Control, Yael Melamed

Letting go of Control with Yael Melamed

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I met Yael virtually 6 months ago in the middle of Season 1. We soon decided we would make our conversation different, so agreed to launch Season 2 together. Yael grew up loving deep conversations and today, she finds herself right in the middle of those as a therapist and as a leadership coach. I was thrilled to have my own deep conversation with her, with a special focus on letting go of control. Ironic, for my perfectionist self!

The moment of challenge

Yael used to be on the traditional business path. One day, as she walked on the HBS campus and got a serious cancer diagnosis, Yael felt sad as she visualized her obituary. She saw a list of accomplishments but it was not animated by her legacy. This was a moment that forever changed her course. It made her question the unchallenged traditional path she found herself on. She gave herself space to find out what she wanted her life to be. And if you would have told her 10 years ago she would be a life coach and a therapist, she would not have believed you.

“I bring a little bit of coaching to therapy and a little bit of therapy into coaching”

Living through 2020

The pandemic was overall positive for Yael. She recognises she is part of a privileged lucky group (as I am). She managed to be home and enjoyed more time with her daughter and realised the small moments she was missing out on. On the low side, Yael struggled with screen time as she was suddenly confronted with hours in front of a screen seeing patients instead of the usual personal interactions she was used to. 

At the same time, and in an odd way, Yael felt this pandemic was part of her journey. She dedicated her time to being there for people. Whilst the beginning had a bit of a pause in therapy and coaching, it then evolved to an explosion. She is now incredibly busy on both sides of her business.

The deep work she does with clients has given her patients a toolbox to deal with the loss of control and resilience, feeling grounded and coping skills. But no matter what, she did observe a rollercoaster of emotions, particularly as the pandemic just dragged for so long.

Human connection is everything

A key thing that really made a difference for Yael was the human connection (or the lack thereof). After a shocking first Passover in 2020, Yael is now bracing for the second round of celebrations via zoom. She recognises we have all learnt to appreciate these a bit more. For her, this has made her very aware of the small moments and grateful for the small opportunities, like talking to another mother at the school gate.

“We can have a lot of things melt away, but we really do need human connection.”

Looking for the silver lining

One of the things Yael practices is to write your process. Life does give us ups and downs and Yael sits with people in their movement, in their flow, helping them if they are stuck. One of the small tools that can help to troubleshoot is gratitude, but remember, you have to mean it!

Another method Yael uses a lot is the silver lining method. The problem with it is that you can’t tell people to look at the positive side. They will probably punch you in the face. However, if you work with them so they are able to conclude this on their own, it can be a very powerful way to turnaround a low moment.

“While we can’t control what happens to us in life, we can control our responses”

Viktor Frankl

Looking forward now

As part of the podcast, I wanted to know how can we look forward and lift ourselves up. Yael comes with a solution that we will not all like. I for one, am big on control. But Yael’s recommendation is precisely that one as she reminds me:

“When men plans, god laughs”

Yael’s is a believer we have to let go and accept we have no control. She gives us the analogy of how she had to accept Northern California’s weather and its constant shifts from sunny to rainy. It forced her to no longer focus on what it would be and letting herself live in it. Whilst it is a fun life example, it is a great way to illustrate the point.

In fact, the pain in times like these comes often from the expectation of what will happen. And it is precisely at this time that we are shown we are not in control, no matter how much we try. Yael recommends us to be present, release the expectations and “roll with it“. This is an important tool. With it, finding joy is key. There have been many things in this pandemic that lifted people up and brought creativity into people’s lives. And we need to continue pushing to find these things.

Will this stay?

That is the big question I have. Will this change in attitude persist? Yael could not help me answer this question but does have the deep hope that we have now integrated some of these learnings into our lives. Just as the great acts of kindness that were observed over the year of 2020. She is really rooting for us to retain a bit of these lessons.

However, a lot will depend on the experience people had. You are more likely to keep some of your new habits if you had an easier 2020 than if you haven’t. Even though you likely need them more if you had a rough time.

As for Yael, this pandemic has brought her more into the macro world – she started doing writing, created a grief group, joined the board of a mental health start-up. As mental health grows up as a conversation, there is an opportunity to be more outside the office and engage more, on a more permanent basis.

Soul-searching

During Season 1, there were many examples of women I interviewed that told me they were re-evaluating priorities, checking their values, shifting gears on how they wanted to focus their lives in the future. Yael agrees that she is seeing the soul searching everywhere. Sometimes it is only pain that will humble us to do that.

People are caring more and realising that you can’t separate wellbeing and work. People are people and we are all looking to be integrated.  Yael has seen humanity coming into businesses in a way that was not there before. At the same time, businesses are also having to think about diversity, inclusion and even the future of work. I guess businesses are doing some soul-searching themselves!

Before we go…

  • 2020 Lesson: I am not in control
  • 2020 Challenge: Sleep deprivation
  • Advice for 2021: you can’t avoid pain, but you can avoid suffering
  • Book for 2021: For small creatures such as we: Rituals for finding meaning in our unlikely world – Sacha Sagan
  • Word for 2021: Love

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Produced by Alice Stansfield

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