For all these months of working from home, I’ve been using my own laptop, as in one that my husband and I purchased a few months before the pandemic with the thought that it was just for home use, and perhaps the occasional free-lance project. Today, finally, I have a new laptop that belongs to work. Before social distancing began, JFCS generally discouraged working from home, in part, I think, because most of the agency’s work has to do with directly serving clients. Previously, it didn’t seem possible to do our work remotely, so few staff people had laptops.
Well, clearly, a lot has changed in recent months. Remarkably, the front line staff have been able to continue providing nearly all services in virtual mode. The system is not ideal, but it is working, and members of our community are receiving the help they need, which is what is most important.
Whereas at first we thought we would be working from home for just a couple of weeks or months, five months in we know we are in this for the long haul, though no one knows exactly what that means (late 2020? spring 2021?). While that reality is depressing in many ways, it’s good to come to grips with things as they actually are, not what we want them to be. So, today I got used to working on my new computer, feeling good that my organization wants me to have the equipment I need to do my job effectively.
In the 1987 film “Broadcast News” the journalist played by Holly Hunter periodically bursts into tears, when she is alone, then composes herself to go back to work. She’s not sad or scared, she’s just stressed out and needs to release the tension, so she lets herself have a good cry, then she pulls herself together and gets on with her day. This article revisits what is so great about Holly Hunter’s character, including her outbursts of emotion. This quote sums it up: “Hunter plays these episodes not as if Jane is a hot mess, but like she’s releasing a valve that she knows must be released, then getting on with things.”
I love this character because she is so relatable and realistic, even for those of us not working in careers with the extreme pressure of broadcast news.
We all have that personal stress valve, and, especially in times like these, we need a release. Sometimes laughter does the trick, but sometimes crying is the only thing that helps. In “normal times” on a stressful work day, when I am having trouble focusing, I might watch some sort of sappy YouTube clip which will make me tear up for a couple of minutes. Afterward, I feel more relaxed and able to focus on my work.
This morning, while reading a news story that wasn’t at all sappy, I found myself beginning to tear up, and realized that I am probably long overdue for a good release of emotion. With so much going on, I rarely have the time for my YouTube clips, but apparently, I still need the occasional “good cry” to release some feelings. So, cue the sappy videos, I’ll be back to work shortly.
Six years ago, when I was relatively new to my job, I had to submit a grant proposal for a new program that I didn’t know that much about. The proposal process was complicated and stressful, and we had two partner organizations for the grant. The instructions we got from the funder were unclear and confusing, and the website for submitting the grant was difficult to use and had a lot of glitches. I felt totally overwhelmed, and even though my coworkers helped prepare the proposal, we were all sort of grasping in the dark, and it fell to me to pull all the pieces together. On top of everything, we were doubtful that we would be funded, so the whole process felt like an exercise in futility.
I remember wishing I had someone to turn to who could guide me through this frustrating process. In a nail-biting finish to the process, when we thought the proposal had been submitted, we found out after the fact that it had not gone through because of a computer glitch. By what seemed to me to be Divine Providence, the funder unexpectedly extended the deadline, we figured out the glitch — which involved four of our staff members on a speaker phone call with tech support from the funder — and we got the proposal in. Did I mention that we were all crowded into my tiny office, devouring a huge bag of peanut M&Ms while we hashed out the final steps of the proposal and nervously listened to tech support?
It was a relief when we were finally done, and then the waiting began. For about three months, the application became a background stressor as we wondered if we would receive funding. Finally, we were notified that we got the grant, and received the full funding we had requested. We couldn’t believe it. Of course, now the real work began for the department implementing the grant, but my part was largely over, until time came to apply again.
Looking back, the learning curve of that process is one of my proudest professional moments. While I would not want to experience that stress level again, it was amazing to see what I could accomplish under pressure.
Six years later, we are applying again for the same opportunity (which we have since applied for and received two other times). The instructions from the funder are just as confusing as in the past, though fortunately the online portal is now easier to use. And, it helps tremendously to have our past work to build upon rather than starting from scratch. However, a significant factor in helping this process go better is all that we learned in what felt like a trial by fire six years ago.
Unfortunately, there is no better teacher than experience. But it’s a good teacher for a reason — while you may not remember all the details of the experience, you remember a lot, and you also remember that you can do it. Sometimes that’s all you need to help you pull through.