It has been more than three months since life as we knew it changed dramatically for most of us. We have no idea when, if ever, our lives will return to normal. Many people are not even expecting life to return to normal, instead assuming that we will have a “new normal.” As life goes on, it becomes difficult to know how to plan. So, what are we to do? My best guess is that we must become more comfortable with not knowing.
I read a book recently about The Wisdom of not Knowing, and it was a timely read in light of our current reality. While I agree that there is certainly wisdom in not knowing, I also find not knowing to be a challenge. Not knowing if schools will have physical classes this fall. Not knowing when we will be able to dine in a restaurant without physical distancing. Not knowing when international travel will resume, and when we will be comfortable to travel internationally even when we are allowed to. Not knowing when we can see and embrace our elderly loved ones, especially those who are in assisted living facilities. Not knowing when our economy will improve. Not knowing when those who lost income and jobs will recover. Not knowing when so many positive things that we took for granted will become positive again.
How are we to thrive during this time, and not just survive? Or is that even possible? Although most people have found some positive changes from this time, some things that we have enjoyed, I doubt that anyone wants to stay in this stage of limbo any longer than necessary. It is difficult to plan anything more than a week or two in advance. With the increase in COVID-19 cases in many areas, there is even a fear that some governors will not just fail to move into later phases of reopening, but even revert back to more restrictions.
What are we to do? How are we to not just cope, but to succeed in these times? While there are some businesses that have been created during this pandemic, the best example being those businesses making face masks, many businesses are closing forever. If you are the CEO of a business making these decisions, you have a heavy responsibility. For you have the livelihoods of your staff and their families in your care, not just your own. While this is a reality for some reading this, the individual decisions that must be made to weather this storm is a reality for all reading this. If you only have yourself to be concerned about, not even a spouse or children, the decisions you make and the actions you take may be the difference in whether you even survive this time. I have some thoughts about what we individually need to do to manage this time and come out on the other side of it better for the experience.
First, we need to expect many of the challenges from COVID-19 to be with us for probably another year. If things improve dramatically before then and we have assumed a longer timeline before that happened, we will be further ahead of the curve than we would otherwise be. When we assume that this hangs around for another year, what decisions should we make and what actions should we take? I have one answer to this question for myself. I need to reduce my expenses and prepare for the current drop in income to be sustained for a year. Even if business gets back to “normal” sooner rather than later, many businesses will not be having meetings that include speakers. One way Mike and I have reduced expenses and can continue to do so is cooking and eating more at home.
It is important for us to be very clear about what we can control and what we can’t. We cannot control how quickly a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed and available. What we can control is reducing our exposure to the virus by the personal choices we make. While many of us have relaxed our standards and are going out more, we need to do so judiciously. We do not need to take unnecessary chances with our health. We can also do our part to stay healthy by our actions, including eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising safely. We can keep our minds healthy also and minimize our stress. We need to be in our best physical and emotional shape during this time, able to withstand the challenges of not knowing.
We need to stay positive, even when it is difficult. Actions such as having goals for each day, staying productive, and keeping routines that help us to stay motivated will serve us well. We also need to allow ourselves time to relax and not be productive, and to ease into the occasional feelings of sadness and loss. This is a hard time and pretending that it isn’t is not a solution. We can journal our thoughts and feelings and share what we are willing to with our close friends. We can read. We can meditate. We can walk. We can do whatever grounds us, whatever brings us back to ourselves when all is not right with our world.
While there are some challenges in not knowing, there are also some solutions for dealing with the unknown. We can do what is required to be our best selves, an even better self than we were before this time.