“I thought I was playing unconscious, but Borg beat me 6-4, 7-6 tonight, and he is in what we call the zone. (That comes originally from “twilight zone” and translates, more or less, into “another world.”) The kid has no concept of what he is doing out there—he is just swinging away and the balls are dropping in. He has no respect for anybody. Hell, he should win the whole tournament.”
– Arthur Ashe, Tennis professional
The movie “Gravity” recently showed up on my Netflix feed. I had watched it years ago after it released in 2013. The most poignant scene was Sandra Bullock drifting away untethered, further and deeper into space. The only comfort coming from her space suit and the voice of George Clooney.
It kinda describes what I feel like when I’m in between gigs.
Aimless, empty days drifting.
Feelings of fear and restlessness. Fear of not getting another gig. Restlessness with my inability to fulfill my purpose. Feelings fuelled and accentuated by the current pandemic lockdown.
Not sure how much further I will drift away.
Yet, like Sandra Bullock’s life sustaining space suit, I’m buoyed by opportunities to quietly reflect, learn and grow. And like George Clooney’s calming voice, I’m grateful for the gift of connecting with people in my network.
During the opening scenes of the movie, a series of factual captions about space are shared. One that caught my eye was
“Life is impossible in space.”
Extreme temperatures, no sound and no oxygen. Definitely not a life sustaining environment. At least not without the intervention and support of space suits and space stations.
Closer to home and current events, the importance of our environment to how we live, work and play has unfolded daily over months of pandemic lockdown and work-from-home edicts.
Let me start illustrating what I mean with my dog Joey. Like most people working from home with pets, I’ve learned a lot about my pet dog, Joey. At home, she loves to sleep.
She can out-sleep any of us and she can do it anytime and anywhere in the house. Joey is downright boring at home.
On the other hand, take her outside and she is a completely different beast. What a difference environment makes to Joey and her shadow!
She’s got no time for sleep. It’s all about exploring and taking time to sniff the grassy knolls.
I want to be like Joey in-the-wild.
My wife knows what it’s like to be Joey in-the-wild. Rain or shine, she can be found in her garden. There’s no time for sleep, food or conversation when a Japanese Maple needs to be transplanted. Her garden is her sanctuary and she loves every filthy moment.
I too, had a Joey in-the-wild moment recently.
I had an opportunity to share some farewell advice with a client I was leaving. The client’s leadership were kind enough to not only be present but to also invite their staff who I had also been working with. All the people who together, would own and carry the Agile journey baton long after I left. I wanted them to realize how far they had come, what additional opportunities awaited them and how management could depend on staff to help. It was a teleconference, but I could sense everyone was engaged and listening intently. There’s not a sweeter moment than when one connects with an audience. It felt so good that I didn’t want the moment to end.
Joey in the wild, my wife in the garden and myself in my farewell teleconference. Three different environments with one common outcome – a sense of flow.
“Flow” is defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as
“a state in which you are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter”.
According to Mihaly’s lifetime studying flow experiences,
“… flow is reported by people when they are totally involved and satisfied with what they are doing at the moment.”
In sports, there’s an oft used term for flow – in the zone. Athletes often aspire to be “in the zone” for optimal performance. A zone of invincibility.
What are the obstacles to achieving flow? Mihaly lists 3 obstacles to flow:
- Lack of clarity
- Anxiety and frustration
- Boredom and depression
What impact has the pandemic had on our flow experiences?
For some of us who thrive on social interaction, the social isolation and distancing restrictions may result in boredom and frustration. A yearning to once again socialize and connect physically face-to-face. For others, the very same restrictions may enable greater focus or discovery of new opportunities for enjoyment.
What can we do to nurture and sustain flow experiences during these difficult times?
Here are 3 suggestions that have helped me.
- Reflect and surrender. Time between gigs is precious for me to reflect on who I am, where I am and where I can go next. The simple act of reflection has created a state of flow for me as I ponder and savour the many possibilities. Yet, with all the uncertainty in the air I have no illusions that I can plan, predict or even control my future. I’ve accepted and surrendered to the idea that life will simply unfold for me. All will become clear in time. A great enabler for reflection is meditation. Thanks to the generosity of Audree Tara and Michael Sahota, I’ve just completed a deep dive into daily meditation by joining their 21 Day Process for Evolutionary Leadership. With their gift of tools and facilitation, meditation has become one of my favourite flow experiences. It’s helped calm my anxieties and frustration. The colours of life seem so much brighter and more noticeable.
- Network and connect. I’ve enjoyed several virtual coffees and pubs with people in my network. Dear friends and colleagues I haven’t connected with in a while. Replaying and re-sharing the good times. Never a dull moment when we re-connect with others. Laughter really is the best medicine. I’ve also attended as many virtual Agile community events as possible to learn, share and catch-up with friends and colleagues. One benefit of virtuality is friends and colleagues on the other side of the globe are only a Zoom click away.
- Explore and experiment. Pre-pandemic practices may be a thing of the past. But pre-pandemic values and principles will survive and present opportunities for new practices to emerge. There’s been a lot of focus on remote tooling to digitize all our practices. It’s been an exciting adventure for individuals and teams to explore and experiment with these tools. Whether it be taking conference calls outdoors or learning how to digitally dot-vote. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to revisit and re-commit to our underlying values and principles. In doing so, it’s helped me gain more clarity of purpose.
These 3 suggestions have helped me sustain flow during the pandemic but what about post pandemic? Will we pick up where we left off?
COVID-19 is highly likely to become endemic, meaning it’ll never go away. Perhaps that’s why companies like Shopify have adopted a “digital by default” approach to staff work locations. At least for the remainder of 2020. Others have optimistically started to redesign their physical spaces with an endemic virus in mind by retrofitting open space offices with plexiglass dividers and shields. Transparent plexiglass, not opaque fabric or laminates. Now, these are companies that value face-to-face communications! That bodes well for future Joey in-the-wild experiences.
“There’s no more going back to normal, there’s only going back to better”
– Brittany Forsyth, Chief Talent Officer, Shopify
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: Living at the Peak of Your Abilities. Nightingale-Conant, 2015-01-06