The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our routines and lifestyles. While being shut mostly in your home or observing infection prevention guidelines when leaving the house, chances are you might be finding it difficult to adapt to the changes of the past few months. And yet, we all have to find a way to survive and thrive in the pandemic.
Liz, a coaching client of mine, had a difficult time adjusting to the COVID-19 reality. As an executive in the insurance industry, she thrived in her fast-paced but very organized work schedule and equally full social life.
All of this came to a grinding halt when the pandemic hit, or at least this was how Liz viewed it. Stuck alone at home during the lockdown, she found it difficult to adjust to life working from home and felt that her long-term personal and career goals had been put on hold as well. Liz asked me for guidance as she grappled with bouts of boredom, loneliness, and low work productivity.
Thriving During the Pandemic
When I met with Liz over Zoom – by this time I had already moved my previously hybrid in-person and virtual coaching to all virtual – I told her that there were some essential points that she needed to understand in order to adjust to the new COVID-19 reality.
Fundamentally, while you’re in a new abnormal, your underlying needs and wants remain the same. You just need to figure out different ways toward satisfying them.
You might have heard of Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation and the pyramid of needs based on his work. More recent research, summarized in Scott Barry Kaufman’s excellent book Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, revises this model to show that our fundamental needs consist of safety, connection, and self-esteem, and we will feel deprived without them.
We also have needs that help us achieve our full potential through personal growth, what Maslow called “self-actualization” and what Kaufman more clearly defined as exploration, love, and purpose. A good approach to adapting to the new abnormal is by evaluating your life through the lens of these needs and ensuring that you can still satisfy them.
In order to guide her back to a thriving mindset, Liz and I focused on self-actualization during our coaching sessions.
Exploration in this sense is driven not by fear and anxiety – such as the watching of daily news briefings on the pandemic – but by the thrill of discovery and curiosity about the novel, the challenging, the unknown. Exploration requires going outside your comfort zone and experiencing the growth associated with doing so.
While you’re restricted by being at home, you have a universe of information available for exploration through the internet. Decide on an area of discovery that you will pursue, something genuinely challenging.
You can also work on mastering new skills or further developing existing ones. Being at home offers a great opportunity to learn an instrument, pick up coding skills, or try to make a viral Youtube video.
After one of our coaching sessions, Liz decided to face her loneliness head on by exploring readily available technologies and online activities. This meant shifting most, if not all, of her personal interactions to a virtual mode. She scheduled more video calls with her friends and family, and also decided to reconnect with old friends.
This eventually led to rediscovering an old book club she used to participate in actively when she was younger. As she reconnected with the old members, they decided to revive and expand the book club, with Liz taking the lead due to her vast network and excellent organizational skills. Liz and the core group members made it a point to invite other friends who were also spending the lockdown period alone.
These actions led to a much more thriving social life for Liz, which helped her ward off loneliness, especially during the weekends, when she wasn’t working. With the online book club going really well, the members even decided to physically meet up once it was safe to do so, whenever that may be.
Exploration also contributes to the second aspect of self-actualization highlighted by Kaufman: expressing love toward others, by which he means making a positive impact on their lives. By volunteering virtually to provide companionship to lonely elder adult strangers, you satisfy your need to make that positive impact.
Of course, you can also bring that love toward your existing relationships, such as to your family, partner, friends, and even your pets. Besides simply maintaining your connections – a fundamental need – you can also, without any expectations in return, devote your energy toward improving the lives of those with whom you have relationships.
Let’s go back to Liz, who decided that the lockdown period would be the perfect time to adopt a cat. While she had pets growing up and had always wanted to adopt a cat again, she never had the time to do so previously due to her busy schedule.
After she realized that the new abnormal meant that she would have to spend more time at home – and in some aspects, she had already begun to feel more comfortable working mostly from home – she immediately headed to her community’s local animal shelter to look for a cat to adopt.
That day, she went home with not just one, but three cats – the first she adopted, while the other two she agreed to foster for a short period. The animal shelter was grateful for her help as they were understaffed due to the pandemic, and had been looking for people who can temporarily foster unadopted pets until operations were fully up and running again.
Liz felt immense happiness at having companions again, and also for having been able to help out in the community in her own way.
The other critical aspect of self-actualization involves developing, refining, and pursuing your sense of meaning and purpose, a topic I explore in much more depth in my Find Your Purpose Using Science. In the context of the pandemic, it’s even more important to seek proactively a sense that you are contributing to something you’re passionate about that’s bigger than yourself, a personal mission of service that offers you fulfillment and contentment.
As for Liz, the strengthened relationships and self-confidence brought about by her new virtual lifestyle has renewed her enthusiasm not just in her personal life, but also in the way she viewed and approached her profession. As she began to feel optimistic, she felt more willing to open up and participate in company-wide initiatives.
Liz signed up to mentor junior female executives. With her life and career goals coming into focus again, she wanted to take part in giving guidance and direction to younger women who were charting a similar career path. This proved to be a wise and fulfilling move, as not only did she prove to be effective at mentoring, she also felt more excited about each day despite the limits brought about by the pandemic. Moreover, through mentoring them virtually, she was able to breach geographic divides effectively.
While the new abnormal ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to our lives, there’s no reason you can’t thrive in the new abnormal while we wait for a vaccine. You just need to identify and address your self-actualization needs for exploration, love, and purpose.
Originally Published at Disaster Avoidance Experts on September 1, 2020.