The impacts of the pandemic, especially the experience of sheltering in place, have changed our lives forever. As a result, several themes and patterns are emerging as we strive to adapt to the new normal – whatever may lay ahead.
A friend of mine had a recent conversation with a colleague who is a VP in a large tech firm. During their talk about their experiences sheltering in place and working from home the exec said, “I don’t know if I can go back to work.” For him the experience of working from home instead of at the office has been so enjoyable he doesn’t want to return to long commutes and even longer hours. His daily work grind had been so ingrained in him that he hadn’t ever questioned what he was missing. After being forced to stay home he’s spent more time with family. Now he doesn’t want to give this time with his family up.
I also heard another story from a global traveler who works for an international consulting firm. For him, the pandemic put his long international flights and heavy travel schedule on pause, and he isn’t missing them. His firm has discovered a new way to approach their work that doesn’t require as much time away. Their training has shifted online, and they do not expect to return to the intense travel that had been the hallmark of their work before COVID-19.
As a living systems expert, I’m noticing three primary themes emerging as we move into the next phase of living within the constraints of a pandemic.
Adaptation is something nature does exceptionally well. It’s largely why this planet has survived for billions of years. Nature is flexible and freely sheds the old to make room for the new when it is a healthier choice. This time of sheltering in place forced many of us to approach life from a more natural, flexible perspective. Here are some of the patterns about adaptation that seem to be arising as we move through our own experiences at this time:
- The old ways are gone. Now that we’ve experienced something different, the old routine is unappealing and, in many cases, proven to be inefficient.
- Patience is still a virtue. We’ve had to change our way of doing things from our high-speed work world filled with inflexible routine, fixed habits and pressure to act. It’s been replaced with learning how to be patient during adjustment.
- Our compassion is growing. This experience is global. The news may focus most on conflict and tension, but many of us are finding our sense of connection and service to humanity are growing. Part of this is increased compassion.
- We are reevaluating fear. Nelson Mandela said, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” The knee-jerk reactions that generate fear in us are diminishing. Fear is still there, but it is losing its power to negatively affect our thoughts or actions as it did before.
- We are letting go. We’re allowing new patterns to emerge in our relationships. These new patterns are healthier and help us thrive alongside our co-workers and loved ones.
Listening and Learning from Nature
We’ve all heard stories of more wildlife sightings and the appearance of nature reclaiming areas usually filled with bustling human activity. We hear more bird songs and we breathe fresher air. In my own neighborhood, ducks are waddling down the road that has much less traffic than normal. This experience invites us to see nature around us in a new way. We are being called to:
- Visualize a healthier, better world.
- Imagine possibilities, instead of dismissing ideas.
- Embrace a stronger sense of well-being.
- Generate a new, more regenerative system that respects nature and reflects a living system.
Reframing Uncertainty as Opportunity
As we are practicing more flexibility with interrupted work routines and new ways of life, we’re becoming more experienced with handling uncertainty. This means we can look at uncertainly more as an opportunity than as a fearsome stumbling block as we invest in flexibility and change. Right now, we are also being given:
- More time to think strategically.
- The chance to be fully presence when facing a project or problem.
- Opportunities to dig deeper and transform information and data into actionable knowledge and wisdom.
- An opportunity to pause and think carefully about our voices vs. the choices of others – we can release ourselves from choices we don’t want.
- Heightened understanding that collaboration is essential in an interdependent world, and now more than ever we must see how truly interdependent our world is.
Of course, not everyone is experiencing this pandemic the way our call participants are. But these themes and patterns still reflect what is possible, and that adapting to the challenge we’re facing can propel us forward in a healthier and more successful way.