Last year, award-winning journalist, documentarian, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Soledad O’Brien took the stage during the 2019 SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference to talk about living our personal best. She even helped moderate the ASUG Women Connect breakfast panel and led the conversation on the importance of women finding our voice and using it to drive our own success. It was both a highly anticipated and well-attended event, leaving us wanting to pick back up on the conversation today, especially in light of the current business landscape.

As businesses across the country and the world are adjusting to changes due to COVID-19, people in the workforce are trying to keep up and find ways to contribute. This is especially challenging for those who are not only adjusting to working from home, but who also are the caretakers for their families and extended networks.

Soledad sat down with me for a virtual chat on how we can all navigate our new reality and continue to drive our success into a post-COVID-19 world.

SAP Customers Get Real Comfortable Working from Home

It was as authentic as we could get: Soledad dialed in from her bedroom, glass of wine in hand and slippers on her feet, while I sat comfortably in my home office in a business-casual sweater and favorite pair of sweatpants. I could see out the corner of my eyes the dishes that needed to be washed, and Soledad commented on the giant backhoe driving down her street as well as the possibility of one of her kids walking into the room. We were joined virtually by nearly 500 people who were watching the conversation, likely in similar settings.

As we all adjust to our new work-from-home environments—or at least new circumstances—we’re learning how to be better communicators, how to adjust expectations, get creative, and just be more human.

What Exactly Is Balance, Anyway?

“You know, people ask me about balance all the time, but what does that even mean?” Soledad asked. She offered the analogy of life being like plates. “Some of them are glass and others are rubber. The goal is not to let the glass plates fall.”

We discussed learning how to prioritize, but also how to be flexible. The key isn’t to be perfect. It’s to try to do the best you can for that day, reassess what’s important for the next day, and forgive yourself when you can’t. One attendee shared, “I'm used to working from home. I’ve been doing it for four to five days a week for a couple of years. But I find I'm having a harder time concentrating some days now than I used to.” This is true for many. “Every day is going to have its challenges,” Soledad said. “The key is to reassess your priorities.”

Fighting Fear with Facts on COVID-19

Everything around us—work life, home life, and everything in between—is changing in ways we could have never imagined. Taking a trip to the grocery store can cause anxiety. Dialing in for a team meeting can be stressful. Watching the news can be frustrating. But ultimately, we have control over how we respond to these situations.

“Set parameters early,” Soledad said. “Let your coworkers know that it’s a rough morning… tell your team you are only going to spend 10 minutes talking about something…” Lastly, she urged, “Don’t get medical advice from non-medical officials.”

She gave some straightforward advice on how she was coping with a lot of the same stresses herself. “I nearly killed one of my kids for walking over a freshly mopped floor,” she joked. She later stressed that it is ultimately up to each of us to do the right things, seek credible information, rise to the occasion, and be forgiving if we, or others, can’t.

Attendees commented through the chat function throughout our conversation. One attendee said, “I really appreciate the message of high standards without perfectionism.” Another said, “I love how candid she is!”

ASUG Women Connect Offers Ways to Connect Virtually

During the hour we spent with Soledad, we opened up the opportunity for participants to ask their questions through the chat function. They ranged from, “What are you drinking?” to “What advice would you give for someone not used to being on a camera all day?,” to “Will this pandemic help the fight for income equality?”

You’ll have to watch the full conversation in the video below to hear what Soledad had to say. For our part, we thought we’d share some fun responses within the live chat for the lightning round at the end of our call. Here’s what our ASUG Women Connect network had to say:

What’s the last bottle of wine you opened? We received so many responses to this, and I love that you all love wine! You enjoy everything from a good red blend to cabernet to a riesling. Soledad was drinking a glass of Apothic Red while others boasted about 19 Crimes, Ménage a Trois, and La Marca Prosecco. We see all of you out there!

What’s your favorite snack right now? Soledad told us she became a vegan a few weeks ago, although she’s having a hard time sticking to it. She said she’s enjoying almond butter on rice cakes and asked the participants to stop saying, “cheese.” Sorry, Soledad, but cheese was the number one snack of choice, followed by popcorn. Yum!

What are you reading? Soledad is reading “Horse Crazy” by Sarah Maslin Nir and said, “It’s just beautiful!” Others chimed in with their own suggestions including
“The Ruin of Kings” by Jenn Lyons; “Girl, Stop Apologizing” by Rachel Hollis; and “Elements of Style,” which garnered a reaction from Soledad, “You are not reading Elements of Style, quit playing!”

What are you binge watching? Surprisingly, I don’t think anyone in this group indicated they’re watching Tiger King, unless I missed it. It seems we had a lot of fans of “Little Fires Everywhere,” “Schitt’s Creek,” and Soledad’s favorite, “Call the Midwife.”

What’s the first thing you do once we can all go out and play again? Soledad said she will hug friends who need it, but also, she will go get her hair and nails done. Most of us will be right behind her. We also got a lot of votes for going to the beach and going out for dinner. But mostly, it was to give hugs. Well, here’s a virtual hug to all of you for now!

Register for one of the ASUG Think Tank online sessions taking place and stay tuned for a follow-up series of the ASUG Executive Exchange online sessions. You can also follow what ASUG Women Connect is doing next.

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