Who do I want to be?
Who will I be when this is over?
I am asking myself this question as we approach a time when we are no longer fearful of being with our loved ones, our friends, and our work colleagues and when we are no longer afraid to hug our parents. I am asking who I will be when COVID-19 is behind us and we have returned to our jobs, are dining in restaurants, and going to ball games.
COVID news 24/7, no toilet paper, lockdowns, death toll charts, six-foot social distancing, and face masks flooded our consciousness for a year. “Bend the curve,” we were told. A two-week vacation at home was the answer.
Two weeks became a month, six months, a year, and longer. People were fined for being outside without a face mask. Businesses built over a lifetime were shuttered. Jobs keeping families together were lost. Restaurants were forced to close their doors while Walmart was free to operate. Kids were separated from their friends and what education they were getting was at home from parents already stretched thin. Liquor stores stayed open, but churches were closed.
Soon, most Americans will be vaccinated. This COVID pandemic, this time of fear and lockdowns, is ending. As my life is returning to normal, I am asking:
- Who have I been for the last year?
- Who will I be going forward?
My life, as I was living it before COVID, stopped. Will my life simply resume as it was before? Or, will my life and who I am be changed by this experience? In an odd way, the end of the COVID lockdown is an opportunity to start over–to start over with my work, my friends, and how I live my life. As I am re-starting my life, what doors do I want to re-open? What doors will I leave shut? Are there opportunities I did not see before?
Who have I been for the last year?
COVID drastically changed my daily routines of work and home and of friends and family. My life has been controlled by what seemed to be rational and, at times, irrational forces. The lives of everyone I know changed.
I have worked on Zoom with a professional colleague for a year believing he was here in the Boston area. Only recently did I discover that he has been on Marco Island in Florida for the entire time. Friends stayed at home for virtually the entire last year. Others kept their employees on the payroll despite the financial hardships. Another friend sewed hundreds of face masks and gave them to neighbors.
The daughter of a friend got an exciting job with a Silicon Valley company just before the COVID outbreak. She and her boyfriend moved from San Francisco to Vermont for the duration of the lockdown to work remotely.
The world changed. We stopped getting married. We stopped getting divorced. We stopped having babies. We also stopped going to an office every day, stopped shopping at retail stores, and stopped eating at restaurants. Some choose to withdraw and isolate themselves. Some seized the moment to help others.
Teenagers witnessed the lockdowns and social upheaval as part of normal adult life and will carry this experience into their adult lives. Younger adults, early in their careers, now have a deeper sense of uncertainty and of life out of their control. Those of us who are older experienced the lockdowns as one more challenging life episode with which we had to cope.
I am fortunate. I could do my “day job” from my home office. I had started writing a book before COVID. The lockdown gave me more time to focus on writing and editing my book. My writing benefitted from the lockdown. My speaking and writing reached a larger audience through Zoom because I was not limited to in-person events.
I was able to isolate myself because others did not stay at home. Nurses were in the hospital wards, truck drivers were on the roads, and men and women stocked grocery store shelves. Paper for my printer was manufactured, wheat for my English muffins was harvested, and the power stayed on.
The isolation took me back to when a blizzard blanketed greater Boston in snow. As the snow started falling, I drove from my office in Cambridge to my home on the edge of the maximum snow belt. My neighborhood was white with snow but it did not have the four-plus feet of snow strangling greater Boston where driving was prohibited.
Each day for a week, I sat in my house expecting to go back to work the next day. There was no internet and no Zoom. I could have driven to Vermont to go skiing, but I sat at home waiting. I was stuck with the idea of, today is Wednesday. I should be in my office at work! I did not ask, Who will I be when this is over? Will I be the guy who sat in his house waiting to go back to work? Or, will I be the guy who realized the world had changed, at least for a week, and I was free to go skiing?
During the summer, I spend weekends racing my sailboat. As April became June, I thought back to my experience sitting at home waiting for the blizzard’s snow to melt so I could drive back to my office in Cambridge. Would I spend the COVID lockdown waiting for permission to go sailing?
I put my boat, a Farr 37 named CHARIAD, in the water on her mooring in Marblehead Harbor, north of Boston. Many boat owners did not. Yacht clubs were not hosting sailboat racing regattas.
We started by just going sailing–getting on the water with a small group of people we trusted and cared about. Some members of my sailing crew did not want to be on a boat in tight quarters with nine other crew members even if they were wearing masks. But others wanted to go sailing. Our social networks were broken. We spent our workdays at home on one Zoom call after another. Friday night was a video at home or Netflix.
Massachusetts regulators permitted sailing but not racing. A silly rule, but that was the rule for most of the summer. Skippers began organizing races on their own by broadcasting an email notice with a course and starting time for any boats wanting to participate. We began “racing”–with no winning trophies. Our prize was being on the water racing when most people were sheltering at home.
By the end of the summer, several yacht clubs allowed their race committees to start and finish the races on the water. The highlight of our racing was competing in the Ted Hood Regatta with eight races over three days. At the end of a normal regatta, racing crews gather at the host club for an awards ceremony and to share the experience with other sailors. The host yacht club would not allow the sailing crews to come on the club property, and I picked up our trophy at a sub shop parking lot the following week.
My sailing and racing last summer created a structure and purpose for my life. I was not staying at home waiting for life, as I had known it, to resume. So much of what was precious had been taken away. By coming together as a sailing crew we were creating the life we wanted to live.
Who will I be going forward?
In our own way, each of us has gone through the five stages of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We began with denial. Some stopped at anger or with depression. Some got to acceptance.
I have not had COVID. I have had two Moderna vaccine shots. I have not had a family member or close friend die. With some combination of denial, anger, and eventual acceptance, I kept elements of my life and work going virtually. Other elements stopped.
I am ready to move on without COVID as the dominant influence on my life. I will:
- Walk into my coffee shop without a face mask.
- Ask a friend to join me for a drink at the local bar.
- Shake hands and hug colleagues I have not seen in a year.
- Get off the parade of Zoom calls.
- Meet a new friend at a chance encounter.
The life I knew before COVID stopped. The end of the COVID lockdown is an opportunity for me to change the life I was living before COVID. I have decisions to make about my life going forward–about the post-COVID life I will create.
- I now have connected with a larger virtual world. What will happen with those connections?
- The early morning bumper-to-bumper drives into Boston for a meeting or event stopped. Will I do those in-person meetings again?
- What will I do to rebuild the large network of friends and acquaintances that collapsed during COVID. What will be their role in my life?
- I disengaged from many pre-COVID commitments and activities. Which ones do I want to re-engage?
- What doors do I re-open? What doors do I leave closed?
I am eager to resume my life without the anxieties and limitations that have been ingrained in my mind and everything I did for the last year. I will purposefully choose the life I will be living going forward and who I will be. I will create my life in this new world by the choices I make.
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