In my previous life as a military man, I trained to anticipate and adapt to sudden changes. My philosophy became, Change is good, even when it’s bad. August 1, 2020, marked the 20th anniversary of my retirement from the military. It came amid changes that no one could have anticipated, but to which we’ve all certainly had to adapt.
One memorable concept from my change training came from Dr. Morris Massey. (You should Google him; he has some great insights!) He shared that, by and large, individuals don’t change their behavior without a Significant Emotional Event, or SEE. I think 2020 qualifies as a SEE for the entire world. As I write this, plans are underway to begin the distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19. The pundits and prognosticators say that we may begin to get back to “normal” by the summer of 2021. My sincere belief is that normal ain’t what it used to be!
That said, here are a few things I learned from our shared experience and a few predictions of my own about how our behaviors will be different going forward.
Cherish the relationships in your life.
Many of us had the opportunity to spend a LOT more time with our immediate family. Others had the horrible experience of having loved ones, especially seniors in nursing homes and managed care, quarantined. Families were unable to visit, even to spend final moments with them. People of all ages had mental and physical problems aggravated by enforced isolation.
As time went by, however, we found creative methods to help connect us to each other. Many of us re-learned how to relate with our loved ones in prolonged contact. Our new “normal” should be that we pay more attention to those we care about. We can’t bank on the ability to drop in on them whenever we want, gather together for special events, or even just give them a hug.
Take care of yourself.
The sad truth of the pandemic, and a lesson I learned early as an Air Force medic, is that death comes first for the sick and weak. Fear of COVID-19 caused many people with chronic conditions to delay needed care. People with acute symptoms died from reluctance to go to the ER. The aged and ill suffered the most from COVID-19. I believe we will see a renewed, hopefully life-long, commitment to fitness and wellness in our country as a result of this SEE.
Be prepared for change.
My grandmother was a child of the Great Depression. She lived alone; but whenever we went to visit her, I was struck by her huge walk-in pantry. She stocked it from floor to ceiling with canned goods and other supplies. When I asked her why she had all that food, she answered, Because I’m never going to be hungry again! During the pandemic, we saw shortages of many essential items as supply chains were disrupted. We realized our dependence on foreign imports. In many areas, medical facilities found themselves overwhelmed.
I hope we don’t learn the wrong lessons, here. We need to be prepared as individuals and as a nation for disasters, but hoarding toilet paper is not the life lesson we should take away. Have several months’ worth of living expenses put away, and leave it alone! If this seems impossible, just look at the consequences of so many of depending on the government to take care of them.
Our “normal” expenses were too high.
In 2019, ILSA spent a lot of money on travel, sponsorships, and office supplies. Then, with most of our employees working from home and Zoom the official conference medium, our expenses dropped dramatically and continue to be lower. We are about as paperless as it is possible to be in our industry. At home, we rarely ate out, entertained ourselves in-house, and drove much less. Sadly, many who were unable to adapt found their business crippled or destroyed. But we also saw new business models in our restaurants and entertainment outlets. I suspect these changes will persist for many years, if not forever.
Adapt to the new job market.
A year ago, we had two people we trusted enough to let work remotely. We had difficulty filling positions because our business is located in a small town, and the pool of qualified employees is not very large. Now, I can advertise nationally for people with the experience I need, set them up and train them remotely, and keep right on taking care of our clients!
Conversely, losing a job in one industry because of the economic conditions imposed by the virus doesn’t mean you have to relocate across the country to start a new career. Work-from-home is here to stay, so think about how to leverage it both in business and in your personal life!
Social media is not our friend.
The people who know me best will say that this has always been my attitude toward social media … and they are correct. But in the current circumstances, how much has social media helped you cope? I’m not talking about Facetiming relatives or joining online support groups. I mean the incessant, relentless negativity that is our current fare. People react to drama on Facebook and Twitter as if that is real life. Granted, most news outlets are much the same. The point is, some “friend” on Facebook isn’t going to make sure you are doing okay. Real people in your lives will do that for you!
Teaching our kids is vital.
For many, having children attend school in person is a right, not a privilege. (We have employees who cheerfully come to the office so that they are not around their kids 24/7.) Now, however, schools and teachers are in turmoil due to mandated responses that depend on the rate of infection in their area. Many parents have embraced home-schooling, and their children are thriving. My oldest daughter, for example, has been home-schooling my grandchildren for some time.
Not all kids do well with distance learning, however. Whatever your opinion about the quality of public education, its availability likely will be impacted for a good while. I think this is an area where change is good, even when it’s bad. We have a real opportunity to explore alternatives and improve education for all of our kids.
We don’t have to work at 100 MPH!
Like many businesses, we believed our employees need constant supervision to meet deadlines and remain productive. Our clients demanded immediate feedback and instant results. COVID-19 put the brakes on hard, and yet we have had a record year financially speaking. Our people now work wildly flexible hours because of the need to share computers with partners or kids, to cope with bandwidth issues, or for a host of other reasons. Still, our team is more productive than ever! They are meeting and beating their deadlines and production goals. Most of our clients are happy, though some have been impacted economically. The state agencies we deal with are a bit slower at times, but we still get things done and with less work stress.
Coping mechanisms are important.
Some people struggle with anxiety, loneliness, and depression every day, every week, year-in and year-out. Adulting is hard, and COVID-19 makes it harder. Over one-third of Americans are suffering from depression and anxiety, up significantly from before the pandemic. Societal attitudes toward mental health have changed for the better since my days in medicine. I hope the new “normal” includes increased awareness of these challenges and greater availability of regular mental health services.
Ordinary people make big differences.
I hope our perspective has shifted this year about who stands in the gap between civilization and barbarism. How many of us were fed by a Facebook influencer? What politician brought you diapers for your baby? Which celebrity re-stocked the shelves at your grocery store? Did a sports hero take care of your loved one at the hospital? Which news anchor kept your business from being burned or looted?
On the other hand, who administered your COVID-19 test? Who came to work to teach your children? Who risked getting sick to make sure meat and vegetables; disinfectants, masks, and ventilators; and, well, everything we need to live was made and shipped? In 1906, Alfred Henry Lewis stated, There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy. I hope we have learned to appreciate all those who do the dirty, thankless, and dangerous jobs so that the rest of us can live a safe, civilized life. Being essential should have a new meaning for all of us, from now on.
So, what have you learned from 2020? Was it a significant emotional event for you? Will it change how you do business or live your life? If you haven’t thought about these things, you still have time 2021 isn’t here … yet.