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3 Ways to Reconstruct Resilience and Restore Optimism

By Laura Lampa, Microbial Curation Lead, Microbial Research Technologies, Biologics Division, Bayer U.S.

I am no stranger to change. In my nearly 14 years at Biologics, first with the legacy company then Bayer, West Sacramento, going through change has almost become an insider joke for those of us who came to Bayer from Biologics. In fact, the quote from Heraclitus, “the only constant in life is change” could be our (unofficial) division tag line. However, no matter how agile you think you are, no matter how used to change you become, nothing could have prepared us for the year 2020.

As I sit and reflect on the year, I remember being very excited to come back from holiday vacation to work in January. I was going into a new year with a new supervisor, a newly combined team, a new organizational structure designed to speed our discovery pipeline and a new role as the national co-lead of Bayer’s Business Resource Group, Bayer Asian Society Inclusion Alliance (BASIA).

Bayer Asian Society Inclusion Alliance is a Business Resource Group (BRG) at Bayer. Business Resources Groups (BRGs) are a vital part of Bayer’s Inclusion and Diversity strategy. BRGs are voluntary, company-sponsored and employee-led groups who work together to promote inclusion within Bayer and provide a multicultural lens to Bayer’s engagement of our customers and the communities in which we have operations.

It was an exciting and expectant time. I was especially excited to participate in a large conference on workplace inclusion that would bring together the leads of various BRGs. It was an opportunity for me to meet new colleagues, to connect and expand my network. However, before I could even finalize the purchase of my flight coronavirus was quickly rearing its ugly head in the United States. The guidance from Bayer was to avoid non-essential work travel and so, the trip had been canceled just as quickly as it was planned. No problem I told myself, this was nothing more than a temporary setback. The world just needed a few weeks maybe a couple of months to reset. We would all figure this out and get back to life as usual. As I write this blog, that was nearly 11 months ago.

Today, the world is a much different place. I am neither a cup half-full nor cup half-empty kind of person because in fact, the cup is always full (of air)! I like to find the positive aspect in everything.

Work from home. Awesome, I no longer have to deal with the traffic and commute.

Gym and yoga studio closed. Great, more time to walk the dog.

Restaurants closed. No big deal. I like to cook, and I am pretty darn good at it.

No large gatherings. Totally fine. I now have time to connect more intimately with family and close friends, to strengthen the bonds that truly matter to me.

What a time to be alive I thought. What a great opportunity to build resiliency and create opportunity. Nevertheless, my proverbial cup ran empty on more than one occasion in 2020 despite my attempts to find the silver lining in everything.

Many of my challenges are not unique. I share the same challenges as so many in the world, in my state, in my city. Everything from the isolation of working from home, to seeing the destruction of business, lives, property, and of our communities that resulted from pandemic driven closures, protests seeking racial justice. Then there was an especially divisive presidential election and some of the most devastating wildfires California has ever seen. We have all endured so much change, loss, stress, strife … and the list goes on.

It wouldn’t be until the later part of 2020 that I would find my cup completely empty, that I was all out of optimism. The first was the news of big changes coming at work that would impact the future of my team. All the hope I had in the start of the year, the excitement of being a part of BASIA’s national leadership team, meeting new colleagues face to face, of making an impact in our newly reorganized division, all of those hopes fell to the floor. The second event was losing my grandmother to COVID the day before Thanksgiving. That one really brought me to my knees. How would I ever get up again? Not only was I out of optimism but I started to question if I ever even knew what resiliency ever meant.

To many of us, resiliency means mental toughness. In my mind, it was the ability to compartmentalize, to deal with challenges in a metered and logical way, to not let “it” get you down but to find the good in everything and just keep going. Wow, was I wrong. What I completely discounted was the strength and courage it takes to allow yourself to feel. To give yourself the permission to experience the pain and suffering as a way of working through it in a healthy and constructive manner. By not allowing myself to open up to those around me, I found I was moody, edgy, and snippy. I found myself expressing opinions in my professional life in a less than professional manner. I saw myself expressing myself in ways that were atypical of me and yet, I did not know how to stop it. I didn’t have the tools or skill set to deal with the pressure and stress that I was experiencing nor was I leveraging a support system that sat right under my nose — my colleagues. Fortunately for me, I work with some really amazing people that weren’t going to let me get away with a bad attitude for too long.

Now, I am no self-help guru nor do I want this to be a self-help piece but I am here to tell you, change is inevitable and it probably will be the only constant in our lives and it will stress you out! Resilience isn’t some innate trait that you are born with, but you build it; often through experience and yes, hardship and here is what I learned:

· Connection is key. Find your circle in times of crisis and lean into it. This doesn’t have to be some outpouring of emotion or a waterfall of tears but simply sharing with others the challenges you are experiencing can be enough to help you regulate your emotions and give you the clear headedness to think through and realistically plan how you will move ahead to achieve goals.

· Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Oftentimes and especially as people leaders, we feel we need to be strong, to showcase that all is well, and everything will be OK in times of change and uncertainty. We have this tendency to keep going, to prove we can handle whatever life throws our way. But, give people the chance to show up for you and you will be surprised how much they will.

· Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself the permission to feel less than OK sometimes. Grant yourself grace and forgive yourself for behaving in a way that might seem out of step with your norm. Again, people will and do understand.

Once I started to share with others the personal challenges I was facing, I had colleagues step up with daily mental health check-ins. My team took the reins and came up with innovative solutions and my BASIA co-lead, Zi (Lucy) Liu worked double time to pick up my slack despite dealing with her own end of year wrap up and transition out of BASIA.

I am sure I can Google “how to build resiliency” and a dozen other tips and tricks will come up but by doing those few things above, I didn’t have to figure out “how will I ever get up again” on my own and that made all the difference in how I view my future outlook. I will never be able to change the fact that we are all going through a unique time in our world’s history nor can I ever do anything to bring my grandmother back but what I am empowered to do is be kind to myself and to grant myself the same kindness and understanding I would extend to others.

Now, and despite the fact we have all experienced a lot of hardship, I can look back and once again see some of the positives to come out the pandemic. We discovered how agile we truly are, as individuals, as BASIA, and as Bayer and I am truly looking forward to the future.

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Stories and thoughts from Bayer employees in the U.S.

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