Relationships Can Suffer When a Pandemic Jeopardizes Work

Seven sets of skills can help restore hope, balance and opportunity.

Posted May 23, 2020

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My oldest granddaughter graduated from college a year ago. She had majored in biomedical engineering. Upon graduation, clear that she wanted to become a surgeon, she decided to first study for and take the required medical school entrance exams and then work in a related field while completing her applications to continue her formal education.

She was lucky with timing—and the real-life graduation events we were privileged to share last year were only the beginning. Within days of learning that her MCAT scores liberated her from facing a second testing, she had secured a dream job, one that moved her into a residential hotel, part of her contract with her new employer. She even bought a car, once she realized it could be very useful when you live in a semirural area and the bike trip to work is too long.

Today, her schedule (and income) has been cut to 80% in response to changes in the economy, and she works virtually from her residential hotel more than in the laboratory where she previously collaborated, but she remains on track to realize her dreams and we are all very grateful. In contrast, everything has changed for those who are graduating only a year later or who had not been quite so focused initially.

Today’s college graduates and the students who follow them (including three other grandchildren who will be a senior, a junior, and a freshman in college next fall) are entering a very different world. The loss of millions of jobs in America in the last three months promises rearrangement of the work landscape. None of us know what skills will be valued (and what training for them will be necessary) in two, five, and certainly 10 years from now.

Will the success of teleworking lead to shifts in residential preferences? Will that alone vary depending on where each one is in their lifespan developmentally?  Will the shift towards fewer (or no) children continue, fueled by fears of economic considerations or of bringing children into today’s world with its challenges and uncertainties? Will people have the energy to invest in creating durable personal relationships? To endure the conflicts that must be addressed so that trust can be built while understanding and appreciation are formed? To do the maintenance necessary to keep a love relationship vibrant, authentic, and nurturing? And how will responsibilities for children be viewed?  Will people be able to retain respect for their own inner child, or the need to find balance among yearnings for internal expression, demands of the material world, and social connections?

What will be helpful in the world of tomorrow? At the least, people of all ages will benefit from several sets of skills:

Traditional Skills:

  • Job-related marketable skills. These are the skills that are marketable— those that will be
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    in demand for the sorts of work that people may hope to do, whether in jobs that offer building blocks for the future or represent activities that may bring immediate fulfillment.
  • Job-hunting skills. Regardless of area, people will have to learn how to identify work that they might be qualified to do and might be interested in doing. These skills, such as researching opportunities, interviewing, presenting oneself or one’s resume or otherwise marketing oneself, knowing proper follow-up etiquette, are distinct from those required by any specific industry or may indeed vary with the industry.
  • A commitment to lifelong learning. One impact of the pandemic has been a growing awareness that lifelong learning is necessary if any of us are to remain a vibrant part of the world beyond our doorsteps, even when our work itself takes place within our own homes. Whether we are self-employed or work for others, are paid for our work or volunteer, are young or not so young, we can count on change in the world around us. The use of technology is likely to expand. Markets inevitably shift.
  • Financial management. For most people, our work provides our income. A solid understanding of money and its management can allow people the freedom to view finances as only one aspect of their work life and to pay attention to financial implications when making decisions. Money is often the key to meeting our material needs, getting what we need from the external world—shelter, food, essential and rewarding experiences that are costly. It can sometimes buy freedom, beauty and/or comfort but it can also distort appreciation of what is necessary for personal happiness. Transportation is a need: A bicycle and a Ferrari are both solutions. The latter requires a lot more (and more complicated and costly) maintenance.   
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Personal Skills:

  • Mastering the balance beam. As noted in the introductory paragraphs, we perpetually face
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    the challenge of balancing our internal, external and relational needs. If we can enhance our ability to identify how much is enough in each area, we can keep track of the motivations that direct us towards our personal happiness. Are we basing those judgments on what we think will make us happy—a collection of beliefs so easily manipulated by the media and social pressures—or on what has already shown itself to make us happy? Hint: Self-observation skills are precious. Indeed, teaching these skills is a central goal of many therapeutic approaches. They become essential when we, our condition, or our situation changes.
  • Adapting to change.  Some people are born with more ease in adapting to new circumstances than others. Everyone, however, can expand their comfort in dealing with novelty. A new context can involve transitions, letting go of what must be left behind, and embracing what is new without exposing oneself to unnecessary risks. Skills in managing all these challenges can be learned — but mastering the processes can take time and can be more challenging for some people than for others. Some methods can be more helpful for some people and other methods for other people; individual differences do matter. 
  • Self-monitoring skills. As noted, skills in observing one’s own reactions are one toolkit; they can help us identify goals. In contrast, those that allow us to monitor how we are doing are essential in distinguishing when to adapt to change and when to make a change. An ongoing method for tracking one’s reactions allows the process to be as important as the goals.
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What skills challenge you the most?  Which do you feel you have mastered?  Do you have difficulty keeping those updated?  What kind(s) of help would be beneficial for you?  What kinds of help can you most easily ferret out yourself? 

Copyright 2020 Roni Beth Tower