A good life doesn’t need to cost so much. I was shocked to realize how much I clearly spent on food and drink, incidental purchases in clothes stores, stationery shops…once I wasn’t passing them every day. I am sure I will never return to the casual spending habits I have had most of my adult life. I recognize how little I ‘need’;..and a treat feels like a treat. Which is the point!
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life.
As a part of this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure to interview Joette Thomas
Joette Thomas is an American ex-pat, living in Scotland since 1994. She is an organizational psychologist, who has not only lived through most of a year in complete lockdown (UK policy) but also worked with many individuals and teams, including those providing health and social care, who were finding their way through transitioning their work into their homes — where everyone is still being told to remain working, if at all possible. www.animateconsulting.co.uk
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
I grew up in metro Detroit, and moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, with two suitcases and a headful of wishful thinking, in 1994. I am an organizational consultant, with a background in psychology, who works in support of people being more effective at work — and enjoying it more! I have always tried to grab each day with both hands — traveling extensively, learning the trapeze in my 40’s, performing in a band in my 50’s, while raising two daughters and making a family with our Siamese cats. I am grateful for the many people and opportunities that have made my life such a rich adventure.
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
I am still working from home — which is a sharp contrast to being on a train to a different part of Scotland most days each week. The biggest adjustment has been staying in one place, and in front of a screen, all day. I have done the work that I do for 20 years — and would have sworn, before Covid, that its success was in part a result of it being done face to face. I work 1:1 with 10–15 individuals every month, several teams, and small groups (training). The initial shock of COVID emptied our diaries (I have two colleagues) and forced us to reinvent our work for the digital space — or lose our business. We began by simply offering pro-bono support to our clients, who are in the public and not-for-profit sectors, as they, too, were caught in the Covid headlights. We knew that the type of work we do was what any organization needed. Strangely, in the first few weeks — despite losing all of our work — it somehow felt wrong to charge for it.
Scotland is a small country — and there was a sense during the first month of all of us needing to pull together — and we offered ourselves to that. We have just closed our accounts for 2020/21…and finished the year only 15% below the previous year. In essence, Covid shifted the ‘how’ of our work and offered an opportunity to use our skills and expertise in ways that supported the resilience of people as human beings living through a global pandemic, while in their homes, working. As professionals who study the world of work, it is certain that it will never look the same in the UK; as people and organizations integrate the best of virtual…from a position of choice, rather than crisis response.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
I miss a sense of predictability, of being able to plan anything with confidence. I miss seeing my family, who live in the US.
Feeling relaxed wherever I go, and with whomever, I am with.
Summer music and arts festivals.
Theatres (performance theatres, not movies) being open.
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
- Universal healthcare recognized as a human right (US) and funded for its purpose (UK).
- Recognizing the extreme economic inequality in the world, and that failing to address it will harm all of us and all of our futures.
- A return to shopping ‘local’, from independent businesses (this shift has begun in the UK…but will it last?)
- Mental health recognized as something that we ALL have — and that we all suffer from periods of poor mental health, so let’s talk about it, and support one another.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
People have recognized that too much time commuting/in the office was detracting from other important areas of their lives.
People have gotten to know their local areas better — shopping local, using local greenspaces.
People have been more understanding/compassionate of others
We have realized how much we took for granted — as most all of it was removed from our daily lives. We appreciate the little things.
Many people were able to clear a lot of their debt, as their spending habits changed drastically.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
Focused on the good things — what I am grateful for.
After 30+ years as a gym-goer, I have learned new ways to work out using bands and my body weight, at home. I won’t be going back to the gym!
Slowing down…and refocusing where my time and energy are used. Reading and cooking more.
Taking up meditation.
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
I am an ex-pat — so definitely not being able to see my family, and knowing my 80-year-old parents were struggling and at risk of COVID. Accepting that there was nothing I could do about it — and checking in regularly with them. When I got my vaccinations, my primary reason (in my mind) was that I could visit my family again.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I don’t need to work a 50-hour week, traveling across the country (Scotland). We all spent too much time thinking during the lockdown. I took stock of what my hard work of the last 38 years has added up to — money in the bank, two kids well-raised who are now financially independent, an excellent professional reputation that means I am never short of work. My conclusion was — having stopped to think — that I have the privilege to make other choices. To work 35 hours each week, and only be away from my desk (much of the world of work will remain virtual, I suspect) two days each week.
- Going slow is not ‘not achieving’. (As I explained in my first point) Going slow is a different way of achieving.
- Going slow means a closer focus on the events of the day, and the people in them. It means being more present — which is good for everyone.My ‘pre covid’ life was one of constant movement — work, socializing, seeing my kids, going to gigs, and other arts events. Most weekdays were 12–15 hours out of the house. I had no sense of ‘something to prove’ just an unquenchable thirst for the next fun thing. Slowing down has helped me tune into the life that suits me at 54 — having spent nearly 40 years grabbing it all with both hands. I am more available to myself, and others.
- There is a whole world of usefulness online. Beyond social media — opportunities to learn, to access ‘personal training’, podcasts. I never felt lonely, or alone, or bored in lockdown. Yes, I am lucky not to live alone — I have one of my children still with me, and spent every weekend at my partner’s, as he was in our ‘bubble’. My online world expanded — I still don’t live there as much as my Gen Z daughter…but I have skimmed the surface of its wealth.
- A good life doesn’t need to cost so much. I was shocked to realize how much I clearly spent on food and drink, incidental purchases in clothes stores, stationery shops…once I wasn’t passing them every day. I am sure I will never return to the casual spending habits I have had most of my adult life. I recognize how little I ‘need’;..and a treat feels like a treat. Which is the point!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
When I separated from my husband, in 2007, with two small children now entirely my responsibility — having not long set up a business, and without any family or other easy help available, I used to look in the mirror and say ‘everything will be alright in the end…if it isn’t alright, it isn’t the end’. I found myself remembering that in the first few months of the pandemic — when all of our work disappeared, and I felt real fear for the future. Would I lose my business of 20 years, would my parents die without me being able to see them again, will my daughters remain out of work for years? 15 months later, while it isn’t the end, those fears have proven unfounded.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Helen Mirren. She has been a role model for years — an expert at her craft, and shamelessly herself, always. Especially as she has gotten older…she is a shining light for women.
How can our readers further follow your work online? www.animateconsulting.co.uk
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.