At some point in the pandemic lockdowns, I stopped wearing jewelry.
I quit doing a lot of things, so much so that dropping the jewelry went unnoticed for a long while.
We rode out the pandemic in Ontario, Canada, which imposed some of the strictest and longest lockdowns on the planet.
Our family spent several months under a Stay At Home order, and my sons’ high school had been closed off and on for 20 weeks by the end of the 2020/21 school year. Our government had even launched a snitch line at one point, so you could rat out the neighbours if they went to the park or had kids over to play (even at a distance) in the backyard.
I stopped grocery shopping in person. Quit picking up meals at restaurants. There was no point in even going for a walk; not once the “enhanced measures” that allowed police to stop and question anyone found outside their home came into effect. Yes, that was a real thing here.
Choosing the right earrings or fussing over this necklace or that didn’t seem like a good use of time then.
And yet, I had so much time and so little to do with it that – after reaching the end of Netflix – I poured myself into a ridiculous amount of work and stopped doing just about everything else.
No more journaling. I got out of bed and dove straight into crisis mode at work.
No need to dress up. We were a tight-knit team at work who saw one another in every state, at every hour.
And thank the goddesses for dry shampoo, because even showering felt like a Herculean task in those darkest days of the lockdowns.
I’d grown tired of baking bread (come on, we all tried it), crocheting, video games, painting, and even reading and writing. As the alerts and updates became more insistent and the daily illness and death counts rose, everything else just began to feel very inconsequential.
What was my own bit of unhappiness and boredom in the grand scheme of things, really?
Other people have real problems right now, you know.
And so I worked. I added a full-time job onto my self-employment/agency workload. Work was familiar, comforting, and somewhat predictable (even when it wasn’t). It gave me a renewed sense of purpose. As long as I was busy with work, I could block out a lot of other things.
We had meetings – A LOT of meetings – and no one expected anyone else to get dressed up for them. Our team was geographically dispersed across 5 or 6 countries and even more timezones. We worked hard and were gracious with the challenges others were facing.
Working parents with no school for kids to go to, immunocompromised colleagues who couldn’t go out even if their governments allowed it, people who couldn’t get access to vaccines.
The troubling social movements going on around us. Friends and family turning against each other. Acquaintances and colleagues succumbing to a disease others still insisted wasn’t real.
The constant, looming threat of crippling depression.
Again, it just felt silly… like putting on airs… to waste a moment thinking about appearances at that time.
Fast forward to July 2022, and I found myself heading to Sedona for an intensive coaching retreat for burnt-out professional women.
It turns out that filling every available second of your life with work isn’t a healthy way to handle your feelings.
It was serendipitous how it all came about. Due to crises at work, I’d had to cancel my previous two attempts at taking vacation time. My health was deteriorating in alarming ways. I was trying to cope with a new manager who (in my humble opinion) had a serious case of the Brad Pitts with that missing empathy gene thing. It became clear in mid-June that we weren’t talking about my scheduling a vacation anymore. I wasn’t planning a fun time away with the fam; I was falling apart. I needed a stress leave, and stat.
And so, I reached out to a group of digital nomads in desperation and asked, “Can anyone recommend a place I can go crash and burn for a few weeks in July?” A friend in the group, Robin Finney, just happened to be heading to Sedona to assist in a Pausebox Clarity Coaching retreat.
That’s where I met Meredith Vaish.
Meredith describes herself as a “recovering over-doer” who left corporate for a year-long ‘soulbatical.’ She’s on a mission, she says, to help creative people break free of the overwhelm of being always-on and find a better way.
One night, tucked away in a stunning home built into the steep canyon wall high above the city, we gathered in our cozy back living room for a group coaching session. We were a small cohort, just five, plus our fearless leader. We’d done a lot of pretty intensive work that week on learning to relax and unplug, receive and trust, and were working on renewal. I have so much more to say about that entire experience, but for this post, will try to keep it focused.
Meredith challenged us to introduce or reintroduce something to our lives that would serve and promote our chosen path forward. What came to mind surprised me.
“Is it silly that I want to wear makeup and jewelry again?” I asked. And even as I said it, I apologized for how dumb that must sound because again, people have a lot of real problems, and here I am, talking about makeup and earrings.
Meredith not only assuaged my fears of coming across as a silly old cow but gave this practice a name – sacred adornment – and helped me connect the dots between that longing I felt and how I’d ended up recovering from burnout in Arizona.
The practice of sacred adornment has been around for millennia, spanning ancient cultures, religious institutions, military, tribal groups, and even modern-day punk culture.
Adornment may include body decoration, jewelry, hairstyles, or specific articles of clothing, for example. It was a part of the language in some cultures; part of the expression of information about a person’s social standing, marital status, or beliefs.
Meredith explained that the practice of sacred adornment is part of our daily rituals for many of us. It’s the putting on of armor before we leave the house for the day. It’s part of the dressing down that tells us the day is coming to a close and we can relax.
It struck me then just how many of these small, seemingly inconsequential yet massively impactful rituals I’d let slide during the lockdowns.
Journaling each morning, giving myself a chance to reflect and set an intention for the day, before ever opening an email.
“Putting on my armor” by choosing rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings that made me feel put together enough for an impromptu meeting or lunch invitation.
Listening to a favourite podcast with my morning coffee.
Switching into shoes when going out, and back to slippers on my return home.
Reading a book after dinner in a rocking chair on the front porch, watching the world go by.
Taking a hot bath before bed.
Taking out the earrings. Putting on a robe. Making a tea.
These rituals are small signals or triggers telling our minds it’s time to switch gears. That we’re entering a new space. That we’re closing out one activity and beginning the next. That it’s time to rest.
These signals have always been important to me as a remote worker and a writer/editor. A colleague taught me a trick many years ago for switching personas quickly (an important skill for ghostwriters to have). You have to physically get up, he said. Leave the room. Walk out a doorway and tell yourself that persona is finished now. Take a quick breather, grab a water, go for a walk around the house. Come back in that office door as your next writing persona, he said. I swear, it works, and I’ve been using this Jedi mind trick ever since when I need to drop one persona and adopt another for clients.
I don’t know about you, but I lost so many of these small, positive rituals through the pandemic. Letting things slide is easy, and we may overlook the impact until the cumulative effect becomes impossible to ignore. Losing my rituals around reflection, adornment, and intention setting left me feeling quite lost, spinning my wheels and exhausted from the effort yet never getting anywhere. Overwhelmed at work. Short on sleep. Prone to ruminating, moodiness, and self-doubt.
I have to pay attention to this daily – keeping up with the small rituals that help create work-life balance in my remote career. Habits that make the connection between my body and mind, so all of me is on the same page about when it’s time to work, and when it’s time to shut that off and chill.
Adornment is one of those rituals for me, and I refuse to let negative self-talk tell me it’s silly, vain, or meaningless.
The practice of putting “the armor” on and taking it off again has proven a small but impactful part of my remote work/life balance.
It’s a physical cue that helps separate home life from work life in my brain. It’s part of getting ready and gearing up, and part of winding down. Adornment may not be for you, but I’m willing to bet there are a few small rituals that either do or could help you feel more focused, balanced, and fulfilled.
Routine matters even if you’re a fast-traveling nomad or work varying hours. Take a look at yours – especially if you haven’t done this yet since the upheaval of the pandemic. Make sure it’s serving you and not the other way around. Is there a habit you need to let go of, or another you could work into your routine to help get you where you want to go next?
We’re all coming to terms with the impacts of close to three years of pandemic-related change and probably won’t understand the full scope of it for many more years to come. I was fortunate to meet Meredith at just the right time and to trust her enough to confide in her about this “silly” thing that was bothering me. It turned out to be about a heck of a lot more than my love for pretty, shiny things.
For the love of everything, don’t dismiss your loss and grief over what’s changed for you because someone, somewhere, had it worse. Your experience is yours alone, and it’s valid and real. Don’t let anyone tell or make you feel otherwise.