Dear Jane…

Have you heard of Toastmasters International (TI)? Well, I hadn’t until November 2018 when the club was introduced at my place of work. Corporate TI clubs provide an in-house opportunity for employees to develop their leadership and communication skills. By sponsoring a club, companies benefit from better leaders, more effective managers, closer-knit teams and higher productivity.

I knew immediately it was something that would interest me. Over and above the stated benefits, I was aware of the need to be more open and share my life lessons, albeit to a small audience. What better way than to do this within a controlled environment where you can share stories with no-one judging you?

Our club was officially launched in February 2019 by none other than Rozy Rana, Chair of the East Africa Toastmasters Territorial Council. Ms Rana has been a Toastmaster since April 2005. She was the first Toastmaster in East Africa to be recognized as a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM), the highest recognition awarded by Toastmasters to any member globally. Her enthusiasm and mastery of the English language convinced me that it was a worthwhile venture and I quickly signed up, being the first person to give a prepared speech at our club.

It’s been an interesting journey since. But this post is not about TI, rather about a speech I gave today that I thought to share with you, my dear readers. TI uses a Pathways learning experience, an online curriculum that provide users with flexibility. Members can choose from eleven paths that teach more than 300 unique competencies. I am currently on the Visionary Communication path for which this speech was delivered. Read on…

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Dear Jane…begun the two-page letter from my 15-year old daughter that I found neatly placed under my pillow one evening in July last year. It was in the middle of a school term and the letter was a culmination of a tumultuous two-month’ period in my journey parenting this Gen Z teenager. After paying school fees and getting her ready for the new school term, my daughter had dropped a bombshell – she was not going back to school! She dramatically proceeded to lock herself up in the bedroom and no amount of cajoling, threats or even a visit to a psychologist’s office could change her mind. At my wits’ end, I resulted to the Silent treatment. Without any electronic gadget, I was sure that boredom would wear her down and she would come begging to go back to school!

How wrong I was! The letter came two weeks into the silent treatment therapy and rather than beg to be taken back to school, it detailed various reasons why she couldn’t go back. She further listed four schools she preferred, giving the pros and cons, complete with the fee structures for each! The young lady had clearly done her homework. As I read it, I marveled that she had so much to say yet every time I had tried to talk to her in the past, I had gotten only tears streaming down her face just one sentence into the conversation.

After getting over the initial shock of my own daughter addressing me by my first name (I am an African mother, after all!), I saw myself in her. You see, I communicate better in writing than in conversation, a trait apparently shared by many introverts. While words effortlessly pour out onto a page or computer screen; in conversation, it often feels like there’s a traffic jam in the pathway between my mind and my mouth!

Written versus Oral – that was my understanding of communication styles as I embarked on my Toastmasters Level 2 project that focuses on recognizing your preferred communication style and understanding how that style impacts interactions with others.

Toastmasters defines four Communication styles; DIRECT, INITIATING, SUPPORTIVE and ANALYTICAL. I completed the questionnaire provided and was not surprised that I scored highest on the Analytical style – I love working with numbers. What surprised me though, was the wide margin by which the other styles trailed behind that they may as well be non-existent. In fact, I scored nada, in the Initiating style!

To be sure that the tool used had credibility, I ticked off many of the phrases used to describe the Analytical style: cautious, precise, curious, disciplined, logical, structured, perfectionist, private, etc.  Yes, we are also the type that tend to be overly skeptical, requiring to see promises in writing!

And to be doubly sure, I checked the descriptors of the Initiating style – you don’t score a zero and not confirm where you went wrong, eh? These were sociable, enthusiastic, spontaneous, fun-loving, impulsive, gregarious…need I continue? They were all things I am not. Well, most of time!

Analytical communicators are one of the introverted personality types. Not particularly suited for dealing with others and would much rather work alone, dwelling on their thoughts undisturbed. But life specializes in throwing curveballs, which we must adapt to if we are to survive. Looking back at the example with my daughter, I realised I could have done better to prevent the loss of a whole school term and loads of heartache. By failing to build flexibility around my preferred analytical communication style, I failed to hear the important things she was communicating.

According to Mark Murphy, founder of www.LeadershipIQ.com, a major philosophical difference that separates the four communication styles is the extent to which one communicates with emotions or with data. Analytical communicators stress on the data. In my case, I focused on the money and time wasted, completely missing the Emoticon bus. I only caught on when she communicated to me rationally and logically. Talk of the child teaching the parent!

I will conclude by saying that my biggest takeaway from this project has been the need to learn to be a chameleon – whether its data or emotions, I must learn what appeals to others and what doesn’t – to help me effectively communicate. At the home front, I am making deliberate efforts to create a fun, lively atmosphere with new and diverse elements suited for my three Gen Zeders.

By the way, the young lady turns sixteen tomorrow. We finally found a school that piqued her interest, and where she is thriving. Of course she had to promise certain things – in writing! I have also kept the “Dear Jane” letter – it shall be revisited one day!

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In this COVID-19 pandemic era, TI has provided me an invaluable distressing chaneel as I get to hop from one online club meeting to another across the globe! Members have embraced the new normal and there is no shortage of humor and deep conversations as the world finds different ways to respond to the pandemic.

Find a TI club near you and thank me later.

Happy Accidents

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” – Bob Ross

I know what you are thinking and that was my initial thought too. What a load of baloney, yeah? I mean, if we tried to pass off our mistakes as happy little accidents, we may as well make accidents the norm, right? Happy little accidents? How do you put happy and accident in the same sentence? That’s an oxymoron, no? And a three-word-sentence at that? As in happy and accident take up two-thirds of the sentence? And what’s little anyway? Is it the lack of spilled blood that qualify an accident as little? Who measures happiness and how long should that feeling last after the accident? Unfortunately for me, Bob Ross is the late, so I couldn’t ask him these questions.

As with many thoughts that refuse to leave my mind until I do something about it, this one stayed on for a while. I tried to think of a mistake(s) I had made that turned out great. You see, I am very analytical, logical, systematic and anything else that can be defined as disliking surprises. I love structured, ordered, and functional environments. While I have made mistakes in my life, they are often most unwelcome and it would be idiotic to declare any as a “happy little accident”, or so I thought. Until I read somewhere that for many of us, our very existence could be considered happy little accidents.

Think about it. Your parent(s) may never have gone shopping for a baby. In fact, getting pregnant was probably the last by-product they expected when they got onto that conveyor belt. Maybe they were too young, just experimenting as they tried to find their footing in the adult world; or maybe they thought they had fulfilled their duty of filling the world with the children they already had; or you are a second-born like me (did you know that most second-borns are unplanned for?). Yet there was nothing they could do to prevent your conception. They may have thought of you as an accident, yet here you are taking a serving at this life.  Your life, dear reader, is a fortunate stroke of serendipity. A happy little accident!

In the light of this, I could picture some of my past mistakes that turned out not too shabbily. Of course, there are many that still make me cringe. Those that make me have a conversation with myself and wish to write a letter to my younger self. Yet, even such have provided great learning experiences . I am wiser because of my past mistakes, which also make me more empathetic towards anyone making the same mistake. Ross didn’t say it but I am sure he would agree with Harvey Mackay who said: One mistake will never kill you. The same mistake over and over again will.

I will not write about my happy little accidents. I will do better by telling you what a couple of friends told me when I asked about their past mistakes they thought fitted the description of happy little accidents. In this era of COVID-19, people have time and they were happy to indulge me. The names and some identifying details have obviously been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy.

I knew Leah back in college but we never kept in touch after graduation. Life is however, full of surprises and I met Leah more than twenty years later when we both took our  daughters to the same high school. We marveled that we last met when we were just a little older than our girls. I knew she was a single mum but I didn’t expect her to tell me that the biggest mistake she ever made was marrying the father of her two daughters – her college sweetheart who she thought was the love of her life. They were both God-fearing, church youth leaders and it seemed only natural that they should tie the knot once they were done with school. They were married two years after graduating, and another three years later, they welcomed their first baby child, a beautiful girl who is now at the university. However, dear hubby who was a pastor-in-training at the very church they had met when in college had a roving eye for the university female students. Caught not once, but twice and reported to the church administration, he was forced to step down and of course things took a turn for the worse on the home-front too. He started drinking heavily and became abusive towards Leah. Leah, who was expecting the second born filed for divorce and celebrated her thirtieth birthday as a divorced, single mother of two.

I asked her what’s happy about this mega accident and she answered in a manner only a mother can. “My two beautiful daughters. They have given my life meaning all these years. I have struggled to raise them on my own but it was worth every tear and sweat and wouldn’t have it any other way!” I believe they are many women (and men) who are no longer together with their spouses, or who remain in unhappy marriages. However, much as they may regret the decision to marry or to be involved with their partners, they would never regret having their children who color their world with sunshine yellow.

Then there’s Liz, my dear friend who is a nurse, currently at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 (remember to say a prayer for her and all our health workers). Liz grew up in relative comfort on the slopes of Mt Kenya. She was a well-adjusted child who did well in school and dreamed of becoming a bank teller in the city, just like her favorite uncle. By the time she completed her A-levels in 1989, she knew better to aim for a college education where she intended to study accounting. The forced gap year before joining college was however, full of surprises for the young lady.

To paraphrase Michel de Montaigne, our minds, unless kept busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, tend to throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination…And there is no mad or idle fancy that they do not bring forth in the agitation. Liz got herself into a pretty pickle that brought forth a bouncing baby boy a month after she should have reported to college. Nursing her son however, made Liz find her life’s calling – taking care of others. She was lucky to have supportive parents who enrolled her at the nearby Tumutumu Hospital Training College for a Diploma in Nursing. That career took off very well and as in many movie scripts, our nurse met and married a handsome doctor she met in the line of duty. Liz, now a grandmother of two, loves her job and says she cannot imagine what she would have done with an accountancy degree (she doesn’t even like numbers!). Was getting pregnant when she did a mistake or a happy little accident? Looking at my friend’s contented life, I believe without a doubt that was a blessing in disguise.

Interestingly, the mistakes narrated by all the ladies that responded to me had to do with the birth of their children and/or their love lives or lack thereof. It is definitely fertile ground for research! The men in my circles are apparently afraid of being vulnerable and none offered any insights (need to find me some new friends!) I could tell a few of the stories on their behalf but I will give them another chance to redeem themselves. At the end of the day, it is all about self-acceptance and self-love.

I need to stop writing before this post loses focus completely. However, remember this: You can’t be afraid to make mistakes because there are no mistakes…only happy little accidents!

 

 

 

Over The Rainbow

In many cultures of the world, the rainbow signifies hope. It is a promise of better times, the dawn after a dark, weary night. The quiet after the storm. Growing up, I knew the legend of the pot of gold that lay where the rainbow touched the ground. The only misfortune being that no-one seemed to have reached there! Still, we celebrated the appearance of the rainbow and as little children, that was just the sign we needed to get out and continue with play!

In the Bible, the rainbow is first mentioned in the events following Noah’s flood in Genesis chapter 9. God gave us the rainbow as a promise that He would never destroy the earth with floods again. He said, “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:13). The rainbow is thus a reminder of God’s promise and faithfulness.

COVID-19 is perhaps the toughest challenge many of us will deal with in our lifetime. When we are told to brace for tough times ahead, it is difficult to imagine what that might look like. Someone has said that a pandemic is like an oil tanker – it continues to move forward long after you hit the brakes! If we are to believe this and the reports that we are only in the first wave of many waves of infections and that a vaccine is only likely sometime in 2021, COVID-19 is indeed a huge storm!

With systems of work, education, finance, religion and domestic lives slowly grinding to a halt, it is foolhardy to not expect every aspect of our lives being affected. It’s predicted there will be high levels of emotional distress, violence and food insecurity the world over, not forgetting increased number of orphans and vulnerable groups as the disease hits hardest the main bread winners.

In the midst of this gloom, it is difficult to see beyond and picture a rainbow. China, being the source of this virus and the first to record a return to near normal after lock down is definitely not painting a rosy picture, particularly when it comes to the treatment of Africans living there (this we shall revisit)! But in all honesty, will we ever be able to socialise and interact as before or will this virus forever redefine our interactions via technology?

Yet, the human spirit is resilient. It combines hope, will, perseverance and strength even when we cannot clearly see the path we’re on. When confronted with what William James famously called “a blooming buzzing confusion”, humans rally their inner strength and somehow organize the chaos into a reasonably stable and meaningful state.

The “chase the rainbow” initiative that is believed to have started in Italy, which has been severely affected by COVID-19 is just one of many ways even children are showing resilience in the face of the pandemic. Across Europe and other parts of the world, children and their families are painting and drawing multicolored displays along with messages of hope. Social media is also abuzz with messages of hope. I particularly like one I received that said: “When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be, we were called to be, we hoped to be. And may we stay that way – better for each other because of the worst.”

People are already seeing beyond the COVID-19 clouds and over the rainbow. Something better is coming our way. Yes, it is difficult to understand how and when, but we can rest assured that there’s a rainbow after this storm.

Over the Rainbow is a powerful song that has sound-tracked history since it was written for the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. It offers hope and consolation to people in extreme circumstances. It helps envision a place where there isn’t any trouble (or at least less trouble). A place just over the rainbow. Many artists have covered the song but my favorite remains the original Judy Garland’s version. You can listen to it here: Somewhere over the rainbow

When all the world
Is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around
Heaven opens a magic lane
When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There’s a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your window pane
To a place behind the sun just a step beyond the rain
Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
And the dreams that you dream of
Dreams really do come true
Someday, I wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney top
That’s where you’ll find me

 

The Quintessential Leader

What would Jesus do if he walked the earth today like he did over 2000 years ago?

That question came to me as I listened to Queen Elizabeth II address the UK amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It occurred to me I have never heard her speak (don’t ask under which rock I’ve been living!), but most importantly, her message of hope was just what, not only the British, but the entire world needs!

Some of her statements brought tears to my eyes (don’t mind me, I am tearing up very easily nowadays). “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

“We will succeed — and that success will belong to every one of us.”

Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.

This is despite the fact that her son and heir to the throne, 71-year-old Prince Charles has been reported to have the COVID-19 disease; and the government is adrift with the hospitalisation of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

There have been other stories of leaders stepping up and responding appropriately to the crisis. The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo’s briefings have won praise for ‘wisdom and competence’. The state of NY with over 20 million residents is hardest hit by the virus and the governor’s own brother has not been spared. Back here at home, our very own Health CS, Mutahi Kagwe, has been hailed both locally and abroad for his solid crisis leadership. I am sure there are many leaders fighting this pandemic that we will never hear about, just as there are many that have retreated to the comfort and security of their mansions, suffering from paralysis of inaction.

Which takes me back to my initial question. What would Jesus do?

On 12 March 2020, just a day before the first Corona case was confirmed in the Motherland, I gave a speech at a Toastmasters meeting titled “Lessons From The Quintessential Leader”. My project had the simple objective of identifying my primary leadership style(s) and thereafter delivering a 5- to 7-minute speech to share some aspect of my leadership style or leadership styles in general. I replicate that speech below;

What’s your Leadership style? Democratic? Altruistic? Authoritative? Affiliative? Bureaucratic?

That’s the question I was supposed to answer in my Level 2 Visionary Communicator path. I was eager to discover this wholesome truth! I completed the questionnaire and the scores surprised me! My highest score was on the Democratic style and the lowest on the Bureaucratic style. I’ll tell you why this was a surprise. For one, my children would strongly disagree! Mum? Whose first answer to any request is NO?! How democratic is that? Secondly, I am an auditor by profession. I mean come on, which auditor worth their salt sits you down and tells you, “Let’s deliberate on this matter”! Aren’t they all stringent followers of the rulebook? Very bureaucratic, so to speak?

I discovered, however, that I’ve been either of these two styles and anything else in between on various occasions. I thought about the greatest leaders we are all familiar with. The likes of Martin Luther King Jnr, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Wangari Mathai etc. All these individuals have numerous leadership traits we can learn from. But what’s their specific leadership style? I opined that the most important thing is not to try and fit them in a certain box but to emulate the traits that make them great leaders.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ and to me He is the greatest of the great. Religious and spiritual beliefs aside, no one in history has been discussed more, had more songs and books written about or inspired more artwork. In a span of only three-and-a-half years, Jesus trained twelve of the most underwhelming individuals to lead His cause once He was gone. And none can deny the tremendous growth of that movement, 2000-plus years on!

I admire many leadership traits about Jesus, but I’ll tell you of only three.

First, Jesus led from the inside out. What do I mean? In his book, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell refers to Law #6, The Law of Solid Ground, which simply states that “Trust is the Foundation of Leadership.” To build trust, a leader must exhibit Competence, Connection and Character. In other words, Character makes Trust possible. And Trust makes Leadership possible. While we have no account of Jesus’s physical appearance, there is a whole lot on the content of his character. And that character was remarkable. People trusted him, and therefore they followed and continue to follow him.  Leadership truly is an inside job.

Second, Jesus was a Servant. Today we hear and read a lot about Servant Leadership but unfortunately, we see very little of it in action. In fact, there is a school of thought that servant leadership is itself an oxymoron. Yet, Jesus was the ultimate servant, willing to even wash His own disciples’ feet. He taught them, saying, “Whoever wants to be great must be a servant”.  Leadership is about others, not you.

Third, Jesus was a great story teller. Everyone loves a good story and Jesus knew the power of a good story. Storytelling is quick, powerful, natural, refreshing, collaborative, persuasive and memorable. Jesus told many stories in the form of parables and I’m sure most of you, if not all, seated here today can remember at least one parable. In leadership, storytelling is an effective tool when setting a vision, inspiring an organization, defining culture and values or explaining who you are and what you believe.

In conclusion, I still believe I am right to think leadership isn’t about this or that style, but rather the ability to adjust and be flexible enough to move within the spectrum of leadership styles as the situation calls for it. To quote John Donahoe “Leadership is a journey, not a destination. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a process, not an outcome.” This means we learn and adapt as we go along. I am learning every day from the very best – the quintessential leader, Jesus Christ!

Short and sweet, if I may say so myself!

For many leaders across the world, the hour of reckoning on their leadership journey has come with the COVID-19 outbreak. It is unfamiliar territory and while no-one can be expected to have all the answers, we expect them to ask the right questions, which will in turn ensure focus on the right areas. In doing so, they must lead by example, put the interests of the people they lead before their own, as well as inspire and persuade with stories of hope amidst all the angst.

Now, can you picture Jesus here and now in the fight against COVID-19? Would He even be fighting it or would He already have rebuked it like He did the wind, thereby calming the storm? How would He respond to all the suffering brought about by this pandemic? How far would His compassion go? What stories would He tell to make us better understand what’s going on?

These questions led me to a great truth. Jesus may not be physically walking the earth but He is here, represented by His followers. For those that believe in Him, it is mine and your job to do what He would have done was He physically here. We are His hands, feet and mouthpieces. What am I doing? What are you doing? Am I and are you imitating your quintessential leader?

 

 

What’s In Your Suitcase?

I am trying.

Trying to get my mind off all the negative thoughts threatening to drown me. See? I didn’t even watch the COVID-19 Presidential briefing this afternoon. But that did not help much. Exactly half an hour later when I looked at my phone, I had the entire speech. At first I worried that my home may be outside the designated Nairobi Metropolitan Area (this should make me happy, no?). Then I realised I was quickly going the path I am trying so hard to avoid. I must remain positive.

What better way than to write something?

I love TED Talks. The team at 330 Hudson Street, New York does a great job sending weekly TED Recommends, which are personally recommended TED Talks based on my interests and motivations.  This week I got Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts, which is odd since I have watched that talk at least a couple of times before. But then it hasn’t garnered 25.8 million views for nothing. It is a powerful speech. Cain, whose book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking puts a name to something many people, myself included, have felt about their life experiences, but often struggle to categorise.

But I do not want to write about introversion, extroversion or even what she calls ambiversion. I am least qualified to, anyway. However, listening to that talk today, one of the three calls to action that Cain makes as she concludes caught my attention. In addition to 1. End the madness of constant group-work, and 2. Go to the wilderness like Buddha. Have your own revelations, Cain makes the appeal to 3. Take a good look at what’s inside your own suitcase, and why you put it there.

Now, this call to action is not just for the introverts but to everyone. It got me thinking about my own metaphorical suitcase. What does it contain? Have I let the contents be seen by those around me? If no, why not? I like to think of myself as an open book but the feedback I have received over the years paints a very different picture. To date, I’ll do or say something and people who I interact with on a regular basis, will look at me like they are seeing me for the very first time. In other words, I have items in my suitcase that are not for “public consumption” or at best are reserved for those very rare moments.

Cain’s next statement challenged me. She said, and I paraphrase: while it is natural to want to keep some items in your suitcase and to guard them carefully, you should every so often take them out of the suitcase and share them with people around you because the world needs you and the things you carry. Now, that was a light-bulb moment!

We all have so much to offer. Even the Bible says so. Our gifts only differ according to the grace God has given to each of us (Rom 12:6). But our gifts are not there just for us. They are given to be shared with others. By holding back, we not only deny the gift, but also deprive those who should receive its benefits. To make matters worse, we lose the capacity to grow the gift, which comes with sharing and making room for more.

I have been listening in on my daughter’s online lessons and the teenagers’ willingness to share has left me amazed. They have appointed subject leads among themselves who take the rest of the class through difficult topics during breaks when their teachers are not there. They have learned to share, something I pray remains with them throughout their lives. It could be that my generation was socialized differently but one thing I know that holds many of us back is fear, shame and vulnerability.

We will padlock everything into our brains, afraid of sharing our thoughts even on social media. We are paralyzed by thoughts such as: What will people think? What if I offend someone? Dr Brené Brown, a research professor who has spent more than two decades studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame says:

Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen. To love with our whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee…to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, to be this vulnerable means that we’re alive.

We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable if we are to come alive. To be vulnerable means being able to tell your story wholeheartedly. This in turn, involves reaching deep into your suitcase and pulling those aspects of your identity, values and beliefs, as well as capabilities that makes you, YOU. Then sharing them with the people around you.

I love writing. Make no mistake, I’m nowhere close to the best writers that I so love to read. In fact, my self-criticism and comparison to other great writers has made me hide my head in the sand for a very long time. I started this blog back in 2014 but soon self-talked myself out of it. I now know that I don’t have to be the best to offer my unique expression to the world. I don’t have to be perfect to make a serious impact. Bringing forth the best version of ME is what matters.

I am willing to give it a shot. I am willing to work at becoming the best version of ME. This dear reader, is me saying: Consider my suitcase opened!

I only ask that you be gentle with me…

It Is Going To Be Okay

I have been chewing on Sherly Sandberg’s Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience And Finding Joy. It’s the kind of book you keep going back to for its nuggets of wisdom especially at such times as we are currently living in. Therein, I came across Nietzsche’s quote: He who has a WHY to live, can bear with almost any How. I have never heard about this guy with a hard-to-pronounce, kinda Russian name (note to self, google him) but that quote was profound. I have so many whys to live for, the fact that I am only halfway through my life not being the least of them. In the midst of Corona, can I find the hows to navigate this challenge?

In my last post, I confessed that I was feeling rudderless. Lost. Sad even. Can I get over these emotions to enable me emerge on the other side of hope, power and joy? It is not all gloom all the time, but my over-active mind often leads me to despair and forget all the lessons that have propelled me in the past. Just the other day in the month of February (seems like moons ago), I led a Toastmasters meeting themed “When Things Fall Apart”. Oh! You should have heard me quoting Pema Chodron, author of the book with the same title. I was full of it, ending with the quotable quote: The most important thing to remember and the easiest to forget is: “You’re going to be okay.”

Talk of preaching water and drinking wine! I will be quick to admit that my heart and mind are often out of sync. My heart wants to see beyond the gloom but my mind is often fixated on the numbers being spewed by CS Mutahi Kagwe, which are now bearing exponents! Not forgetting the negative messages in circulation.

I have been reading a lot lately. Getting lost in books has always been my best relaxation strategies and working from home has accorded me the much needed time to enjoy at least two books per week, as well as many online articles.

In a recent article, the Harvard Business Review interviewed David Kessler, author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief  on how to manage grief during the Corona pandemic. He talked about the five stages of grief. First, there’s denial, which was evident early on: This virus won’t affect us. Then comes anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. Then we switch to bargaining mode: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? Then sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed. And the sixth stage according to his new book is finding meaning. I guess the jury is still out on the meaning we shall find behind this Corona madness.

Clearly, I am hovering in the sadness stage. I don’t believe I have gone through the anger and bargaining stages but I’ve definitely been at the denial stage. Before March 13, as was the case with many Kenyans, Corona was a problem for other nations. While I was not so naive to think the virus does not affect Africans or that GOK was making a mountain out of a molehill for the millions of dollars in donor funding, it did seem to be a far-fetched problem. Even when the President announced closure of schools, I wondered why and thought the children, especially those in boarding schools were better of there! Thank God nobody asked for my opinion!

Kessler does make the point that the grief stages aren’t linear and may not happen in the order as stated above. Personally, I rarely get angry, choosing instead to avoid the situation or find other coping mechanisms. COVID-19 and its repercussions have yet to make me angry. While there is boredom and I do miss my usual activities and routine due to the quarantine measures, I don’t see myself rashing out at anyone or anything. But then again, Corona is a new phenomenon for everyone. Maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon lest this quarantine be the straw that broke the camel’s back!

Anywho, these grief stages reminded me of the SARAH model of change, which defines the stages majority of people go through as they adapt to change. They include shock, very closely related to denial. Then there’s anger (with all the changes humans must contend with, is it a wonder there are so many angry people in this world?). Next comes resistance (read bargaining), then acceptance and finally hope.

You see the pattern here? Grief and change may well be twins. As humans, we go through the same emotions when dealing with life-altering events. My employer has just come out of a huge corporate merger and many of the employees were and are still grappling with the change. Then Corona saunters in and disrupts things even further! Over and above putting faces to names of colleagues you must work with everyday, learn new systems and processes, I must also learn how to use tools like Zoom and WebEx to manage my telecommute. Not forgetting the risk of loss of livelihoods as companies cut back. I am definitely overwhelmed but not angry!

Which means I need mechanisms to build resilience and learn to live in this space at the door of acceptance and hope. Accepting and hoping that it’s going to be okay. That I will get through this. To learn to live peacefully in this tenuous space.

In an earlier book co-authored with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Kessler wrote:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

The Corona virus is mine and your opportunity to write our names on the wall of beautiful people. People who will, when this danger is passed, be described as stronger than all our fears combined. A people who will grieve their losses without forgetting to live with grace, dignity and love in every step. A people who will not lose hope but will fight the enemy of their time with all their might in order to leave a better world for future generations.

Writing this filled me with hope. That I am going to be okay. That we are going to be okay. True, there is turbulence ahead but we can weather it. Why? Because beautiful people do not just happen. They are made. Made by their resilience in times of loss, failure, sadness; from being to hell and back.

I am hopeful of a world surrounded by beautiful people. Therefore, I know it is going to be okay.