A month ago when I set out to get supplies from our local feed store, there were only a handful of cars on the road. The parking lot to the store was empty, and the few shoppers inside were wearing masks. The mood was somber. Yesterday I embarked on the same journey and it was an altogether different scene. Though the lockdown orders have not yet been lifted in New Mexico, you would have thought they had. More people were in the store, few were wearing masks and there were a lot more cars everywhere.
Driving home I felt depressed. And just between you and me, I was really sad that the whole thing seemed to be over. If I’m super honest, I’ve been dreading this day. Many of my friends and clients have reported the same thing. Why? What’s up with that?
Besides the frightening fact that there is no scientific basis on the re-open, which, scientists say, will most likely lead to a virus spike. Besides the fact that we are nowhere near controlling the pandemic. Besides the fact that the only thing driving the reopen is to protect the economy, not lives. Besides the fact that we wholeheartedly do not trust the men squeezing the latch and opening the door to our freedom. Why else our great unease?
“People talk about getting back to normal,” said a colleague the other day, a senior executive who has been working from home for a large health care organization since the lockdown. “Well, I don’t want to go back to normal! Normal was insane!”
She’s right. Normal American life was insane.
“The world, you see, looks at America, and sees something very different than Americans do,” writes Umair Haque. “…It sees a nation of people quicker to carry a gun than read a book, who’ll happily deny their neighbor’s kids healthcare but go to church every Sunday, who predictably, consistently vote against any improvement to their standards of living…which by now have reached standards that people in most of the rest of the world literally don’t believe…” I’ll add to that a hysterical frenzy the mark of which only a collapsing society can bear.
Lockdown ground much of the American machine to a halt, and allowed us to see it with its pants down. We can see the exploit, our slavery through debt and inequality, fueled by predatory corporate agenda. We can see now that the more the exploit, the faster our lives. It may not have looked like the machine was propelling our days at a dizzying rate. Instead, it seemed like more innocuous forces at work––our habits, social obligations, our families, our fear of missing out. We pathologized ourselves and tried to fix our personal stress problem and gain a better balance in our work-life. Yet when the machine was silenced, and our quirks remained it’s easy to see that there is in fact nothing wrong with us. It’s the machine that is mad.
For me, though the financial costs of lockdown have been and remain terrifying, and though I lay awake every night in a cold sweat worrying about my adult children, I began to notice something else revealed in lockdown life. Something precious. Something money can’t buy. Perhaps you have noticed the same thing.
Spaciousness. Slowness. Community. Kindness. Self-agency. Togetherness. Mindfulness. Forgiveness. These are some of the virtues people are telling me they are discovering within their four walls each day. There in the midst of panic, economic insecurity, and the unknown, a light is emerging. The world unplugged has allowed us to catch up with so many things: our breath, our sleep, old friends, our own inner tempo. Even the earth herself is breathing again.
Since lockdown, our whole family is getting along better,” said a friend. “My partner and I have had to become allies against all kinds of challenges. And I just let go of all the pressures to homeschool, and the kids are relaxed and happy, getting along better than they ever have. We’ve had fun, silliness, and joy in our household for the first time ever.”
I remember a moment back in early December, as I was dashing through my house whirling between meetings and client calls; I had a sudden clear thought––this pace cannot continue! The global tyranny of access and excess had breached the boundaries of our peaceful little ranch. I had finally succumbed to the speed of technology and let it drive my life. And it was becoming unbearable.
“My inner hermit has finally come out of the closet,” declared a client when I asked her what she’s learned about herself in lockdown. “And I love her. I tell you what, my new word moving forward is ‘no’, no to all those obligations, no to rush, no to things that don’t serve me. From now on I’m putting myself first.”
So I started thinking––and have been since that day at the feed store––what do I want my new normal to be? I don’t have to dread the lift of lockdown. I can be self-determining about the life I want to live moving forward if I can harvest some of the insights I’ve gleaned during these two months. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
I can get by with a whole lot less––clothes, makeup, hair product, and just general stuff.
Based on the above, most of my errands were empty, running around filling cups for no real reason.
My life is not any less rich absent parties, dinner dates, galas, fundraisers, launches, luncheons, and happy hour.
I need a lot less stimulation from the outside world than I thought.
I have an inner artist that wants to come out.
What’s more important to me than making lots of money and being successful is to be kind, to be present and to be aware.
Speed makes for a tasteless life.
Faster and bigger is not better.
Food is precious. Water is precious. Time is precious. People are precious.
I can consume less, therefore work less, and rest more.
In light of these insights I’m seriously reviewing the life I had, and the life I want to create. I’m electing not to buy into any post-lockdown consensus realities around any obligations––personal or professional. My new normal will not hurry back to what seemed normal in December. I want to live much more deliberately. I will sleep more. I will work less. I will write more. I will drink less, eat less, and see a lot fewer people. I will say no more than yes. I will listen better and I will sit and watch the natural world unfold before me, while doing absolutely nothing. And that’s just a start.
What will your new normal be? What do you want to bring into your life? What do you want to leave behind? Who do you want to be now that nothing will ever be the same again?
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