Will we see “normal” again?
So Fall is here, and things are back into the busy swing. The constant buzz of pandemic concerns and conversations is not letting up, but I wonder how many have simply become desensitized to the topic, how many have reached the end of their tolerance for the current level of ambiguity and distress. Probably at least a handful - either of those reading this, or those you know and work with.
Many years, we have a “back into the swing of things” mode that happens in September. The lazy days of Summer are behind us, and we’ve got time to put our heads down and focus until the holidays (or wintry weather) set in.
This year, I keep hearing people talk about getting back to “normal”. Will we see “normal” again? Was our previous “normal” always a good thing? I’m not sure that the answer to either of those is quite that simple. Here’s what I offer, though, as we explore “normal” together this Fall.
1. Your “normal” and my “normal” aren’t always the same - that doesn’t make us enemies.
The last 19 months have amplified anger, exacerbated disagreement, and widened chasms. If there’s any way we can co-create better work days, it will require that we find ways to work together, even if we disagree. The “cancel culture” we’ve created around us can’t be allowed to extend to our personal, one-on-one relationships. If we disagree with someone in the workplace, we can’t simply say, “I’m not working with you; I’m not speaking to you; I’m done with you.” That’s not practical, nor is it a grace-filled way to approach other humans. Instead, we’re going to have to try phrases like, “I see it differently, can you help me see it from your perspective; I’m curious why you think that; I’d like to learn more about that perspective.” Eventually, even if we continue to disagree, we can use phrases like “we don’t see that the same, but that doesn’t mean we don’t both want what’s best for this company” or “the fact that we don’t see eye-to-eye on that doesn’t mean we can’t be kind to each other.”
2. Your “new normal” is as informed by the last 18 months of your life as my “new normal” is informed by the last 18 months of my life.
Spending time reflecting on what our values are, how they have shifted (if they have), and how our daily lives reflect what we value is a critical piece of creating new intentional habits. Case in point - it’s entirely possible that your dress code for work has changed following months of not needing to “dress up to go to work.” So what was it you valued about the way you dressed before? What do you value now? Is it comfort, washability, environmental stewardship, the way it makes you feel? What was it before? Was it a cultural expectation, something you fought, something you thrived in, something that took out guesswork? How have those reasons and values changed, and does it make sense to stick with the new, return to the old, or find something new altogether? Since your current values are informed by your whole life experience, including the most recent months, now’s a great time to reflect on those values and priorities so that you can be consistent and intentional going forward.
3. Our new “normal” may be temporary.
If March 2020 taught us anything, it’s that within a very short window, we can completely change the way we live and work. Whatever we land on for “normal” at our workplace, our church, even our family and social calendar is likely to need to be flexible enough to change on a dime again in the future. Maybe we get better at planning for contingencies, making decisions on a different timeline, having backup options or ways to participate that involve less human contact as well as ways that involve more human contact. Creating complex processes that require significant human intervention and have little wiggle room for variances will be a tough way to move forward. Flexibility will be a more useful guiding principle than rigidity, at least for now.
4. Getting to “normal” is a journey not a switch.
Like any change, the transition from wherever we are today to whatever will be our new “normal” going forward will not be fast, easy, or painless. We’ll have to let go of something. If it’s something you liked, letting go will be harder than if it’s something you didn’t like. We’ll face some uncertainty and some unstable moments. We always have unstable moments when we’re moving to something new or learning a new skill. They’re uncomfortable, for almost all of us, and the discomfort is often mitigated by the camaraderie of others going through a similar journey. We’ll have to form new habits and create new muscle memory. And that usually takes work and a little sweat. Go easy on the folks around you who are sweating it up on multiple fronts - especially if they’ve had major life changes (marriage, divorce, new baby, kid off to college, move, graduation, career change, health change, loss of a friend or loved one) in addition to the pandemic-created changes. Keep an eye out for chances to celebrate when we discover that the new really is “normal” - celebrating that will make it easier to change the next time!
5. We can co-create a new “normal” that can be pretty great.
Over the past months, many have learned to value people over things. Others have learned to slow down and savor the moments. Others have learned to practice “kindness” and “grace” every day. And still others have learned to appreciate people they once took for granted. I saw a meme the other day that said something like, “my favorite part of 2020 was when we all pretended we were going to be nice to one another,” which made me a little sad. I hope we weren’t just pretending. I hope that’s a “normal” we can keep building on. There’s been a whole lot of noise, a whole lot of anger, and even a whole lot of hate these past months, but there’s also a whole lot of love. If we each choose to value the people around us, to pour on grace instead of judgment, and to make time to build relationships, our workdays will keep getting better and better.
How about you? What are you thinking about the new “Normal”? Join in the conversation social media.