• Liz Fehlman

Living in the gray.

Have any of us lived in this much gray before?


I've been in recruitment for five years now, and one of the most interesting behaviors to evaluate candidates on is their ability to live in the gray. I want to know if a prospect can create opportunity in a situation where the answer isn't black or white and think independently in a scenario where the path isn't paved before them. In my field, the ability to do this well is crucial for professional success, and I'd argue that it's applicable to most other industries out there as well.


Last weekend, Donald and I decided we should put forth some sort of effort to be productive during isolation. There's only so much Tiger King we can watch. Without much thinking, we socially-distanced shopped our local Sherwin Williams and arrived home with a full can of Agreeable Gray, a few rollers, and some borrowed materials from friends because we're not grown up enough to have our own drop clothes and paintbrushes. If there's one thing you should know about Donald and I, it's that we're not do-it-yourself people. It's not that we don't want to be - it's just that we suck at it. I long ago adopted the phrase "outsource your weaknesses" and have since paid highly-skilled people to aerate our yard, re-stain our deck, install our son's bunk beds, build my office desk, and clean our house twice a month. It's not that I can't - it's that someone else can...better, quicker, and more efficiently than me. So, it was a big day when Donald and I decided we'd paint the front entryway ourselves.


Since our quarantine began (23 days tomorrow, not at all counting) the idea of living in the gray has been top of mind, and it only seemed fitting that we spent several days slapping a shade of it on top of a hideous pale yellow I had lived with for 3 years too long. It took us a couple of days to paint the small space because, when you have toddlers, a day is defined by the 2-ish hour nap window you have on a Saturday and Sunday, and maybe an hour or so in the evenings after they've gone to bed and you're not too exhausted or tipsy from the several cocktails you made to get you through the day. On the first day, we attempted to the bait the kids with iPads and fruit snacks so that we could get a head start on our painting journey. It lasted all of 6 minutes before we had four hands anxiously grappling for our paintbrushes and my hands were anxiously grappling for the next glass of wine.


As we worked to turn the room gray, I couldn't help but be amused that we were christening the very entrance of our house with a color that best described our imminent reality. Gray. We are living in the gray.


Seemingly overnight, we were asked to change everything about what we knew to be black and white. All of us were asked to change our behaviors. Most of us were asked to continue to be successful in an entirely new environment (our home) and given little instruction on how to do so.  A lot of us had kids thrown into the mix and woke up to discover that not only were we parents now - we were teachers. And employees. At the same time. All at the same time.

We've been told what to do and what not to do; stay home, socially distance, wash your hands. Those things feel black and white. Those are things we should do. The rest feels gray. Will I lose my job? Will school resume before the end of the year? Will I lose my mind if my kids ask me for fruit snacks on one more conference call? Is it better to order my groceries so that someone else has work, or should I put myself at risk so others won't have to? I have a sore throat and fever but no cough - do I need to be concerned? The amount of unanswered questions I've asked myself the last three weeks is enough to tire out even the most relentless of toddlers. Instead of them asking "why? why? why, mama, why?"...it's me asking "what? what? what the fuck? what the fuck do I do?"


So, what do we do?


We continue to live in the gray. We create opportunity when we can't see black and white. The last three weeks have tested me in ways I never thought I'd have to be tested and I'm trying my hardest to see the opportunity. And at the risk of sounding like the Obnoxious Silver Lining Karen you want to throat punch - I'm not doing well with it. Like, at all. The biggest opportunity I've come to see in all of this is that my husband's gym is closed...so he no longer wakes me at up at 4:30am every morning to get ready, and I can force him to be Big Spoon and scratch my back until the very last minute before we need to get up and be functioning members of society. If that's all the opportunity I come out of quarantine recognizing, I'm going to call it a win.


We continue to live in the gray. We think critically, independently, and pave a path when there isn't one to follow. Can't say I've ever walked the Stay At Home Indefinitely Until We Say You Can Come Out Because You're Flattening The Curve Even Thought You're Losing Your Mind path before. Have you? No? Exactly. None of us have. None of us have been asked to do this. None of us have been asked to cancel weddings, newborn photo shoots, birthday parties, and the like for the betterment of society. Don't get me wrong - I believe that what we're doing is right. I also believe that what we're doing is hard, and that no one was given a playbook on how to navigate the adjustments you never once dreamed you'd have to make. Have any of us lived in this much gray before?


So, if you've made it to the end of this post (which I hope you have, because really - what else do you have to do?), I want to give you a little professional advice. You know, because being a recruiter for 5 years makes you an expert. Next time you're in an interview, and the interviewer says "What's your approach for moving forward when your next steps aren't clearly laid out for you?"...here's your response:


You: Great question, interviewer. Remember COVID-19? That shit was cray. There were times where I didn't know which end was up, and times were I wore the same sweatpants for three days straight. But I welcomed the gray it brought to my once black-and-white life and I did my best to trudge through it. It wasn't easy and it wasn't glamorous. My approach to moving forward? I asked a lot of questions, re-tweeted a lot of memes, and poured a lot of mid-afternoon cocktails. My kids got by with a little help from their iPads, and I was the best teacher/employee/parent combo I knew how to be. I did my best to stay socially distant, forgave myself when it was impossible, and did my part in flattening that terrifying bell curve. I woke up every day remembering that I'm a human who deserves grace, and thanked my <insert preferred deity> that I stayed healthy. I used my brain and badass-ery to pave a new path that literally no one has ever walked before, and got comfortable with living with the unknowns.


You'd ace my interview.



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