Reflecting and learning while sheltering in place.


Life during the pandemic is tough. Some of us are genuinely traumatized by infection-inflicted losses. People who fit this description have no emotional energy for anything but attempting to survive.

However, many more of us, while not facing urgent, life-threatening circumstances, are, nonetheless, experiencing what Psychology Today refers to as pandemic anxiety. For those in this category, the crisis offers opportunities along with the threats.

While you are practicing the self-care that the Psychology Today article recommends, reflect for a moment on the following:

Suppose you had the power to choose your life circumstances immediately. Either you could return to your pre-pandemic world exactly as you left it, or you could emerge from this crisis by altering the way you live and work based on what you have learned.

Which would you choose?

Understandably, most of us have longed to return to business as usual, from time to time. Yet, no matter how daunting the current challenges, this crisis offers us opportunities to learn and to shape a future that is better than our past.

What Can We Learn from This Crisis?

Undoubtedly we all have our own unique challenges, and thus learning opportunities. However, the following stories illustrate two common categories of learning experiences.

While the lessons may at first seem obvious, those telling the stories recount their surprise at the power of their realizations.

The value of spending time with loved ones

Example: The CEO of a manufacturing company in the Midwest is also the mother of young children. She describes how her slower lifestyle has improved her family life. She says that before the “shelter in place” order, she and her spouse frantically sprinted through their days, running their businesses, traveling to see clients, and dividing up family responsibilities such as shuttling kids to school and a myriad of extracurricular events. Some weeks, the family failed to share even one meal. She is thankful for the slower pace.

Example: Some have a new appreciation for how in-person social time with friends and families enhances their lives. While they still can and do communicate via phone and internet technology, these virtual get-togethers do not provide the same fulfillment as interacting in person.  

Example: The adult children of elderly parents who are currently locked down in a retirement community, miss the family meals and celebrations that they had shared previously.

Example: Likewise, a couple whose adult offspring and young grandchild moved to their town recently lament their inability to help their kids settle into their new home. And they miss playing with their grandson.

While they did not neglect their families and friends before, these people have come to more deeply value their connections as a result of their absence currently.

The significance of work in our lives

Time away from our usual work routines offers us opportunities to reflect on how we want to work. We can ask ourselves where work fits in our list of life priorities. Some people report that they have discovered the significance of meaningful work anew. And others recognize what they have sacrificed for jobs that aren’t fulfilling.

Example: A seasoned professional who typically works more hours than he cares to admit reports feeling more centered now. He says he is working fewer hours these days. However, he believes he is more productive because his priorities are clear.

Make Reflection Intentional

Psychologist, consultant, author, and mountain adventurer, Geoff Powter, says that we can create a different and better future by reflecting on positive changes in our current circumstances. He suggests taking note of new frameworks and behaviors we haven’t seen before. He recommends asking ourselves the following questions: 

  • What do we need to be open to? 
  • What have we experienced that is unexpected?
  • What haven’t we paid attention to in the past?
  • How are we connecting differently with people now, and what are the results?
  • How might we change our perspectives based on our new experiences? 
  • And most importantly, how can we make sure that we continue those practices that are new, refreshing, and rewarding rather than falling back into old habits? 

By mustering the courage and taking the time to reflect, we can become more resilient.

The What and Why of Resilience

Some psychologists define resilience as the ability to bounce back after experiencing hardships. However, Kathi Irvine, an organizational consultant, rejects this definition. She maintains that positive resilience means “falling forward” rather than bouncing back. She explains we don’t have to return to business as usual. Instead, we can learn from our current circumstances and create new and better ways to live and work by paying attention to the lessons available to us now. Irvine offers examples of how her clients are preparing to do just that.

She describes the humility of her clients, who are reaching out for help in new ways.

 And she describes leaders giving up control and engaging their teams in courageous conversations where they acknowledge their vulnerabilities. As a result, they are connecting at a deeper level. As a result, they are more able to explore what might be possible for the future collectively. 

Dov Seidman, the chairman of LRN and the How Institute for Society, talks about the need for leaders with humility, in his interview with Thomas Friedman published in the New York Times. Seidman maintains that we are not expecting our leaders to fix everything for us. Instead, we want leaders who will engage with the experts, and indeed with all of us, to find answers.

The Times Are Challenging and Yet….

This pandemic may be the greatest crisis the world will face in our lifetimes. And, on a more personal level, the alterations in our daily lives create frustrations, tensions, and high anxiety for most of us.  

Many are feeling unnerved by merely meeting their families’ fundamental needs. For example, tasks as mundane as shopping for groceries have become inordinately more complicated with social distancing, and food and product shortages.

Moreover, the demands of parenting have escalated. Those with school-age children are homeschooling them, while others are accommodating adult offspring who have moved home due to job losses or the closure of college campuses. No matter how much we love our kids, these circumstances can be challenging to embrace fully.

If you remain employed or are running companies, most likely, you are attempting to adjust to the new constraints of working in a virtual environment that guarantees little from hour to hour. And, if you find yourself suddenly unemployed and without an income, undoubtedly you are scared.

Who wouldn’t want to return to the world the way we knew it only a few weeks ago? Recognizing the upside of change when we are struggling to get through the days isn’t easy. 

And yet, this crisis offers us the unique opportunity to transform for the better the way we live and work. We have the chance to make changes in our world.

Building a New Normal

We will emerge from this crisis, one way or another. The question for all of us to consider now is what will we have learned? Perhaps now is the time to build a new routine based on what we are learning through our hardships – one that is better than anything we have known pre-pandemic. According to Seidman, with humility and courage, we can find big answers together.