This blog post was not supposed to be about pandemics or self-isolation or quarantines or our uncertain times. I had prepared a draft post about freelance lawyering. But I cannot ignore how our lives have shifted. Every time my fingers touched the keyboard, I wanted to write about our new normal, and, in particular, a lesson I have learned. A lesson from a troll. Not an online troll that attacks people on social media, but an actual troll.
Thanks to Disney+, our family was able to watch Frozen II at home earlier than anticipated. I won’t spoil the movie, but something happens, and everyone is scared, and not sure what to do. The Troll King (a.k.a. Grand Pabbie) has special powers and can normally “see” things. However, this time, he cannot see the future. This, of course, freaks people out, but the troll is calm and says:
“When one can see no future…all one can do is the next right thing.”
This has been my new mantra for the last week or so. Right now, I am sure many are feeling like me, unsure of what the future holds for us, our families, our businesses. As a self-employed freelance lawyer and owner of a small business, Flex Legal, I obviously need clients to give me work (in my case lawyers and law firm clients). If I don’t get work, I don’t get paid. I’ve already noticed a severe drop off in projects coming in to Flex Legal. I also know many people who have recently started their own law firms or sole practices. They may be regretting not having the steady paycheques or partnership draws right now. It is easy to panic and start imagining what the future will look like. If you are anything like me, you may be picturing the worst. But instead of dwelling on the future I cannot see, I’ve decided to listen to a cartoon troll and do “the next right thing”.
What is the “next right thing” you can do? What is in your control right now? We can take this situation hour-by-hour or day-by-day and take small steps as we make our way to the future that we cannot see. Some of the small steps I have been taking:
Set a schedule: This helps our family do the “next right” thing throughout the day. We know when we will wake-up, have lunch, go to bed etc., just like we did pre-pandemic.
Take small steps to adjust to the new normal: I am fortunate as I do not have to adjust to working remotely. I’ve been working remotely for seven years now. However, not everyone is used to being away from their colleagues and friends. It can be isolating. Give yourself time to settle in and take small steps to find what works for you. What is the “next right thing” to make it better? Don’t like where you set up your home office? Try moving it to another room. Don’t like what you are wearing? Change into something more comfortable. Don’t like the schedule you set for yourself? Modify it.
Listen to a Favourite Song: Music has helped me a lot. I grew up in a house that listened to country music (ugh) and the day I left home I swore I would abandon it for life (and did). It’s funny how I’ve been drawn back to listen to some of the songs of my childhood, and how they have been comforting. Make a playlist of your favourite comforting songs. Have a dance party in your kitchen. No one is watching!
Take breaks: Your workday is not the same as it used to be. Yesterday I didn’t feel very productive but felt I needed to keep working as it wasn’t the “end of the day” yet. This was silly. So, the “next right thing” for me was to leave my desk and read a non-law book. I played on the computer with my daughter. I did a little laundry (full disclosure: I love doing laundry, so this was a fun break for me – yes, I am weird). Now today I feel much more productive. Take breaks from work, breaks from the kids, breaks from your spouse and do the “next right thing” for you.
If you have kids, don’t be too hard on yourself or them: We can’t teach our kids full-time, work full-time, maintain our relationships with friends and family, and stay sane at the same time as being isolated in our homes. It’s impossible. Let them watch TV, let them be on the computer more. Find the “next right thing” that works for your kids (not the kids of the parents on Pinterest or Facebook or Twitter) to help them through this.
Avoid too much social media and news: I check twice a day: once in the morning and once around dinnertime. It is easy to get sucked in. Don’t check your investments either (if you are fortunate enough to have some) and don’t dwell on the what-ifs. These small steps in monitoring what we are reading and watching can help keep us sane.
Focus on the good, but don’t ignore the bad: We are all feeling some discomfort over this situation. The Harvard Business Review posted a great article explaining that this discomfort is really grief. Grief is a process. We cannot just ignore it and pretend everything is wonderful. But also, take some time to seek out some of the good. Look at all the amazing ways the courts have promptly modernized their processes over night. Look at all the helpers out there stepping in and stepping up for the vulnerable. If my paid work does dry up, I know I can tackle other things I have been putting off, articles I wanted to write, updating websites, my 2020 Business Plan, etc. These are all small steps I can focus on that will help me take this one day at a time.
Like the Troll King, I have no idea what the future will hold. All I know is I can do “the next right thing”. What is the next right thing for you?
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of Flex Legal Network Inc., a network of freelance lawyers.