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How To Make Sense Of All The Ambiguity

Liza Baker October 2020

BurnOut Kuel Category Expert: Liza Baker

It’s beyond my control…or is it?

Irrespective of our political leanings, many (most? all?) of us seem to be feeling our world has spun out of control.

We seem to long for a “return to normal.” But as Sonya Renée Taylor so eloquently put it in her book, The Body Is Not an Apology, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Reactive vs Proactive:

If we are reactive, we will look for the silver bullets and sparkly Band-aids. Those are short-term solutions that only seem to get us in more trouble down the road.

If we are proactive, we have the chance to respond to the pandemic by redesigning a lot of our failing systems to serve everyone: economic, education, healthcare, labor.

And, that potentially feels very, very heavy.

If you are an empath, or even a relatively sensitive individual, you may well be feeling completely overwhelmed about what can be done in our country at the moment.

And, if you’re a woman who—in addition to working outside or from home—has taken on new roles such as home-school teacher, school nurse, cafeteria lady, school counselor, and art/music/phys-ed instructor in addition to working from home full time, you’re probably feeling that even the home front—which possibly just passed as being well-ordered before—has now spun completely out of control.

A Woman’s Burden:

Women bear approximately 75% of the mental load of a household. That means we know: the names of the kids’ friends; the kids’ friends’ parents’ names and what they do for a living and where they live; the kids’ teachers’ names; the kids’ school and bus and after-school and sports schedules; the dates of everyone’s birthday and what they like and what should be purchased for them and when to send it so it gets there in time; when the house needs to be cleaned and the laundry and shopping done; etc. I’m exhausted just thinking about all this.

The bad news? The more full time we work, the more of the mental load we bear. Want the terrible news? The pandemic has disproportionately increased the mental load borne by women.

I’ve heard so many women talking about feeling out of control that I can’t help but replay John Malkovich’s devastating scene in Dangerous Liaisons in my head.

Control Is An Illusion:

Instead of spiraling into a Netflix marathon, though, I turned to the writing of Eckhart Tolle. Control: it’s an illusion

In both The Power of Now and A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle writes extensively about staying in the present moment. All stress indicates an inability to do so. The past cannot be changed, the future cannot be predicted, and yet we spend so much of our time regretting what’s done and worrying about what’s to come.

the present is the past’s future, after all, and we really thought we had it sorted this time!”

We are, for all intents and purposes, unable to stay in the present: think about how many times a day you think, “If only I’d…” and “What if…?”

And, a lot of what feels like angst in the present is really our dismay that we were not able to control how it looks by having foresight and taking action in the past. The present is the past’s future, after all, and we really thought we had it sorted this time!

We also tend to spend a lot of our energy trying to change others because, obviously, we know what’s best for them. <sarcasm font>

What Exactly Is Within Our Control?

(As an aside: I really dislike the word “control” to begin with. It feels negative and restrictive, tight and contracted, punitive and full of toxic masculine energy.)

Ultimately, the only thing we have dominion over is ourselves. Not just what we think, say, and do; but, how we respond to others, whether the other is a person, a place, a situation, an event.

Where does that leave us?

Don’t follow the comments.

It costs nothing not to go to a fast-food joint.”

Despite numerous quibbles I have with this opinion piece by Courtland Milloy on the virus, I think Houston cardiologist Baxter Montgomery makes a very important point in it. When it comes to something as mundane and yet important as our diet, we have a choice at every moment.

Told that some people may not be buying fruits and vegetables because of rising costs, Montgomery suggests the next best option: cutting back on sugar, salt and processed foods.

It costs nothing not to go to a fast-food joint. I never heard of anybody being charged for not ordering a cheeseburger and fries.

I try not to read comments online because they just elevate my blood pressure. Because I have some quibbles with the piece, I did read the comments on Milloy’s piece. Surprise! They were no different.

Yet many people identified one of the issues I have with this piece. There are ways to save money on food—and sometimes, you’ll even get higher-quality, more nutritious food in the process. And yes, kale pusher that I am, I did get a good laugh about the kale-bashing thread running throughout the comments.

How Comfortable Are You With Ambiguity?

Ever smirked at the line “Other tasks as assigned” in a job posting?

At the nonprofit where I last worked, we joked that every job posting we put up always had the line, “Must have a strong sense of comfort with ambiguity.”

Feeling out of control is uncomfortable for most of us. We have a deep discomfort with ambiguity and uncertainty. Major crises like the pandemic always serve as a reminder that we are not in control of anything but our own decisions, actions, and responses. So, why not start where we are and do what we can with what we have?

Many of my clients suffer from a case of “all or nothing” thinking that only contributes to their overwhelm and burnout: when there’s so much to deal with, so much to face, so much to change, it’s overwhelming. It’s easier to do nothing and complain than to take action.

Daily Choices Are Within Our Control:

Even those small choices, as Milloy points out, can add up and really make a difference in our health and our immunity. The good news: any action you take on behalf of your health is a step in the right direction. Even if it’s a teeny, tiny baby step. It’s like turning a control knob just one notch right or left and recognizing that you have made a difference.

Start by getting healthy yourself—and you may just find you have more bandwidth to help others, whether they are individuals, communities, nations, or the world. Just don’t take on too much too soon. Note I didn’t say, “make others conform to your plans,” because as we know, that’s beyond our control.

Liza Baker

About the Author:

Liza Baker is a full-time health coach and nonprofit consultant, self-published author, blogger, podcaster, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four spread across the globe. Her favorite women to support are the under-appreciated, under-listened to, under-taken-care-of, under-valued, overwhelmed, overworked, over-scheduled, overtired, and OVER. IT. ALL. women 40+ who work in the mission-driven/nonprofit sector. Put more simply: she helps women be well while doing good.