What will life be like in a post-covid world? This question is one many of us are pondering as we imagine what’s next. With vaccine rates on the rise (although disproportionately), some countries are beginning the process of re-opening, and we find ourselves in a unique experience—a re-entry point like never before.
The truth is that many of us are probably feeling a mixture of both excitement and anxiety about returning to (a new version of) “normal” life.
Perhaps you are excited for your daily commute to work, in-person meetups, dinners out, weddings and celebrations, and ready to feel the connection of your team members at the office. On the other hand, you might dread the eventual return to the office, feel nervous about reconnecting with friends and loved ones after so long or are sad to leave working in the comfort of your home (and athletic wear). By the way, all of these can be true.
A more profound question we may consider is, will we remember how to ‘human’? Will it be awkward to re-enter knowing that a surface-level conversation might not suffice after all that has happened? How will life, work and relationships be different in life after a pandemic? The future we are shaping will require authenticity and vulnerability—pillars that we collectively strengthened over this last year.
After experiencing so many novel and stressful experiences, you might feel ready to return to the hum-drum of “normal” life. However, this re-entry point could be the most important moment to ensure our personal and collective growth and flourishing.
Fortunately, human-centered skills like mindfulness and emotional intelligence can support our re-entry process, supporting us to reflect on what we learned and integrate the lessons as we build a new and better future for ourselves and our world.
Take it slow.
Pre-pandemic, you may have been able to work an 8-hour day at the office, followed by meeting friends or loved ones multiple times per week. In life post-quarantine, you could have a more limited capacity for gatherings, and taking it slow will help you re-integrate without feeling overwhelmed or exhausted.
Invite a friend over for coffee or attend a small gathering at the office if/when it re-opens. If you are required to return to the office five days a week, take more time to rest and recharge in the evenings and on weekends. Gradually re-entering the world of in-person events at a modest pace helps you acclimate to this “new” experience. Novel experiences help your brain develop the agility required to adapt to a changing world, but too much at once can result in added stress which may lead to overwhelm.
As more people begin to meet and attend events, you may notice those old feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) starting to creep back in. If this happens, you can cultivate a practice of JOMO (joy of missing out) by engaging in solo activities you love with mindfulness, gratitude and appreciation for where you are.
Nevertheless, don’t let the advice to “go slow” be an excuse to stay inside forever! Although it may be tempting to continue to spend each Friday night on the couch with Netflix, social connection is an essential contributor to our well-being, so get out there! Just make sure to pay attention to how your body responds in social situations, and you will be able to manage the stress that might arise or take yourself home when you need to rest.
Take time to reflect.
Do you remember the early days of the pandemic? The streets were empty, the feelings of uncertainty were ripe, and we felt an intimacy with our impermanence and the impermanence of all things. Maybe you vowed not to take your health and well-being for granted or decided you wanted to spend more time with your loved ones after lock-down ended. This pandemic, as many challenging moments do, helped to illuminate what is most important to us. These lessons are powerful and potentially life-altering, and they require space and attention, so give them time to sink in.
Collectively, we witnessed and learned a lot over this last year and a half—from sheltering-in-place and combatting a virus, powerful movements for social justice and racial equity and experiencing the largest-ever decline in global emissions. In order to emerge into a new and better world, we cannot return to the “normal” we once knew. This new reality will require us to reflect on what we learned, what went well, and what still needs improvement so we can integrate the lessons to build a better future both for ourselves and our communities.
As Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore said, “When the string of the violin was being tuned, it felt the pain of being stretched, but once it was tuned, then it knew why it was stretched.” We were all stretched in ways during this pandemic, some disproportionately more than others. How has the “stretching” of this year made you more resilient, present, empathetic or attuned to your values and purpose?
Over the last year and a half, many organizations met the challenge of adapting to a new way of working, pivoting to a remote workforce, prioritizing employee well-being and innovating to meet the unique demands of the changing landscape. The future of work will include the legacy of this pandemic, incorporating more remote work and emphasizing human-centered skills. This transitional moment asks leaders to reflect on what’s most important as we build more inclusive, equitable and more “human” organizations.
Embrace change by getting curious.
Before 2020 we couldn’t have imagined the world of quarantine, shelter-in-place orders, mask-wearing and pandemic life. And yet, we adapted and eventually found a routine and some ‘normalcy’ amid an unimaginable experience.
As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” In fact, in our 2020 research, “navigating uncertainty” was identified as a top organizational priority. Uncertainty has always been a part of life, and if we want to not only survive change but thrive amid uncertainty, our best bet is to strengthen our ability to adapt and accept changes as they come.
Luckily, we can grow emotional intelligence competencies like adaptability and resilience with practices like this meditation: “Finding Inner Calm”. Mindfulness is a driver for curiosity—it helps you manage stress which builds resilience and opens up the mental space for curiosity, creativity and innovation. As you reorient to life outside the quarantine bubble, mindfulness will help you remain open to whatever arises internally and externally.
Don’t forget our common humanity.
During the first few months of the pandemic, each day at 7 pm, cities worldwide would erupt in applause in support of healthcare workers. That was a time of profound global connection. Bound by the fear of uncertainty yet inspired by the selflessness of our healthcare heroes, the intangible thread that connects us all was visible.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that we are more intimately connected than we could have imagined. Recollecting this shared experience can help us strengthen empathy by reminding us that we are all human, worthy of health, dignity and respect. As we rebuild more equitable workplaces and communities, empathy will play a key role in integrating the lessons of this last year and a half.
It is possible that as the memory of the pandemic fades, we may slip back into our cognitive default of empathizing more with those who are similar to us. Luckily, we can modify this process with one of our favorite ways to cultivate empathy, the “Just like me” practice. You could even try adding to this practice the phrase, “This person experienced and survived a global pandemic…just like me.” This experience binds us together, and we can use its memory as a reliable source of empathy and compassion.
If you would like the opportunity to reflect on this experience and re-enter with intention, join us for a 2-day in-person retreat, “Reconnect & Reimagine,” in Lisbon, Portugal, this October. Check out our calendar of events for all upcoming programs.