Stories in Lockdown
Back in March, it seemed as though we all fell down the rabbit hole – all our old certainties were no longer certain, and the world seemed very different and strange.
For myself, as a freelance facilitator and coach, working mainly with Universities, it was extraordinary. Over the course of three days, just before lockdown was officially announced, I took a series of calls from my clients and my previously very busy diary was suddenly empty.
When Alice fell down her rabbit hole, it seemed that she must be falling very slowly: for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what would happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything.
I remember the first week of lockdown being something like that: time seemed to go very slowly, and looking ahead, I could make out nothing of the future.
It was at that stage (and when I noticed myself making some uncharacteristic mistakes) that I realised that I needed to attend to the story I was starting to tell myself. That has long been an interest of mine, and I am keenly aware of how my clients’ stories affect them, for good or for ill. So it became clear to me that I needed a positive narrative of my immediate future to stop me from imagining, and possibly inadvertently creating, a negative one.
I therefore decided to award myself a sabbatical: a break from the hurly-burly of normal life, and the opportunity to invest time in things I wanted to do. These included lots of CPD, lots of reading, some stretching pro bono work, lots of time with my family, and getting the garden in order.
To hold myself to account, I went public with this idea, by writing a post about it and publishing it on my blog and on Linked In. And my reflection is that my story has been remarkably helpful. It has both kept me positive in what could have been unnerving times, and also helped me develop a rich variety of worthwhile activities – to the extent that when clients do want me to do things for them (as they do from time to time) that can feel like a bit of an interruption. So I am now working on the next phase of my story, which is about re-launching the business in the autumn.
All of which has prompted me to reflect, yet again, on the power of stories in our lives. Stories not only help us to understand, learn from, and move on from the past. They can also serve to inform and guide our current actions and prioritisation, and give us hope for – or fill us with despair about – the future. The stories we choose to allow to dominate our thinking actually change that future, and define who we become.
That ability to choose what we believe is one of the most important aspects of our human potential. As Viktor Frankl said, looking back on his experiences in a concentration camp, they can take everything from us, except the last of our freedoms: our freedom to choose how we respond. As Alice learned, sometimes the troubles that seem so fearsome are, when we confront them, nothing more than a dream, and the Queen of Hearts is simply one of many leaves fluttering down from a tree.