Reassessing Priorities a Year-Plus Into a Global Pandemic

Being holed up at home for months can get a person thinking. It brings into tight focus how you spend your time, what’s most important, goals for the future and even how your home ended up overflowing with so much stuff you don’t use.
For those fortunate enough to be weathering the pandemic with health, home and job reasonably intact, many are using this time to reassess. We’re asking ourselves if we are pursuing the dreams that matter, stretching in ways that are rewarding and living out our values personally and professionally.
Although making major life changes in the midst of tumult may not be wise, crisis does open the door to self-reflection, making this the right time to consider how this year has changed you. Here are some starting points.    
We may be more compassionate
Disease spreading around the world makes many other problems pale in comparison. The crisis has also highlighted inequities in job security, access to health care, options for self-protection and a myriad of other issues around justice and equity. On an individual level, that has driven an increased sense of vulnerability (there really is a lot we can’t control) but also an increased sense of empathy and compassion for the suffering of others.
Some have witnessed tragedy from afar and others experienced illness personally or through close friends and family. We have often felt helpless and ached for those losing loved ones and those fighting the battle on the frontlines. Our tough exteriors softened a bit.
We (mostly) figured out remote work
For some, combining homeschooling and working remotely has been a bit of a nightmare with no escape. For others, realizing they could do the vast majority of their job from their dining room was liberating and empowering. Many of us actually realized we were more productive with fewer interruptions. As a result, many companies have announced a commitment to ongoing remote work options post-pandemic.
Still, many of us struggled to turn off the work day, felt less connected to coworkers and suffered Zoom fatigue. As the world begins to re-open, organizations and employees will need to navigate what remote work looks like going forward. More than half of employed adults now say they would prefer to continue working from home after the coronavirus outbreak ends, according to the Pew Research Center.
That opens new opportunities for companies to recruit from a broader geographic area and among more diverse populations, could enable more people with disabilities to engage in a greater range of work opportunities and may help companies increase the number of women in leadership. There will also be new challenges in terms of oversight, accountability and collaboration.
We pursued new interests and hobbies
Sequestered at home and tired of binging Netflix, we realized we could use our kitchens to cook things, dabbled in crafts, tried new exercise regimens, read actual books, dusted off old board games and jigsaw puzzles, tried meditation, decluttered, adopted a dog and took on home renovation projects.
Those activities helped pass the time and decrease stress, but also engaged our brains in new pursuits that can have long-lasting impact. Neuroscientist and author of Livewired, David Eagleman, Ph.D., says one of the best things you can do for your brain is to keep challenging it with new and different activities. Ballroom dancing anyone?
We learned how much we need other people (or solitude)
Some of us found staying home isolating and painful. The toll has been particularly hard on emerging leaders who are more likely to live alone and to have reported higher stress levels from being cut off from others both professionally and socially. Many have also missed out on the benefits of in-person mentorship, role modeling and simply learning by observing more senior leaders. Younger people also have less context in which to place this crisis in terms of the larger scope of their lifetime.
On the flip side, others have found relief in fewer social engagements, more time alone and less social pressure and may need to wade back into re-engagement more slowly.
We discovered what matters most
McKinsey & Company has reported that people are investing their time in ways more congruent with their values. Although people typically state that family and loved ones are their top priority, McKinsey’s latest research shows the pandemic is actually causing us to make choices more in harmony with that priority.
With the opportunity to reflect on big questions, many are evaluating where they want to grow in their career next or launching long-neglected personal projects. In Reflections in Crisis, McKinsey cautions leaders to consider how best to motivate and inspire team members moving forward. “As workers’ personal career goals change, so might their willingness to trade things like salary for flexibility, a shorter commute, or a slower pace of work.”
While we may be anxious for a return to “normal,” a new normal might be even more appealing. What will you add to your new normal list?
Continuing to hang out virtually with friends and relatives far away?
Having groceries (and nearly everything else) delivered to save time and hassle?
Working remotely at least part of the time?
Traveling less for business and relying more on virtual meetings?
Wearing masks in public when you feel ill?
Walking a new rescue puppy?
Washing your hands more?
Continuing new-found hobbies?
Really meaning it when you ask how someone is?
Being willing to recognize and talk about mental health challenges more openly?
Being more authentically you?

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