Like many of us at the moment, I am finding our current COVID way of life to be both confusing and challenging. I find that I swing from being intensely grateful for so much in my life to having feelings of underlying anxiety and sadness.

On a recent morning walk, I looked up at the sky and was blown away by the sight of the most beautiful wattle tree. It was in full bloom with thousands of tiny yellow fluffy flowers framed by a bright blue sky. My spirits lifted as I experienced a huge sense of hope for the future as I contemplated this beautiful piece of nature that comes back year after year – and the thought that came to me was “this (current COVID situation) too will pass”. This last comment has often helped me through challenging times when I’ve felt that the current situation was incredibly hard to bear.

In my coaching sessions with clients over these last months, I’ve spent a lot of time with leaders who are feeling immense pressure. This has been compounded recently by the Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne. I had an extraordinary experience with such a client a few days ago which made me feel really hopeful for the future. My client is a senior leader working in a particularly complex health related environment. We’ve had a few sessions in which she has seemed depressed, verging on burnout and in a pretty dark place. She’s talked a lot about how unhappy she is in her role but how she’s felt unable to move on, particularly in the current climate. She has mentioned on many occasions that everything felt difficult and hopeless – and that she had no options other than to stay working in her current job. She also mentioned that her family lived in another country and she was feeling increasingly lonely and desperate about when she would see them again.

In our last session, I had a sudden instinct to ask her the following question: “If I were to give you a magic wand right now, what would your life look like?” As I asked the question, I wondered if I’d ventured too far into the optimistic space. However, her reply was astonishing. She sat up straight, she started to smile, her entire physique relaxed and I saw a side of her that hadn’t been at all visible in any of the sessions we’d had before. She started to tell me about a vision for her future which she had planned in enormous detail and which clearly excited her hugely. However, she said “Of course this could never happen – it’s just a dream”.

In my many years of coaching experience, I have rarely seen such an extraordinary immediate change in someone as I saw in her, so I was definitely not going to be side-tracked by her negative comment, and I started to explore the possibilities of the “dream“. I am happy to report that by the end of our coaching program she was actively planning how to make her vision come to fruition and who was going to support her on this new journey. She was so hopeful about the possibilities in her future – and said she had renewed purpose in her life.

I am reminded of Jon Owen’s words (the CEO of Wayside Chapel):

“We are going to be living with COVID restrictions for a long time yet. One of the books that helps me through these weird and tough days is Viktor Frankl’s Search for Meaning. He lost his wife and parents in a concentration camp and he worried about losing his own sanity, his own self. During his time in the camp he observed that those who lost purpose and hope would not last long, even if their bodies were healthy. Our ability to endure through times that feel like they will never end, is to assert and shout, “We’ll meet again”. I would recommend you saying this out loud to those from whom you cannot meet just now. If you are in complete isolation, then say it to your cat or the sky, but say it.”

We mustn’t give up hope in these challenging times.