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Grace for the Givers

It’s been 2 years since most of us started hearing about COVID-19. Twenty-four long, confusing, exhausting, soul-examining months of masks, and test swabs up the nose, and social distancing, and the never-ceasing Zoom meeting (Hey, remember when we got all excited about how efficient we were via Zoom and how it was such a novel and not-so-bad idea? Good times). In fact, I have notes from a staff meeting I led from around this time where I know I said something like, ‘We’re going to be on alert but not panic. I don’t see us closing down or anything.’ And just a few weeks later, when I closed the doors (oops) to the organization I know I said, ‘This is a temporary measure. We’ll be back soon.’ And in my head, ‘soon’ was 6-8 weeks maybe.

But 2 years later, things still aren’t ‘back to normal’. And 2 years later, I am not ‘back to normal’ either. I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be getting ‘back to normal’ ever again because I just refuse to pretend like this period in my life hasn’t profoundly affected who I am and how I perceive the world around me.

The good news is that according to lots and lots of psychologists, self-help gurus, social media leaders, educators, and just about anyone else who has access to a Facebook account, it’s perfectly fine to extend that grace to myself and not ‘be normal’ because this just isn’t. It isn’t normal. I can forgive myself for being reclusive, or depressed, or drained, or a lackluster parent, or a less-than-together boss, or a crummy friend. I’m struggling. It’s a pandemic, and it’s ok to do that. I can cope by learning to make sourdough and play Wordle.

But as I’ve watched this unfold, I have to wonder if the kind of grace I’m supposed to extend to myself is being extended to others with the same tenor of ‘This isn’t normal – so it’s ok. Give grace. Have patience.’ And yes, I’m most certainly talking about the grocery store clerks, and the food service workers, and god-love-them, my own employees who have to take on people every day who won’t comply with a mask mandate in our building (people -it’s been TWO years – please stop arguing with us) … but I’m also talking about the ‘doers’, the ’givers’ and yes, the ‘leaders’. Especially those folks who perpetually have had to balance keeping the wheels on whatever bus they drive financially and operationally, while simultaneously adjusting for their employees, team, and/or constituents who were flaming out – oh, and we expected them to outright do the rest of their job too. Often publicly. Often in-person.

How many times did I see complaints online about a doctor’s office who wasn’t returning phone calls fast enough or had appointments back up? How many catty messages were posted about a teacher, boss, or community leader who wasn’t getting it done? How many times did I listen to a colleague recount the pressure to deal with an operational ‘to do’ (like updating the employee handbook) while coming to work to find out 2 employees had COVID, and 2 others were refusing to come in out of concern for their family. These 4, after already having to furlough or let go 6 others. Missed deadlines. Slow service. Dropped balls. Longer hours with less of the ‘stuff’ people were expecting. And a cacophony of unhappy people ready to issue a complaint, fillet them on social media, or even threaten to have them fired.

They just kept going because the end had to be near and things would ‘return to normal’. But it didn’t. It hasn’t. And it seems many people got more patient with themselves and their loved ones (good work), but less patient with those ‘doers, givers, and leaders’ around them. Why hasn’t this been done for us yet? Why haven’t they updated this website? Can’t they just return my phone call?

Why? Because the person who did ‘this’ (and 4 other ‘this’s) was furloughed 18 months ago. The money for that website update was burnt through in the 4th month of closure of the business – 20 months ago. The person who manned the phones couldn’t safely return to in-person work because of a compromised family member and took a new job. That was 6 months ago, but so far there just aren’t applicants for this job. And it’s falling to a smaller and smaller number of more and more tired people to keep things churning. And those people, just like you, are struggling. And just like you, they have families that are struggling. Because this.isn’t.what.they.signed.up.for.either.

But they’re showing up anyway.

In plainest way possible I need to say that the people holding this all together are crumbling before our eyes. And while the struggle to ‘do it all’ was always a lot but something they shouldered, it’s the total lack of grace for any of the crazy, multi-dimensional realities of holding organizations together right now, inflicted often by the very limited gaze of people closest and most benefiting from those leaders, that is ending their fight. It is absolutely true that hurt people, hurt people – and many of the givers, doers, and leaders I know accept that as a certain cost of doing business: people will lash out on occasion. The problem is, this isn’t ‘on occasion’, it’s becoming a way of life – and an unsustainable one at that.

No one can do it all. No one should actually be expected to even under the best of circumstances, which this certainly isn’t. But more and more the unrealistic, lack-of-empathy, me-first requirements have caused us to lose quite a bit of our humanity I’m afraid, which is going to cost us in givers, doers, and leaders.

I guarantee you, it already is.

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