As we move from 2020’s “new normal” of pandemic life through 2021’s transition to mass vaccination, there is a lot to consider. Again. And in a way, this time the answers are more elusive.
When we were faced, last March, with the threat of a rapidly spreading lethal illness, fear propelled us. We made life altering decisions, not lightly, but quickly. Those of us with privilege decided to keep our loved ones at home, minimize our own human interactions, cover our faces with masks when in public, and wash our hands when encountering people or surfaces outside of our bubble.
It was an extreme shift–brief on the axis of time and tall on the axis of change. We had a lot to adjust to, and we did. Small kids adopted masks, workforces relocated, and even the most reticent adopted habitual hand sanitizing.
This month throughout the U.S., safety restrictions continue to be lifted. Joy and relief permeate many a reunion, and planning for the near future again feels possible.
And, like all change, there is also loss. Not the continuing casualties of souls, livelihoods, security, and health, but something new.
Now–on the precipice of celebrating our next normal–we are at risk of losing the triumph of adaptation and perseverance. Our efficiencies and innovation, our redefined relationship between work and life, the pause. What is to become of the gifts we realized through our pandemic response? What can we do to evolve from this experience rather than erase it?
As societies and organizations, our lessons are yet to be realized. As individuals, we can use this transition to shape the tomorrow we want by following a basic change management process.
1. Take inventory
Make space in your mind and schedule to reflect on the past 15 months. If you kept a journal, refer to that. Scan email, texts, articles, or posts that will remind you of how you felt at different points in this journey. Record the biggest losses you’ve encountered because of the pandemic, and also the biggest gifts. Save this list for your future reference.
2. Set a goal
Managing change requires having a plan. In this context, that can be as simple as what you want or don’t want to happen during this next phase. From clients I’ve heard of intentions like reducing meeting time, continuing exercise regimens, and balancing office hours with working from home.
One of the gifts many of us experienced over the last year was the slowing down of life. Less work and reduced socializing created space for new strategies at work and hobbies at home. For working parents, on the other hand, time may just now be opening up as we transition away from remote learning and social distancing. Either way, reevaluating how you most want to spend your time increases your chances for thriving.
4. Validate and reinforce
Once you’re clear on the practices you want to carry forward, consider what you may need to do to support success. What obstacles may get in the way? Think creatively about how to structure time, organize tasks, and achieve your goals. To keep other demands at bay, establish and reinforce boundaries with yourself, colleagues, family, and friends.
5. Assess and adjust
One of the harsh reminders of the pandemic was that the only certainty is uncertainty. As you continue your emergence from this experience, stay focused on your goals, while remaining flexible on your process for achieving them. Consider doing a monthly check-in on your intentions and priorities, and make whatever changes best serve you.
Earlier today I read that local hospitals remain burdened by patients who are dangerously ill from the Coronavirus. U.S. vaccination levels are flattening, while other countries struggle to make significant progress. Masking policies continue to shift and fluctuate by state, county, and business. Clearly, this pandemic is not over.
As we persist amidst continuing change and uncertainty, we can find strength in remembering how far we’ve come. And use that strength to leverage the continuing opportunity to get better.