I’ve worked from a home office since I took out my first business loan and bought an edit system in 1995. I have always loved the flexibility. Taking calls while pacing around the yard. But equally important have been the trips and adventures that break up the time at home. That’s what I’ve always loved most about my job as a videographer, producer, and photographer. The places I get to go, the people I get to meet and spend time with.
For me, the part of life that happens at home hasn’t changed that much, I cherish that as much as ever, but I do miss the rest!
On January 2nd I wrote in my journal "Run 1 mile every day. More is ok, but always 1 mile."
I hadn't given much thought to that fact that it was January and the days were short and cold. I figured I could do one mile. I had heard an interview with James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, a few days before. He suggested picking something small, like one push up, every day. Through my work at Spartan and the Spartan Up podcast I've come to think of ultras as no big deal. A mile seemed so small. But I started.
For 44 days, usually in the dark and usually in the snow, I ran one mile every day. I never looked forward to it, but I was always glad I had done it. I made it public - told my family and friends. But on day 45 I mixed up time zones coming back from a conference in LA and missed a day. So I started again at one.
I made it through another 25 day streak then one night sat up in the middle of the night and realized I had completely forgotten to run. Today is day 61 of my third streak.
Here's what I've learned:
1. I've heard it takes 30 days to create a habit. I disagree. It's been over 150 days (minus the two I missed) and it's still not a solid habit.
2. That moment of decision - "should I run today or take a day off?" - that is where the greatest challenge lies. Knowing that I will run every day, removes that hurdle.
3. In COVID times I've had the most consistent and predictable schedule I have had in years! Probably ever. I miss unpredictable, but the sameness has made me start look forward to my daily runs.
4. It's about more than running. I'm starting to think of myself as someone who runs every day and that starts driving me to keep doing running, but also to take on new challenges.
5. It's a bare minimum that I always know I've accomplished when my head hits the pillow. That's good.
Ultimately I think of it as practice keeping my word to myself.
I do feel a little heartbreak on their behalf - at a time in life when they should be spreading their wings they are pushed back into the nest. But it's just a speed bump in the story of their lives.
And - they are learning a set of skills that will set them up for life. The skills of the "digital nomad." If you can work independently, digitally, you can work wherever and whenever you want. You need to have work that can be done virtually, you need the ability to manage your own time and deadlines interspersed with scheduled meetings and phone calls, and you need a sufficient self drive.
Their school right now is very much like 80% of my work.
Of course I look forward to the day when we are all able to be more human and social again, but it the meantime I'm focusing on what can be learned. What we learn is not always in the classes we take or the books we read, but in the way we live.
When a small pebble lands in a pond it makes a splash. At first, only that one point in the water is affected. But with time the ripples expand. Soon every part of the pond has been altered.
If you are feeling a pause, then take this time to steady yourself. To strengthen and ground yourself firmly. This is just the beginning.
I'm an optimist. We will find new ways to thrive, but here are some of the ripples I think are coming our way, followed by some of the true wisdom our moms have divined from this experience so far.
Some are feeling comfortable right now. Maybe you work in eCommerce or software design and you are busier than ever. The ripples are coming. If your business is still going strong that's great. But how are your customers doing? And their customers ... and their's? When this many people are jobless, and this many businesses are closed, the eventual impacts are inevitable. It may take years for the ripples to reach every shore.
The Value of Local
With disruptions in the supply chain, people have a greater recognition for the value of local. Local produce, local dairy, local take out, and local innovation will be prized.
Virtual work is a Double-Edged Sword
Right now the world is discovering the value of virtual. You can work from anywhere in the world. That also means employers can get the services you provide from anywhere in the world. Soon you will be competing against a much wider and deeper pool of workers for your job.
If you've found a way to move your services, courses, or coaching online and you're excited about the possibility of scale, be ready. You will soon be competing head to head against the biggest players in the world. Without local, what will set you apart?
Hunger for In-Person Connection
A lot of people have learned they can do more than they ever dreamed of from home - zoom family reunions, virtual work, even the news anchors are reporting from their living rooms. But I believe this experience will also awaken a recognition of the true value of in-person connection. I have been working from home for most of my career and cherish my in-person time with friends and colleagues. I'm intentional about planning in-person coffee meetings, yoga classes, and walks. This way of thinking is becoming more widespread. I've heard predictions that this will be the end of movie theaters. Maybe it will. But going to the movie theater hasn't been just about the movie for a very long time.
What the Wisest Moms Can Teach:
We host a daily Spartan Up Podcast Zoom call with some of our podcast hosts and featured guests. Today, through a series of mistakes and coincidences, Johnny Waite, Sefra Alexandra and I found ourselves on the call with our moms! Michael Aspinall showed up and after a little catching up he asked the 3 moms - with all of your wisdom, what have you learned from the pandemic?
* The importance of family and of recognizing the good moments.
* That being alone is Ok, in fact, it can be good for creativity and self-development
* That people are more intentional than they've ever been and are paying attention to what is most important.
The refrain - we are staggered by the blessings.
“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security" ~John Allen Paulos
This moment is an opportunity. The opportunity is deeper than time to take a class, or reassess your career. This is a time for us to all to get more comfortable with uncertainty.
Even before this massive world shift brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the speed of change in our lives was stunning. Rapid shifts in technology, culture and work-life inevitably bring uncertainty. What if the greatest skill we can learn, and the greatest skill we can teach our children, is a tolerance for uncertainty?
On today's run I listened to James Altucher's interview with Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, here's a one minute clip:
I don't love uncertainty, but as someone who has been self employed for almost all of my life I've learned to live with it. In fact - there's a buzz of excitement that chaos brings.
Comfort with uncertainty doesn't negate the need to plan. In fact it heightens it. I think about it this way: when I go on a shoot I never know what it will bring. Locations we've never scouted, opportunities we never anticipated, technical difficulties. I spend hours before each trip planning, packing, testing, trying to anticipate every possible scenario. I never do. And then I leave the monopod in the uber, or my client decides to interview 3 people instead of the one we have a mic and lights for, there are 100s of scenarios.
But even for me the current level of uncertainty is daunting.
You've heard the Mike Tyson quote "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth," Col. Nye says "It's not the plan, it's the planning." The process you go through in researching and creating the plan prepares you for the inevitable uncertainty.
All this time I've been trying to provide my kids with continuity & routine, but now we all have the opportunity to deepen our tolerance for uncertainty.
The Spartan VP of content and I were talking (by talking I mean we exchanged abbreviated text messages.) We noted that teens, and parents of teens, seem to be invisible in the media right now. Here's the letter I wrote for publication on the Spartan site. ( Spartan published the article 4/23)
Teens and moms, dads and mentors of teens - YOU ARE NOT INVISIBLE! In fact you may be the world’s most powerful resource. And here’s the question - how do we empower the vision, energy and innovation of our teens? I'm not going to give advice because I'm pretty sure I'm doing it wrong, but here's what being a parent of a teen in “captivity” has been like for me.
My kids have lived on a steady diet of the Spartan ethos since early childhood, even if we didn't call it that then. In our tiny Vermont town, our neighbors were the DeSenas. Even then Joe was leading pre-schoolers in jumping jacks and push-ups at birthday parties.
Around 2007 we started shooting videos for what would become Spartan, and as soon as the kids could manage they started tagging along as my assistants.
“These circumstances reveal the pretenders & reveal us to ourselves." ~Bruce Babashan on Spartan Up
Fast forward to today. My husband and I find ourselves in isolation with two teen boys. Teens who seem invisible to the media these days. In addition to the uncertainty we all feel in the face of a pandemic, they are experiencing the flip-flop of hormones, eddies of energy, the usual stresses of life, and a deep yearning for both the social interaction and structure that school and sports provide. They don't complain, they know there are a lot of people who have things a whole lot worse than us. Sometimes I wish they knew it was Ok to admit that this is hard, at the same time I admire their fortitude.
“Ultimate success is how I felt about myself in those quiet moments when no one is around” ~ Tom Bilyeu on Spartan Up Podcast
When school closed and track practice shut down the boys started running every day. I think today is day 37. I’m convinced the time alone, the outlet for energy, and the fresh air are essential for all of our mental health.
On school days we insist they get up and make their beds at a set time, other than that and a few chores, they manage their own school schedules and responsibilities. My 8th grader is usually finished with school in a few hours, then he's left to fill his days without much direction. He used to tell me he was lonely, he doesn't anymore.
My high school junior feels the stress of adapting to virtual school. I regret all the times I told him junior spring was the one time he needed to worry about grades. He spends a lot of time in his room.
There are so many resources for activities with young kids, I haven't seen anything for parents of teens. It's a time when they should be spreading their wings, becoming independent - how do you guide them through that when they are stuck at home with mom and dad for company? It’s not the natural state for a teen. A teen is a doer by nature. An inventor. An explorer.
We try to model resilience. The moments we spend together, without the separation of headphones and devices, come into crisp focus. The long facetime calls with their grandmother. The unconditional love of our dog Trooper. Watching them learn to cook dinner for the family. Those are bright lights.
We're all learning how to live together and learning together how to live. What I know I’m doing right is letting them know I love them, focusing on the positive, and continuing to adapt and learn as we walk into the future. What I need to do better - help them find their purpose.
Teens, what can we do to help you live - body, mind and spirit - during a pandemic? Moms, Dads, mentors - how are you helping shepherd this essential resource for our future?
"If I’m not failing, then I’m not reaching high enough…." ~Kevin Flike on Spartan Up Podcast
The first week on "lockdown" our friend Charlie Brenneman said "This is not a vacation, it's life."
This experience is different for everyone. Some are concerned with isolation, some with uncertainty and anxiety, some with where their next meal will come from, others with how they'll make it through another brutal shift and whether they'll catch what so many of their patients have. Some quite literally are fighting for their lives. But for all of us there's been tremendous change in how we understand what we are experiencing , internally and externally, as weeks go by.
It started with a sense of urgency. For me deciding if those last trips I could squeeze in were worth it, stocking up on food, trying to find hand sanitizer, reducing expenses, making sure relatives and loved ones were safely set up, re framing marketing campaigns and messaging for clients, and thinking about how we could serve the community we'd built around the podcast. Next we learned that schools would close. Focus shifted to the kids - how do we establish ground rules, enough structure but not too much, get enough exercise we don't kill each other, stock enough food to feed two teenage boys who are home all day! Easy challenges compared to some, but still "crisis" or "reactive" mode.
Then there was worry. Could I have caught something on that last trip I took to a huge podcasting conference in Florida? Four full flights and thousands of people from all over the world. Could I have given it to my mother or my husband, both on the "vulnerable" list?
Today we ALL need to start thinking about this differently. How do we make this situation, to whatever degree it extends, sustainable on the micro and macro level. By that I mean - this is not vacation, this is life. It's time to set up a structure for your days that will work long term. On the community level it's time to give very careful thought to where you spend your money and who you can support.
Local matters more than ever. Look at what this crisis has revealed. Businesses like uber and instacart are not the heroes here. The heroes are the small local businesses that innovate fast and are driven by a mission not just to survive but to serve their neighbors.
It's not too different from a hurricane. When Irene struck our small towns the first to respond was not the federal or even the state government - they move too slow, it takes them too long to learn what people on the ground really need. It's small local groups that are the first line responders jumping in with creative solutions.
When Killington saw that dairy farmers were forced to dump milk and that locals were worried about finding their next meal they decided to help both by giving grocery care packages that included local milk and cheese. My sister in law's shop, Stock Culinary Goods, sold local groceries as an add on, but she realized she could use her relationships with local suppliers and her takeout window to serve her community. There are millions of these stories.
All businesses are struggling, and they need income to survive and to keep paying employees. But now, as a citizen, it is time to think about what matters for community sustainability and to take note of where businesses (big and small) focus in this crisis.
I just didn't feel right. It was a tough day. Maybe not enough sleep. Maybe it was the natural progression of this strange experience we're all living through. I spoke to a few people who had a tough time Friday. Here, in Vermont, life is easy. We have space. We have food. The number of cases is still low. There's no tragedy, no emergency to respond to. In fact it feels self indulgent to complain at all when many people are truly suffering. And yet there is this slow incessant mix of isolation and friction. Monotony and frustration. And a sense that we're removed from the outside world.
But when I sit down to compile today's entry and I look through the photos from the last few days I see, even in the midst of a funk, there is normal and accomplishment and even laughter. It makes me smile again reliving those good momements.
A friend confessed to me that she had called her young daughter a name she deeply regretted. Another said "I thought I was the kind of person who was strong enough, but maybe I'm not." It's important to share the stories. It's not easy every day. But we just keep marching. Pick our heads up. Look for the bright spots and hold them in focus. And know that a few months really isn't that long.
Do you feel like you spend your days looking through a virtual window?
It's not the greatest photo, but I love the image of my mom on a virtual call using her dictionary.
If you're not familiar with the game of "fictionary" here's how it works: one player finds a word in the dictionary that no one knows the definition of. That player writes the actual definition on a slip of paper, each of the other players writes a fake definition on a slip of paper and anonymously drops it into a bowl. The first player reads all the definitions out loud and the we all try to guess the correct definition. There's a point system based on guessing the right definition or tricking others into choosing yours...but that's really not the point.
We figured out last night that we could set up a zoom call on the ipad and text each other definitions, so we played a few rounds with Grandma Roo.
We did our first ever virtual podcast interview today too. Joe had a great conversation with James Altucher while his engineer Jay and I listened in.
... and just like a TV news anchor - no one can see that I'm wearing sweats and pink slippers below the view of the camera.
I'm grateful for the virtual connections, but there is something deep within me that craves in person visiting. There's a lot of conversation about how the world will be different. How people will realize so much commuting and office time is wasted. I think that's true. But I also think we will all come out of this with a greater value on real, in person, human connection.
Spring was in the air today.
Sunday we had a family zoom and shared poems and drawings, my mother shared this spring Haiku:
Small rains are falling.
Petals nudge aside the soil.
A soft day in April.
and this about life in Cambridge:
Breath can be deadly.
Fear is clearing the sidewalks,
Like wind chasing leaves.
Most days there's a strange mix of normalcy, loneliness, frustration, and not much contemplation. Usually followed by the realization that this is NOT about me. Thinking about medical workers, hospital housekeeping staff, first responders, grocery clerks, pharmacists and delivery people. Thinking about people living paycheck to paycheck who just lost their paycheck and those struggling to keep small businesses alive. Thinking about people with sick family members and loved ones and those who are sick.
Then remembering a few months is a blip in life. No big deal. Take a deep breathe, wait it out, do what I can to keep the family happy and healthy. Like the humming bird in the Quechan Fable - I do what I can.
[scroll down for the fable as it was introduced to me by my friend Matt Baatz]
Hover over slide show for forward & backward controls
As told by Matt Baatz:
One day a terrible fire broke out in a forest - a huge woodlands was suddenly engulfed by a raging wild fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. As they came to the edge of a stream they stopped to watch the fire and they were feeling very discouraged and powerless. They were all bemoaning the destruction of their homes. Every one of them thought
there was nothing they could do about the fire, except for one little hummingbird.
This particular hummingbird decided it would do something. It swooped into the stream and pickedup a few drops of water and went into the forest and put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again. All the other animals watched in disbelief; some tried to discourage the hummingbird with comments like, "Don't bother, it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop, you can't put out this fire."
And as the animals stood around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the bird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked. Then one of the animals shouted out and challenged the hummingbird in a mocking voice, "What do you think you are doing?" And the hummingbird, without wasting time or
losing a beat, looked back and said, "I am doing what I can." Quechan Fable
Today I'm thinking about the value of weekends. We are home either way, weekend or weekday, so does it matter? No trips to school. No trips to work. No Wednesday Karate or Tuesday pottery. For me the decision to be in a different mental state changed everything. Today it felt almost like we were home by choice. Our time was our own.
Today started with the 5:30 am Spartan call. We heard :90 second updates from China, Canada, Spain, South America; updates from military leaders, financial experts, and always a few motivational thoughts. This morning I gave a quick summary of our Podcast session with the extreme skier Kristen Ulmer who wrote "The Art of Fear." (see April 3rd). Still but then the day was my own.
The kids did not have virtual school. The level of stress they are carrying all week sudennly became clear in its absence.
I took a long walk in the woods behind our house and didn't think about needing to be back for anything. I talked with with family as I walked and only returned home because the battery died.
We talked about the SBA emergency loan program and how complicated it is. We talked about this idea that Jon Levy the behavioral scientist talked about on the podcast: that many of the things that are correlated to longevity are also correlated to happiness. Two of those are 1. your close social network (best friends & family) and 2. your loose social network. It's that loose social network that we're all missing now. It leaves a sort of constant dull ache, but with the long calls and the walk in the woods it finally dissipated.
Third on that list is exercise. That's one thing we can control. So we run every day.
Creativity wasn't on the list, but maybe it should be.
Mom challenged all the kids and grandkids to create something - a poem or a drawing - and be ready for a ZOOM show and tell on Sunday evening.I took an hour and sat outside in the sun trying to convey the light hitting two birch trees. No phone. No walls. No computer. It was great medicine.
On ZOOM an exceptional example of virtual community with our guest Jeff Gomez. The topic: transitioning from the "Hero's Journey" to the "Collective Journey" story model, and how that is especially relevant right now. As our friend Jesse Levin, Tactivate, pointed out - "don't wait for permission to solve problems and help." Jeff Gomez said:
In this tidal wave of chaos, disquiet and fear we have an opportunity to re-examine the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. That we're not up to this. That we cynical. That we're optimists exhausted by pushing the boulder of negativity up the mountain. What if there is no boulder and no mountain?
Don't wait for the hero. The hero isn't coming. We are the hero and now is the time to change the story.
We all as a collective need to save ourselves.
Today I went shopping. The first time away from the house (other than my daily run) since Saturday. It was a pleasure to get away from the computer, to clear my head. I thought - how lucky I am that I'm not living paycheck to paycheck and we have food to put on the table, how lucky I am that I have time to come shop unlike the front line first responders and medical personnel, how lucky I am that I live in town where even with shortages most of the shelves are full, how lucky I am that I was able to shop for my mom when I last saw her on March 10th, how lucky I am that my father keeps a huge store of food and doesn't need to go to the grocery store, how lucky I am the the the clerks and workers continue to work, stay friendly, checking us out and stocking the shelves. There were a few empty shelves. I haven't seen toilette paper on a store shelf for weeks, no alcohol or thermometers, not much pasta or rice, the fresh produce was a little sad today - kale and broccoli wilted, no flour - but the whole chickens were back, and there were a few small bottles of chlorox today. There was more than enough to bring home and keep everyone not just fed, but happy with their favorite things.
I enjoyed the ritual of wiping down the groceries. A little time outside just "doing."
Maybe it's unnecessary. I do the up side, down side calculation. Worst that happens if I wipe it all down - I waste 15 minutes. Worst that happens if I don't - Someone gets sick. Best that happens if I wipe it all down - I save someone from getting sick. Best that happens if I don't wipe it all down - I save 15 minutes. Easy decision.
Early in the morning, walking the yard before anyone else is up, it could be any early spring day.
But then things get rolling. And the surreal reality we live in reemerges. I won't be taking the kids to school, or lining up a meeting for coffee in town, I won't be scheduling in person shoots and interviews or travel. I'm still editing & publishing podcasts, still taking the dog out, still enjoying my morning coffee. New on the list: getting things in order for today's live Zoom call. Today's guest was Bruce Babashan. He was one of the most powerful speakers yet. He talked about how he is coaching his athletes:
"We all experience fear. The trick is turning fear into fire. If that is true, right now the world is ablaze with energy.
You can wallow, or take the fuel of this moment."
Our friend Kressa Peterson, founder of Shower Toga, was on the call too. She has been sending her products free to medical workers and first responders who have been changing and showering outside of their homes so they don't expose their families to the virus. Processing and verifying requests has become overwhelming emotionally. She said "I thought I was the kind of person that could handle this...maybe I'm not." In a few seconds both she and Bruce (and many of us) had tears in our eyes. Even those of us safe at home have been feeling this slow, continuous, build-up of pressure. Bruce told her she is strong enough, and the tears and emotion are sure signs that she is a genuine person and shouldn't change. He shared some stories about fighters - famous ones facing fear each time they go into the ring, and the young athletes he coaches keeping training on track when food and money might be scarce and the future of their sport is uncertain.
“These circumstances reveal the pretenders & reveal us to ourselves."
It's a strange thing - committing to a daily photo journal during a period of time marked by lack of activity or variety. Today was a day (another day) of virtual contacts.
AT two, our daily Spartan Up podcast Zoom call has provided an opportunity for deeper connection with our audience and some of our favorite podcast guests, and a place to keep focused on growth. Today Mark Divine talked a lot about breath, and inner self.
In the evening the joining of virtual and actual. Sunset and a call with grandma.
Most of the day is spent in front of computers, creating an artificial sense of space between us. It's these moments, moments of real connection, whether virtual or actual, that stand out.
Today's focus: it's not always easy.
We're lucky, but that doesn't mean it's always easy.
We're using all the tools in the toolbox to fight stress and to fight cabin fever. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes I say something I wish I hadn't. But we're a family. And we also laugh, hug and move on.
The boys can't hang out with friends. They spend too much of time on the computer in virtual school. They also play tag with the dog, play D&D via Zoom chat, and watch 30 Rock with their mom. Thank G-d for 30 Rock!
I do my best to do the things that make me easier to be around: eating well, getting enough sleep, running every day, watching 30 Rock with my kids, reaching out to the people I love, reaching out people I like, hugging the dog, taking photos every day, and finding ways to be of service.
We live in a rural spot that allows us to get outside.
We have food on the table.
We can still make each other laugh.
And we're healthy.
Yesterday was Saturday. What to do Saturday night? We took a walk around downtown Woodstock, Vermont. Empty as it was, it felt good to get out. We saw surprisingly few people out walking. All the shops were closed, for years as a videographer we took extreme measures to could get photos of storefronts without the traffic and cars in the foreground. Last night it was easy. Many shops are still finding ways to serve (Yankee Bookshop offers porch deliveries, Woodstock pharmacy is serving prescriptions at the door.)
It's hard to say when the "quarantine" started, or even what to call it. It's been a gradual process that now has keeping more and more to ourselves. I'm still working, still producing the Spartan Up podcast and other content for Spartan, still working to to help our audience stay strong, positive & productive. And yet - there's a sense of disconnection.
I decided to challenge myself to take daily photos of this experience. There will be a lot of the dog Trooper (the most willing photo subject,) and some of my family, lots of nature and I hope some around town. So..Day one was marked by gorgeous morning light. The day started with a smile.
It became "the" tough day. There's always one where the reality hits. That was today. The announcement that school would not reopen this spring, big cuts in contracts, none of it was surprising. It will pass, tomorrow will be another day. The people I love are all healthy. We're truly fortunate.
On March 27th I was envious of the "pause" to reassess and learn I kept hearing about. I was fortunate enough to still be working, so I committed to a more active blog. This is my chance to think out loud about podcasting, messaging, story, nature, family and life.
~ Marion Abrams