It can be incredibly difficult to find the bright spots when life throws harrowing things your way. Sometimes, we really need to look for them.
A few years ago, my son Cody was diagnosed with cancer after he had just returned from his honeymoon. We had gone from a celebratory time to one that was quite terrifying and filled with unknowns. My husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to buy a house on a lake close to where Cody and his wife live. We wanted them to have a place where we could all get away, relax and not focus on everything we were going through.
I’m grateful to report that Cody’s cancer is in remission and he’s doing well. And even though that chapter was dark and trying for my family, it ended up being the catalyst to get that lake house, a place where we have found much comfort together. It continues to be our respite as we settle into a world with COVID-19. Quarantining and being able to work remotely at the lake house has given me more time with my husband, my two sons, my two Labradors and my horse.
Being remote does definitely have its drawbacks. I feel that I am working longer hours because the computer is sitting right here, making it too easy to plop down at any time and start responding to emails. But then I can look down at my dogs or out the window at my horse and it all has a calming effect on me. We purchased the lake house to help our family get through a difficult time, but it has become a sanctuary for us, a small piece of heaven — one of those bright spots when we need it.
These are some of the challenges I’ve been dealing with in the last few years. I know you all have your own struggles you’re dealing with, too — as do the staff at our organizations. This year has certainly tested the most optimistic people in our lives. But these highs and lows of life are something that binds us together as humans. We find ways to get through it.
Everyone needs to figure out what works best for them individually. I personally found that working on puzzles calms the nerves and just takes me away from reality, even if for a brief moment. I started working them when we spent months at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for Cody’s surgery, chemo and radiation. Now we also work them at the lake house; it’s become a fun way to bond with the family and helps us all destress during COVID. I walk in the evenings when it is not too hot (Houston is an oven right now, though!), and I enjoy swimming at the lake and floating on a noodle.
This year has certainly tested the most optimistic people in our lives. But these highs and lows of life are something that binds us together as humans. We find ways to get through it.
For the office, it takes a little more work so that everyone feels appreciated and needed. I have weekly videoconferences with the staff and have been known to get them up and do the “Cupid Shuffle.” Each week, one staff member takes the Blank Rome staff chat and can speak about anything — personal or professional — that comes to mind. I send a “funny for the day,” which even the partners enjoy and have come to expect. I email the staff individually every day and keep an eye out for warning signs. I have become a counselor to one of my staff members who is now going through a divorce due to the stresses of COVID.
For more inspiration on how to lead your staff (and yourself!) through these times, I invite you to check out how ALA member, Krista Hart, implemented a wellness program at her firm in 2019. She’s shared how her firm has transitioned that wellness program into a virtual setting to help everyone as we socially distance. You can read her article, “How One Firm Encourages Employee Wellness,” in this issue, and hear more from her in a companion podcast about the program here.
As you lead your law firms or organizations through these unprecedented times, I encourage all of you to be open and honest about conversations with your staff. It can be difficult to admit we aren’t OK, but I promise you, sharing experiences let’s others know it is OK to not be OK at times. If not, they need to be able to reach out for help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out for help when needed; it’s something all of us will need to do at some point in our lives.
There are days that I struggle, like everyone, and have to find what works for me. I invite you all to share how you handle challenges with each other. #ALAisHere, and I find comfort knowing I have my ALA network to lean on during these times.