Appreciate the ordinary

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Unless you’ve been living in a remote corner of the country without cell service since February, you’re probably struggling with maintaining sanity given the state of our world. My feelings over the past 6 months have been a mixture of anxiety, confusion and stress. When was that Zoom meeting scheduled for? Did I forget a mask again? How many hours have I been staring out of this window for?

I get it. We’re all struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy while living through a time period that feels more like a Black Mirror simulation than reality. Especially now, as work and school seem to be ramping up, with no vaccine in sight, thinking about our circumstances can be a bit disheartening. 

Recently, I was supposed to meet friends out for a drink at one of our favorite outdoor patios. After a long work week, I couldn’t wait to catch up with friends. I was the 7th and final person to arrive, and as I walked up to my the table I could practically taste the frozen gin & tonic that I’d been salivating over since Tuesday. 

There were only six seats, so I asked the waitress if she would be able to pull another chair over. I was quickly informed that, due to COVID regulations, no table could have more than 6 people. My friends and I were a bit confused, but figured we could split up. No big deal! Except that the next available table would be a 45 minute wait. As my friends began to pack their things up, insisting we try somewhere else, I assured them it wasn’t the end of the world and that I could just grab a coffee around the corner and meet up with them afterwards. Under the obvious condition that they bring me a frozen G & T in a to-go cup.

I grabbed my coffee and sat down in a little park that overlooked the lake. Initially I was disappointed, maybe even a bit mad, even though I understood that these rules are put into place to protect me and the rest of society. As I drank my coffee in the park, I could feel a wave of calmness washing over me. Everything was so still, so quiet, so ordinary. 

I realized that I had been letting the anxiety and stress of COVID dictate all of my thoughts. I hadn’t taken a moment to sit and check in with myself in a long time. There was always something to distract me; a new article by Fauci, coordinating socially-distanced meet-ups with friends, reading through my emails.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough “alone time”, in fact I’ve had more of that than probably ever before. Instead, it was the realization that I hadn’t been utilizing this time effectively. I had filled this time with worries. Trying to get ahead of schedule. Ahead of my own nerves. Ahead of the pandemic.

But, at the end of the day, we can’t get ahead of all of these things. We need to reach a point of acceptance where we are able to process the world around us, while still being able to sit with our non-anxious selves. Watching the horizon line fade into shades of amber, listening to the current lap against the rocky shore and sipping my sub-par coffee gave me the feeling of stillness that I had unknowingly been craving for months. 

To be our best selves, we have to know when and how to relax. The world is asking a lot of us these days. It’s easy to understand how we’re feeling physically trapped. We can’t travel, we can’t meet in large groups, we weren’t even really supposed to leave our houses for a while. Yet, I think we also need to think about how we’re feeling mentally trapped. Trapped by that need to try to get ahead of everything. 

So, my expert-advice-from-a-21-year-old this week is to go to a space where you feel comfortable and to just be there. Sit and notice what’s around you, stay mindful of the positive things taking place in every direction you look. Appreciate the ordinary things that we take for granted in times like these. This might turn out to be much harder than it sounds, but I promise you the results will be worth it.

by: Ben Matejka, Summer Intern HPS Chicago

Your Best is Good Enough

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Your Best is Good Enough

For some of us, maintaining solid self-care habits – much less mastering the art of work-life balance – was a challenge before March 2020, right? There was always more work than time in the day and our phones and laptops made it all too easy to dive back in after returning home.

When shelter-at-home started several weeks ago, I assumed that I’d be able to increase my productivity – both professionally and personally – by leveraging (at the very least) my lack of commute time. All too soon however, the endless Zoom meetings and conference calls seemed to swallow up my days, leaving me with more follow-up emails and writing to do “after work” than before.

So now, not only was I not taking advantage of being at home the way I had envisioned, I was feeling less productive and more stressed. Then, one night, I read something that flipped the switch for me.

This was the start of a friend’s post…

“I’ve been seeing so many people seriously beating themselves up because they aren’t “maximizing” their time in quarantine by organizing their cupboards, repainting, developing a side hustle, becoming a piano virtuoso, exercising themselves into a lucrative career as a swimsuit model, etc. Everybody! Seriously. Stop. And breathe.” (HT, P. Duke)

So, I did. And it made a huge difference. It gave me the chance to pause, reframe my expectations and recalibrate.

I looked for some tips on how to take better control of my work habits and how to take better care of myself. (Two of the articles I found helpful are linked below.)

  • I cut myself some slack for maybe not knocking it out of the park every day.
  • I recommitted myself to eating healthy, getting enough rest, exercising and to scheduling in breaks to recharge between meetings or projects. (While I usually go for a short walk, one person I read about benefits from taking Nintendo Just Dance breaks!)
  • I also found that scheduling a start and end to my workday has offered me a greater sense of control.

I’m not pretending to be an expert here and realize that this is pretty much current conventional wisdom. Nevertheless, amidst so much change and uncertainty for all of us, I just wanted to share my own personal “discovery.”

If you’re feeling like you should be “doing more” or that your days seem to be spent on a never ceasing hamster wheel, I invite you to breathe, acknowledge that you’re doing your best and to know that your best is good enough. If there are steps you can take to make your surroundings or work habits more productive for you, great. If you’re not making time to take the best care of yourself (especially if you are also doing triple duty every day trying to juggle roles as a professional, parent and teacher), please do. IMHO, that’s the most important step of all.

If you’ve discovered a better way to WFH or if you have other strategies that you’ve found helpful, please let me know and we’ll share your ideas in a future post.

Take good care and take it easy on yourself. You’ve got this!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

P.S. Here are the articles I mentioned:

 

A Little R&R

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A Little R&R

I write this blog post as I head to the airport for a little weekend getaway. All week I thought about what topic to write about. What news might I share about…. Major gifts? Events? Relationship building? Spring appeal? Board development? Did I have a fun story that might be useful to share with all of you?

Well, I came up with nothing. Why? Because sometimes we just need to take a break….pause and exhale. Our weeks are filled with meetings with donors, phone calls, perhaps writing a grant, and more. Sometimes our daily work can make our heads spin because we are always “on.”

Technology and all the social media tools we use daily help us stay current and connected. Yet, as great as it is, it makes it more difficult to step back and unplug from our busy work life.

So today, as I head to Florida for a few days and see some sun, walk the beach, and read a good book, I’m going to put my work aside and recharge. Time for a reset. It’s important every once in awhile to be present in the moment, and put away our phones and leave email for another day and just simply…be. I encourage you to do the same across the year so you are fresh and ready to do your best work for your not for profit.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Feeling Stressed?

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It’s hard to believe the holidays are upon us once again.  Where does the time go?  Are you feeling prepared?  Or are you feeling stressed and overwhelmed?  In the midst of the last-minute holiday rush, it’s often hard to find time to enjoy those around you and appreciate all of the gifts that we have.

I learned a new word the other day: HYYGE.  It is a Dutch word, pronounced “Hue-Guh”, which really doesn’t translate into an English word.  However, it is a word that we should know and a sentiment we should understand, especially during this time of year.

As I mentioned, hyyge does not translate into any one word in our vocabulary.  I would describe it as more a “state of being”.  The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment of well-being.”  It is a word to acknowledge a feeling or moment as cozy, charming or special, one which requires a certain slowness or consciousness.  It is not just being present, it also requires you to recognize and enjoy the present.  So, let’s think about this.

Quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality – When was the last time you felt coziness and comfortable conviviality?  Think about it – and think about the circumstances surrounding that time.

Engenders a feeling of contentment and well-being – When do you truly feel a sense of contentment?  What contributes to this feeling?  What distracts from it?

It’s not just being present, it requires you to recognize and enjoy the present.  My guess is that the last time you felt that sense of comfortable conviviality you were truly “in the moment” and present with those around you (or by yourself!).  Recognizing and truly enjoying the present is a gift to yourself; it is part of practicing good self-care.

So, during this season of “busyness”, how can you possibly find time for hyyge?  It probably feels somewhat counterintuitive, right?  Ironically, hyyge is an energy booster and can be a way to replenish your strength.  And as you probably guessed, it does not come in a magic pill.  But it also isn’t rocket science.  Below are a few simple ideas to help you get started;  perhaps take a few minutes each day to truly focus on hyyge.

  • Find a quiet spot to be present – alone or with a family member or friend – and truly focus on listening and being present/mindful
  • Unclutter your surroundings, but also consider introducing something that makes you feel more calm or present, such as a candle or soft lighting or music
  • Give yourself permission to be still for a few minutes
  • Take a few cleansing breaths
  • Count your blessings

My hope is that it will help you will find a little more joy and peace  – and a little less stress – this holiday season.   Wishing you joy and peace.

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions