gabby Douglas is inspiring. Their performances always mesmerize because of the strength, stability, flexibility and confidence they exude in every turn, twist, saltos, split jump, and back and front handspring.

Of course, true balance goes deeper than that. It’s exercising complete control, grace and courage in every moment leading up to, during, and following the actual event. Gymnasts have these traits in spades.

Life has always demanded that we maintain balance in this same spirit. I think this is even more important today in the era of COVID-19. As a wife, mother and business leader in our new abnormal where there are no longer lines of separation between work and life, I’m looking to Olympian Shannon Miller for a little inspiration.

From Normal to Anything but Normal

Everything can change,” as the song goes, “in a New York minute.” On an intellectual level, I’ve always known this to be true, but man I don’t think I fully grasped how quickly or vastly things could change. Like so many men and women, I went from parent bus driver to home-school teacher literally overnight while doing my full-time job in the same dwelling during the same hours of every workday!

In my personal life, I’m the mother to two grade-school children. I’m very fortunate to have a strong right hand—my husband. There is never a moment when I feel as though I am on any journey alone. For this reason, I’m able to meet each challenge with a bit more optimism. His presence and partnership are a godsend.

Professionally, I’m a Director of Operations for Televerde, a sales and marketing company, managing and mentoring more than 200 incarcerated women in Arizona. When COVID-19 changed our landscape, calm was replaced by chaos and everyone scrambled to figure out what to do next. As a mom and business leader, I had a lot of people looking to me to…well…lead.

Rewriting the Standards We Set for Ourselves

COVID-19 has forced businesses to rethink the way they work, schools and universities to rethink how they educate, leaders to rethink how they engage with employees, and parents to rethink how they parent and teach.

To adapt to this new reality, I had to rewrite the expectations I set for myself. I couldn’t require excellence during every moment of every day. I had to intentionally give myself the same grace and support that I would give to any one of my team members. This was key as my anxiety impacts other people.

To be a source of strength for my children and the people I lead during great uncertainty, I had to stop expecting so much more from myself than other people expect from me. Being perfect wasn’t in the cards. (Should it ever have been?) I’ve learned that during challenging times, doing a consistently good job has to be good enough, but that being an authentic and genuine leader is a non-negotiable.

Once I accepted this, things began to fall into place and I was able to channel more easily the strengths and characteristics of Nadia, Tatiana and other elite gymnasts. You know what? I became a more confident and flexible woman during COVID-19. This, in turn, has made me a stronger business leader, wife and mother. Here’s what I now know for sure.

Lessons in Crisis

Focus on what you can control. The fact is, we aren’t in control of most things. Thinking about that is more than a little intimidating so you can see how easy it is for people to sink into the rabbit hole of fear. For my incarcerated team it is downright scary as they have so little control as it is. But hold on. There’s liberation in knowing we are fully in control of how we respond to situations: our actions, reactions and interactions. When we shift our energy to things we can influence, everything changes for the better. We are more positive and focused, which propels us forward and places us into situations where we can be effective. When you’re in this zone, your brain is functioning at its best and every aspect of your life benefits.

Connect with your teams. The highlight of every day is connecting with my teams – the team that I report into, the team that reports into me, and the team that I live with! Making time to catch up and check-in with each other feels good and it’s the first step in building trust and camaraderie. It’s a way for everyone to feel supported.

When COVID-19 hit and everyone was forced into remote work environments, communication became really critical. It also had to happen more regularly. Employees needed to understand the changes we were making as a business to maintain revenue and ensure continuity for our clients. They wanted reassurance that they’d have jobs and be able to support their families. They also needed to know how we planned to keep them safe, especially our incarcerated teams. To ensure the latter, this meant more communication between our team and the Department of Corrections in Indiana and Arizona. I also have made it a point to go into our prison-run call centers to show my team that I am with them. I am not afraid. In this way they can see that life is continuing, with limitations.

Be honest about your limitations. Hear me on this: it’s OK to say NO. We are all juggling competing priorities. Work and life has been fully integrated. It’s important to manage the expectations of your leaders in regard to your own limitations. If meetings have to be moved earlier or later to accommodate family commitments, speak up. If you’re experiencing job stress, communicate with your leaders to find solutions that work. Remember: the best leaders care deeply about the mental and physical health of their employees. But they don’t know how to support you if you don’t tell them.

Find the joy and humor. My kids surprised me by decorating our dining room with pages they colored. They used the duct tape from our tool room. It’s one of those moments where you smile while holding back tears. You just know the paint is coming off right along with each drawing. But alas, it’s one grain of sand in the Sahara. Walls can be re-painted. Find the joy and laugh, especially in times of trouble. Levity doesn’t diminish the seriousness of a moment. It actually brings us closer together.

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