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Have to/Get to: A critical shift for youth work amidst crisis

Lahna Pottle

26 May, 2020

 

How do we cope amidst the chaos, fear and confusion wrought by the coronavirus crisis? Lahna Pottle reflects on a small shift that made a dramatic difference for her work.

 

Some time ago my colleague asked me how I was doing with all of the chaos going on. I told her that I was feeling remarkably unimpacted by everything. And I did. I felt more numb than anything else perhaps, and other than anticipating some changes – I felt truly fine. But then, in just one week, I tumbled from “fine” to “absolutely not ok”. A health scare in my family, the reality of isolation in a flat on my own for weeks, fears about youth work not working, like dominoes they tumbled one by one. Each fear triggered another, and I felt unable to pick myself up or stop the cascading fears. I was left feeling more anxious, sad, frustrated and hopeless than I have in years. I couldn’t stop my mind from going over everything that was changing, everything I was missing out on, the things I was losing, the people I was distanced from.

Sadly, I suspect I am not the only person who has been feeling something akin to this recently. It’s a feeling ultimately of losing control over things we once had.

 

One afternoon I was zooming my friend (is this now a real word?) and explaining how low I suddenly was feeling. I explained that try as I might I just couldn’t seem to shift it. I would watch a funny video and feel a brief respite, but as soon as the video was over, that sinking feeling would return. I opened up and explained that I felt completely unmotivated to work or to think about new youth work ideas. I felt weighed down and unable to shake it off. As we continued to chat, in a brief moment of recollection I had a complete epiphany! “I guess I need to remember to change my ‘have to’ into a ‘get to’ again”. Let me explain.

"I was left feeling more anxious, sad, frustrated and hopeless than I have in years. I couldn’t stop my mind from going over everything that was changing, everything I was missing out on, the things I was losing, the people I was distanced from...It’s a feeling ultimately of losing control over things we once had."

 

A few months ago, I saw one of those “inspiration” quotes on Instagram that I usually skim read, roll my eyes at, before swiftly scrolling on. But this one stopped me dead in my tracks. It said, “what if you changed your ‘have to’ into ‘get to’”. I read, and then reread it a few times. I remember genuinely thinking of different scenarios in my head and trying it out. It really shook up my way of thinking. I get to walk to work, I get to plan small group, I get to go into schools, I get to chat to this parent. It became a really helpful tool for shifting my perspective on things I “have to” do. I tried to catch myself when I was feeling that sense of resignation, apathy or when something felt like a chore. I would say in my head, and on occasion out loud, “I get to do this!” In those few weeks I found it made a surprisingly profound difference to my mindset, my mental health, and my attitude going into things.

Now I was sat talking to my friend over Zoom, and I suddenly remembered that whole concept again, and it felt necessary to me now more than ever. After the call I took some time to practise it: I get to work from home. I get to re-invent the youth work. I get to challenge myself. I get to rest. I get to connect with friends I haven’t connected with in a while. I get to start from scratch. I get to figure out a new routine.

The “have to/get to” switch doesn’t change how heart-breaking and worrying the Covid-19 pandemic is. It also doesn’t stop the real-life consequences it is causing. But in a world that feels very out of control, one little thing we can control is how we approach these changes. And that little thing can have a huge impact on our feeling of hope going forward.

 

So what could this look like?

  • I have to start from scratch / I get to start from scratch
  • I have to do things differently / I get to do things differently
  • I have to try using to new technology / I get to try using new technology
  • I have to keep up with young people more / I get to keep up with young people more
  • I have to work with my family or friends around / I get to work with my family or friends around
  • I have to be creative / I get to be creative
  • I have to establish a new weekly routine / I get to establish a new weekly routine
  • I have to work from home / I get to work from home
  • I have to find new resources / I get to find new resources
  • I have to drink coffee at home / I get to save money. Ok, that one’s a joke (but also pretty real)
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash
 

Imagine if this mindset was how we could start every day. Imagine the feeling of hope, optimism, and excitement that would come with seeing the opportunity and possibility in this new way of working.

So how do we create this new mindset?

I found the most difficult aspect of this is remembering to use the “have to/get to” switch, and catching myself when I’m feeling most in need of it. Here are some of the things I find most helpful for using this fresh perspective:

Reflect on the day gone and the day ahead. It’s sometimes hard to know when we are feeling anxious about things, and what those things are. Build time into your day to reflect on the day that has gone, and the day that is ahead. The Ignatian practice of the daily Examen is an incredible spiritual tool for spotting where we are feeling disconnected, lonely, empty, or unhappy.

Build it into your day. Set a “have to/get to” alarm on your phone to go off at particular times of the day. Build it into your morning routine. Schedule it in your calendar. Stick it on a post-it note where you will see it each day.

Encourage friends. Share this tool with your friends and ask that they gently encourage you to use it when they notice that you need it most. Sharing it with friends may also make a huge difference to them.

Make it visible. Out of sight, out of mind is truly the case for me. If I need to remember something, I need to see it. So write it down, have it as your phone wallpaper or laptop desktop, write it in your journal, put it on your fridge or cupboards.

This change in language is tiny, the change in habit small, yet the change it can create in our feeling of hope going forward at this time is not to be underestimated. We get to be youth workers at this crucial time. We get to be light-bearers and hope-heralds.

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