Do you know what the survival protocol is if you’re trapped in the middle of the ocean, alone? Float. Conserve your energy and don’t attract predators by flailing around. Inflate and tie your pants around your neck to keep your head above water or do the “dead man’s float,” a move I remember learning during childhood swimming lessons. Take your time to get your bearings and your wits about you, so that you can come-up with a longer-term plan for survival.
I know this because I looked it up recently. During the second week of March, as it became clear that COVID-19 was going to have a huge influence on our world and shelter-in-place orders were starting, the image that kept coming to me was floating alone in a dark ocean.
As a new solo-entrepreneur, COVID-19’s effect on the world meant that all of the planning I had done for my young business, the meetings I had in place, and the traction I started to build was gone. And although I consider myself to be a creative thinker and “scrappy,” I recognized that the world as I knew it was changing. No matter how much information I absorbed online or perspectives I took, I wasn’t able to change what was happening. I felt like I was in a big, dark, infinite ocean, alone.
So, I started to float. For the first couple of days of shelter-in-place, I only did the things that I needed to do. I showered and took my dog to the park in the morning, coached clients who were already scheduled, and ate whatever my stomach would allow (vegetable or jellybean). I napped, which made up for some of the sleep I wasn’t getting at night and tried to stand in the sun for a few minutes each day, while my dog sniffed around the neighborhood. I didn’t worry about implementing the marketing plan that I had worked so hard to create, or follow-up with client prospects who I had hoped to reconnect with. I only did what was necessary to survive my day; I simply floated.
After about a week and a half of floating, I started to get a better sense of what was weighing me down and what was giving me hope. First, weighing me down: following the news and social media too closely, comparing myself to other entrepreneurs who appeared to seamlessly pivot their content and services to the new conditions, and thinking too far into the future. What was giving me hope: my sense of community reinforced by connecting with the same neighbors walking their dogs each morning at the park, the things that remained normal like sunrises and sunsets and spring flowers blooming, and the inspiring people I got to work with on client calls.
I started to lean into the hope and away from what was weighing me down and suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was drowning anymore. I enjoyed longer walks and conversations with my neighbors at the park, intentionally stopped for ten seconds each day to reflect on the birds and flowers surrounding the pond in the park, and thought about what I learned in each of my client calls. Allowing myself to float more deeply into the things that were empowering me helped me focus on the moments of joy in my day and made me look forward to the next day.
To continue the boat analogy, I feel like I’m out of the water and have climbed back into my boat. Neither my boat nor I are in a condition to sail off now, but I no longer feel out of control and in imminent danger. I have space to appreciate what is now in my life and to dream about the future.
I am sharing my story because I know it will resonate with many of you. I have had dozens of conversations over the past few weeks with clients, colleagues, and friends and have shared my advice: just float. It is contrary to how so many of us normally live our lives, but these are not normal times we are living in.
If there are days or moments that feel overwhelming to you, take a moment to “float”: notice what is around you and sustaining you, and think about how you can lean into those things. Also, think about what is weighing you down and you can release. Get your bearings on what is serving you best and focus on those things until you can lift yourself back into your boat.
Photo credit: Jonny Clow on Unsplash