My Hot Mess: Sarah RobinsonIn a series called My Hot Mess, inspired by the Wall Street Journal, we’ll speak to communicators around the globe about the things they’re doing right now to get through this hot mess we call life.

Today we talk to Sarah Robinson about how she’s coping during a pandemic. Check back every Friday to learn about a new victim communicator and how they’re coping during this crazy time.

My Children

As a single mom to two boys (ages 11 and 17), figuring out how to parent them and still bring home the bacon has proven to be one of my biggest challenges.  

Let me say before I start that I adore my children. I had them with me non-stop for the first three weeks of this crisis. Making the adjustment was a bumpy road, mostly for me, but it also gave us time to work out something that looks like a routine.

Here’s how we are making it work:

First, they have a few non-negotiable household responsibilities. One of them is keeping the kitchen straight every day.

Because they are the generator of most of the dirty dishes, this seems fair.

Our challenge is that my definition of a straight kitchen differs from theirs, so we’ve learned to negotiate a standard that is a stretch for them and minimally acceptable to me.

They are also in charge of all animal care.

Two dogs—one eighty-five-pound monster who thinks she’s a puppy and one 14-year-old deaf, partially blind monarch whose back legs don’t work very well—and a two-year-old bearded dragon. The dragon is my mother’s fault, but we’ll get to her in a minute.

Their last responsibility is to prepare one evening meal per week as a team.

So far, they’ve mastered basic spaghetti, pasta carbonara, and hard-boiled eggs. 

We love Jamie Oliver’s recipes because they are so simple and delicious. 

Before you think we sound like the Brady Bunch, I’ll also tell you that there have been arguments, tears, slammed doors, and all-around bad attitudes.

I wish I could say only my children were party to these, but there have been days when my ability to cope well has simply failed me.

Hopefully, by showing them that having a range of responses on any given day is OK, that will outweigh the damage I will be paying for in therapy bills for the rest of their lives.

My Mom

My mom is 90, fiercely independent, and lives alone. I am the only one of my siblings who lives in the same town with her.

At the beginning of this, she flew to Florida (I was adamantly opposed) to see one of my brothers for a long weekend.

This put her in quarantine for two weeks upon her return. 

Quarantine was really hard for her. She is the extrovert in the family, so she needs to be around people more than the rest of us.

My boys taught her to use FaceTime and she calls them on it regularly—often at the most inopportune times. 

She collects bad jokes and loves to share them. My children are good sports and humor her.

As time has worn on, the isolation is getting to her.

Some of her friends aren’t taking the stay-at-home order as seriously as we are (I have an asthmatic in the house) so they see their family members on a regular basis.

I’m feeling the pressure to fill her need for more interaction. 

I did set up her laptop so she could easily use Zoom (used hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes—the whole nine yards) because many of her social groups have quickly moved to that platform.

(Color me impressed with all the seniors who are boldly learning to use technology, by the way.)

Thank goodness this has filled some of the hours she spends alone.

I still haven’t found the right balance between being a good daughter, parenting my children, running my business, and simply processing this global pandemic. 

I am trying to be gentle with myself on this.  

Being gentle with myself is one of my big lessons right now. 

I’ve never been good at that.

The only way I can manage all that I have to manage is lower my expectations of how well I’ll accomplish it or if I’ll accomplish it at all.

I’m also learning that if we are all going to make it to the other side of this thing, doing my best is all I can ask of myself.

My Work

To say my work was thrown into chaos would be an understatement.

I do speaking, workshops, and consulting and contracts for live training and speaking engagements evaporated before my eyes.

(I’m not alone in this. Most every speaker I know is going through a similar experience.)

My least favorite word right now is pivot.

Not because it isn’t an excellent word but because it is used for absolutely everything.

Everyone is surveying the business landscape with the intensity of a sniper, trying to find what will work to keep their businesses viable.

The biggest challenge with that is we have no idea what we are looking for.

No one has ever been in this place before so there’s no data, not modeling, no history to tell us what is likely to work.

Uncertainty is difficult to manage under the best of circumstances.

Uncertainty during an unprecedented global pandemic can stop even the most seasoned expert in his or her tracks.

The best solution I’ve found is really simple: create forward momentum.

Even if I’m not sure if it is the “right” step” or the “right” direction, any and all forward movement is good.

If it’s the right thing, yay for me.

If I discover it’s not the right thing, now I know that and can step out in a different direction. 

Any forward motion combats inertia.

Things That Have Helped My Hot Mess

  • Setting a small, achievable goal every day. I’ll ask myself, “When the day ends, what one thing has to happen to make it a good day?” and I do whatever the answer is. 
  • Playing Tiny Uno. One of my sons got a tiny deck of Uno cards for Christmas. All three of us play every, other night. We laugh, we strategize, we win, we lose, and we just have fun. Having fun is really important to me right now.
  • Checking in with my friends. I’m an introvert (I am, even if you don’t think I am), so I don’t need long drawn-out conversations. Just a quick check in like “You OK today?” “Yep, I’m good right now. You?” is all I need.  
  • “Doing” my hair. My hair is ridiculously long right now. With no haircut in sight, there are only two options: 1) wear it in a ponytail or 2) “do” it with hot rollers or a curling iron. I feel better about myself if I take the time to do it and I feel certain my Zoommates appreciate the extra effort.
  • Reminding myself that doing my best right is enough. 

There are so many messages flying around that we should be over-achieving right now.

At first, I felt guilty because I couldn’t figure out how to create my magnum opus with all my “free time” during COVID.

Then I decided that the people who post messages like that aren’t single moms with an aging parent whose business took a major hit.

My best, whatever that looks like on any particular day, is absolutely enough.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich