Reflect on how adaptable you’ve been and commit to nourishing your wellbeing with Shelagh’s #Reclaiming60ForResilience challenge

Informed Optimism

We’re approaching the conclusion of a second year of pandemic life, and these Covidian times are far from over. Still, this is not a doom and gloom piece. If we’ve met or worked together, you’ll know I encourage approaching life with what I refer to as informed optimism. When we invest care in being well informed, we’re positioning ourselves to pragmatically look to – and prepare for – the future with hope and optimism.

We’ve created or learned a few new words since early 2020, and incorporated others in ways we couldn’t have imagined (up for a virtual happy hour, anyone?) a couple of years ago. We no longer think of zooming solely, or even primarily, as something a photographer does with a camera lens.

Apart from our vocabularies, what other gains have we made? Skills with assorted meeting platforms and scanning documents and receipts to PDFs with (certain) smartphones come to mind, and there’s more. Why not take a bit of time to think about and document all you’ve learned and accomplished as a result of the pandemic?


Astute career Assistants make a point of being well informed. This includes and goes beyond reading, asking questions, and learning what we can about our organisation, our sector, and the economy at large. I first heard the term “black swan” a few years ago, around a boardroom table. Nassim Taleb coined the term to describe an event that carries extreme impacts and can be rationally explained after the fact – despite there being nothing in the past that would convincingly point to the possibility of such an event.

When it comes to the pandemic through which we’re living, labelling this pandemic a black swan event would be a misnomer. As evidenced by Taleb’s 2007 book The Black Swan, it was identified more than a decade earlier as a distinct possibility. Taleb has, in fact, characterised the COVID-19 pandemic as a white swan event. That’s the equivalent of what you might anticipate if you watched a series of 18-wheel trucks being driven across an old bridge with a weight capacity just the fraction of one of those trucks. It’s not so much a question of if the bridge will collapse; it’s when the collapse will happen.

White swan events, according to Taleb, are reflective of the modern world, and there’s a high degree of certainty that such events will occur. There’s a correlation between the extent to which we’re interconnected (think: globalisation) and the extent of economic consequences when a white swan event unfolds.

Policy analyst Michele Wucker specialises in the global economy and crisis anticipation, and she characterises the pandemic as a grey rhino – a highly probable, high-impact threat that was neglected, despite a series of warnings and visible evidence.

Commitment to Learning

When we pay attention to the world around us, and to views other than our own, we’re exposing our minds to possibilities, perspectives and concepts that can expand our thinking. It’s good to shift from a micro to a macro outlook, if only to sidestep those white swans and grey rhinos.

How readily would you commit to prioritising 30 to 60 minutes a week to elevating your business acumen, or your awareness of both internal and external factors that might represent either opportunities or challenges for your employer? In comparison, how many times a week do we easily surrender 30 to 60 minutes of our time to television, social media or other interests that may be less rewarding in the long run?

If you are ready to commit – or maintain an existing commitment – to ongoing development, where might you begin? Would it be reading internal or sector-specific publications, or inviting a conversation with a colleague about their area of expertise? Might you participate in an educational network event? I hope your employer offers cybersecurity training, and that you take ongoing advantage of it. Cybercrime continues to escalate, with far-reaching ramifications.

What could you learn about governance practices that impact how your place of employment, or even your professional association, is led? Is it perhaps time to learn more about topics such as project or risk management? Around the globe, ESG (environmental, social, governance) is on the rise. Why not get a bit of a head start on understanding what it means, and potential implications? Then there’s strategic planning. If you have an opportunity to participate in your organisation’s next strategic planning process, it can be advantageous to take part in the discussion. You may have some impact, and this can serve as a demonstration of your engagement. Whatever your areas of focus, think in terms of routinely building your knowledge.

Global Issues Become Micro Issues

Those who follow my Exceptional EA website will know I’ve been focusing on business continuity, business continuity planning (BCP) and supply chain issues since my first pandemic-related article, on March 2, 2020.

If not on the front lines, Assistants often have good insights into operational issues. In early March 2020, 14% of respondents told me their employers were experiencing supply chain issues. Another 26% reported no such issues to that point, although they expected that could change, depending on (as I so naively phrased it in the multiple-choice response options) “how long it takes to contain the virus”.

I posed the same question about supply chain issues less than three weeks later, on March 20, 2020. In that short space of time, the percentage of respondents who told me their employers were experiencing supply chain issues jumped from 14% to 52%. When I posed the question again in September 2021, 33% of respondents reported supply chain issues.

An Opportunity to Distinguish Yourself

Am I raising supply chain issues to disconcert you? No. Am I continuing to encourage Assistants to be aware of broad economic issues and macro factors that are sure to impact you and your employers? You bet. I believe that Assistants who pay attention to sectoral and global matters elevate their business acumen. That benefits you and your employers. The better informed we are, the better positioned we are to succeed.


We can be both pragmatic and optimistic amid all this. Change is going to continue unabated, and we should acknowledge just how adaptable we’ve been in recent months. It’s possible that you’ve encountered more substantial changes in the last 18 or 19 months than you did in the five previous years put together. Having come through it is something to celebrate and provides well-placed confidence that you’ll also manage what’s yet to come.

In order to continue to be adaptable and resilient, we need to take care of ourselves. Yes, we have multiple deadlines and demands on our time, and these times may continue to be taxing. That makes a focus on wellbeing all the more important.

With that in mind, will you accept a year-end challenge? Here it is: #Reclaiming60ForResilience. Can you imagine the positive impacts if each of us committed to closing out 2021 by reclaiming 60 minutes a day to nourish our wellbeing? Where in your day could you find 30 minutes to go for a walk, even if it’s in or around your home or office?

Next, what could you remove from your evening or morning routines in order to gain an extra half-hour of sleep – or, if sleep doesn’t come readily, an extra half-hour of quiet time without a screen in front of your face? Here’s a wild thought: what if we find ourselves so positively impacted by whatever reclamations of time we do achieve that we extend the commitment in the year ahead, to the point that such choices become habits?

I am a realist, even as I’m optimistic. These 60 minutes may not come easily, and we may not secure them every day during a month that’s traditionally hectic. Any time you do reclaim for your own good health and resilience, though, will be a success to celebrate. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sign off and grab some extra sleep!

To explore these themes in more detail, check out Shelagh’s webinar, “Taking Charge of Your Career: Resilience, Motivation and Goals That Align with New Norms.” Use promo code InformedOptimism for a 25% discount off the purchase price.

Shelagh Donnelly Assistants around the globe have been turning to Canadian Shelagh Donnelly and her Exceptional EA website since 2013 for professional development and the international community she’s nurtured. Authentic, expert, and inspiring, Shelagh ... (Read More)

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