How COVID-19 Is Shaping the Future of Generations
For Generations Y and Z, work, school, and life will never be the same.
Posted February 24, 2021
It has been a singular experience practicing psychotherapy during COVID-19. Having already established a fully virtual practice prior, I was fortunate to not have to scramble to close my doors, make alternate arrangements and educate myself and my clients on online platforms. As such, therapy proceeded as it always had—except for rumblings of a global pandemic on the horizon, uncertainty, skepticism, and an ever-lingering ominous feeling.
Over a year into things, much has certainly changed, but also not everything. There is ever a sense of wonder and hope at when things (if ever) can return back to “normal.” Individuals hope for a return of vacations, movies with friends, and dining out without anxiety. And yet, there is much that has fundamentally changed, perhaps forever.
As many of my clients tend to be in the range of younger Generation Y (millennials) and older Generation Z (currently teenagers and college-age), it has been fascinating bearing witness to their adaptation and new mastery of skills during this pandemic.
Many Generation Z individuals are currently in some stage of online learning. While the whole globe has been struggling with this, especially the teaching of younger children, one might argue the older Gen Z cohort has been struggling the least, namely with respect to the understanding of and facility with technology. Teens know how to Google things online, already learned the basics of writing and math, and are largely honing skills they previously acquired. College students may be diving deep into areas of inherent interest. And while certainly some things are most definitely at risk of getting lost in translation, for the most part online education has not been nearly as disastrous as once imagined. In some cases, in fact, I would argue the focus on learning has increased.
Early last spring, I read an article linked here that wisely discussed the existing problem of high schools—lots of wasted time during “passing time,” lunches, breaks, electives that don’t always matter, free periods, TA periods, and basically lots of downtime. Throughout my work as a teen therapist, I’ve often worked with schools to actively reduce down the class schedules of my severely depressed or anxious teens to the bare bones. It often resulted in about four classes total, which could be completed in mere hours a week. As a result, teens and college students are rethinking their schedules, including what is too much and too little of a challenge, as they don’t have the distraction of activities, sports, and countless extracurriculars demanding their time in quite the same way.
For millennials who are largely working remotely, this has vastly changed their view of their futures. With many companies transitioning to permanent work-from-home setups, they are no longer tied to a single metro area that may be expensive, heavily populated, and not to their liking. For once, they are truly free to live a life more aligned with their values and desires. It is no wonder the housing markets are doing so well and that there has been a mass exodus of those living in condos and apartments. Everyone is looking for more space and a better daily quality of life.
To say that introverts have been faring better this pandemic would certainly not be a lie. Accustomed and desirous of downtime, alone time, and simply wanting more space away from people, introverts certainly have unique needs. That said, this pandemic has forced both extroverts and introverts alike to reposition themselves socially. Whether Zoom calls that can feel more manageable for introverts who find the hassle of finding a table at a crowded bar too much, or showing extroverts what it’s like to slow down and stay in for the evening, everyone is learning something new. Many of my extroverted therapy clients have reported welcoming a change of pace. Many of them run themselves ragged hopping from one social event to another; they’ve come to see the beauty in stillness and peace. Meanwhile, introverts no longer feel guilty or left out for not electing to join a social gathering. In a time when we were all feeling major FOMO, this is simply no longer really an issue. Certainly, there are those who are still living out pre-COVID-like lives at the beach and partying. But this is growingly seen as dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible behavior. While COVID-fatigue is real, our growing death rates are even more sobering.
Gratitude and Appreciation
It has been inspiring to witness the sense of appreciation that we all possess when exposed to the havoc wreaked on the globe by a life-threatening virus. Appreciation for being able to stay home and away from others. Appreciation for being able to continue learning or earning an income from home. Appreciation for takeout and delivery. Appreciation for Amazon and two-day shipping. While many of us used to live in a space of deprivation and wanting more, there has been an increasing sense of appreciation for what is here right now—a mindfulness of sorts. Furthermore, decision-making is occurring from this space. Whether it’s reallocating vacation money to purchase furnishings to make one’s home as comfortable as possible, or springing for faster internet, or starting to garden, bike, or hike, there is a collective intentionality around small joys we can cultivate.
For some of us, there is an eager desire for normalcy and a return to it. But the reality is far more complicated. For many of us, we may never board a plane again with a sense of careless ease. We may resolve never to dine in again and only sit outside. Some of us will be quick to forget, but from what I have seen so far, it is unlikely life will ever be the same again.