A large portion of the country is reopening, and while that can signal a return to the office – at least part time – for many, it won’t be a return to “normal”. We’re going to be leaving our homes for a very different world. And while some people can’t wait for “things to get back to normal,” the question we need to be asking is, “Was that ’normal’ the best that we could do?”
Prior to the pandemic shutdown we were a society on the go. We were a schedule-driven, multitasking mob with goals, agendas, and very little downtime. We defined ourselves by doing, not by being, and wore our busyness like a badge of honor. We scheduled our kids, ourselves, our weekends, and our holidays. We scheduled it all and we were busy, busy, busy. That busyness came at a cost though, it was making us sick. Dr. Susan Koven, Massachusetts General Hospital, noticed the trend and wrote, “In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”
However, early this year that busyness stopped – abruptly –and the time of the great reflection began. Why were we so busy? What did that busyness mean? Why did that busyness matter? And most importantly, what’s next? Our dilemma is global and can best be summed up by a piece of graffiti in Hong Kong that proclaims, “We can’t return to normal, because the normal we had was precisely the problem.”
While these past weeks have been traumatizing, in certain ways they’ve been a gift. We have been able to connect with our immediate and extended families; we’re consistently reaching out to neighbors and friends; we’re reengaging with our communities (from a distance), and we’re focusing on the people that make our lives full. We’re more mindful of our time; we’re focusing on self-care; we’re picking up old hobbies; we’re cooking; we’re making art, and while many of us are still working, we’re not traveling, networking, or engaging in the extraneous noise, or busyness of it all. We’ve been able to enjoy the quiet, and in some ways, are reluctant to let it go.
As we start to look at what’s next and define our new normal, we need to take stock of these past few weeks and evaluate what we want to take forward with us. Is it unscheduled weekends or daily walks? Is it a consistent focus on self care? Could it be a regular opportunity to make art? More time with friends? Or watching the sunset? Now – before the busyness sets in – it’s time to pause, take stock, and ask yourself what you really want. We’re all in this together and if we want to collectively benefit from these times, we need to support one another, be clear with our intentions, and define what we truly want our new normal to look like.