The twin articles that have named our collective grief and languishing are trending. I received both forwarded to me more times than I can count as I’m sure you have. It is clear that both articles have struck a chord with us. They have given us language to name the feelings and experience we are immersed and stuck in.
We are riding the grief curve hard, collectively tired, zoom fatigued, burnt out, angry, at the end of our nerves. We have gone through denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance, like the loop from some horror movie we are stuck in.
We have planned revenge travel in our minds or actually booked one to compensate for the various levels of lockdown orders we’ve been in. We have put our own end dates on life going back to a “new normal.” Yet as our minds continue to whirl, unfocused and ruminating on all we have lost and all we hate in our technologically connected world, we have finally accepted that the entire world will not go back to some pre-pandemic normal with a big bang. We are staggering there, person by person, family by family, country by country as COVID-19 vaccine access becomes the most valuable resource on earth in 2021. We are languishing together.
This is a hard place, but these articles have given us a few lifelines of hope in the hardness. They have reminded us that naming the feelings helps us manage them instead of numbing them and that finding flow by focusing on meaningful projects moves us out of languishing;. We can focus on staying in the present and on what we can control, and we can be patient with each other.
In addition, I want to pick up one thread mentioned in both articles and amplify it. That is, to move from languishing into flow or when we find ourselves at the end of grief, we need to find meaning. It is in finding meaning that you get a new focus, a new purpose and the ability to move onward. In my book on Transformation After Trauma: The Power of Resonance, I summarize research showing that while we can expect mental strens, traumatic injuries and PTSD impacts in traumatic circumstances, meaning making is our access card to posttraumatic growth (PTG). It is the single difference for people who are not only able to manage the traumas of these times (resiliency) but also experience transformation. Individuals who experience PTG report fundamental shifts that give them a greater appreciation of life, deeper relationships with others, increased personal strength, spiritual change and the ability to see new possibilities.
These outcomes are not only important individually, but also collectively. We, humanity, are locked in mutuality. The PTG outcomes are validated from the lens of collective social trauma, which is what we are currently experiencing. Focusing on creating these outcomes for yourself will only take you so far. We must also extend this circle of growth in our organizations and communities to find meaning as I describe in Transformation After Trauma: The Power of Resonance. Once we find our Resonance*, which is a moment of awakening, through personal stories, that opens space for transformation, it gives us meaning and leads us individually and collectively to the following:
Purpose. This is our reason for being. Finding purpose in the midst of trauma provides focus and a clarity of vision. Finding purpose gives us access to flow, regardless of the circumstances around us. Flow as noted in the languishing article “may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.”
- How can you help yourself and others find purpose?
Connection. The term socially connected while physically distanced has been an important one and a crucial reminder that while we are isolating and technologically wired, we must remain socially connected to maintain our mental health. Those that experience PTG in spite of traumatic stress foster a heightened sense of human connectedness by being socially aware and conscious of the realities of others. They find ways to meaningfully connect with others.
- How can you make meaningful connections today?
Spirituality. People who experience PTG are spiritually and morally grounded. They make meaning of what matters for our individual and collective existential futures and make that the locus of their attention and where they operate from. They are legacy-minded.
- What spiritual/moral grounds guides your interactions with others and what legacy do you want to leave on the world?
Humanity. People who experience PTG hold a sacredness for the value of all life. They embody an inner humility, respect for all people, and servant leadership. They understand that life is not to be taken for granted and value relationships. They have a deep respect for human dignity. This is the stance required for all the work happening currently in justice and equity. Restoring equity around the world requires that we first uphold our shared humanity and humanize our workplaces.
- How are you restoring humanity in all the organizational and social spaces you find yourself today?
Action. Determination is the outcome that unfolds not just from PTG but is also the activation of the mindset shifts that unfold from the four previous themes of purpose, social consciousness/human connectedness, spiritual and moral development and valuing life. This determination defines the will to act on learnings and insights. It is the drive to take individual actions needed to accomplish systemic change regardless of roadblocks and challenges. It includes the undeterred focus and motivation to take on agency for change in the world.
- What actions are you taking for a better world now and in our post-pandemic future?
So in the midst of these times as we come to terms with our collective grief and languishing, I hope you also look for the moments that spark meaning and help you connect to our shared humanity. Because now more than ever, we just need to be human together, by finding individual and collective meaning as our ticket out of languishing to growth and transformation.
* Watch my TedxSFU Talk for more on Resonance: https://www.ted.com/talks/yabome_gilpin_jackson_how_to_get_past_disconnection_to_social_change?