If I were the gambling type, I bet that the word of the year for 2020 will be “pivot”. And rightfully so! This 5-letter gem encapsulates what has been required of each and every one of us as we endure living in the midst of a pandemic. The concept of pivot brings together a cluster of skills or behaviors that include being able to adapt, flex, bend, refocus, reset, change, shift, and move. Likely in every role, people have had to accommodate new societal mandates and expectations to ‘flatten the curve’ and ‘stop the spread.’ As a global collective, we were going about life as usual. Then, a screeching halt when we learned about a scary, highly contagious and deadly virus that was moving quickly into our neighborhoods and places of work and school. We made the pandemic pivot.
If we were all in a movie or book, you know how the store line goes. The narrative begins with a glimpse into normal, daily life. Complaints about getting up early for school and work, meeting friends for coffee or lunch, stopping by the salon or barbershop for a quick trim or color on our way home, deciding to forego cooking dinner and instead go to our favorite restaurant before taking in a sporting event either on television or at a stadium or field in our community. Then, a new obstacle has been introduced. This ‘obstacle’ is a tiny, but mighty virus. The coronavirus is more effective and powerful than any virus that the public has experienced in the past 100 years. The characters act slowly and skeptically, at first. They make very little change with many seeming to be in a state of denial. Then, the spread and death begin to accelerate. People’s responses are widely variable, many fear-stricken early on and others not wanting to change any part of their daily life or ways of being. At some point, the monster in the story becomes so scary and dangerous that characters are required to stop from normal functioning and pivot. Shifting direction is at the core of a pivot.
The characters of this story are everyday people, as are the emerging heroes. Here are a few of the characters that you might recognize, each and every one required to pivot.
Moms, dads, and caregivers of youth are now forced to be stay-at-home parents while also stepping into the role of teacher and/or tutor with school shifting to an online structure. Many parents have a much-increased degree of respect for our stay-at-home counterparts who have opted for this lifestyle before the public health crisis struck. The reality for most parents is that they are the entertainment coordinator for their children, doing their best to provide stimulating activities that use even a little brainpower. In addition to being an activity planner, there is more cooking, cleaning, and time together than ever before.
The pivots that parents choose are incredibly unique and take into consideration the value system and styles of each family. For instance, a more free-spirited and adventurous family is likely exploring the outside world and perhaps not sticking to any particular schedule. They may be sailing along with very little structure. A very different family may lean heavily on establishing a routine and pivoting to create a schedule to maximize efficiency and learning now that academics have changed dramatically. (For more on this top of parenting during a pandemic check out Amelia Schafer’s blog on this topic.
Without a doubt, kids and teens have also been forced to pivot. Perhaps the first several days after learning that they would not return to school as they knew it was cause for celebration. Youth have been required to be curious and try new things in order to avoid boredom and more importantly seek stimulation. Without physical contact with friends and even being able to go in public much, time is spent doing activities that previously were not on the menu. Puzzles, art projects, baking and cooking, reading, yard games, board games are primary pivot steps. Given the developmental age of the youth, spending more or less time with parents and siblings may be the shift (more time from teens). Moving to on-line schooling and becoming experts at navigating Zoom classroom meetings is new and different. Hopefully this pivot for our youth provides them with opportunities to experience new creative ideas and explore the world around them in a different way.
Workers of every sector of our economy are now working like never before. Essential workers now must tolerate fear and uncertainty when punching in at the hospital, senior nursing facility, grocery store, and post office. These workers who seemed to become societies heroes overnight, frantically look to find facemasks to protect themselves and others. With stay-at-home orders in place for many other workers, they swiftly set-up home offices as their primary place to conduct business. Every meeting is a video-conference format. They are navigating being an employee, a parent, and a spouse in the same space and often at the same time. Compartmentalizing the various roles and identities in their day is now nearly impossible. A major pivot for workers has been to establish boundaries around work life and home life, which are blurred by the very nature of them existing in the same physical space.
Pivoting happens as a way of surviving, thriving, and successfully navigating through a sticky situation or crisis. Many business owners live in an economic situation where all of their eggs are in one basket. Not only are those eggs necessary for their own family, but also for the families of their employees. The stress and speed at which business owners needed to make decisions was head spinning. Sleepless nights, feelings of desperation and fear, catastrophic thinking have been the reality of this group of people.
The surge of on-line connection between business owners to support one another evidence their feelings of loneliness and need for validation. For some, a pivot was moving quickly to set up business in an on-line format (take virtual counseling for instance). For others, it meant swiftly completing loan applications made available through the government. Still, for others, it meant shifting entire business models to accommodate the temporary, yet very different landscape (take distilleries that brewed alcohol that pivoted to bottling hand sanitizer, or restaurants that moved to a carry-out only format).
The pandemic pivot is not a dance, but rather an essential chain of movements and decisions to adjust to a changing world and landscape. Spend a bit of time considering your own pivots that you have made in the past several weeks. Allow yourself to be prideful in your nimbleness and creativity. Times are tough and we should all celebrate when we have risen to the challenge and made (or tried to make) positive changes in our lives.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.