Holidays and calendar changes are often the time to take stock, incorporate new lessons, decide to dust off, and move on. Now that we are in winter (for us in the Northern Hemisphere), I am writing to ask people to share your breathing lessons. How will you cope with more of this change?

I am pulling out all the tools to navigate. Years of practice in reset are helpful, but some change is good. There are countless articles on how people are coping (seriously read Brene Brown!). Some are even suggesting that we throw out the handbook.

I’ve made it my own project to find optimism. I used to be far more sparkly and energetic. Now, like many, I am just working on day by day. I’ve ditched most of my personal plans this year, but still achieved a huge life goal. Yet, every day I hold a cup of tea in my hands and count to 10 to remind myself that it is ok to not always be ok.

I’d love to hear about your efforts (feel free to add these in the comments). We are stronger if we share tactics. You never know who you might inspire with your little ritual or survival skills as we all learn breathing lessons.

Stages of 2020

It seems like the whole year has been a mix of rollercoasters and “batten down the hatches as more storms coming” pace. My mind is saturated from action.

As a humanitarian, while some people slowed down, our efforts sped up. We convened large events to bring people together to share experiences and join in solidarity. From March until June, I didn’t bake bread or take time to breathe. Beautiful volunteers and staff worldwide shared their stories about delivering food to the elderly, responding to emergencies, and fighting loneliness. At one fragile point, I started to cry. Ugly cry.

My job on the team was to digitally produce these events and coordinate the teams of technical, communications and interpretation leads. Someone was speaking in Spanish and English about how hard things were in Spain. His voice cracked and he was sick. It hit me hard — here I am doing my little bit using technology and production skills to help convene and connect.

My whole year with the Solferino team has been focused on hosting and coaching these types of activities. People joined my ‘virtual teaching hospital’ to learn and then use these skills. I was so focused on helping humanitarians and health workers that I did not take full care of myself. Every time I was too tired to restart I thought about those volunteers around the world cheering up their neighbours with song and support. If they could do this, then we should all do our part. I thought about my health care worker sister and my friend, the ER doctor. They were doing their part. We all should. But 2020 is not a normal year. And, we cannot cope normally. How we make sense of our role and ourselves needs a microscope and stellar focus.

The Great Escape

Whatever your patterns, you’ve likely spent some time escaping be it in: work, tv, sports, video games, or some other thing. Someone asked me if I picked up any new hobbies this year. I laughed. The main new thing I added was losing at Scramble to my close friend. Seriously, I’ve lost at least 1,000 games. Anyway, I’ve been so exhausted from people walking through convening spaces that I could not even imagine having time or headspace for anything beyond keeping my emotional lights on and planning the next thing.

Watching funerals on Facebook:or something on my 2020 wish list? Many of us have had to ‘do life’ online. It took me 2 months to use Facebook again to reconnect with friends and family. I just could not shrug the grief. After a while, it was clear that grief of experience and natural life patterns joined up with exhaustion.

In August, I took a holiday and could not sit still, exhale, or relax. I had rewired my brain and life for action that it surpassed the joy of downtime. Like many I hit a wall and got help. Now I jokingly call this stage of 2020 — the great evisceration.

There has simply been too much time with ourselves and deep in our lives/minds. Fortunately my family, friends and coworkers were there to support me. If we can manage more people in our personal space, there are incredible communities helping each other.

There are statistics about single people, people getting help, and people escaping in some shape or form. Now I was a number. Someone who needed to stop, recover, and share that it was ok to not be 180%.

Everyone has got a story this year of these little moments. I miss all kinds of things from my previous life. But most of all I miss that I felt ok more often than not.

Hyper awareness of self, people and the world can be beautiful and exhausting. Trying to just ‘be’ during this type of pandemic is a daily effort. One little cough. COVID. Strangers walking near my bubble. COVID. Friends got COVID. By September, I was toast. We ran a 31 hour event across multiple languages and timezones (with 10,000 registrants). Many lessons were instilled about convening people.

I had gone for walks every day, My boundaries needed to be revisited and reshaped. Just because achieving, connecting, and doing are important, health was even more so. I had always been connected and, most of all, I thought I was doing important work.

Reframing our relationships in our lives and with ourselves is the biggest 2020 win. With such a big focus on global, domestic emergencies and health, self-care is even more essential. That pace of reconnection, observation and exploration can only happen if we take time. Empathy and vulnerability are key. And, gosh, do we have time now.

Stop Making Sense

To reintegrate into life, I set up new rituals or restarted ones from long ago healing times. I tried to add new adventures and changes each week. The biggest fail was that vegan yogurt — don’t mess with breakfast. I opted instead for planning a new recipe each week. Even the strongest of us has had to find new breathing lessons.

Years ago before I started traveling so much, I used to read travel books incessantly. Now, I think the internal exploration is just as rich and renewed. As for changes, well apparently the ‘home spa Sundays’ were a win. Watching the endless versions of joy found in Jersulema reminded me to find hope again. But as I ease into my pile of winter reads, I am thankful and grateful.

Sensemaking. Making sense of the world starts with each of us. Even the things we cannot register or process are ok. Some things will never truly make sense. That’s also ok. Surely there will be time enough to reflect and hear each other’s stories. Societies have renewed all kinds of efforts by sharing and convening. While we cannot do this in person this year, maybe the joy in trying new things will help us find our path.

Again, please do share your ideas on what you are doing to keep sane and smiling…sometimes. Whenever possible.


Heather Leson is driven by the mandate: “Imagine this world if we all lent a digital hand.” As a technologist, she is focused on social impact with digital strategy, leadership development, human-centered design, social entrepreneurship, transformation, and innovation methodologies. At the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Heather coordinates global Data Literacy programs and co-leads the Digital Strategy work stream. This year she co-lead the team which delivered IFRC’s first Digital Transformation strategy for 192 National societies and the IFRC Secretariat. She was a Board Member of both OpenStreetMap Foundation (2 years) and board member Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (4 years).

For more sensemaking about how the pandemic is affecting our modes of working, living, loving, learning, leading, and liminal stages, or to contribute your own thoughts and content, go to the Grey Swan Guild , join our Global League of Sensemakers and sign up for our updates and programs.

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