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Oct 16, 2020

The Power of People

in category Thought Leadership

Lockdown inspired life-lessons

Stereotypes are often so for a reason – they reflect a long-observed truth.

And when it comes to young men being relatively ambivalent about the power of genuine human connection and its impact on mental well-being, it’s hard to argue to the contrary.

As a 25-year-old male, when Melbourne’s COVID-19 social distancing measures were first introduced the potential psychological ramifications of enforced isolation weren’t exactly front of mind as I listened to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews spell-out a seemingly endless list of ‘do nots’ for Victorians.

Sure, I like to think of myself as relatively informed, and I am well aware of the scourge of mental health issues in our male population. But as Daniel Andrews ticked off one-by-one the things we would no longer be able to enjoy, my mind was consumed by far more trivial concerns.

Does this mean my football season is going to be cancelled? Will UberEats still be allowed to operate? Can I seriously now wake up at 7:57am for an 8:00am meeting?

While the ensuing months would provide me answers to these inane questions (a resounding yes to all of the above, by the way), having almost all of my face-to-face interactions with those who I care about taken away from me has taught me a far more important lesson about myself:

I need other people and that is okay.

It is not like I didn’t already know this, or that before March this year I didn’t love and cherish my friends and family, but I was certainly unaware of just how much I fed off the energy of the people around me.

I think as I have grown from a brash and stubborn teenage boy into a slightly less brash, slightly more stubborn young man, I have maintained a subconscious belief that depending on others as a source of energy and motivation was a sign of vulnerability. If the activity isn’t worth doing by myself, it’s not worth doing at all right?

Wrong.

It’s not the parma and pot at the local pub that I miss – it’s the embellished stories of my friends that come with it. It’s not sitting in traffic on the way to work that I miss – it’s the inside jokes I have with my colleagues when I get to the office. It’s not running 400 metre sprints at football training that I miss – it’s being able to share the relief with my teammates once it’s over.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this entire ordeal is how this revelation has crept into my professional life as well. While I could probably have foreseen the lack of interaction with my colleagues as a potential barrier to motivation, I certainly wouldn’t have anticipated that the same could be said of my lack of interaction with clients.

Part of the appeal of being a consultant is the variety of work that you get to undertake, and the breadth of ideas, industries and people you are exposed to on a daily basis. While working from home hasn’t hindered my exposure to different ideas or industries, it has certainly curtailed my interaction with people.

Yes, the wonders of video calling technology means technically I may have seen the same amount of new faces, but interacting with people through a screen just doesn’t scratch the itch that I am only now realising I have.

Screens do little more than dull our senses. The anticipation of meeting someone new over Zoom isn’t quite the same, the feeling of satisfaction when you deliver good work to someone over Skype is a little underwhelming, and the small-talk and weather observations are somehow even less exciting over Microsoft Teams!

I guess this entire piece of self-reflection is a roundabout way of saying that by forcing us apart, I honestly believe that COVID-19 will bring us together – both personally and professionally.

I am not claiming to know what the lasting impact of COVID-19 will be on society broadly, but if I have learnt anything over the past six months, it’s that as people we are at our best when we are in the company of the people we love, and as consultants we produce our best work when we are personally invested in the people we are working for.

And that is a very important lesson to learn.