Are You Coping, Coasting, or Working Through Quarantine?

Isolation is new for most and it's OK for everyone to respond differently.

Posted May 11, 2020

I am about to not give advice. As I enter month two of isolation, I personally don't feel up for advice giving or receiving. The few times I've opened LinkedIn recently, my feed still scrolls with the same career tips that tend to be repeated over and over in slightly different iterations. Well-meaning experts suggesting we use quarantine time to learn a new language, develop a technical skill, work on our resume, or practice interviewing.

Really? Do folks honestly have the focus to take French 101 right now? Most of the people I've video chatted with lately are more focused on day-drinking and picking funny Zoom backgrounds. Few people are coming to me asking for resume help and, honestly, I'm OK with that. I don't have any of my usual career advice to offer today; so, instead, here's what I've been doing and thinking about lately:

With so many suffering, I find myself reflecting on my privilege. No, really, I think about this a lot. The privilege of safety nets, a stocked pantry, that Netflix subscription, my skin color, and my citizenship. The knowing that I can live well with a lot less. I can think of creative solutions to problems and those "problems" are usually not problems in the context of a global pandemic, poverty, or unequal access to basic needs. What if I needed government assistance to feed my family but was terrified by the possibility of ending up in an immigration detention center with a virus outbreak? That is a real problem. Not the downgrade in the softness of my toilet paper.

Lately, I find that non-doing, non-thinking, slow living, and quiet contemplation are restorative and less encumbered by the guilt that usually hounds me in those moments when I could be/should be more productive. This can be a time of learning patience through silence and appreciating a sense of accomplishment through the completion of smaller actions. There is, in fact, so much that can be done right now, including practicing mindfulness by doing nothing at all. On the other hand, I find it very difficult to entertain people's complaints about boredom. This is undoubtedly a tough time for kids who need structure, stimulation, and socialization. But when I see celebs on TV in their mansions complaining about their own fidgetiness, I have to dig deep for empathy. Please, visualize an ER nurse on the COVID-19 ward and go bake bread.

Speaking of bread, many people are learning how to garden or bake and that has me paying particular attention to people's use of physical space and their creativity within. I have the luxury of a yard in which to garden, but many people have something smaller like a balcony or a windowsill. I love seeing the creative solutions of space people are occupying. There has been a resurgence of Victory gardens, but perhaps it feels like a victory to keep alive a pot of basil above the kitchen sink. We are trying new things, solving our own problems, teaching one another, and getting back to basics. I personally find these life lessons tremendously inspiring. They teach us that, faced with a crisis, we are ingenious, tenacious, and propelled by an instinct to survive. Even if we are not doing, we are absolutely learning.

I've said it before in my posts that I hate when people say, "I guess there are a few good people left in the world." Oh please, the world is teeming with good. I hope this pandemic wipes that sentiment from the face of the planet. If we turn off the news and look out the window there are, I promise, neighbors helping neighbors everywhere. That is not new, but it is magnified. People want to help one another. If we're not seeing that, we should be acting upon it—offering help, asking everyone we know if they have what they need. If we don't feel like practicing French, we can certainly be practicing compassion and kindness. Those are the skills that will always pay rich dividends.

I'm witnessing parents learning new skills at home that they are sharing with their children. I'm optimistic that this generation of young people will grow up with more domestic skills, a greater tendency towards self-reliance, and interests in natural sciences and hands-on hobbies.

As I find myself connecting with friends and family long-distance, I've noticed the conversations have slowed down and allowed us to revisit the past in deeper ways. Perhaps this is a time for deepening our current bonds by learning the stories of our families. These are conversations we can pass on to future generations. Storytelling is, and always has been, essential to humanity; and I'm hopeful it's an art that is being strengthened during a time when we are forced to face the mortality of our loved ones. I believe an invaluable use of time is to learn the powerful, hilarious, and traumatic stories of our families. Generations before us worked so hard for what we have and they were incredibly resilient—we have much to learn from them.

I may be wading into advice-y territory here, but, after learning your family’s stories, think about your own story. How has your history combined with your family history to form your character, resilience, values, skills, and all that sets you apart? If, indeed, you do want to use this time to prepare for your future, now is the time to contemplate your story. Do you want to move forward with a clearer and more authentic identity? Do you want to set aside some parts that have built up around you that feel outdated, burdensome, or stifling? If I was an employer with two candidates to choose from—both of whom had strong resumes—I'd probably hire the person who showed the most character. The person who is not afraid to show some personality, humor, and, yes, vulnerability. Your stories are your power.

That's it for my non-advice, advice. If you like this kind of non-advice, please share it with someone who could use less advice and more present-moment-ness. If you don't like how I didn't give advice, how would you have written it differently and better? Maybe you'll use your time to do that. Maybe writing is the talent that has been pouring out of you during your quarantine. So, maybe you'll share even better career development tips on LinkedIn. Or, maybe you'll compare all the local pizza joints in your area (since they've all delivered to your door by now) and become the best food blogger in town.  

My hope for you is that you'll not only be safe and well, but that you'll follow your imagination. That you'll allow yourself random restful naps. That you'll get carried away with something that would typically feel like a waste of time. There will be time to practice French and rework your resume but, if you want my advice, now is the time for people, peace, and pizza.

My heartfelt gratitude to the frontline workers, health officials, researchers, journalists, and workers keeping our communities up and running every day. We recognize many of you don't have the luxury of rest because you are sacrificing so much to keep the rest of us going. And to those leaders offering wise council and guidance: Humans are resilient—even announcements of hardship are easier to cope with when we know they are based in science and sincerity. Thank you for your service.