We’ve all lost so much during this pandemic. Whether reduced business, reduced time with family and friends, or the loss of lives, it’s understandable that you might struggle at times with stress, anxiety, sadness. I know I have.
This isn’t a typical episode of Thinks Out Loud. In fact, I debated multiple times whether to skip this episode and publish another topic altogether. So, I appreciate you indulging me for this week. But I wanted to check in with you on how you’re holding up. And to let you know how I’m holding up too. The honest answer is that I’m doing "just OK." Some days good; some days not. Many of the experiences that I enjoy and rely on have been gone for the better part of a year. I know I’m not alone. And, more to the point, I know that I’m actually pretty lucky compared with lots of people. Which makes me feel bad to admit that, sometimes, it’s a struggle to keep a positive attitude. Even for someone who generally sees the world — and prefers to see the world — as a glass half full.
That said, I know we’re going to get through this. There’s hope on the horizon in the form of the vaccine. Business activity is starting to pick up. Just make sure you’re taking time for yourself to make sure you’re ready when things start looking up.
Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you. And if you prefer to read, just check out the transcript below.
Show Notes and Links
Here are the show notes with links related to this week’s episode.
- Two Years of Digital Transformation in Two Months (Thinks Out Loud Episode 287)
- Marketing at the Speed of Digital (Thinks Out Loud Episode 215)
- The Conference Board Economic Forecast for the US Economy | The Conference Board
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations – Statistics and Research – Our World in Data
- SEO community mourns Hamlet Batista, advocate for automation in SEO and beloved friend
- Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19 | CDC
- Tips for Coping with Stress|Publications|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC
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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks
You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:
Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud
Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.
Running time: 18m 23s
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Transcript: How Are You Holding Up?
Before I begin, I want to let you know that I’m going to talk about myself more today than I normally do. Usually I prefer to tell stories about other people on the show, to illustrate how you can succeed by highlighting the success of other people. But today, I need to talk about myself in a more personal way.
The other thing I want to say right up front is that I recognize exactly how lucky I am. I have been incredibly fortunate in my career and even in the last year. There are many, many folks who face challenges right now that, fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with. The business is chugging along nicely. We haven’t had a record year, but that’s true of the downside as well as the upside. And 2021 is off to a solid pace. Anytime you can weather a pandemic and recession with a somewhat better than average year, you haven’t got much to complain about. So, I get that My family is healthy. My relationships are strong. I fully recognize not only how fortunate I am, but truly how blessed I am.
At the same time, it’s important to recognize when things aren’t always going so great and you’re struggling and to share those struggles with others who may be going through the same so we can all find ways to get through them together.
Now, as you might imagine, I’m an extrovert. You probably know that. One technique I’ve learned over the years is to think about what you do best, and what you bring to the world the most, as "your superpower." My superpower is explaining things to people. I think if I’m good at any one thing, it’s the ability to take complex topics and break them down for people who don’t have the time to dig into these topics on their own. I do this in lots of ways:
- I write
- I consult
- I podcast
- I teach classes
- I present at conferences
If you think about it, I literally built my career around getting paid to talk to people.
And I love many of the ancillary activities around getting to talk to people. In the year leading up to the pandemic, I flew over 85,000 miles. I visited 21 different cities in 13 different states and 5 different countries, many of them more than once and several for the first time in my life. And, business travel isn’t always fun. There are delays. There are mistakes that happen. There are people who annoy you. But no one, NO ONE, especially not me, gets on a plane dozens of times and flies tens of thousands of miles or spends weeks out of the year away from their home if they don’t love doing it.
Talking with people — and all the activities necessary to make that happen — are hugely important to me. All of these activities continue even now. Email and blogging and podcasts and videos and virtual meetings enable me to continue doing what I do best. So, again, I recognize how incredibly fortunate I am.
But in particular, I really love the parts of my job where I get to interact with individuals in real-time. It’s not that I don’t love writing or podcasting; they’re critical to my thought process and helps me organize what I think about a subject. There’s a reason why the company’s blog is called "Thinks." And why this podcast is called "Thinks Out Loud." Whether I’m writing or a member of my team is, putting pen on paper or fingers on keyboard or voice on record, getting ideas out of our heads and into a form where we can see them, touch them, hear them, helps me figure out whether what we’re all thinking around here makes any sense at all.
The problem with writing and with podcasting, and, even to some degree with virtual meetings is that they lack real-time feedback, the real-time interactions with human beings on whether the things I think hold water. You lose many of the questions you’d otherwise get. You lose many of the interactions, the laughs or sideways looks. You lose much of the body language that tells you whether what you’re thinking and saying makes any difference at all.
Nothing provides better feedback that you haven’t thought something through than a sea of skeptical faces frowning at some new idea. Sometimes those faces simply signal that I haven’t explained the idea sufficiently enough. And sometimes they’re a sign that I’ve got more work to do at understanding the topic myself. And in either case, the room as a whole gets smarter, the idea gets polished, and we’re all better off for the process.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I haven’t been in a room full of people — whether a board room, a ball room, or a class room — in almost a year. I haven’t been on an airplane in 323 days. I haven’t stayed in a hotel in 223 days. And yes, I counted.
I haven’t learned something with a new person in person in months. And as you might imagine, as someone who thrives on those interactions, on using the friction of human connection to refine the rough edges of my thinking, to refine the rough edges of my person, it’s beginning to take a toll. I’m finding I’m more stressed, more anxious, and, yes, more sad most days than is typical for me. Anyone who listens to this show knows I like to find the upside and the humor in any situation. I also recognize that I’m finding that’s tougher and tougher lately.
Some of that is likely because there’s been lots and lots of bad news over the last year. I also recognize that a chunk of that is because of how I’m reacting to it. And, I’ve started to come to the realization that a chunk of those reactions have been increasingly glum.
That’s normal. I get it. We’re all a little sadder right now. We wouldn’t be human if we weren’t. And, yes, there’s hope on the horizon. The innovation that brought effective vaccines to the world as quickly as they have is nothing short of a miracle. When I talk about why I’m optimistic for the future generally, examples like the development of these vaccines prove my point. And, even with an initially poor rollout, we’re starting to see real progress in terms of getting shots in arms. We’re starting to see that the economy is beginning to show some green shoots that suggest the latter part of 2021 might turn out to be a pretty good year overall. These are objectively good events that ought to create optimism for many, many people around the country and around the world.
Also, it doesn’t change how I feel. And what I miss. And what I long for. And, as I remind myself pretty much every day, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m incredibly grateful for the gifts that I’ve gotten.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the businesses that have gone under. All of the business that are still around. All the business owners who are struggling to keep the lights on. All the employees who’ve lost their jobs. All the parents trying to figure out how to do their work and help their kids learn remotely. All the families who have lost loved ones. And I keep asking myself, are we — am I — doing enough to help those who need it most?
I know I’ve tried. But because there’s so much more I need than I’m able to get, I suspect there’s so much more I can do too.
Now, digital helps with many of these things. But even when it does its job perfectly, there’s a learning curve for those unfamiliar with its benefits. There’s added stress in understanding how to put these tools to work. There’s one more notification, one more task, one more to-do that users must deal with on top of any work or money or emotional stress that they’re is facing.
I often quote philosopher Paul Virilio’s phrase, "When you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck…" And what I’ve been going through and working through the last few weeks or months has forced me to question, when faced with a shipwreck, have we invented the right ship? I’m learning and re-learning, more and more every day, that we don’t just need tools. We need the right support systems for those tools. We need insights into what makes those tools necessary and valuable for our customers and our communities. We need understanding of the human beings who use these tools so that they don’t just add a task, they remove a burden. We need wisdom to understand that digital without humanity isn’t worth having. It’s just more clutter in our lives.
The world moves faster every day. We’ve seen immense change in the last year. As the quote goes, we’ve seen 2 years of digital transformation in 2 months or ten years of digital transformation in 10 months or even more. Yes, business can move at the speed of digital. That’s what I’ve built my whole career on.
But people can’t always do the same. They worry about what they leave behind… especially if, like me, what they’re forced to leave behind is part of what makes them special, is how they define themselves, is their super-power.
I’m optimistic that the things that I love will return. Maybe not completely and undoubtedly with some differences. Board rooms and ball rooms and class rooms and hotels and airplanes and cities and states and countries already are incorporating digital and virtual into their environments in ways both familiar and foreign. Many of these changes will be better. They will. Newer, shinier ships on which we will sail towards the future.
Some of these changes, though, will not and instead will represent the rocks and shoals upon which your ships will founder and fall. That’s life. Ships and shipwrecks. They’re kind of the peanut butter and chocolate of our life’s adventures. They just go together naturally.
And so What I keep reminding myself is that what I need to do, we need to do, is to take the time to listen to what our friends and our family and our fans and our followers are saying. And, more importantly, take the time to understand what’s behind their words.
How are they handling these changes? How are they holding up? How are they coping with the enormous changes to their lives and world? Are they ready to step aboard a new ship? Or do they need the time and support to bring with them those things that matter most in their lives? Are you taking the time to check in with these people to make sure you’re moving at a pace that works for them?
And, at the same time, are you taking the time the check in on yourself and make sure you’re good too? Because you can’t lend anyone a hand to climb aboard if at the same time you’re sinking.
I started today by saying I was going to talk more about myself this time. And, in that spirit, I’ve spent time in the last handful of weeks working to come to terms with my feelings, my grief — and that really is the right word — of what I’ve lost over the last year. I’m taking the time to recognize and acknowledge that I feel more sad, I feel more anxious, I feel more stressed lately than is "normal" for me as well as the reasons why. And while I don’t yet feel comfortable getting back on the road and back in the room with people, I am taking steps to focus on my mental health, on my happiness. Like many things, it’s not a destination, it’s a journey. It’s a process. Even talking about it with people close to me and to you helps. Because it helps get it out of my head into a form that I can examine, I can look at, I can understand. And, again, I know I’m one of the lucky ones here.
So what I really want to say, what’s most important for me to say, for those of you having a tough time, find someone supportive to talk to. Find ways to make time for yourself. Even if you have to go sit in the car for a minute and crank up the radio and sing along with it (and yes… I have done that) or stand outside in the snow or walk in the park or binge watch Bridgerton. Or Whatever works for you that’s healthy. Take a minute to acknowledge what you’ve lost in the last year. Take some time to understand what that loss means to you. Think about what you want it to look like as we begin to dig out of the pandemic. And, when you’re ready, start thinking about a plan for how you get where you want to go.
Just don’t push yourself too hard until you’re ready to. The point isn’t to pile another straw on the camel’s back. For now, do what you can to get comfortable with where you are so that, when you’re ready, you can start to get comfortable with where you want to go. I know we’ll get there. Just don’t be afraid to talk to someone if you need to.
Before I wrap up for this week, I’d also like to take a moment to recognize that one of the truly great people in the SEO and digital marketing community, a guy by the name of Hamlet Batista, passed away last week due to Covid. I knew Hamlet a little bit. He was a good, kind, lovely man, who worked hard to make the world better for all the people around him. I’ll miss him. And I know I’m not alone in that. I encourage you to keep his family and his team at RankSense in your thoughts.
And if you’ve lost someone, or even if you’re struggling right now, I’ll keep you in mine.
I hope you stay safe, I hope you stay well. And I hope you take time for yourself. Let me know how I can help. You know where to find me. And I really want to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for listening. As I said several times this show, I know exactly how lucky I am. I really appreciate you tuning in. Don’t worry, I’ll be back next week with a more regular episode. But until then, stay well, stay safe, and as ever, take care everybody.