Everyday life for many of us before the pandemic was a whirlwind of work, family, and social engagements. In this fog of responsibilities and anxieties, it often felt impossible to find the space and quiet to reflect on whether this was the life we really wanted. Then came the pandemic.
Like sediment sinking to the bottom of a jar when you stop shaking it, many distractions disappeared. That was sometimes terrifying, sometimes boring, but as Amy Shearn argued on Medium recently, it can also be clarifying. When the chatter of your normal routine quiets, it is easier to make out the sound of your own inner voice.
And what many of us have heard screaming out of the stillness is that we really don't want to go back to "normal."
Pointing the way to a new normal
We miss friends and loved ones, of course, as well as a world without the threat of contagion, illness, and death. Entrepreneurs certainly miss a more optimistic and predictable business environment. But in the long weeks at home, many of us have intuited that when the world opens up again, we don't want our lives, our routines, or even our politics to look exactly the same.
But what changes do you want to make exactly? Shearn offers a brilliantly simple thought experiment to help you clarify what adjustments you need to make to your life. Here it is:
Clear your mind, close your eyes, and simply ask yourself: What do I miss most right now? Capture the first thing that comes to mind. Not the second thing, which will be what you think you should miss most. The first, automatic thing. And to be clear, I mean a specific thing in your own life, something you can control.
Maybe what rises first to your mind is a leafy outdoor space. Maybe it's a window seat on a transatlantic flight. Maybe it's a big, loud restaurant table packed with friends. Maybe it's hammering out a deal in person. Whatever your answer, Shearn insists you should take it seriously, even if it doesn't match with your pre-pandemic self-image.
The thing you were longing for most in the middle of the pandemic stillness is a surer guide to what you really value and desire than the carefully constructed, socially influenced self we usually show the world. Who you were before is, at least in part, who you thought you should be. What you see in your lockdown daydreams is who you truly are.
So take a minute, close your eyes, and picture the thing you're missing most without judgment or self-consciousness. Write it down, and as you begin to construct your new normal, make sure to build it to include more of whatever is on that paper.