The yo-yo

At various points over the last week or so, my hopes (and maybe yours?) have been dashed.

COVID cases decline steadily . . . and then start climbing in many states. The stock market rises inexorably, coming oh-so-close to returning to its February high point . . . and then retrenches.

After the emotion of the moment passes – and after I tear myself away from a dopamine-fueled hunt for some positive nugget of new information in the news – I realize the trap that I had set for myself:

I attached my emotional well-being to the inevitable yo-yo of volatility that’s inherent in any crisis.

I can’t help it if the virus spreads (or doesn’t) or the economy resumes (or doesn’t). And fixating on those externalities distracts me from the things I actually can influence.

I should know better. When I delivered my “Confronting the Crisis” webinar on March 19, when our virus-ridden fears were still raw, I talked about setting one or two goals within your control. It was the most-quoted section of the presentation. I shared that one of my goals was losing 10 pounds.

What followed wasn’t linear progress. Emotional eating meant I actually packed on a few extra, just to make the goal tougher. But I got there this week. So have a few readers who shared their personal victories with me.

The volatility will continue. And, in PR terms, things are about to get even further out of our control. At the same time media outlets are contracting, gargantuan news cycles and promotional machines are revving up. In addition to continued focus on COVID and racial justice, media will be coping with the election. Add on lifestyle and culture, and we’re looking at weekends in October with: NBA and Major League Baseball playoffs, college and pro football games, a new Avengers movie, on top of breaking election news. And the equivalent in arts, fashion and consumer product launches.

Or not, because of the virus. See how worrying about the yo-yo can make you feel powerless? It’s not really practical to set the typical metric-driven goals that got you to this point in your career.

Instead, pick a few professional goals entirely within your control, and focus on them. Here’s an example that helped me. I was preparing for the webinar I delivered earlier this month. Typical Michael would have set a measurable goal to attract more attendees than ever before. But I had no idea how the dramatic shifts in society would affect my audience’s behavior. Instead, I focused on “making this webinar as interesting, engaging and useful as I possibly can.” That aspiration drove me to do things entirely within my control, such as: focus-group the title and bullet points; write out the key concepts and time it, then cut the fluff; practice it in front of real people and incorporate their feedback. If you watched the finished product, you can judge for yourself whether I achieved my goal or not. But I’ll tell you, working on it that way sure felt better than checking the webinar dashboard every day and wringing my hands about the number of registrants.

May the coming months be full of growth and reward for you, regardless of the circumstances life throws at you.

This article was originally published on June 17, 2020

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