It’s almost too much to take in right now, isn’t it? The amount of change and disruption we’re facing at home, in our organizations, and in the broader world is overwhelming. And for many of us one way to cope is to focus on the immediate, on what’s right in front of us. We ask what can I accomplish in this next hour? What needs to be done immediately? Which fire (metaphorical, I hope) is brightest, needs attention most. Author Anne Lamott suggests looking at a large project through a one inch picture frame. Concentrating on that small bit of the whole can help focus our attention and make large, seemingly impossible tasks more manageable. It’s the change in perspective that helps us find our way forward.
One of advantages of having worked for a significant number of years is the perspective those years provide. When the difficult times or circumstances appear, as they always do, what we have learned from those years of work give us multiple points of reference. Being able to shift between a variety of perspectives, to focus on the one-inch frame and then pull back and look at the bigger picture is an important leadership skill. It’s also a survival skill right now.
Recently, I listened to a podcast that suggested another shift in perspective than one I usually think about. And that perspective is time. In the case of this podcast, the guest is a physicist so his perspective of time is, well, vast might be the best word. He spoke about shifting billions of years backwards and forwards and that gave him a different perspective. He encourages people to break free of our limited perspective, to recognize that “the reality we are part of is much bigger” than our usual view. He speaks of breaking free from our limited individual perspective into one that is larger and longer arguing that it allows us to see that working as a collective is the way to make significant change.
I’m not suggesting that imagining ourselves so far into the future that we are seeing the end of the universe will help us solve today’s issue related to COVID. (Though for some people that’s actually a helpful perspective.) But I am suggesting that we remember that we have solved knotty problems in the past and we will be faced with new, previously unimagined challenges in the future. The past problems have prepared us for our current situation in ways we couldn’t have expected. The issues we are addressing now will teach us skills and provide us with perspectives on those future challenges. Developing or enhancing our ability to change our perspective in time, taking ourselves out of the immediate from time to time, may actually help us cope with and handle all that is coming at us.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, I hope you’ll try this idea of shifting your perspective. I hope this idea can help you cope with all that you are managing in this increasingly unclear and complicated set of circumstances.