Don’t blow out the birthday candles, there’s a virus you know.

Don’t blow out the birthday candles, there’s a virus you know.

​I was surrounded by twenty something small and very loud 7 year old’s as I placed the candles on Charlie’s tiger birthday cake. Their demands were insistent, requests for the biggest piece, an ear, the nose. It was one of those moments that people remind you to enjoy, because it goes by so fast.

He’s 7 now. They were right. It goes by so fast.

It hadn’t mattered that I’d forgotten the matches to light the candles. The winds, having already sent the paper plates into the air, meant there was zero chance of keeping the candles alight.

Charlie, with his infinite wisdom and his sweet wit, quipped that it didn’t matter he didn’t have candles to blow out because he shouldn’t blow on the cake “because of the virus.”

Yet another one for the “out of the mouth of babes” file.

Since Covid emerged and altered our lives, Charlie has made some glorious and profound statements, starting when he first declared that when he grows up he wants to be “an essential worker.” This is a child who looks at life through sunshine lit lenses and I could listen to his stories forever. Keep talking I think. Keep coming to me to tell me what is in your head and in your heart. The comment about blowing on the cake was another reminder of how he has adjusted and adapted to all that has happened this year. Resilience is a life skill and the pandemic has provided plenty of lessons for us to learn from.

Charlie is a long way from entering the workforce, but I have been thinking of the class of 2020, and more specifically, that in 2021 I will be interviewing some of these school leavers. We talk a lot about qualities that are highly regarded in the workplace and most often it is around resilience, adaptability, persistence, and determination. When I think of the Class of 2020 and what they have had to deal with, it has been quite an extraordinary year. ATAR, learning from home, formals and graduations cancelled. I’ve said a few times this year that it is a cohort I’m looking forward to interviewing because they are going to be able to bring so much value to the workplace next year.

But it is not just the school leavers though because all of us, employers, employees, school leavers, have had to embrace 2020 in unexpected ways. This year will go down as the one where we had to readjust behaviours and do things differently. Where standing in line at the shop meant standing on a cross on the floor and plans we had for a birthday dinner cancelled. We had to get use to working from home, learning from home, isolating at home. No hugs, closed borders, breaking news, flattening curves, numbers climbing. We had to get used to it being the strange and the surreal and we learnt that even what is normality is no longer a certainty.

But with change comes growth and I’ve witnessed this in recent times as I have worked with employers and candidates who are moving forward, slowly, and cautiously making their way towards the future. Resilience is a competency that serves us well in all aspects of our lives including our work. The ability to cope under pressure and respond to adversity is a competency highly regarded but often underestimated.In her book “Any Ordinary Day” Leigh Sales writes “To spur growth, it must be seismic; it must shake you to your core and cause you to fundamentally rethink everything you believe. The higher the level of stress caused by the event, the greater the potential for change.” Published in pre Covid times, this book is surely the manifesto for these times.

Last week I was interviewing a candidate who had recently been made redundant. She was emotional, the experience leaving her raw and vulnerable.I spoke of my theory about job loss and grief and she nodded in agreement, blinking back the tears, trying not to cry. I gave her permission to do so and she was surprised by this. Vulnerability though is another competency and one we would do well to embrace. It has long been considered that to show our vulnerable side in a work context is to highlight our weaknesses and in doing so, we highlight our incompetency. I have never believed this.

Our real and authentic selves is what makes us whole and my favourite conversations are the ones that transcend the small talk and facades. To be the best version of ourselves is to accept the totality of who we are, and this includes our light and dark days and all that is grey in between. To act without perfection.

If we can be ourselves in the workplace we build greater trust and stronger, more meaningful connections.

Perhaps it is because the pandemic has had such an impact, that no one has been immune, literally, and metaphorically. The idea that we have been ‘all in this together’ has made showing our vulnerabilities easier.

Safety in numbers so to speak.

For me, my relentless pursuit of being in control has mostly been my unravelling this year. This has been my narrative, my tipping point, to not have the answers and to admit this. It has also been my awakening, that it is okay to be a leader who doesn’t have the answers. What I do have though is an unwavering belief that amidst the chaos of the pandemic there is a way through it. I realise I write this from a place of privilege, I have a business, employees, a healthy family; but optimism has always been my currency and what I have seen this year has reminded me of the beauty of hope.

To talk to candidates who have been made redundant, but are looking forward to a new opportunity, to speak with leaders who are empathetic and encouraging and to listen to my son’s innocent and simple wisdom.

One day we will no longer hold a breath when the news come on, the borders will re-open, there will be planes in the sky, we will re-enter life, with hopefully more resilience and less fear of vulnerability.

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