On March 13, 2020, I was standing at the front of a large class of college students, trying to find ways to calm their anxiety over the possibility of being off school for a few weeks and maybe losing their semester. The path the Corona virus was going to take was not yet known or even understood. There was a lot of fear. One student even came to class with a full gas mask on, understanding enough about virology to scare the rest of the class into a heightened silence. All I could do was ensure them that they would always have guidance through the college, and to reach out to me directly as we discovered our new classroom learning time together.
These last few years have been interesting, to say the least. I’m sure you have experienced a life-time of change since March 2020, just like the rest of us. Each week feeling like a month of learning and change, and a year feeling like a week since your last interaction. My experience with this much change has increased my anxiety, to go to the grocery store, and decreased my worry, about the requirement to deliver more solutions. The small things seem big and the big things seem doable. For others I know, the changes show up differently for each of them. Some things are harder (e.g. going out anywhere people are, or having to learn how to order online). Some things seem easier (e.g. not having to put pants on to interact with workmates on video).
Over this pandemic time I have started an MBA in Leadership, Innovation and Change, took on more teaching of entrepreneur courses at the college, reduced my client load and stopped writing. For a professional writer of over 30 years, this seemed weird to me, but I was open to the learning it brought me. What was changing for me, beyond what the pandemic brought? How can I show up as my best and help more people get to where they wanted to and needed to go? I had questions about my future, as I’m sure you do about yours. There seems to be a large shift in our expectation of lifestyle and work balance.
So, here are some questions to get you started and what I learned that may help you find your way back to your ‘new normal’ (an oxymoron, I know), through the chaos of this global change.
Where to land?
As you experience all the different opportunities that surround you through the changes brought on by the Pandemic, it is important to first understand what your ‘why’ is? By this I mean ‘why you do anything you do?’ This is not a small question. Understanding your supreme purpose can take a lifetime or you might stumble upon it in a conversation with a friend.
Through this chaos you will have learned a lot about how you act and react to the tremendous amount of change you have been forced to live. The key is learning. What you learned will help you find where you should be. What I learned about myself was that, although I am a systems and process person, I am more about relationships. My why is still about helping others be the best in their lives, and, of course, the people of business ownership. To be able to focus on this I have had to take on work I didn’t want to do and make concessions and sacrifices to be able to control where I land in my new normal.
How to feel?
Change always feels foreign to our lifestyle. Even if you are a risk-taker and love to push the boundaries of your physical, mental, or emotional being, change that you choose is different than change you must endure. The interesting point is that change that we choose, like going off to university, traveling to a new country, buying a cottage, sky-diving, etc., generates excitement. This excitement is a form of anxiety. What if I don’t like my job and I moved away from home just to hate what I do. What if I get to a different country and I get sick? What if I cannot afford to own the cottage because the upkeep to simply too much? What if my parachute does not open? These are welcome questions because we have chosen to discover what it would take to make the change we want to see happen.
When change is not expected it also creates anxiety.
The anxiety of change we choose (expected change) and the anxiety of change we did not choose (unexpected change) has basically the same physiological experience. Too much anxiety can be overwhelming and can be bad for your health. So, why can we more easily overcome the anxiety of expected change? Because we are asking the questions that help us mitigate the challenges we can foresee. We have mentors and close friends we can ask for help to answer our questions or experts we can reach out to. We make a ‘plan B’ for the day you know you need to change your job. We buy insurance to cover what is important to the continuity of our life. We can ensure we buy a cottage within our means. We can choose the flight school that has never had a parachuting accident in over 10 years. Smart change is less stressful when we have some idea of how we can manage the change and any challenges it may bring.
This is the same for unexpected change. We may not have been aware that the change was coming, but when it does, we can be aware of what challenge it brings and the challenges it may bring. Start asking the ‘what if’ questions to determine what other changes you might have to manage. Having some ability to foresee will make what is happening easier to bear. You cannot undo what has already happened, but you can make the future different than the path that was thrust upon you and allow you to feel like there is some things you can control.
When to stop?
There may be times in your life where you get a reprieve from change, but they are short. Change is always happening and change requires knowledge to be able to reach your next destination in life; So, don’t stop learning. When you stop learning, you start dying. Learning is the growth that keeps you engaged in your purpose. It connects you to others through empathy and understanding. The experience of life is a learning wisdom.
“Covid-time” – The experience of time over the pandemic that does not feel like our usual passing of minutes, hours, weeks, months, and years. It is weird and yet understood by all. I express this feeling as being ‘a decade long and a week wide.’ We have experts that can see more changes on our global horizon and others that answer questions around what to do about this. What is next is up to each of us? How do we mitigate the unexpected changes of our global future? We need to know the questions and have the answers that allow us to have some control over what we can do.
Change is not a ‘one and done’ it is a ‘now and next’. Your new normal of today is tomorrow’s past and may not look anything like our yesterday.