My Mom, Superwoman

I always knew my Mom was Superwoman – Superwoman of the mind. When I get stuck with my thinking, she has answers. When I get stuck with my writing, she has solutions. When I get stuck with my emotions, she has advice.

I never knew until this week that she is, simply, Superwoman. Not “just” Superwoman of the mind. She had COVID-19, and she beat it. Alone. Without doctors (except for herself, she is an MD after all). Without hospitals. Without “bothering” anyone about her condition.

When I realized that the novel corona virus became a threat, I worried for many of my family and friends – but most of all for my Mom. She splits her time between Paris and Geneva and travels a lot. She is in the high risk COVID-19 group, due to her age and her delicate lungs and asthma. She is a free spirit and I doubted her willingness to abide by the confinement rules. I worried that she would contract this virus (and I was right) and that it would beat her (and oh was I wrong) and that I would not get back to Switzerland in time.

Over the last two and a half months, she experienced many symptoms of this virus, one after the other. Terrible cough. Exhaustion. “COVID toes.” She followed the confinement and mask-wearing rules to the letter. She told my three sisters and me that she was doing this for us, so that we did not have to worry about her getting sick on top of all of our other COVID-19-related worries.

On Monday this week, she received the results of her anti-body test. Very, very, very positive. Of course, Barbara Polla has never failed an exam or test in her life… why should I be so surprised that she would pass this one with an A+?!

Thank you Mom for being Superwoman. In all ways, and always.

What to keep, what to release

I have been listening to podcasts. Lots of podcasts. They are yet another of my COVID-19 coping strategies. This week, I listened to Episode 198 of the Business of Fashion podcast – a conversation between BOF founder Imran Amed and activist Sinead Burke

What struck a chord with me is the framework that Burke uses when making decisions about what projects to take on, and what projects to pass on. When Burke considers a new task, she asks herself the following four questions:

  1. Is this part of my list of goals and objectives that I have always wanted to achieve? 
  2. Does this pay the rent? 
  3. Does this give back? 
  4. Does this bring other people with me? 

“Everything that I do has to answer yes to more than one of these questions” says Burke. These questions are her compass and help guide her decisions. 

I have found these times conducive to questioning everything, including scrutinizing the various projects and commitments I have said yes to in the past. Did I say yes for good reason? Did I say yes because saying yes is easier than saying no? When asked to take one something, I (try to) systematically ask myself if this said project is worth doing. 99% of the time, the answer is yes. That one question is hardly a framework…  

What is the right framework for me to use to make decisions about what and whom I give my time to? What is my compass? I need to work on this. In the meantime, I might just use Burke’s framework. I am sure she wouldn’t mind… 

 

COVID-19 Coping Strategy: Baby Animals

Over the last two weeks, my family of 3 (myself, Edwin, and Chloe the cat) has grown significantly. By 6, actually. Since driving from cosmopolitan Washington, DC to lovely Hammond, Louisiana for a change of scenery during quarantine (a luxury in itself!), I have adopted four chicks and two kittens – and I must admit this has been my best quarantine coping strategy yet. 

These baby animals have reminded me to: 

Find magic in every day. One day the chicks don’t have feathers, the next they do. One day the kittens don’t know how to lap milk from a plate, the next they do. Every day brings a new development, a small miracle. 

Put my phone down and focus. Petting the kittens while scrolling through my Instagram feed leads to paws swatting my (apparently very offensive) screen. No multitasking allowed!  

Prioritize the needs of someone else ahead of mine. I like to think I often put my husband’s needs ahead of mine – but he really isn’t needy, so that doesn’t count. Defenseless baby animals however depend on others to feed them, shelter them, play with them, cuddle them, clean up after them. It feels so good to be needed. It feels so good to feel useful. 

Connect with Earth. There is something incredibly peaceful and soothing that comes from connecting with life, with Earth. Always, but in particular in these times during which live human connection is limited. 

 

On Willpower and Habits

I like to think I have pretty strong willpower and self-control (I am defining both as “the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals”, per the American Psychological Association). Yet I must admit that the past six weeks have challenged both. 

Case in point: I had decided after my January 21-day cleanse that I would not drink three days per week and “forever” give up carbs (in particular carbs with gluten). Instead, I have not been drinking two (not three) days per week, and two weekends ago, I “fell in a jar of carbs” and could not help but eat bread (albeit, home-made by my husband) all weekend long. 

So I have been thinking a lot about what is “wrong” with my willpower and self-control. 

Fact 1: My non-drinking days have been Mondays and Tuesdays.  

Fact 2: My carb black hole happened over a weekend. 

Conclusion 1: I have a limited supply of willpower. My willpower bucket is full on Monday, and little by little this “store” of willpower decreases as the week goes on. 

Fact 3: I have also come to realize that the current world situation is impacting my willpower and self-control. Indeed, my willpower “store” is being depleted more quickly than “during normal life” And I have been wondering why… 

Conclusion 2: Managing a brand during a global pandemic means that I have been doing extra (hard) thinking and having to make a million extra (hard) decisions. Apparently, hard thinking and decision-making depletes willpower. 

I know that willpower is like a muscle and can be developed. I also know that willpower is a renewable resource. But I have not been able to “get more” willpower. So instead, I have developed strategies to “help” my willpower and self-control. 

Strategy 1: Sleeping more. 

I pride myself on not needing much sleep and usually sleep five to six hours per night, but these days, I am utterly exhausted by 9 pm. I still wake up by 5 am, but I am needing seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Instead of fighting it, I have given in and have been sleeping more. 

Strategy 2: Transforming decisions into habits.  

Making a decision takes willpower. Living a habit does not (or takes less). So I have made a habit that Thursday is my third non-drinking day every week. Now I wake up on Thursdays and know this is a no-drinking day. I don’t have to make a decision about it. It just is. Which means it’s ok if by Thursdays my willpower is depleted. 

Strategy 3: Organizing my days accordingly.  

I have been leaving all “menial” tasks for Fridays. Things that need to get done but do not require a lot of creativity or thought. Things like paperwork and Quickbooks reconciliations. 

What do you do to help your willpower and self-control?

A Well-Timed Virtual Book Club

Last night was book club, and the most fun night I have had in weeks. Book club is always a highlight of my month, the last one was “Before”, on March 5th. Last night’s book club was virtual, since we are “During,” and it was a smart, stimulating, emotional evening spent discussing The Only Plane in the Sky, written by Garrett Graff (an amazing thinker, historian, and friend) who was with us virtually. 

For those of you who have not read it, The Only Plane in the Sky is a gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, oral history of 9/11. We picked this book to read, and this date to meet in early 2020, and I must admit the timing seems uncanny. Reading about 9/11 during the COVID-19 global pandemic was both maddening and reassuring. 

This is the time to read this book. Perhaps even the time to share its stories with children who did not live through the events of 9/11 and are of age to understand them. If you prefer to listen rather than to read, the book on tape version won the 2020 Audiobook of the Year Audie Award. 

The most insightful moment of our evening was when Graff spoke about Will Jimeno. William J, “Will” Jimeno was a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer. He was trapped under the World Trade Center for over 12 hours and survived. Today, he spends time coaching and inspiring people include veterans and addicts, helping them work through their hardships. Graff reminded us that in effect, we all go through moments of “I feel like I am buried under the WTC” – whether due to the loss of a job, a bad breakup, the death of a loved one, a global pandemic, and everything in between. 

While today, none of us are actually buried under the WTC, we may very well feel like we are. There is no hierarchy in pain, fear, loss, grief; these feelings cannot be compared or quantified, mine are neither graver nor lighter than yours – they are simply mine. We are each entitled to our own feelings, and should not add the guilt of “I shouldn’t be feeling bad right now because I have a roof on top of my head and food on the table” to the list of negative emotions swirling around in our head and hearts. 

Rather, as Graff reminded us, we should focus on the fact that what defines us is not external events, but how we respond to them. This was my reminder to be resilient, graceful, kind (including with myself), patient (including with myself), and hopeful. 

PS – for those of you not ready to start this book, but interested in reading about Graff’s perspective on what is happening right now, this article is a must-read. 

Remote Inspiration

This week (quarantine week 3) has been particularly challenging because the current reality has lost its novelty and is starting to sink in. I finally realized on Monday that life is going to be this way for another 4-6 weeks (hopefully not much longer, please). 

I wrote last week about my new sanity rituals, which while I am (mostly) following, are not helping (much). I do not feel inspired. I do not feel productive. I do not feel creative. When this happens during “normal life,” I go out in the field and visit Alchimie Forever customers. Nothing re-engages me in my brand, in my work, than being out in the field, listening to our brand ambassadors, learning from them, feeling their enthusiasm rub off on me. 

In “current life,” however, that is not possible. So instead, I turned to customers, business leaders, brand owners, for some remote inspiration. Here are four things that have helped me re-engage. 

 A remote training session with Heyday. This was almost as great as being in the field, visiting with the Heyday therapists IRL. Their questions, their feedback, their enthusiasm was contagious even “just” on the screen. And this gave me an opportunity to wear lipstick (first time in two weeks…), which felt wonderful. 

The COVID-19 speech by Marriott International President & CEO Arne Sorenson. I am a Marriott girl through and through, and will forever be after this speech, possibly the best crisis communication I have heard. Honest, realistic, hopeful, compassionate, emotional. 

The wise and honest words of Jennifer Yen, Founder & CEO of Purlisse, as quoted in Glossy today (article written by Emma Sandler). 

“As a brand founder who experienced the 2008 financial crisis and recession, the experience taught [me] lessons which [I have] applied for the past 12 years, including the importance of keeping a lean team, focusing on profitability versus growth, and reinvesting profit into hiring and product development. … Scrappy is the new sexy. It’s hard to see when the party’s over when times are still good, but I’ve been preparing for another moment like 2008 because it was so traumatizing.” 

The community efforts by Mathilde Thomas, Founder of Caudalie. Her brand sent hundreds of products to hospitals throughout France to help with chapped, irritated skin. In her LinkedIn post about this, she encouraged everyone: FAITES CE QUE VOUS POUVEZ POUR AIDER (Do what you can to help). Her example inspired me to reach out to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to offer to donate some Dry skin balm, some Kantic Brightening moisture mask, and some Kantic+ Intensely nourishing cream. Because that is what I can do right now, right here, to help. 

How do you stay inspired and engaged in your work, in your brand, during these strange times?