We were prompted to write about our pandemic perspectives and my first thought was, “Which one?” It’s been a complicated year, to say the least, and we all wear so many hats.
As a fitness professional, I could write about working in an industry that was among the first to be shut down and the last to reopen (and then shut down again and re-reopened.) Good times.
It’s been almost a year long struggle now to keep my spirits up as the very essence of the career I’ve loved for over a decade has all but disintegrated into a fog of CDC guidelines, state mandates, sanitization procedures and technological trouble shooting. I’ve contemplated a career change more than once. It’s a thought I’m sure we’ve all had in recent months about any variety of situations we found ourselves in…
“This is so not what I signed up for.”
But I am nothing if not resilient and I don’t really want to dwell on any of that.
Instead, I want to share with you something much more compelling. A “once in a lifetime” type phenomenon that I’ve observed repeatedly as someone who leads a small army of very part-time female employees, most of which are mothers – in this case, fitness instructors.
For all practical purposes, I lead a team of volunteers. They are paid, of course. But I think it’s safe to say that nobody teaches at their local YMCA in order to put food on the table. It’s a labor of love.
This type of leadership role is uniquely challenging at any point in time but the challenge is ten fold during a global pandemic.
Because women have been dropping the ball BIG TIME ever since the pandemic began.
Stay with me. It’s not what you think…
But yes, women have been dropping balls. Ever since their lives became filled with constant uncertainty and risk assessments and their homes became offices and classrooms.
For many, something just had to give. And that meant taking a break from part-time commitments to focus on what matters most; their kids, their mental health, the basics.
At first, I was pulling my hair out. I felt like a human ball pit as I attempted to collect the balls that had been dropped. Because you see, their plastic balls were my glass balls. I understood why they’d dropped them but I still had a job to do.
Pretty quickly it became clear that this was much bigger than myself. This was not something I could “manage”. I needed to stand back and let the balls hit the floor. So I did. And instead of stressing over how I was going to pick them up, I simply observed what was happening apart from how it was affecting me.
I have to say, I was amazed.
Never before in any of our lifetimes has there been an external force so powerful that it sent us all home, released for months of the extracurricular activities and commitments that we’ve collected over the years. Our lives became simpler, less scheduled – and we kind of liked it that way. When it came time to pick our obligations back up again, many realized that they didn’t want to.
Women were finally given the “out” that they’d never quite been able to claim for themselves on their own. It’s not that they couldn’t have done it before but we’ve all got a little (or a lot) of people pleaser in us. We don’t want to let anyone down, no matter how much self sacrifice it takes. It never seems like the right time to say the words we want to say.
Until COVID happened and everything that went along with it. Suddenly it was just understood – mom to mom, woman to woman – that it was time to take care of Number One. Or you don’t want to know what would happen.
Women found it in them to say the words that needed saying.
“I realized I enjoy sleeping in, I’m no longer available at that time.”
“That’s a hard time of day for my household. I’d like to hold off until more people can come, to make it worth it for me.”
“I’m just feeling a little burnt out, I’d like to cut back.”
Such simple and sensical statements…that I’d never heard before in many years of group fitness management. It can’t be that those feelings had never been felt. I know I’ve felt them myself.
And who can argue with it? I certainly couldn’t. In fact, I had to applaud it.
It took a collective worldwide trauma for us to feel like we finally had permission to take a step back, to ask for a break, to not meet expectations in every. single. area. of our lives. When daily life itself is so draining, one must self preserve.
What are my priorities?
Where is my energy needed right now?
Who needs me the most?
What do I want?
These are the questions we’ve had to answer for ourselves. The past year has been the Great Clarifier in that way.
I found it incredibly inspiring to see women finally taking back their time, energy, and sanity.
Personally, I didn’t have a lot of balls that I could drop but I’ve had my own moments of reckoning over the past year. Just like it took a life altering global pandemic for women to admit they needed to take a step back in certain areas, it took one for me to say, “Hey I’ve picked up all these balls and I’ve stepped up in these ways and I deserve…”
Well, I’m not here to get into the specifics of my job negotiations but you name it. A raise, more time off, a job title that better reflects your responsibilities for the ole’ resume. You can ask for any or all of the above. What do you need to be happy?
I guess what I’m trying to say is, let’s not let it get this far ever again. Let’s not wait for the next pandemic (please please don’t let there be a next one) before we give ourselves permission to reevaluate our priorities and our schedules. Even under normal circumstances, let’s be bold enough to proclaim whatever it is that we need to feel whole.
So here’s to all the women and the mothers who are dropping balls and to those who are juggling a little more than their share. You’re all incredibly brave for however you are navigating these times.
Just remember, we’re all worthy of a guilt-free respite, pandemic or not. That’s something I hope we take with us when this is all over.
I hereby declare that the ball drop is the new mic drop.