For me, the Rhinebeck Post Office is a bit like the workplace water cooler.
Estuary Leadership and Cale Communications are housed on the second floor of a beautiful brick building just steps away from that old post office in the center of Rhinebeck, New York’s Historic Village District. Our office is a welcoming space with big windows that overlook East Market Street, our main corridor, where I can see people coming and going all day long. I’ve missed my desk there terribly since closing our doors on March 12, 2020 to work remotely from our home, just a few blocks away. One of my favorite parts of my regular workday there is venturing out for a break to go get the mail. A short stroll brings me to our enchanting little post office, which sits right beside the majestic Beekman Arms Inn and Conference Center. Every time I open the door, I end up seeing at least one familiar smile, and conversation ensues. Both old friends and new energize me in the very building where President Franklin D. Roosevelt even spent some time. If the walls could talk!
I always refer to it as the ‘water cooler’ for those of us who do business in the village, because it’s an epicenter of fun, revitalizing socialization during a typical workday in Rhinebeck.
Last week, however, it felt anything but social. Or fun. Or revitalizing. In fact, it completely depleted me.
I left our house early one morning to go over and mail a client package. Although initially excited to return to the ‘water cooler’ in hopes of seeing some faces I’ve missed after weeks of working from home, I was reluctant to even touch the door handle because of Covid-19. That overwhelming fear of contamination was quickly replaced by overwhelming sadness as the door closed behind me. Newly installed duct tape on the gorgeous old hardwood floors had been laid to mark spots 6 feet apart where we were allowed to stand. Sheets of plastic were hanging in the postmaster windows. And there were several signs reminding us that in the midst of the pandemic, we needed to keep our distance and move swiftly in an area I’d for years enjoyed as a gathering place.
As I took all of it in, I felt intense melancholy and total disbelief. While processing all of that emotion, two different people I know and adore walked in. In lieu of our normal greetings complete with warm hugs, we caught one another’s eyes and exchanged quick “hey, how are you holding up?” sentiments, but then rather abruptly moved along.
It felt weird, strange, and so very distant. I felt empty.
I realized then and there that not only had we been stripped of our ability to enjoy the sense of connectedness that comes with real conversation, and the joy that we all feel from giving and receiving big hugs, but now there was even more to this distancing.
Now we were even wearing masks - which meant we couldn’t even exchange SMILES. It was painful.
Obviously, I am totally on board with these measures, and am ever grateful for the restrictions that are keeping us all safe and healthy. But I can’t deny the fact that it’s really, really tough emotionally. The masks, the duct tape on the floor - it’s all a reminder of just how serious this crisis is, and symbolic of people losing lives who should be enjoying many years of hugs, friendships, and water cooler exchanges. It’s heartbreaking.
And yet, we still have responsibilities. We have to find ways to navigate these difficult emotions.
When I got back to my home office, I have to admit I wanted to just sign off for the day. On deadline for a few projects, however, I knew that wasn’t possible. I thought about the countless people on the front lines of the crisis who have NO CHOICE but to forge ahead. Their courage and focus leaves me in awe every time I think of them. My days are SO easy by comparison - how could I feel so helpless when my problems were so trivial?
Because all levels of grief are legit. And anytime we feel sadness, we should take a moment to process it before we try to move forward. I realized that just like my clients, fellow community members, colleagues, and everyone I know and love, it was okay to honor the sadness before attempting to rise above it.
So I did. But then, given my responsibilities, I had to find my way back to my desk, ready to focus. I relied on the resilience tools that get me through just about everything that's challenging.
They might be of help to you. Or to someone on your team. Or maybe they'll simply generate some thought/discussion that will help you identify the tools that work for you and your colleagues. Here's my go-to list:
Exercise. The “post office blues” left me exhausted emotionally, but I got home and decided to put my sneakers on and go out for a run. Moving my body ALWAYS gives me an immediate lift (and my 80s playlist doesn’t hurt either!)
Talk to someone. Who can you confide in, and who will listen deeply for understanding? Give that person a call. Be real about how you’re feeling - don’t hold back. It’s healthy to talk things through; don’t keep it bottled up, let it out!
Meditate. I use an app called “Ten Percent Happier” for daily meditation. It reminds me to acknowledge my thoughts and feelings without judging them. In just 10-15 minutes a day, I am able to find a place of calm, even in the darkest of times.
Practice gratitude. Although the post office left me feeling blue, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and remember how grateful I felt for those who are coming to work there each and every day - and all of the essential workers out there - so that we have the services we need. A grateful heart is a happy heart. Reframing my feelings and focusing on gratitude always makes the difference.
Schedule a time to get back to work. I gave myself some space that day to do some of the aforementioned to recharge/restore myself, but knew I needed to return to my desk by 2pm if I was going to get everything accomplished that needed to be done. So that’s what I did. I scheduled that as my “re-start” time. And by then, I was ready for it.
We’re all going to have tough moments as we go through these trying, surreal times. Sometimes you or someone on your team may just want to put your quitters on and watch movies all day (quitters = the clothes you wear when you quit trying to look good!). Give yourself and those around you permission for mental health days as needed - and if you're really struggling, be sure to reach out to a mental health professional.
But for those days when you feel you have the strength to carry on, have your box of resilience tools ready. Encourage your team to do the same; they'll thank you for it.
And remember....we’re all in this together.
Need support as you navigate these unprecedented times? If you’d like to schedule a confidential life or leadership coaching session with Certified Life Coach Marybeth Cale, we can meet by phone, Zoom, or GoToMeeting. Just reach out by calling 845.876.2220 or use the contact form on our website, estuaryleadership.com.
Be well, friends.