It has only been three months since states across the U.S. started enforcing extreme social distancing measures, but somehow, we already feel years removed from the life we once knew.
Now, as restaurants, salons, and gyms start opening again, we see — and even collectively feel — an eagerness to “get back to normal.”
People want to take their kids to the movies again. They want to linger over a meal with their closest friends, laughing so hard they can’t get a breath in. They want to restore their after-work gym schedule or browse their favorite shops.
And those who have been through the deepest setbacks during lockdown want to get back to work. They want to feel stable again.
It makes sense to miss these experiences and long for the familiar things we love. But the more I hear people wish for things to go back to normal, the more convinced I am that we are missing an opportunity to grow as individuals and as a community.
Will it be nice to finally get hugs and concerts back as soon as it’s safe again? Absolutely.
But getting “back to normal” should not be our goal. In fact, that’s the opposite of what we should be reaching for.
If you’re like most people, social distancing orders forced you to make major, immediate changes to your routine and habits. A lot of this was very difficult.
If you were lucky enough to continue working from home, you had to learn new technology, develop new discipline, and find new methods for focusing even as your children demanded your attention. If you own a business, you had to adapt quickly to a sudden and drastic shift in the economy, spending habits, and safety standards.
If you have a family, you had to find creative ways to have fun at home and connect with elderly grandparents on lockdown. If you’re married, you had to learn new methods for communication, empathy, and conflict resolution when the walls began closing in on your relationship. And if you’re single, you were challenged to reach out to your community for support and find value in your own company.
These changes probably did not come easily. You probably felt scared, desperate, helpless, overwhelmed, and even grieved over the life you left behind.
Well, guess what? That’s how change always works. We don’t improve as professionals or as people without first enduring a period of pain, frustration, and self-doubt. This is why we get so locked into our habits. It’s easier to be who we’ve always been and do what we’ve always done than to face the pain of growth.
Until now. The pandemic forced you to face the pain. You had no choice.
And because of this period of mandatory change, you now know how to use new technology. You’ve become more adaptable in your career. You’ve connected with your kids and partner in new and meaningful ways, and you’ve learned to love yourself.
Do you really want to go back to the way things were?
It will be a great day when everyone can return to work without fear, when we can gather with those we love, and when we can enjoy major events that bring communities together.
But we also need to be aware that when our old routines return, so do our old habits. If you don’t take a moment to realize how you’ve changed for the better in the “new normal,” you won’t be able to take advantage of that change when we get back to the old normal.
Give your own list some deliberate, concentrated thought. Keep your list handy so you can add to it as you go about your day and recognize other positive changes in your life.
Then, commit to maintaining and advancing the changes that are important to you.
You must be active about this. When things go back to normal, you will feel the pull to pack your schedule with events that don’t fulfill you but feel obligatory for your achievement. You’ll be tempted to neglect relationships to prioritize the very things you just learned are not that important. You may become mired in an old mindset that never served you before and still won’t serve you now. Decide today how you are going to avoid old habits and attitudes you want to get rid of for good.
Then, once you’ve committed to maintaining these changes, ask yourself, “What’s next?”
If it isn’t already on your list of beneficial changes, add this:
I know I can grow as a person, even when it’s difficult and even when it’s painful.
After everything you’ve been through in 2020, you now know that, at the very least, you are adaptable. You are strong, flexible, and capable of making the most out of any situation. From here on out, there is no reason to be intimidated by change.
And that means you are limitless.
If you’ve been longing to make a career shift, now you know you can do it. If you need to cut out bad relationships or improve your relationship with yourself, you can. If there are any hobbies you always wanted to try or skills you wish you had, let this be your wake-up call:
If you can find new ways to work and new reasons to laugh in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, you can do anything.
Decide what’s next for you. Determine who you want to become and what kind of life you want to live on the other side of this crisis.
And this time, don’t wait for a virus to force you to grow.