The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over yet, although there’s light at the end of the snaking tunnel.
Vaccines are being distributed. Schools are reopening. We don’t know exactly when it will be over, or even if it will be over—if COVID will become endemic, like the flu, requiring regular booster shots to protect against new variants.
But at some point in the future, life will begin to look more like it used to.
And when that time comes, most of us probably have something we’re looking forward to, whether hugging a friend or family member, traveling, going to the movies, or simply doing a little jig in a blissfully empty house when the kids return to full-time, in-person school (or maybe that’s just me).
But there’s something else to consider, sooner than later: Are there any aspects of pandemic life that we’ve benefitted from? Is there anything we don’t want to go back to?
Maybe we’ve gotten 10 precious hours a week back by not commuting. Maybe we’ve realized that we’ve spent enough time attempting to engage in academics with our kids in the last year, thank you very much, and we never want to volunteer at their school again. Or maybe the slower pace of a pandemic world simply feels like a more sustainable framework, like a saner pace to maintain while the rest of the world shudders its way back to full-throttle.
Name it to change it
Personally, there’s one pandemic lesson that flashes in neon lights in my mind: time is my most precious commodity.
It’s also the resource I have the hardest time fighting for. Like many women, I’ve been socialized to put others’ needs and wants ahead of my own. And I’ve learned, over and over again, that doing so leaves me depleted and irritable.
Two years ago, I decided to let go of the vast majority of my paid work to focus on my own creative projects, namely finishing the memoir that’s been simmering in me for 20 years.
But then, very unexpectedly, my dad got sick. A mere 10 days after being diagnosed with cancer, he died. I was devastated. And overwhelmed. Besides the exhausting waves of grief, we were tasked with settling his estate.
In my raw grief, I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to work on my memoir about my brother’s death.
Several months later, I was still grieving, but preparing to shift my attention back to my book. Then, the pandemic hit. My kids were suddenly home, all day, every day, and at least for the first few months, I was in charge of their schooling—a job I was ill-equipped for and one that left me thrashing in a whirlwind of anxiety.
Gradually, I learned to find respite, to make time for writing. I relaxed my parenting style so I could prioritize my mental health.
Now, as my kids’ schools prepare to return to full-time, in-person learning, I’m committed to treating my time as the priceless resource that it is. I’ve been shown that our time can be snatched away from us in a myriad of ways. I will not refill my days with unnecessary appointments and errands. I will not go to the grocery store four days a week because we ran out of seltzer. At least for the foreseeable future, I will not volunteer in my kids’ schools. Instead, I’m going to fill my open hours with writing projects, house projects, and self-care.
Write it down
It’s easy to plan on safeguarding my time now, while we’re still in the pandemic. It will be more challenging when “regular life” resumes, with all its temptations, distractions, and kids’ dentist appointments. This is why writing down our intention is a must.
My time is my most valuable commodity.
I’m writing this down because I have a tendency to get swept up and impulsively give my time away. Because women are expected to be generous with their time, to give, give, give. To allow my hours to float away in puffs of time confetti, as Bridget Schulte calls them in her book, Overwhelmed: How to Work, Play and Love When No One Has the Time.
I commit to safeguarding my time.
Maybe your intention is to work less, do more yoga, or attend to your mental health with the same vigilance as you do your physical health. Write it down and put your reminder somewhere where you’ll encounter it regularly, whether it’s on a sticky note on your desk or the home screen on your phone.
If, like me, you suspect your post-pandemic intention might be challenging to stick to, find an accountability buddy, a therapist, or a coach and let them in on your plan. When we let supportive people know of our intentions, it elevates our chances of succeeding.
Do you have a post-pandemic intention? What have you changed or learned or realized in this wild year?