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Staying Emotionally Sober in Uncertain Times

Posted on: July 28th, 2020 by Ira Jackson

At any point during the crises we are experiencing in our communities and across our nation – COVID-19 and social unrest – have you found yourself afraid, overwhelmed, uncertain or just plain wigged out? If so, you are not alone. And if not, I bet you know someone who has, or is. 

As difficult as things are in this confluence of life-altering events, it’s going to get better. Here’s how I know. I have been there. I am a father to two young adults. I have been married, and divorced. My mother, whom I lovingly describe as the toughest dude I’ve ever known, left us in March for her final journey. I have run a business for nearly three decades. I could go on.

What I learned through countless life events – the good, the great, the challenging, the seemingly insurmountable – was to breathe, appreciate, keep moving and especially how to think soberly during the toughest of times. And so today, as I breathe, my fears are fairly quiet.

umbrella-girl.jpgAs professionals, community leaders, educators, business owners, parents, friends and family members, we owe it to ourselves and all who depend on us to stay emotionally grounded during this unusual time. 

It is also important that we look outside ourselves and help others find internal strength and serenity.

Courage to change the things we can

In the spirit of The Hope Shot, the video series we’re passionately producing, I would like to share ideas, personal experiences and insights for the road ahead. I’ll start with my friend and colleague Douglas Tieman, President & CEO of Caron Treatment Centers and featured luminary in the newest episode of The Hope Shot...

 As I listen to Doug speak, I am moved because I can hear in the timbre of his voice and what he says that he has been to his share of rodeos, too. His wisdom speaks to all of us, and his reference to the Serenity Prayer says it best. When we have the courage to change, things invariably improve.

A conscious choice: personal transformation

Who are you during the pandemic? This is a great guide on who we should all strive to be…


Thirteen years ago, as the fuse was lit to the Great Recession and in the ensuing seven-year struggle to survive, my life revolved almost exclusively around the inner Fear Zone. Fast forward to today’s global pandemic and social unrest, arguably more economically difficult, and my life is largely lived in the outer two circles – the Learning and Growth Zones. 

What changed? I did. And if I can go from chronically angry, driven by a constant, low-humming undercurrent of fear, anybody can! The last time I checked, life is undefeated. As soon as I accepted that reality and turned down the volume on winning, things started to get a lot better.

Lean into your network during this time

...and let your network lean into you! I debated using the term network, but I’m ‘that guy’ and as euphemistic as it sounds, it works for me. Another way to say it, though, is that navigating life today truly takes a village. Better still, how about this: Get your keister in the middle of the herd! 

lion-and-gazelle-final.jpgThink safari scene, where there’s always a stray gazelle off to the side nibbling on vegetation. 

Who winds up getting picked off by the lions? 

There’s not much you can tell me about the lone spirit. I’m an entrepreneur and hard-wired for that. There is no way, however, that I made it through the last decade into this one, personally or professionally, without my village! Michael Dinkins, where you at? Neal Broffman and Elisa Gambino – get over here! Brian Brown and Scott Miller – your lifetime supply of printing coupons is in the mail. Joi Jackson – Holla! Mom (RIP), Dad, Lynn – there aren’t enough words.  

Bottom line, y’all: In times like these, don’t be so busy saving your face that you forget to save your back end. Ask for help. If asking for help is hard for you, if someone reaches out to offer it, be smart enough to let them! Remember to be of help to others, too.

A true confession

As a recovering workaholic, it is important that I recognize the nuances and results of this bad behavior, and then work on the opposites. For example, when I go into turbo workaholic mode, it starts to look like martyrdom (“Don’t you see how hard I’m working? If you only knew!”). This is nothing but pride and self-pity in high gear – and why the opposite traits of modesty, gratitude and cheerfulness have become my rallying cries. 

Any impulse toward anger is short-lived because I instantly recognize the impetus – that low, steady hum of fear and insecurity. I love this quote because of its utter truth in those moments:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” 

                                                                            -- James Baldwin

So, when I said earlier that things will get better, that did not mean it might not hurt.

We are all impacted and respond in different ways

Early on, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, I was feeling pretty good, considering. My family was close by, well and safe, and they still are. With the business, the management team and I were navigating a successful path and we still are. However, when the second pandemic of social unrest unfolded, all my proverbial buttons were getting smashed. 

I’ll spare you my Old and New South upbringing, born four months after the Civil Rights Act was enacted. And I’m not one for polite conversation around ‘all lives matter’ or ‘there’s no such thing as systemic racism.’ But I will share how coming to grips with the following was so important... 

My drive for success and achievement in business used to be centered around and intertwined with wanting to be accepted. Reindeer games can be brutal. I eventually succeeded in changing my perspective. It’s amazing how once I owned my fear of being excluded, I finally cared less about fitting in. That said, the recent uprising in social unrest was still a powerful trigger.  

My point, I suppose, is that while all of us are living through the same crises right now, we each feel the impact and respond in different ways. Be good to yourself and others. Let’s get through this together as a community. We will be stronger if we stay clearheaded, humble and unified.

Hope is hard, my friend, but it is definitely worth having and sharing. I promise. 

One last note...

hope-shot-logo.jpgIf you have not been following The Hope Shot, you are missing out on some great insights from our featured luminaries! You can access the ongoing series on our COVID-19 Response Page

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