Perspective on keeping perspective

Mike Dullaghan

Mike Dullaghan
DCIO Investment Specialist, 08/26/20


  • You may feel like life and work are bouncing around out of your control.
  • Keeping your sense of self means finding structure and contact with others.
  • Reaching out and paying attention to wellness can ease anxiety.
At a recent leadership summit, a speaker asked participants to describe their work experience in the current environment of social distancing, using a simple metaphor: Are you a ping pong/table tennis player or do you feel more like the ball being hit back and forth?

That question led me to search for videos of professional ping pong competition. I enjoyed this clip, “Top Ten Best Table Tennis Points 2015-2016”. What is particularly interesting is the ferocity and finesse the players use when hitting the ball. They make split-second decisions about whether the shot requires one style versus the other.

Five months into our pandemic environment, what is your approach to work and life? Are you reacting with ferocity or finesse? Are you using the right combination of each?

Some psychologists note that one of the most common feelings during this crisis is feeling out of control.

Imagine how business owners feel. One of the stronger economies in recent memory evaporated overnight because of a shutdown to slow the pandemic. I suspect that many may say they went from feeling like the player in control of their game to being the ball getting hit back and forth.

What can we do to help?

First, as financial professionals, we must take care of ourselves. From the beginning of the pandemic, this has meant trying to digest the CARES Act on the heels of the SECURE Act while keeping business running, and maintaining a normal client review cycle. I suspect you have found yourself in manic mode (out of necessity) for a longer period than is healthy.

Second, to help yourself and help others, take an inventory of your pre- and post-pandemic relationships. Encourage your clients to do the same. In a leadership podcast from “The Global Leadership Summit,” psychologist Henry Cloud discussed two pillars of healthy living that the pandemic has interrupted: relationships and structure.

To check on your relationships, ask yourself, who did I enjoy spending time with pre-pandemic that I have lost touch with? Re-establish contact via text, email or telephone. Start the dialogue with, “I have missed being in touch, how are you and your family getting along during these interesting times?”

Dr. Cloud noted that the foundation of human existence is living in relationships with others. We are not meant to live in isolation. Don’t allow the busyness of your business during the pandemic to isolate you from relationships that were important pre-pandemic. These relationships are more important than ever. When you sense your client is feeling like the bashed and battered ping pong ball, check in with them.

Dr. Cloud also noted the violent way the structure of our daily lives has been upended is unnerving and upsetting. Therefore, as a third action, try to intentionally restore structure in our lives.

Maintain structure and contacts

I was blessed when early in the pandemic, a fellow wholesaler and dear friend, Bobby Nelms, asked, “What is your plan for the next 90 days?” Looking back I think he meant, what do you plan to do month by month to get through the pandemic over the next 90 days. I interpreted it as “What will the structure of your day look like during the pandemic?” This conversation took place nearly two months before I heard Dr. Cloud’s words of wisdom.

I texted Bobby my 12 steps of daily activity (yes I know it is ironic there are 12 steps as in “12 step program”). My list includes: start each day with quiet reflection (mine is via Bible study; do what works for you), check LinkedIn notifications, fulfill my follow-up promises, and stop working at a set time each day so I have time for myself and my family.

Since I began working from home March 13, have I drifted at times from my 12 steps? You bet. Have I gone back to my list to review what I had accomplished and what more needed to be done? Many, many times. Have I thanked Bobby for his original question? Not as often as I should.

To avoid feeling like a battered ping pong ball, lost somewhere in the corner of the garage:

  1. Take care of yourself.
  2. Re-establish and nurture relationships.
  3. Stabilize your structure with a list of daily activities.
Encourage those you care about and those you are fortunate to have as clients to do the same. I would not be where I am today without the help and wisdom of Bobby’s question.

If you want help talking through these steps, reach out to your Putnam representative. We are consultants and specialists, and are fortunate to have the stability and structure of an established global asset manager standing behind us. We are happy to share some strength from the structure of our organization with you and your clients as we work together to navigate our new normal.

Last, I would add that one of the things that has proven valuable for many during the pandemic is access to financial wellness resources. Being financially well can help employees find the structure they may be longing for during this time of economic uncertainty. As a reminder we wrote about the value of financial wellness in a previous DCIO Perspective.

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