Looking into the void

void

Today is one of the strangest days of my life. I woke up and I have no scheduled work … for months. I am looking at an empty void in my schedule, perhaps for the first time since I was 15 years old.

As a speaker, consultant, and educator, I knew I was vulnerable to a recession and I’m prepared. But I could have never imagined — even in a recession — that ALL of my work, speaking, and even university teaching could be canceled for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

I even had to cancel my May marketing Uprising retreat, which was a punch to the gut because it is my favorite thing to do.

For some perspective on the pace of my life, I never put my suitcase away. My career is so busy, I simply leave it out and re-load it every week. This morning, I put my suitcase away. And I don’t know when it will come back out.

That is more than symbolic. It is significant.

I’m realizing that the psychological and emotional challenges of this impending isolation will be as great, or greater, than the financial burdens.

What happens when you suddenly and dramatically look into a long, dark, extended void in your professional life?

The psychological strains of the void

First, I have many positives right now.

  • Many people will be challenged by working from home, but I’m accustomed to it and I have a comfortable workspace.
  • As I wrote previously, I have a work plan. Even though my “paid” work has dried up, I will have plenty of tasks to catch up on.
  • I live in the country on a lake. So, there are worse places to be isolated. And I’m married, so I’m not alone.

Compared to many, many others — especially in the speaking industry — I realize how fortunate I am!

But this does not excuse me from the specter of psychological depression. I am working through significant trauma and I need to be aware of the implications of this void.

What happens when you’re going a hundred miles an hour and it drops to zero … into the distant future?

For me, I think the challenges are purpose, isolation, and structure.

Purpose

The difference in my situation is that I’m not merely working from home now. Nearly every professional activity that keeps me going has evaporated. I have no scheduled work and I have no professional purpose at this moment.

My core mission is teaching people — through classes, workshops, consulting, and speeches — and if the teaching is gone, it feels like my purpose is gone, at least on this day.

Even my writing routine has been upended. The topics I love to think and write about — marketing ideas and strategy — seem insignificant at this moment.

I think this is the number one challenge as I look into the void — find a purpose that drives me to get up and motivated every day. I am still processing this, but the solution will probably be working on a new book. I’ve had an idea for a while now and this is an opportunity to push it forward and open some new doors.

It will take me a few days to re-orient and I’ll allow myself time to ease into a new view of work and a purpose that is somewhat different than it was last week.

Isolation

I’m a person who thrives on deep discussions and big ideas. The very best part of my professional life is sharing a meal with a smart friend and solving the problems of the world.

Today, I was supposed to be visiting with one of these big-thinking friends in Nevada. But he cares for an elderly parent and was concerned that having me visit could bring the virus into the house. It seemed risky to have me visit. So, I flew home instead.

I’m realizing that for the next few weeks and months, I’m not just off the road, I’ll probably be sequestered. I’m determined to have more phone/Skype conversations with friends and colleagues but it’s not the same as lingering over coffee or visiting a friend.

I can’t envision a replacement for this. I may go stir crazy!

Structure

The structure of my professional life is determined by the next challenge. Every week, I’m looking ahead and preparing for the next event, client, or class. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

As of today, I have no structure to my worklife. There is nothing to prepare for next week or even next month.

I’ll have to impose structure and routine or I think my life could dissolve into frustration and endless distractions.

So, I am literally going to block out time during the week and schedule:

  • Exercise
  • Writing
  • Phone conversations
  • New projects and partnerships
  • Reading
  • Hobbies

I’m pretty good at sticking to a schedule so I’m optimistic about this, even if my schedule is self-imposed!

I know many of you are facing similar issues and I thought that by revealing my thoughts we could open a conversation on the psychological impact of what’s ahead.

What’s happening in your world and how are you coping?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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