Laundry day. While I used to dread this chore, with piles of different garments to sort, wash, air-dry, iron or dry clean, it now consists of one load of leggings. My office clothes are my workout clothes, so this once onerous job is like few things during COVID: Easy.
The problem is, as the US population starts to get vaccinated and we slowly re-emerge into a post-pandemic normal, I don’t believe much else will be easy. We must navigate the change curve all over again. Some of the shift is realizing we’re not in Kansas anymore, but have permanently landed in Oz. For many of us, how we work, shop, learn, go to the doctor and even attend church is forever changed.
Some of the new normal is good; I bought my nephew’s birthday gift online yesterday in three minutes. In years past, it would have taken an afternoon to shop and ship. Yet there are tradeoffs; he did not get a handwritten card (which at 14, he likely did not miss), but if we are not careful, the lure of the digital efficiency we’ve gained may erode the human element. Part of the change we must re-envision, after the initial enthusiasm of reentry, is the seeming inconvenience of being social for more than a few minutes—sustained nondigital human interaction and lunch-hour spinach in our teeth.
With the return of everyday travel, we will again experience traffic congestion and more frequent trips to the gas station. These and other pieces of a busy life will theoretically replace monotonous hours in front of a screen, but how is it all going to work? Packed schedules and competing demands never really went away (and arguably got worse)—so when you layer in our new productivity baseline, a different kind of stress seems to be knocking at the door.
Herein is our challenge: We must remember that outside our homes (as within them) people are late, forgetful, imperfect—and they are what truly matter—so it is imperative we keep our focus on what’s constructive and positive. As with all things worthwhile, successful human interaction takes sincere effort and grace. We may not get it all right post-pandemic; we will all have adjustments to make. Yet being together and standing together will get us through the residual darkness and myriad grievous events that continue to break our hearts. Learning to live with each other again (and do it well) requires we gulp up and learn from all of the inconvenience and challenges we’ve had. We must train our eyes to see the beauty in the midst—and marry the best of what was to the landscape of the future.
Speaking of inconvenience, my friends are looking forward to happy hours in the sun this summer, but this means I will have to shave my legs, which I have not needed to worry about for most of the last 15 months. Alas, the return of hugs brings the return of conventional hygiene.
Ultimately, the adjustments and sacrifices we have all had to make during COVID have given us greater flexibility, patience, and perspective. Despite the hassle, in the months to come we may discover even more benefits as we consider all we have to look forward to…that is, with the exception of laundry.
Celeste Palermo is Senior Director, Human Resources at Newmont Corporation and author of two books. You can visit her at www.celestepalermo.com