2 years after COVID shut everything down, the truth is becoming clear. None of us will be going back.
I loved my corporate career. The good pay and the meaningful work I got to do, using my best talents, had always made the grueling commute feel worth it. Although there were random snow days when I did manage to work from my home, sketchy rural internet and the 3-ring circus of a working dairy farm I live on made WFH more of a joke than a serious ongoing option.
I had ended up specializing in helping companies through a stage in their lifecycle that meant I was working myself out of a job. That was OK with me because I thrive on change and was always energized by the opportunity to learn about yet another new business or industry when I landed my next “tour of duty”.
My planned exit from the last corporate job happened at the end of 2019, and March of 2020 found me just hitting full stride in networking for the next one. I learned with everyone else how to shift virtual. With everyone else, I expected I’d be shifting back sooner than later.
As the months dragged on the losses mounted. Some losses were universal – the isolation, the cancelled travel and missed occasions with loved ones. Some losses were specific to my professional persona – the feeling I was missing out on developing a crucial set of new skill muscles; the knowledge that if I were working I’d have been the first one at the executive table to start asking how we could turn the chaos to our advantage. Other losses felt downright personal – the big ones (deaths that hit too close to home) and the small ones (multiple times I had to back out of in-person events, so rare to begin with, because I may have been exposed).
It occurred to me that I could get purposeful about finding and choosing what was good about it all, or I could stay miserable. And with time the gifts of COVID began to show themselves.
At 3 months I started thinking about where in this great disruption I might find the great opportunity. What I had loved about my career and what not so much. How I might actually make this remote thing work from the old farmhouse despite the challenges and distractions.
At 6 months I got serious about leaving the corporate world behind to figure out my own thing and made some major commitments to “sharpen the saw” by obtaining some new certifications.
At 12 months I realized that I had actually seen the beautiful countryside around my home in all 4 seasons during daylight hours for the first time in my adult life. I did the math and figured out that in just one year I had reclaimed 16½ work weeks of my life that would have been spent in the car.
Now another full year has passed, and the truth is becoming clear; none of us will be going back.
Everyone I’ve worked with in my career has changed their perspective on how to work and learned new skills to be productive in a hybrid world. Whether working or not, after the forced “great pause”, every adult I know has new level of commitment to prioritizing their time on this planet. And who among us will ever again take for granted that our favorite restaurant is actually open and serving?
I hear so many people looking and longing for what was in the past to return. But COVID has changed us all, forever. The challenge is the same as it has always been – to accept what is now reality and look forward with optimism and hope, to create a wonderful future together.
You can’t go back. How will you go forward?