Returning to Normal? Or Not?

Use your time at home to rethink your career.

Posted Mar 31, 2020

I was reading an interesting blog post today, titled "Smile, Wave, Be Thankful, Be Kind, Find Peace" by Dr. Lawrence H. Gerstein, Professor of Psychology at Ball State University. It's a lovely piece written by the Advisory Board of the Ball State Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, which he directs.

The focus of the piece is on kindness, finding compassion for oneself and others, and other ways to cope with the COVID-19 situation. It offers 30 ways to bring more peace and joy into your life today.  But what struck me the most was suggestion #30: "In the rush to return to 'normal,' use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to." 

That's one powerful ending to a list. How many of us, in our desire to go back to our "normal" lives, have stopped to think about whether that's really our goal now? 

If you're like many right now, you've probably been practicing social isolation or some form of distancing from others for at least two weeks. And it probably hasn't been easy. I'm an introvert, and like to say that I've been practicing social isolation my whole life—but even I miss my friends, my co-workers, my coffee shop, and my normal routine.

And yet. This time away from our routines does allow us to pause and think about what we want to return to and what we might want to change. In my last few posts, I've been asking you to think about your life balance and your goals to move toward employment, if you have lost your job. But more than focusing on employment—what life do you want to return to?

What lessons have you learned already from staying at home and not commuting every day? What have you learned from being around your family and/or your pets? Maybe you've been isolated from your family and that has been hard. It may not be all sunshine and roses, but I suspect you have new insights into what is important, and how you might hope to prioritize your life when this imposed isolation is gone. And you may be surprised to learn what activities you thought you would do while you were home, but haven't. (Or as actress Anna Kendrick recently tweeted: "I guess I’ll never be able to lie to myself again about all the s*** I would do if I just had the time.")

So here's a fun exercise to try. You may call it a blank whiteboard. Or a poster board. Or a large piece of newsprint. A career planner. An idea generator. A dream catcher. And it's as simple as it sounds.

Find a large white surface to work on. If you don't have poster board or a whiteboard at home, tape some pieces of paper together. Or use your computer and create a new blank document. Place your paper somewhere where you'll remember to work on it throughout the next few days. You're going to start capturing those new dreams or ideas. 

Depending on the medium you're using, use pens, crayons, markers, or other writing implements. Cut out pictures from magazines, and words that describe how you want to feel. Feel free to be creative and add glitter, paints, or stickers. Whatever you have around the house. Or keep it simple and use a pen. Make lists instead. Research possible new career ideas online and add them to your board.

This is your board: Capture your ideas the way you'd like. If you're creating your board on the computer, use creative fonts and download pictures from the internet. But focus on aspects of your career as well as your life.  If you dream of moving to California, then cut out a picture of California. And then do a little internet research on living and working in California. Maybe California stays on the board. Maybe it doesn't. 

This is an idea board. Anything that sounds appealing to you should go on it. (After several weeks in my home in Nashville with lots of rainy days, I'm drawn right now to pictures of sunny beach houses. Hmm...)

As you post items on your board, be prepared to remove them when they don't fit. What seems like a good idea right now might not be as appealing tomorrow. Keep putting up ideas for your life or your work, and take note of what evolves.

This is a process, so let it go on for a few days—maybe until we can stop sheltering in place. Jot down any insights you have or ideas to explore when you are back in civilization. And what will you do then? 

Well, now it's a working board. It's not a passive item you stare at and "hope" things will happen. This is a potential blueprint for what your life could be if you're willing to do the work. There's no magic here: You will need to work hard to make your new dreams happen.

But for now, the point is to focus and think: Which parts of normal do you want to return to?  And what might your "new normal" look like?

©2020 Dr. Katharine Brooks. All rights reserved.