On July 22 I shared a checking in with you post, inviting people to share what they’ve been experiencing during this time and how they’re doing. A lot of people decided to take me up on that – more than I was expecting.
After personally replying to the first several dozen people that wrote to me, I let the remaining responses pile up for a while, and then I gradually read through them. I did read all of the responses, although I regrettably didn’t reply to everyone else after the first day or so. I actually just finished reading the last of those messages last night. More responses to that post were still coming in well after the first week, including last week, although now it’s down to a trickle.
Some people shared pretty short messages, like a paragraph or two, while others wrote much longer and more detailed replies. And a few people actually answered every question in the original post – all 26 of them – even though I suggested picking just one or two. In some ways it was like reading a book on what my readers have been experiencing during this time.
Some of the responses were very intimate, including thoughts and feelings that people weren’t even sharing with their spouses. It was a unique viewport into what my readers have been experiencing, almost like reading people’s private journal entries.
I will of course keep all of the private details private, and I appreciate that people trust me enough to share those aspects of their lives. It’s an honor and a privilege to connect in that way, and I wish we could do it face-to-face instead of via the Internet. I do miss the in-person meetups that I’d regularly have with people who visit Vegas. Sadly the nice cozy coffee shop where we used to host those meetups permanently closed down due to the coronavirus. I’m looking forward to hosting those meetups again when it feels safe to do so.
Here’s what I can share about what readers are experiencing during this time, at least up until late July when those messages came through. It’s really tremendously different for everyone. The experiences people are having fall across a wide spectrum.
For some people this has been a time of incredible growth and change. They’re clearly thriving. Of course they’d prefer not having the coronavirus situation, but they’re adapting well to it, often shifting their careers or businesses to flow where the opportunities have been going. Some are really enjoying deeper connections with their relationship partners and families at home. Others are appreciating the solo time to themselves. And still others are seeing this as a good time to dive deeply into various creative projects. Such people seem to be doing a good job of directing their focus during this time, putting their attention on what they want while also acknowledging new constraints.
On the other end of the spectrum, others are being hit really hard by this. They’ve lost their jobs, or their businesses have dried up. Some are depressed. Some are sinking deeper into debt. Their situations are unstable, their prospects aren’t looking good, and they expect things to get worse before they get better.
Another type of response that struck me was from those who see very limited options for what they can do. They’re holding onto their jobs but are worried about losing them. They feel like that’s all they can do – keep showing up to work and hope for the best. I saw a lot of binary thinking in some people’s replies, like there are only two potential paths forward for them.
Most readers are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. They’ve had to make some adjustments, but they’re coping with this situation pretty well. They’re neither thriving nor sinking but are holding their own and doing their best to wait this out. Many look forward to being able to do more of what they miss, like getting together with friends or traveling. The perspective that this is a highly unusual situation but also a temporary one seems to be a frame that helps many people cope.
Some people have written off 2020 as a crappy year. Others are doing the opposite by seeing 2020 as a very different kind of year – an invitation to explore other aspects of personal growth.
One other common pattern that came up in a number of responses was that this situation puts a strain on relationships. Some relationships are cracking under that pressure while others are growing stronger because of it.
In particular, several readers noted that having friends or family members who are Trump supporters is causing rifts in their families or friendship circles. Some who started out tolerant about that just aren’t able to stomach it anymore, especially when they see such support as belittling and/or prolonging their struggles. What may have been limited to a political difference within a family is now getting a lot more personal.
As far as I can tell, most readers and their families haven’t been physically affected by the virus, but some have gotten sick and recovered. Others suspected they had it earlier but never got tested. A small number have lost people they know because of it, or they’re still greatly concerned about someone they know. For most though, the experience has been more about adjustments to work, lifestyle, finances, and social life.
People’s attitudes here are very different. Some are financially crashing, but attitude-wise they’re still fine. They’re handling problems as they arise, and they still see plenty to be grateful for. Many people pointed out the importance of gratitude and appreciation during this time. They’re managing their focus well.
Others who are doing just fine financially are more stressed and worried. They aren’t coping as well. And in many cases these feelings are spilling over into their relationships as well, causing social tensions to increase.
Some who are squeezed by this situation are rising to the challenge, and they’re feeling more empowered than before. Their replies seemed positive, passionate, and even excited. Others feel more beaten down by what’s happening, upset that their plans for the year have been demolished.
Interestingly several people noted how the recent Stature course, which launched in January, was helping them view the coronavirus situation through the lens of character sculpting. They approached recent events as character sculpting challenges, and they thought about what kind of character they wanted to be during these times. Some found that approach really helpful, perhaps because it kept their focus on what they could do. I think it also helped them spot worthwhile opportunities for self-expression, which are still very much present in this situation.
Previous personal development work has really been paying off for some people during this time. This situation is like a big test of that. Now is the time to put all those mental and emotional tools to good use. If your tools are good and you’ve learned them well, they can really help you keep your mood positive and your focus productive. If your tools are weak or impractical or you haven’t gotten into the habit of using them, you may be getting sucked into the pit of despair – the same pit that people in similar situations are deftly avoiding.
Sometimes the most useful tools are the most basic. My #1 tool for staying positive during this time is the same one I’ve been using before this situation. Most mornings I run for an hour while listening to audiobooks. Cardio exercise reigns supreme for its proven mood-boosting effects. It’s such a terrific stress reliever. And it gives me a wonderful hour outside each morning. It’s hard to feel down while watching the sunrise.
The audiobooks I listen to are great mood-boosters as well, especially if they’re funny. This morning I was listening to Kevin Smith’s Tough Shit: Life Advice From a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good. It’s crazy and fun – especially read by Kevin himself. I get so caught up in his stories and opinionated riffs that I barely feel the miles passing. I’ve been a fan of his movies ever since Clerks.
Another important tool is play. I leverage this one a lot during this time – because it works. I try to experience laughter every day, often by engaging with what I find playful, especially on the weekends. Last weekend Rachelle and I played through Untitled Goose Game, which made us laugh a lot. You play the game as an asshole goose that torments humans, such as by honking at them, stealing their stuff, and tricking them in various ways. (Just imagine the humans wearing MAGA hats, and it’s twice as fun.)
This afternoon I’ll be attending a livestreamed reading of The Princess Bride by many of the original cast members. It’s my favorite movie of all time, so it would be inconceivable to miss it. Plus they’re doing this as a fundraiser for the Wisconsin Democratic Party – to help Trump lose. Humiliations galore! And then there will be some Q&A afterwards. It’s at 4pm Pacific time today if you want to join the party. Rachelle and I will be there. You’re supposed to donate to join, but they’ll take any amount. I think this may be the first time I donated to any political party in my life, and I don’t even live in Wisconsin. I must say that I love the universe’s perfect way of inviting me to lose my political donation virginity after I finally registered to vote last month.
Are you still taking time for play and fun? Are you still engaging with what you love? Or are you using the virus as a reason to disconnect from that? The game of life doesn’t end just because there’s a plague. If you’re gonna die someday anyway, go out with a glass of wine and some hearty laughter like Vizzini.
My personal framing on the virus situation is mostly that it’s a challenge. It’s a test of what I think I know, as if life is saying, “Ohhhhh… look who knows so much! Okay, Mr. Smartypants, let’s see how you handle the Fire Swamp.”
Can you handle such a challenge? Can you keep your wits about you? Can you dodge the fire spurts, escape the lightning sand, and wrestle the ROUSes?
We’re all challenged by this situation differently. For some it’s as breezy as fetching a pitcher for Buttercup. For others it’s like fencing Inigo Montoya left-handed after snorting iocane. And for still others it’s like an hour on The Machine, set to 50.