Lockdown Lessons from a Career Consultant: How A Lot of Little Things Can Add Up to Something Great
My story of career transformation and fully embracing a new path as a Chief Illustration Officer of my own practice, began in a little coffee shop in early 2019.
Having observed for a few weeks the negative impact when disgruntled patrons expressed annoyance instead of gratitude to those behind the counter, I started drawing a daily illustrated quote for the baristas and handing it to them with my refillable travel mug. A once mundane act of requesting a medium coffee with cream and sugar and a shot of espresso turned into a true interaction and exchange. When they saw the quotes, the coffee shop employees stopped what they were doing, discussed how it made them feel, highlighted their dreams, and even smiled. If you were to ask me, I couldn’t say there was one exact moment that caused me to get back to drawing, but this memory definitely began a movement that has impacted my life since.
This daily coffee ritual continued for 11 months until March 2020 when the reality set in that I would be staying home for the foreseeable future, and an onslaught of emotions piled on top of me. For many years, my job had been tied to a specific location as a defense contractor in cybersecurity in a cubicle.
This job was for me, a duty that I supposed was my only future. Wasn’t I was providing for the people I loved? My longing to create art was a distant, decades old thought I had shelved after a guidance counselor’s poor advice that pointed me further away from what made me feel the most alive.
During the lockdown, our family’s new way of living set in: my children were at home and my wife already working remotely. There were things on the horizon I could not predict, know, or understand, I found myself consumed with negative thoughts and emotions.
How would we all get along? How could I support my family? How could we begin each day with love, hope, joy, and understanding instead of fear, dread, and concern?
With each passing day, ding, alert, horrifying article, and COVID case, I knew something had to be done for my/our mental well-being or I/we would quickly be overrun.
Turning to art and illustration again, for the same reasons I did in high school and college, soothed me. Instead of spending evenings fretting, I took markers and post-it notes into my den and began illustrating quotes based on whatever I was thinking about that made me feel better (emotions, public figures, literature).
Within a week, portions of my kitchen wall, sides of cabinets, and around our sliding glass door filled up with these inspirational small pieces of paper. As a unit, a turning point occurred. Instead of listing all the ways things could go wrong, these tiny pieces of paper helped us to list all the ways things could go right.
As the post-it notes accumulated (there were enough for wallpaper), I began posting these visual notes to social media. I did not see many messages of hope being spread around and that had to change because the new quarantine version of me decided, “I have something worth sharing.”
What started as an experiment in my kitchen turned into something much more. Thousands of views and hundreds of comments later, I realized I was illustrating not just for myself, but for others too. I smiled thinking I may have just recreated my coffee shop moments. The moments where we all discuss our dreams instead of our dreads.
Nearly 250 days into our quarantine, some close friends suggested that I reach out to a publisher to share my story.
I was introduced to Melissa Wilson who runs Networlding Publishing in Chicago and helps people like me self-publish our books.
A few conversations later...and just in time for the winter season, I had released the first in a new seasonal series of illustrated journals.
In 90 Days to Write Your Way to Spring: The Winter Journal, readers are given a collection of my illustrations to use as a guide to “dream, doodle and draw”, to get in touch with their souls a little more each day.
People stuck in the same pattern I was experiencing did not have to access their phones or social media anymore to get what they needed.
It was on the pages in front of them instead.
When we commit to time of being with our thoughts, we understand so much more about what is going on around us. We reflect on our relationships, examine daily activities and rituals, understand our choices and the tradeoffs we make get the attention they deserve. If something is heavy, we don’t have to carry it around with us anymore.
Our brains get better when the pen touches the paper (unlike scrolling on glass screens), even our memories get stronger when we can reflect on things we’ve long forgotten. The ability to rely on hope, joy, positivity, strength, courage and faith expands.
Resilience showed up in the form of doing one small thing each day. By committing to my ritual, I became stronger emotionally and mentally. Getting “comfortable with being uncomfortable” helped me support friends, family and colleagues and accept that if I stray from this healthy pattern, I risked going back to a place where I am unwilling to remain. The unhappiness with my work, my mood, my thoughts, my fears, and concerns was not getting me to a place where I could create art, draw every day, and not get paid to type. A bold claim I made to myself a few years ago was to get paid to draw, not type anymore. The pandemic daily ritual I undertake is making that claim a reality. I am living proof that it works. What ritual will work for you?
“With each passing day, ding, alert, horrifying article, and COVID case, I knew something had to be done for my/our mental well-being or I/we would quickly be overrun."
"Our brains get better when the pen touches the paper (unlike scrolling on glass screens), even our memories get stronger when we can reflect on things we’ve long forgotten. The ability to rely on hope, joy, positivity, strength, courage and faith expands. "
Read these other articles in the Advantage Consulting Quarterly
On Strategic Planning Post Pandemic: How Do You Plan for an Unknown Future?
Resurrection Leadership: A Different Kind of Leadership Skill-Set
Business Inspiration from Stories of Nonprofit Resilience
Confronting the Great She-Cession: Four Strategies for Keeping Women in the Workforce