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Thursday, March 12, is when I first started feeling the impact of COVID-19 in my career. By Monday, March 16, the world had officially turned upside down.
For the three upcoming weeks, I have removed 12 client meetings, nine events, three lunches, four dinners, three committee meetings, two press conferences, and two board meetings from my schedule.
And while all of this upheaval may seem overwhelming—and I’m devastated about the effect COVID-19 is having on our planet, our healthcare system, and our small businesses—I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a little bit relieved. Actually, a lot relieved.
The COVID-19 shutdown greeted me with a surprising sense that I might finally have a chance to breathe for the first time in what has felt like years. I can plan ahead, catch up on some projects, and rethink where I need to be placing my time. The outlook sent me into a hopeful calm instead of an anxiety-induced frenzy.
That is why I am writing to you today.
In the wake of COVID-19, many of us have found ourselves in a new kind of “busy” that is taking up our time as we plan for the uncertain. We’re moving our communication and information online as we find new ways to connect despite social distancing. There are paychecks, bills, small businesses, and relationships that are all on the line due to this pandemic.
But as serious as this is, my hope is that we take this time and use it as an opportunity to look inward.
Even though we all have a new kind of busy, I hope we take a look at what happens when we have big shifts in our calendar. As restaurants, religious buildings, workplaces, and schools shut down their physical locations, there has never been a better moment to look at our time and how we are spending it and ask ourselves that crucial and haunting question: Why?
Time is the most important currency we will ever have, and we should be conscious about how we are using it.
When I looked at the dozens of commitments that were pulled from my calendar over a three-week period, my first thought was examining which of them actually had a purpose and which of them only brought me together with other people, so we could feel like we were getting something done.
In American culture, the need to be busy, to be doing, to be stressed is deeply woven into our lives from a young age.
When I was younger, I was told to get involved in sports or music, which meant playoffs or recitals. I was pushed to strive for accelerated classes so that I could work even harder for my next level of education. This continued into my college career, spilled over into my experiences in corporate America, and even found its way into my small business as a digital media company.
There are always more projects to go after, more clients to please, more meetings, events, and boards to participate in, and when nothing interrupts me, it’s easy for me to forget how fast the time goes and how I am actually using it.
In my childhood, in my 20s, and in my 30s, I only remember time stopping at one point, and that was on September 11, 2001. But that was quick and swift because we weren’t told to stay home. By the following week, we were all back at our schooling, our meetings, and our commitments to things like religious services, community activities, or careers.
The total standstill of the corporate world that is happening right now is unprecedented in modern history and may never happen again as long as we live, and it has something important to teach us.
I think we are going to see a number of people who are forced to look at themselves like they never have before. We will be forced to reevaluate our marriages, our friendships, our parenting, our careers, and perhaps most importantly, ourselves.
For many of us, there’s no longer a place we have to be or a commitment we need to keep. We are no longer busy enough to avoid looking ourselves in the mirror and facing who we really are.
Now is the time to come to terms with ourselves and to make better decisions for our world in need.
As I have spoken with different clients over the last two weeks, I keep suggesting that everyone focuses on how they can bridge the gap COVID-19 is creating in our lives and do what they do best to assist others during this time. I have a faith-based client that excels in the area of mental health, and I discussed how I believe people are going to be struggling with new levels of both depression and anxiety in the days ahead with social distancing and isolation. How we all manage our self-esteem and self-worth is going to see a big shift for a lengthy period of time this year.
How are you going to respond?
I would encourage us all to lean into this new situation, to recognize who each of us were born to be, and to not run from what feels uncomfortable. If I have learned anything in my life thus far, it is that my most important growths comes out of the most painful times. Perhaps yours does, too.
As our nation and our world endure COVID-19, it is a painful time that should be taken seriously, but there is a lot of good that can be taken from it, too.
When I look at all of those meetings that had to be pulled, I began to realize how many times I’ve driven 20 minutes to get somewhere to have an hour-long meeting that could have easily been a five-minute email.
I began to recognize that I’ve spent the precious hours of my days on tasks that drain me, and I’ve pushed the tasks I’m most passionate about into the spare hours when I’m not fully focused.
And as I reflect on this, I know that I’m not alone.
Many of us have been going through day after day, month after month, year after year the way we have always been done it, and we’re just doing it for the sake of doing it.
So now that we’ve stopped—now that we’ve been forced to stop—what will we do next?
If COVID-19 teaches us anything, it teaches us that we can’t keep going at this pace and expect our lives, our community, and our world to become what we hope they will be. I believe it is important that after the immediate impact of this pandemic starts to subside, we don’t forget the underlying lesson it is teaching us.
We have to rethink everything.
Share your COVID-19 experience
Do you have an experience or words of advice you’d like to share with Fort Wayne related to COVID-19? Email your submission to [email protected] for consideration.