Published with permission from Corinne McKay, Training for Translators
In my recent online course alumni question and answer session, an alum asked a great question about making our own decisions and supporting the people around us during the pandemic. It's true that:
1. Lots of things feel really hard right now (in the US at least). Simple things like going grocery shopping or taking a walk with a friend can be intensely stressful. Do I have my mask? How many times have I washed my hands today? Why is that person standing so close to me?
2. As the pandemic drags on, we're faced with lots of major decisions. If my work volume has dropped off, is it going to rebound, or should I target a new specialization or even a new career? Should I send my kids to school in person or online?
All of these things take a toll on our mental and even physical health. Following are a few tips that might help you with pandemic decision-making; I'm certainly not the authority on this, but these strategies have helped me a lot.
-Acknowledge reality. Let yourself be sad about the sad things. I've said this before, but it bears repeating. One of my problems in life is excessive positivity and unwarranted optimism. And yet, even I have days where I feel like, "What's the point?" So many things I was looking forward to this year have been cancelled. The news just seems to get worse and worse. Although at heart I feel grateful that everyone I love is healthy, and that my income has been relatively unaffected, it's still a challenge to deal with so much sadness and disappointment.
-Adopt an "and" mindset. The pandemic is devastating, AND it offers some new opportunities. It's nothing that any of us would have chosen to live through, AND it's sometimes good to be shaken out of your established way of doing things. It's not just one or the other. It's AND.
-Take advantage of the opportunities that the pandemic offers, rather than focusing on what it takes away. One example is online conferences and training. I recently participated in the first-ever remote edition of the Cambridge Conference Interpretation Course and it was amazing. Like, really amazing. And although I had planned on participating in person, the online version actually offered some advantages: the total cost was much, much lower because I didn't have to fly to the UK and stay there for two weeks, and I felt sort of liberated by interpreting alone in my office rather than in front of a room full of experts. I loved it. Perhaps you too can find a training opportunity (as a participant or as a trainer) that wouldn't have been possible before the pandemic.
-If you have time, read this really great article on decision-making, by economist Emily Oster, who actually studies such things for a living. If you don't have time, take away these two points about making big decisions right now 1) Always ask "what's the alternative?" and 2) Focus on using decision-making processes you trust, rather than on reaching the perfect decision. A great example is whether to send your kids to school in person: the only thing that seems like a worse idea than sending them is not sending them, right? I recently used some of Oster's tips to make a decision about renting office space. I finally admitted that right now, I don't feel comfortable going back to my beloved co-working office, and I am very unproductive when working from home. But I was able to find a small private office for less (yes, less...speaking of opportunities offered by the pandemic) than I was paying at the co-working office. What it lacks is other people; but it's a case of "What's the alternative?" Right now, you may be choosing between least-bad options, and it's sometimes easier to just admit that.
-And a bonus tip for those who have kids (that's lots of us on this list!). If your kids are old enough to understand what's going on, it's devastating to see them missing out on so many experiences that cannot simply be made up later. As parents, our impulse is to try to fix and improve as many things as we can, to try to keep life as normal as possible for our kids. But in doing that, we run the risk of sending the message, "You will mess this up, so don't even try. Let me do it for you," which is not a good message to be sending at a time when traits like flexibility and self-reliance are key. Here's an example: my daughter is in her first year of college, and her school is doing all remote classes, but in a different time zone from us. After missing not one but two online meetings because of mixing up the time zones, she--an obsessive perfectionist and overachiever--was distraught. My first impulse was to fix it, like to offer to text her 10 minutes before each meeting. And then I thought: that sends the message that she, an engineering student who is honestly a lot smarter than I am, cannot be trusted with a simple task like telling time. So instead, I asked her, "What do you think would be a better way of keeping track of everything?" Her solution was to buy a paper planner and write down all of her meetings and classes in our local time, and she hasn't missed anything since. So she gets the desired outcome, and the self-confidence of figuring it out herself.
I hope that all of you are holding up well in your various corners of the world, and I hope that some of these tips are helpful!
Written by Corinne McKay
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