I have always been a scrappy gal. You give me lemons and after a short pity party, which I always allow myself, I will hunt down the sugar, a pitcher, and a spoon. This ability to create a simple syrup out of tough situations is something I unwittingly learned from my great grandmother, Bertha Anzulovic.
I can finally recognize the tools Bertha quietly taught me by the way she lived. She survived the Great Depression, eight miscarriages, and being widowed in her early thirties with four children to raise alone; never to remarry. During Bertha’s 86 years, she went on to earn a Ph.D., become a school principal, play the piano in church and at home, and make handcrafted dolls from dish detergent bottles. She strived to end global poverty, donating to children’s charities in Africa. She also truly lived to “beat the pants off” her many grand and great-grandchildren and anyone else brave enough to challenge her to a card game.
These subliminal lessons empowered me to navigate a tough single-parent childhood with housing insecurity, separate near death experiences of both of my daughters, and the last 21 years as a supportive partner and creative brainstormer to my CEO husband as he navigated his own business through 9/11, the 2008 recession, and now an unprecedented pandemic. Bertha’s rules to live by will coexist seamlessly in both your professional and personal lives and will help you develop a resiliency muscle that will make even a professional bodybuilder jealous!
My own professional evolution over the last 28 years from CPA, financial recruiter, stay-at-home mother, and now the leader of Global Design Culture at EBI and co-founder of the Just One World Foundation, makes me confident that practicing and sharing these three ways of looking at the world will immunize you from dreaded negativity at home, in your social life and at the office.
So, let’s take off our pity party hats and look at three opportunities we have right in front of us to start squeezing those lemons!
This is the time to get real! No false pretenses. I could have easily started this by knocking out one of those polished, zero personal information strictly business posts. No disrespect to those posts, but in the case of maintaining positivity in tough times, you must get personal and primal. The well from which positivity comes, lives in our core and is shaped by how we interpret our most profound experiences. So dig deep and recognize we all feel more vulnerable right now. Connecting deeply with others by any means possible will help us realize we are not alone.
Award-winning author and psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell refers to connection as the other Vitamin C. He notes that human connection is fantastic. It is available to everyone. It’s free and in infinite supply.
The good news is that with the state of the world right now, we all – from CEO to entry level team member – finally have something in common. The COVID-19 pandemic has leveled the playing field and this can be an amazing opportunity for your organization, your neighborhood, and your family to get closer.
Open a Conversation
One way to accomplish this is to reach out to people in your circles and ask how they’re really doing. No Joey Tribbiani-style or Stepford Wives-style answers allowed here! Ask about their families. Ask if they’re struggling with anything. Ask if they have a funny story to share. Respond or lead with something personal that perhaps you normally wouldn’t.
It may feel like you are jumping off a cliff, but I promise it will make everyone feel good. I also guarantee that if you have a people-first organization, family, or neighborhood you will get more personal answers than you have ever gotten before. If you haven’t built that culture, now is your chance! If you already have this culture, then take it to the next level. People want to feel safe somewhere in their lives right now and human connection is the place. Rest assured; the rapport you build today will far outlast our current crisis.
Workplace connection is more important than ever before! A survey conducted by tech company Businessolver found that 60% of workers would be willing to take a pay reduction to work for an empathetic company. This is the time to take stock of your organization’s emotional culture and figure out how to create one or make what you have better. An organization that values humanity will have the strength to weather any storm.
Over the last few weeks, EBI team members have reached out telling me they are thinking of me and asking about our family. One long-term team member sent me a beautiful long email sharing her husband’s essential work schedule, asking about our kids, and shared how she is making DIY sanitizer. She also mentioned how much she loves her new position and how grateful she is that her family is safe and well. Others continue to check our internal list of birthdays and anniversaries daily, sending notes so team members’ special days are never forgotten.
Our own daughter broke her finger playing backyard football with her sister and that led to a team member telling me about a family hike and a sick puppy, etc. We are sharing our lives, not just a common employer. These interactions make me, and the others involved, feel special, connected to something bigger, and proud to be part of a team that cares.
In these interactions we are learning about one another and what makes us alike not different. In the last three weeks I have shared and heard funny stories about working from home with kids, heard team members say they are feeling down but staying positive, and I got to meet a team members’ baby via video. Those interactions are gifts and are deeper and more special than how we have interacted in the past. I know this will translate into stronger collaboration and a deeper emotional culture for EBI going forward.
EBI’s Social Committee meets via videoconference to brainstorm and re- engineer initiatives now that we are all working remotely. We decided to continue with our book club and have revamped what would have been an in-office spring spirit day and silent auction to instead include team members’ entire families (fur babies included) to participate in a Peeps marshmallow treat inspired contest. Lastly, we are hosting weekly half-hour video get togethers featuring intra-departmental, multi-level groupings for completely social interaction. This is an opportunity for us to value people for who they are, not just the job they do. We will meet people we may have never spoken to in the office. We will laugh and bond and create positive energy.
Even great grandma Bertha knew that giving a few dollars every week to those who were less fortunate was as positive for her as it was for those kids. Giving back can also and easily be free!
Studies show that any random selfless act generates positive physical and mental effects. The Cleveland Clinic says benefits include lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less incidence of depression, lower stress levels, and even a longer life and greater happiness. I don’t know about you, but I’ll sign up for that eight days a week!
I often end my pity parties with the clear understanding that no matter how bad my situation is, there are millions of people out there with so much worse. It makes me realize I can conquer whatever is before me. So, from your socially-distanced perch, reach out to an elderly person that lives alone and give them some safe form of company or offer to assist with technology and/ or drive to the store and pick up their groceries. Tip a little extra to the person from the food or prescription delivery service. Offer an extra grateful smile and a kind thank you from afar to your postal worker, FedEx, UPS, or Amazon delivery person. This will all add up to create a positive force in many directions in the world.
EBI understands the boomerang effect of giving back all too well. We have also purchased and delivered coffee, laundry care products, and snacks to our hospital partners in our Just One World Foundation.
These items will be used by pediatric patients, parents, and frontline medical caregivers who cannot leave the hospitals at all or for long stretches. I can’t tell you how grateful and happy being able to do that made us feel. When you create a culture that celebrates helping others, incredible people and ideas step forward. It’s hard to let negativity creep in when you know you’ve made a difference and are part of an organization that cares.
I am a firm believer in a quote by the great Maya Angelou when it comes to this last portal of positivity. She said, “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” When you practice this mantra you are flexing your resiliency muscle. Like any muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it gets.
Bertha viewed the Great Depression as the Great Lesson. It taught her how to live frugally, bond with her family, handmake a lot of what she needed, and never forget about those less fortunate. This gave her a sense of control and agency in the world even in the face of chaos.
We can certainly use these gems now. While we can’t end the pandemic overnight, we can choose to ask what lessons lie within it and become a student. We can use the situation as a catalyst to learn new skills. We can devise new channels to get products and services to clients and develop new or reimagined products and services to meet our clients’ needs.
We can also take time to think about the things we are grateful for. This is kind of like putting a filter on a digital picture like my teenage daughters are so adept at doing these days. I think we all need to ask ourselves how we can put a different “filter” on this situation or adjust our lenses and make ourselves laugh or soften the harshness of how a challenge feels. Additionally, we can ask, “How can I use this to help someone else?” All these questions will lead us to a place of positivity and prosperity.
Practicing gratitude is one of the greatest secrets of staying positive at any time. Even in the worst of times we all have many things to be grateful for. We often ignore these things and or take them for granted. According to Harvard Medical School’s research, “Gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness and helps people deal with adversity and build strong relationships.”
So, go ahead and start thinking about what you are grateful for. Keep a list. Check it when you are feeling down. Be sure to tell your work team and those that support you just how much you value them. If you have an employee recognition program remember to keep using it and don’t forget about those who may be working remotely. An email, personal note, or phone call telling them specifically why you appreciate them will make their day and reinforce a culture built on strong internal and external relationships.
At this week’s EBI All Staff Huddle our CEO expressed heartfelt gratitude for the team’s hard work and commitment. He shared how he is humbled by their efforts. This made us all feel appreciated and shows that he sees our humanity as well as his own.
EBI embraces practicing gratitude. We are empowering our weekly EBI SnapChat leaders to create gratitude circles within their groups to assist any team members who are struggling and need some concrete solutions as well as a mental lift.
In the end it’s all about the pair of glasses you choose to look through. My kids are tired of hearing me say it, but it is so true: “You will always find what you are looking for. Look for your blessings and you will find them. Look for your challenges and you will find those too.” The trick is to write down those good nuggets or say them out loud and you will feel an automatic change in your attitude about the challenge you are facing.
Practicing and sharing gratitude is truly powerful stuff. Positivity is a mindset. It can belong to all of us. I am in deep gratitude for so much and especially the frontline essential workers. I send you all wellness, positivity, and peace as we weather this storm together.
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have question. We are here to help. Get to know EBI and speak with one of our experts.
Marti leads Global Design Culture at EBI. She designs physical workspaces and employee engagement initiatives that integrate an organization's mission statement and internal culture, while illuminating and celebrating internal and external customers' understanding of brand and self.