Strategies to help navigate challenging and uncertain times

Hi, it’s Richard from people make it work. 

With this being a particularly difficult time for us all in the cultural sector and beyond, I have created this latest video and blog entry to share some of my thoughts, learnings and experiences, which may be useful to you, your teams, organisations and the wider sector in general during these turbulent and uncertain times.  While I don’t imagine all of these will be universal and may not take in to account your individual circumstances, they nonetheless may provide some insight and tips, which you may want to embrace and consider as you begin to navigate through the changes and challenges you might be facing.

At people make it work, we are a broad group of 65 cultural workers, who work together to support the cultural sector to change, develop and transform. The following strategies and characteristics therefore, Control, Options, Support, Well-being, Debate and Me-Shaped Change, are ones that we have identified as key to our working practice, and which have proven useful and applicable on an individual level in other areas of our lives and may be useful for you too:

  • Control:  For lots of us, creating a sense of control, even in situations which are beyond our individual action is really helpful. That doesn’t mean that we are going to seek to control the wider economy, organisational decisions, or amount of money that is coming in to our own households, but what we might do is think about what we might be able to control on one hand, and on the other what can’t we control and need to therefore adopt an attitude of flow and acceptance. For those elements we can control however, we might want to develop some personal strategies.  For instance, I might be able to think about ways of reducing my outgoings, increasing my personal resilience, getting fitter, getting better sleep.  I might be able to offer solutions or ideas in to a situation rather than wait for them to be delivered in my direction. In that way, I am creating a level of control that is healthy while navigating the change that is happening around me.  So, one of the things you may wish to do independently or with your colleagues, is have a think about the places where you can take some actions and create control, and the places where you may need to accept the lack of control. In those places where you can create control, map out what actions you can take.
  • Options:  For many of us, when we were placed in a situation where difficult things are happening, it can feel like our only job is to sit and let it all happen, but actually it can be really helpful for us to think about what are our options are and how we can affect the situation.  Many of those options might be really unpleasant and really difficult, but exploring and choosing them can still be a really useful act, even choosing amongst negative options. So for instance, if my income is reducing, which of the places am I going to decide to reduce my outgoings? It doesn’t mean that these are happy decisions, but by exploring options, setting those options out, and then making choices within those, it is a way of helping us to create a little bit of control, and that can be settling.  Some of us will need support to explore those options and for others it might be an easy action. Either way, having a think about what your options are is a good practice to have a go at. 
  • Support: Support is the third area that is really important at times when we are working within an unsettled environment.  During challenging times, it is important to identify what support we have around us: Who our support network is?  Who are those that we can call upon? What resource do we have around us? Who else can support us and is interested in our wellbeing?   It might also be helpful to think about what kinds of situations and thinking can be helpful to increase our awareness of the level of support around us, and to have started to signpost where we might want to go for what kinds of support.  So for instance, when do I have a conversation with my manager? When do I reach out to my professional network? When might I speak to my spouse or siblings? When might I think about having a conversation with my parents? My children? When might I think about reaching out to faith groups or other community groups that I’m connected with? For many of us, support networks are very often under-utilised, particularly if we feel under pressure, our reaction can often be to isolate or to hunker down rather than to reach out. So, I really recommend that we think a little bit about that in order to manage our own wellbeing in this context.
  • Wellbeing: Often, when we are feeling under pressure and when circumstances are difficult around us, strategies to support our own physical and emotional wellbeing can get ignored or under-resourced. So in these times,  we might want to increasingly think about eating well; about managing how much we drinking or other using substances that might feel useful at first, but can actually deplete our resourcefulness; about our sleep; exercise and activity; our relationships and how we maintain those in healthy ways to make sure that we are addressing tensions and bringing empathy and compassion to each other.  Thinking about connection to others during this time is also beneficial.  It is important to recognise that that we aren’t alone and that for most people of being part of a community is useful at times of challenge.
  • Debate and discussion support. For most of us, having a conversation about the challenges around us will be really fruitful, and that means creating an opportunity for people to speak, listen and think.  For lots of people, the ability to digest implications, think about those options, be supported through a process of exploration, identify their support network, unpack implications and ideas will be a social process.  It won’t happen in one bite, but it will be a series of conversations and activities over a period of time. So creating opportunities for debate and discussion, about the hardships and context that we’re working in, is useful in itself and doesn’t need to come with answers on a plate.  It can be a space where we acknowledge that each of us will have our own solutions, many of them will be unpalatable, but better than not addressing the challenges at all.  For many of us, supported discussion, structured, semi structured, regular discussion will be useful in terms of moving beyond the situation and enabling us to find answers that suit us and that are tailored to meet our own circumstances.  
  • Me-shaped change: This is about the transition from hearing about something to working out what is my version of that. For instance, how I might move from hearing that we need to work differently with communities in our cultural organisation to what does that mean for how I will work on that, how I will have conversations,  who I will reach out to, and how I will divide my time up and my resources? Me-shaped change is about accommodating, digesting and integrating the external change into something that I’m now able to drive and move forward. It doesn’t necessarily mean that these are all good things, but they are accommodations and ways of absorbing the circumstance that we’re working within.

In discussing these above strategies, I hopefully have created a language and set of interventions and support for individuals who may consider themselves to be neurodivergent, as well as those who are neurotypical, while also of course, acknowledging that the best way to support individuals is to listen and connect with what they individually need. Some of the things that I have suggested here may not be applicable to you. If that is the case and you would like to chat about more tailored, individual support and advice, please get in touch, as I and the rest of the team would love to help!  

At people make it work our mission is your mission. We are committed to everyone’s culture being made for and by everyone. That means that we are also committed to supporting cultural organisations, leaders and groups in communities, regardless of the ability to pay.  Across our website, you’ll find a range of free resources as well as ways to arrange free individual surgeries if that would be useful. We’ve also got a load of programmes and associate colleagues who can support you professionally, if if that’s what you need. 

Sending you strength and positivity!