Ask Mr. Manners

The New Normal

It feels like every day brings new direction regarding social distancing, and indication of lifting of our current quarantine. As we await direction to “open back up” and move forward, I am sure that we will start to see billions of dollars spent on messaging, advertising, and media content which encourages a return to normal. But what is normal, and how do we survive until we return to life once known?

If you are fortunate to work from home during these times, you are acutely aware that it’s all too easy to blur the lines between work time and personal time. For some, it’s unclear when work ends at all. “Protecting your essential personal time comes down to managing your transitions,” writes Elizabeth Grace Saunders for Harvard Business Review. Easier said than done. One way to do this is to set up work start – and end – rituals. Such tasks can be as simple as making coffee or taking a walk. But these are signals that mark the start to finish of your work day.

For the rest of us, we search for meaning while awaiting the fates of our careers. Uncertainty can drive us to feel lethargic and encroaching a new dilemma: ‘How to make yourself work when you just don’t want to’. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to make this work. I realize that the three most popular strategies – thinking about consequences of failure, ignoring feelings, and engaging in detailed planning – don’t sound as fun as advice like “follow your passion!” or “stay positive!” But will have the decided advantage of being effective – which, as it happens, is exactly what you’ll be if you use them. The renowned artist Chuck Close observed that “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”

In a final moment of pondering our new situation, I hope you might consider this: What happened is inexplicably incredible. What the crisis has given us is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see ourselves and our country in the plainest of views. At no other time ever, in many of our lives, have we had to unseemly consider what would happen if the world simply stopped.

Now that we are at this point, we will have to make decisions regarding the future. How will we allow the lessons learned from this so-called new normal to influence our return to society? Do we return to our lives and routines which feel so far away, or to keep some of the new habits formed in this time of isolation? Regardless of your decision, be safe, and find ways to take care of each other. At the end of the day we are all in this together, no matter what “normal” looks like.

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