Well, it's been a year. Literally it's a been a year since we all went home to wait out the virus. Schools were closed, businesses became restricted, DoorDash became a lifeline, and the term "essential worker" took on a new and sometimes contentious meaning. When I first heard the term social distancing I thought they were referring to giving up Facebook or Instagram for lent. It has been some year.
COVID has redefined the work-life struggle for nearly everyone. If you would have asked me in January of 2020 what I would do with the new year knowing I could work from home all year, I would like to think I would have given you a great answer. It would have probably been a cup half-full, optimistic approach to my professional and personal development. That's the type of person I am. I'm a planner. However, that is not how I approached the situation, and that certainly was not what I did with it once given the opportunity. Somehow, with all of my work from home time, I managed to workout less, read less, become less patient of a dad, and though I hate to admit it, I became overall, lazier. The waiting game eroded my drive, and it was less about my concern for my heath (no matter how bad that sounds), but more about my urge to return to normalcy and predictability. Waiting.
The waiting reminds me of when I was in the military. On the ship we took turns standing watch, which was essentially guard duty, for four hour chunks. Depending on the watch, those four hours could go by very slow. Anyone who has ever stood these watches can tell you stories from the times they were relieved later than expected. When you're expecting them to show up right at 3:45 AM and they're not there, it was: "Maybe they were held up at the armory". 3:52 AM: "Maybe they woke up late". 4:12 AM: "I'm pissed". The majority of us weren't making the most out of our time during that waiting game. Had you been told before assuming the watch that you would have to stand an extra hour, and expectations were managed, you may be disgruntled but the waiting game would not be eating at your soul. That's how 2020 felt to me. I was waiting and using the situation or circumstance of life as an excuse to back burner some of the things I value most.
As a result of those decisions I boarded that 'work-life struggle' bus and I'm still trying to get off. One self inflicted burden that many of us bare, is that we know people much more worse off than we are, so we think "What are we complaining about?". That approach doesn’t allow us to fully embrace the situation we're in, what we're struggling with or the help we need, and honestly it sounds silly. We're drowning less than that person, so what are we complaining about? We're fully stocked on toilet paper, so what are we complaining about? That suck it up and tough it out approach may work in some situations, but this was not one of them.
If 2020 taught me anything, it's that I need to get better at making the most out of the cards I'm dealt. Prior to 2020, I would have told you that this was a strength of mine. However, 2020 had a way of disproving many things we believed about ourselves. For instance, I worked out less in 2020 than any other year in the past decade. Why? I have the workout equipment, I don't have to drive to work in the morning, and I'm in the comfort of my own home. I also ordered out more in 2020 than probably the last decade combined. Why? At no point was my local grocery store short on food, even when they limited purchases, I could still get what I needed, and some DoorDash purchases equated to a weeks worth of groceries. Instead of taking the hand I was dealt and figuring out how to play those new cards in a way that align with what I claim to value, I chose the easy route. Now, I feel I've done that for a whole year! It makes me question myself. Is it a result of me poorly reacting to the situation, do I not value what I thought I did, or am I the "easy route" guy?
I would like to believe it's a result of me poorly reacting to the waiting game. The same way I would curse out the person who finally relieved me from watch on the ship, is the same way I'm cursing this situation. However, in the current scenario I'm cursing myself. I'm the one dealing with the poor decisions, poor reactions and poor choices of not being able to handle this waiting game. I flourish with plans and purpose, but that's not what's in the cards for us during these times. It's taken me longer than I would like to admit to realize this, and even longer to start doing something about it.
If you are like me, and prefer planning and structure and have learned over the past year that you're not as much of a freewheelin' Bob Dylan as you thought, I have two things for you this week
Think about how you would have responded in January 2020 if you were told about what you would be dealing with throughout the year. How would you have approached it differently? What would you have done to prepare yourself, and ride it out? What goals would you have set? Now think about what's stopping you from living that life? Today is a great opportunity to redefine who you are, stop waiting and start living.
When you're setting goals going forward try not to start with, "when this all gets normal" or "once we have heard immunity" or anything else that links your goals to this waiting game. I've hinged too many goals and values on a variable that I have absolutely no control over. Try not to let yourself do the same.
I do believe that how we respond to this past year, how well we recover personally and emotionally, is going to say a lot about what the future has in store for us. Don't just chalk the past year up as a loss and bury it with aspirations that you can 'forget about it' because things will get better. If you do that, you'll never find your way out of the waiting game. And 2021 has already shown us signs that may be the case. Learn from your experiences. Be as prepared as you can to handle the cards you're dealt. Once you're dealt them try not to trade away what you truly value. And know my friend, that you are not alone.
Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.