Last year I read Bruce Feiler’s book Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at any Age.

I have returned to some of its frameworks constantly, and it’s helped me serve clients who are navigating all sorts of change. One framework in particular has come up again and again–this idea that there are four kinds of change on two axes–collective/personal and voluntary/involuntary.

In Bruce’s research and listening to life stories pre-pandemic, “collective involuntary” was a very small percentage of participants’ experience. These are things like world wars or the Great Depression, and were only reported by people in later stages of their lives. If he were to start his research now, the numbers would be so much different. All of us would report experiencing collective involuntary change, and very few of us can make meaning out of it yet. It’s not over.

I know I’m not alone in pulling out these obvious insights, but I’ve got two things I’m keeping in mind these days as we experience collective involuntary change:

Give yourself and others a break. This doesn’t mean that anything goes, and it doesn’t mean I’m encouraging numbing out. (That’s not a break–it’s just avoidance.) Activists (like Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry) are using this time to point out how capitalism and white supremacy have always been counting on us to hustle, to not rest, to undervalue our bodies, our relationships, our rest. Most of us have not been through collective involuntary change before. There’s no way to hustle out of this. We are being forced to learn another way.

Create your own microclimates of kindness and service. There is so, so much out of our control right now. And, in fact, there has always been, especially for people who have been oppressed and shut out of the halls of power and decision-making. Systemic inequities and oppression stubbornly exist and need to be resisted, AND there is a lot each of us can do without becoming full-time activists or lawmakers. A few of the things I’m doing are going to this workshop next week (thank you, Kim!), becoming a monthly supporter of the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation (we really need to be supporting these amazing teachers and schools right now), and helping friends make a meal for this community next week. By the way, if you are sick or grieving, your job is to receive care, and there are different small actions that might be calling out to you. Since I’m not sick or grieving (besides the generalized grief all of us are experiencing!), my calling is different. That’s where discernment comes in.

And when I find myself about to slip into overwhelm, sometimes I just repeat, “Collective involuntary change.” There’s a reason, and naming it can be so helpful.