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Back to Normal? Normal is Overrated

back to normal

You never know where inspiration might come from. A competitor on the reality television show, Top Chef, shared these thoughts after she had been asked to pack up her knives and go. “I think that our culture tells us that we can only do experiences if we’re supposed to win them, but I think the experience is also something you can win at.” Think back on your past eighteen months. Can you experience a time like this and not change? That’s the question that popped into my head as I listened to a reporter talk about going “back to normal.” Is that really an option? I asked my friends and family about the things they’re grateful for from this past year and a half, and the things they hope don’t go back to normal.

Keep Moving Forward

Sometimes an experience provides clarity on what is most important in your life, your boundaries, and who you want to be. Over and over, I heard about specific things people want to keep from the past year.

  • This morning I had to get a tissue watching a gentleman on television celebrating his 100th birthday and being surprised by his 98-year-old “little sister” who he hadn’t seen in over a year. We don’t want to go back to taking for granted seeing family and friends and not savoring the moments with them when we do. Let’s not go back to the “I will check in with family members at a more convenient time” mentality. Be more consistent and intentional.
  • We have a renewed appreciation for essential and frontline workers. Maybe we even have a different perspective on the types of jobs that are essential. We will continue to show appreciation to all those workers who make our lives easier and safer.
  • Most people applied more grace to others whereas pre-pandemic that seemed to be in short supply. Let’s remember that we don’t know what someone else might be going through and continue to give grace to each other. While we are doing that, let’s also extend more grace to ourselves.
  • Whether it was an act of kindness for a neighbor, wearing a mask to protect the vulnerable with compromised immune systems, or donating to a local food bank, we looked out for each other. And we felt good about it! Why should that stop?
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Forget “The Grind”

The number one item mentioned was to ditch the super-fast pace of day-to-day life. Before it seemed like everyone wanted things yesterday, we bounced from activity to activity, and we felt like we didn’t have time to breathe and enjoy life.

Kim Bradley, author of the Nimble Spirits blog, shared “I am 100% ready to abandon the overscheduled life, where from the minute I open eyes and jump out of bed until the minute I close them at night, I have something on my agenda (most of which was put there out of obligation or peer pressure). No more spreading myself too thin. I am being choosier about accepting invitations and reserving time for self-care. I am going to spend more time on meaningful activities that give me joy and purpose.

That’s not all! There were more takeaways from slowing down and hanging out at home, such as:

  • It’s okay to have a “lazy” day. In fact, we need those days occasionally! One person shared, “Emotional exhaustion has always been real – to say you are ‘tired’ is delivered and received differently, and generally better understood by most people.”
  • We can feel a sense of contentment in our homes. One of my friends even shared that they discovered they had a backyard and it’s become an oasis for them.
  • Another friend confided “I used to say, ‘if I only had more time, I would do these things.’ I had more time, and I still didn’t do those things. The extra time gave perspective on the really important and needed tasks. I don’t want to be driven by tasks that aren’t important. Moving forward I will prioritize relationships over projects.”

What Else Did We Learn?

Putting new habits in place has created new routines and new priorities that will stick, even as we emerge from our self-containment.

  • We heard a lot about the “Covid 15” – the fifteen pounds that some gained while in quarantine. But for some, it was the opposite. Some people found a renewed focus on being healthy. They ate out less and used their extra time to implement or increase physical activity. Many people embraced outdoor activities, like hiking and golfing.
  • We gained a collective appreciation for what lies just down the road. Taking a road trip to see our beautiful nation became the “go to” getaway. Let’s not overlook the beauty in our vicinity!
  • Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, we all need connection, maybe just in different amounts. There was a lot of FaceTime going on, and even my parents (who are in their eighties) learned to use Zoom! We also embraced the old-fashioned art of writing letters and sending cards.
  • Although some became Amazon regulars, others learned they didn’t need to shop, nor did they need new outfits. One person shared “I will keep my shopping to ‘window shopping’ with no unneeded or unnecessary purchases. That money will now go to my travel fund!”

The Future of Work

There were a lot of changes in the workplace. Technology ruled the day and people’s perspectives shifted about the future of telework. Many organizations are still assessing the benefits of their employees not having to commute to the office, and whether remote work is a win/win for both the employee and employer.

Leaders are being tested in ways they have not been before. I have seen leaders not only deal with strategy and vision, they are also having to address their own styles, strengths, and values. They are dealing with issues like:

  • Could individuals make a living working from where they want to live?  What if we promoted the most qualified instead of the most mobile?
  • Will there be repercussions of missed face-to-face interactions with the boss and coworkers – running into each other in the breakroom, stopping by desks, bumping into each other in the hallway, the spontaneous happy hours?
  • What if training and meetings were both face-to-face and virtual? Why must it only be one way?
  • How do I create an environment that cares about wellbeing and not just work product?

Leadership is hard and leaders are having to address the hard issues.

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Opportunity Within Difficulty

Not everything about the last year was bad. Toilet paper became a great birthday gift to give to others. People respected personal space. You could drive by your favorite restaurant and pick up dinner and “to go” drinks. That’s a good reason not to go back to normal! Whatever you desired could be delivered right to your front door.

Even interactions with others were enhanced in ways we couldn’t have imagined. I now prefer a fist or elbow bump to a handshake. Masks could be used to our benefit – no more having facial reactions give away what you’re really thinking or worrying about food in your teeth.

We learned that not everything has to be done the way it always has been done. Albert Einstein said – “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Some of the experiences that people said they never would have had if not for the pandemic, included:

  • Yoga and meditation classes with different instructors from all over the country
  • A virtual photography exhibition for a friend in another state
  • Smithsonian exhibition of Winter paintings
  • Cooking classes with instructors and food from all over the world
  • Virtual educational conferences
  • Online church services with a global audience

These opportunities, and others like them, not only made us feel more connected, but they also gave us exposure to more people, cultures, and practices that provided growth and perspective.

Let’s Not Go Back to Normal

Greg Miyoshi, Culture and Talent Manager at JBS Foods, shared, “We can never get back to normal…if we do, the lessons will be lost.” He suggests we each sit with a coach or trusted advisor and have them ask:

  • What surprised you about the experience?
  • What are you doing differently as a result?

I would encourage you to add one more question – how will you sustain the positive changes you have made? Socrates once said “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Let’s shift to an appreciation for the opportunities that difficulty brings and choose to acknowledge the lessons. Let’s not go back to normal!

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