I see it all over. Everyone is wrestling with the question of how best to “go back to” the office, travel, hanging out in groups. No matter what your “back to” challenge is, that is the wrong question. You should be asking, “How do we go forward?”
We are all craving some semblance of familiarity, of comfort, of “normal,” so it is natural to fondly remember what we miss from before the pandemic and to want to simply go back to that. It is easy but it misses a real opportunity for meaningful growth.
Consider the following questions:
How does that make you feel? What was your initial reaction when you read it? Did you groan at the thought? (I did!) Did it make your chest constrict and your body get tense? (It did for me!)
Human beings are not meant to be static. We are meant to grow, learn, evolve, and change. It is well-known that people grow and change the most as children and then again in college. Any time we are dropped into unfamiliar situations where we have new experiences, we are activated and develop substantially. Learning and growth also makes us happy, despite however challenging it might be. There is a reason why, for most people, childhood and/or college are some of the times in life with the best memories. As we get older and life becomes more monotonous, this high engagement and learning decreases. Life tends to fly by and next thing we know, 10 or 20 years have passed in a flash. It does not have to be that way. We can consciously build new experiences and learning into our daily life to bring back more intentional growth and transformation.
In the case of the pandemic, we were presented with many new experiences and opportunities for learning. It has disrupted our routines, the unconscious ways we moved through our daily lives. The pandemic has also been a time of suffering, death, immense challenges, stress, depression, and anxiety for many, if not most, and in no way should we look past all the pain that has come from it. We all need to mourn, have compassion for ourselves and one another, and take the time we need to ease our way into a post-pandemic world. At the same time, we should not ignore everything we have learned, either.
Most people I have spoken with have shared that there are many things they do not want to go back to but are nervous about their ability to maintain the changes they most enjoy. This is where we have an opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow forward into a new version of ourselves and how we live. Take a few moments to consider these questions:
As organizations we can (and should!) be reflecting on these questions, too, together as a community. In a trusting environment that welcomes contribution from all voices and perspectives, the people in your organization will prove far smarter than any leader in answering these questions and evolving your organization forward into the future. To benefit from everything we’ve discovered and experienced, we have to take the time to pause and listen—to ourselves and one another.
Chances are, those of you who were able to adapt your work to the virtual space figured out how to make it work. You may have realized some unexpected benefits, like interacting with some people more often because geography wasn’t as constraining. Or, flattened power structures because even the boss has the same size square on a Zoom screen. Perhaps the power dynamics got worse. It is likely that some people found a peace and simplicity in working from home, despite the challenges that also come with it. No commute? Most people like that. Some miss the alone time and having a dedicated space away from home to get work done.
This year shook everything up and made us see our daily lives and our work in a new light. It likely made us much more aware of what we each need as individuals, what nourishes us and what drains us. That experience of self-awareness is great, though the thing we’re really going “back” to is being together. So, how can we take what we learned about ourselves and get curious about what others have discovered?
We are all unique, with different needs and circumstances, opportunities and challenges. Each of us experienced new things we liked and new things we did not like. We also saw things go away that we miss, and others that we are thankful are gone. Instead of mindlessly collapsing into “the way things were” let’s take this rare opportunity to reflect together and listen deeply so that we can grow as a collective, too.
We can learn a great deal from one another, learn about one another, and together go forward into a new world of living and working that is intentional, chosen by us, and fitting for the times and the communities we are a part of. That may be a team in a large organization, your office, or the entire company. It could even be just a few of you who work closely together. Wherever you have the ability and influence to make positive changes, do! The way we have done things in the past does not have to inform our future. Maybe a new way of living and working, one we wouldn’t have imagined in 2019, is just what we need to better serve our individual and shared purposes.
We are at a rare moment in history where we have the opportunity to re-invent the ways we are doing things. Don’t let it pass you by! Before you know it, you will be back in your “routine.” Let’s just hope it is a routine that you have chosen and are excited about.