What Surgery Taught Me About Navigating the Pandemic, Business, and Life

A few weeks ago, I had to schedule a medical procedure. My diagnosis wasn’t serious, and my doctor assured me I’d bounce back fast. Going into the operation, I was pretty nonchalant. Once back home, however, I quickly ditched my blasé attitude. If the meds were working, I was comfortable but loopy. When they wore off, I was lucid but in pain. Either way, I was totally off my game.

Ten miserable days later, I was grimacing on the couch when I wondered, what can I learn from this experience? As the founder of Live Bright Now, I’m always encouraging my leadership and coaching clients to seek brightness even during dark times. I decided to heed my own advice.

Now that I’m back on my feet, I’m ready to share my takeaways. These lessons apply to any business leader trying to get through this pandemic, and they make sense for business — and life — during “normal” times, too.

Keep expectations realistic.

I’d been told I’d breeze through recovery. Those unrealistic expectations left me feeling frustrated and upset. At times, I even felt like a failure. The experience reminded me of how important it is to set realistic expectations about everything we promise to deliver — from defining project scope and setting benchmarks to developing a final product and creating strategies for iteration and improvement.

Equally important? Being realistic about what we expect from others. This is especially crucial during the pandemic when work-and-school-from-home means many of us are juggling myriad roles and responsibilities.

Ask for help.

My first few days on the couch, I couldn’t do anything for or by myself. Even when I was feeling better, I needed a lot more help from my husband than either of us had anticipated. I had to let him know what I needed (water, meds, ice) and when. I made sure to tell him how much I appreciated his efforts. When he needed a break from caretaking, he told me. In other words, we both clearly communicated about our capabilities and our limitations, and we assumed the best intentions about both.

Say no.

Sometimes, being flexible means embracing a simple word: no. Many of us struggle with this single syllable, but when I was unexpectedly laid up, I had no choice. As I canceled — sometimes with very short notice — a handful of engagements, I was struck by how gracious and understanding everyone was.

Two things helped. First, I offered as much concrete guidance as I could about how people could proceed even in my absence. That helped my clients quickly put a Plan B in place. Second, I almost never cancel anything. Having a track record of being reliable, professional, and 100% committed meant that, in Brené Brown’s words, my marble jar of trust was well stocked.

First, take care of yourself.

When I came home from the hospital, self-care simply meant pain management. But taking care of ourselves should be a priority even when we’re not in pain. When life is hectic — and, really, when isn’t it? — we can only do our best for others when we take care of ourselves first. Whatever your self-care routine is — walking in nature, doing yoga, baking brownies, or dancing wildly in your living room — make time for it regularly and often.

Focus on the long game.

For months now the pandemic has left us all grappling with some sense of grief for the life and routine that we’ve lost. My brief time as an invalid felt like a microcosm of that disruption and uncertainty. Such discomfort — physical or emotional — can be paralyzing. Yet eventually, it does shift. Healing happens when we can hang tough and trust that in time, things will change again (and hopefully for the better).

As for me, I’m almost back to my pre-op self. As I heal, I’m appreciating being able to do simple things like walk my dog around the block or carry a bag of groceries from the car. The other night, I even led a coaching team on a kayak trip under a full moon. As we paddled through the dark, still water and watched the orange orb rise, I actually felt grateful that I’d been forced to slow down, step off the hamster wheel of work and life, and think about what I could learn from my struggle.

Best of all, it felt like a gift to be back doing what I love — helping people have adventure experiences that foster communication, collaboration, and connection — even while sitting on a pack of ice.

Need help figuring out how you and your team can communicate, collaborate, and connect? Get in touch. We’d love to help. Plus, sign up to get our newest posts about bright culture, leadership, and more.

Candra Canning is the founder of Live Bright Now. She’s been coaching corporate leaders + teams to brighten their performance for 20 years. Candra believes a bright company culture creates bright leaders + bright communities — even a brighter world.

Candra Canning is the founder of Live Bright Now. She’s been coaching corporate leaders + teams to brighten their performance for 20 years. Candra believes a br