How to Optimally Deal with the Anxiety of In-Between Times
Posted May 20, 2021 Change,Emotional Intelligence,Leadership,Mindfulness by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D.
We’re living in a liminal time. There’s a certain quality to this time that differentiates it from other types of time. It’s not the Before Times. It’s not the After Times. And increasingly, at least in many parts of the U.S., it’s not the Deepest Pandemic Times, either. It’s the In-Between Times.
The space that links suffering and hope.
Something characterizes the quality of this liminal time: we’re waiting for the suffering to end. We’re waiting for the hope to fully bloom. The need to wait, to be patient, to allow the world, and life itself, to unfold in its own time, can be hard for many of us. Especially for those whose work involves creating new things—new products, new services, new organizations and ideas—waiting for things to unfold in their own time can be downright anxiety-provoking. And while we wait, the Before Times can start to seep back in, bringing with it a host of issues we’d buried beneath the surface as we dealt with the day-to-day realities of life and work under extremely difficult circumstances.
For example, a client of mine, the CEO of an innovative, fast-growing healthcare organization, told me that over the past few weeks, troubling interpersonal events that had happened pre-pandemic—over a year ago—were only now surfacing in his organization.
At first, it didn’t make sense to him. Why would people suddenly be bringing up challenging things that had happened in the Before Times?
But when we looked at the situation from the lens of the liminal space we’re in now, it started to make more sense.
In the Deepest Pandemic Times, we did our best to manage day-to-day needs. Managers had to learn how to take care of themselves and their families—often without in-person school or formal childcare—while also managing and helping their direct reports through invariably tough times. We did what was essential, and we dealt with the uncertainties of life as they unfolded on a daily basis.
It is only now, as the deepest, toughest times may be beginning to slowly move into the rearview mirror, that some events that happened in the Before Times may start to come into focus.
As we make space to deal with these issues, it can help to think about other liminal moments in our work and lives. We can extract lessons today based on how we got through those times.
If you’re inclined, you can ask yourself the following reflection questions to begin this process:
Can you think of times in your life, at work or at home or in the community, when you’ve been in between two different phases of experience?
Maybe it was the time between school graduation and your first job, or between one job and another, or between getting engaged and getting married, or the months of pregnancy waiting for a baby to be born.
· What qualities describe those times for you?
· How did you keep yourself steady during those times?
· How did you reflect on what had come before?
· How did you prepare for what was to come?
· What practices, if any, did you put in place to see you through those times?
Your answers to these questions can help point you toward what might be helpful to you in this In-Between Time. Your answers might enable you to experiment now with some of the things that have worked well for you in the past.
When I asked him the questions above, my client, the healthcare CEO, could remember engaging in a specific daily meditation practice when he was waiting for his first child to be born. It helped calm him during a time that otherwise held so many unknowns. He realized that he could use the memories and practices of that time to inform this time, to help him through. That practice may not solve every issue that comes up, but it will likely help him stay steadier as he deals with them.
I hope this reflection will help you find similar practices for yourself, to help see you, your team and your organization through.