These are crazy times. I can’t remember another time in my life where there was such a palpable sense of fear and uncertainty. The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus has everyone around the world understandably anxious.
The fear may be particularly tough in the nonprofit sector, a sector whose omnipresent scarcity mindset makes any new challenge seem doubly hard to bear. I’ve seen a lot of “sky is falling” posts directed at nonprofit leaders (about potential challenges to fundraising, anticipated greater demand in services, fears that cash flows will dry up). I see it in my clients — that catastrophic thinking about what might happen to their funding, to their organizations, to the economy, to our systems.
But choosing to remain in that initial fear response only serves to disempower you. Even if the worst of the terrifying scenarios being discussed right now come true, we will still (and even more so) need calm, reasoned leaders to lead us through it. Because fear is incredibly immobilizing and you simply cannot make good decisions or lead anyone from a place of fear.
We will get through this. But in order to do so we must refuse to get swept up in the tremendous fear that swirls in the media, on social media networks, in boardrooms. We need people, especially our social change leaders, to transmit a sense of confident leadership. We need to dig deep, recognize our own fear, and then lead the way to solutions.
So I’m asking you, social change leaders, to move beyond the fear. Here are some ideas for how to do that:
Seriously, I’m not kidding, take a big, deep breath right now. It will clear your head, increase your energy, give you a minute for pause. And most importantly it will move you closer to mindful action, as opposed to mindless reaction. And you are infinitely more powerful and effective when you are acting from a place of calm rather than just reacting to the negative energy that swirls around us.
Take Lots of Breaks From the Negative Swirl
Speaking of the negative swirl, you need to distance yourself from it. I promise you, if you spend more than a few minutes at any time absorbing the news and social media you will fairly quickly be dragged down into a terror spiral — the crescendo of fear, anger, uncertainty, chaos that is an undercurrent to much reporting and discussion about the virus. You absolutely want to stay informed, especially about your own local situation, but you can do that in a few minutes a day. After that you will, I promise you, be swept down into the fear and the muck. So put your phone down and go do something that takes your mind off of it, connects you to the people you care about, and brings you joy.
Recognize and Be Grateful for the Positives
I understand that there are a lot of negatives, but there are also some really positive things that are emerging from this crisis. People are slowing down, spending more time with family, expressing more compassion for their fellow humans, learning how to work a more flexible schedule, relying more on local services (like local news, local businesses, local government). And in the bigger picture, I believe that we are uncovering the weaknesses in many of our systems (financial, healthcare, political). It may not feel good, but in order to improve those systems and make them stronger, more inclusive and more equitable, we have to first recognize, as a group, how flawed they truly are. I believe this crisis is helping to do that.
Keep Your Eyes on the Future
I know that the nonprofit sector will likely bear more of the burden of this crisis, but please don’t give up your long-term plans, your abundance, or your optimism. In fact, there could be opportunities within this crisis to collaborate in much bigger ways, to mobilize your board, partners, funders in bigger ways, to break free from outdated funding systems. Despite how dire this current situation might feel, it is temporary. Someday soon you will be able to shift from your contingency plans back to your larger social change goals. But only if you keep your eyes on the path ahead and the abundance that awaits you and your work.
Here’s what I know for sure. We will get through this, just as we as a human race have gotten through much worse before. But we need leaders to step up and lead. And to do that, you must move beyond fear into a place of mindfulness, connection, gratitude, and optimism.
Photo Credit: Bram.