Making the most of COVID-19 social distancing

I wonder if we’ll tell new stories after this. I wonder if we’ll let go of our need to impress and entertain with each story we tell, and, instead, simply share stories that inform.

As of writing, we are in the midst of COVID-19/coronavirus shelter-in-place orders. I recently got word that my office will be closed for another month. All non-essential businesses in my city are directed to close. 

The federal government released a report that as many as 200,000 people could die as a result of the pandemic. That makes stuff real. That’s a big number. It’s a number big enough to suggest that everyone will be touched by the disease–we’re all going to know someone who…

The stories we tell after this aren’t going to be stories about how we skirted around regulations, how we broke the rules, how we let go of caution and lived our lives. The stakes are too high for that. 

I think the stories we’re going to tell will detail how this changed us. We’ll tell stories of this becoming a reset for our lives. There are going to be stories about what life was like before, and then stories about life after.

Like this:

My wife needed to pick up some products from the dermatologist. This is the kind of errand formerly executed without much mention. Formerly, my wife likely wouldn’t have even bothered with sharing the details of a trip like this, leaving with a passing line of “I’m running out. Need anything?” 

To which I would mindlessly reply, “nah, thanks.”

But this time, she asked if I wanted to go with her to pick up her products from the dermatologist. This time, I said yes. This time, I considered the opportunity to do a ride-along beside my wife time well spent. Formerly, such a trip sounded anti-productive: what was I supposed to do while she was getting her stuff, just sit there in the car? What am I, her chaffeur? Now it’s a chance to share experience together.

We decided to spread the love and took the dogs for the ride-along, too.

A ride-along on a mundane errand is now time well spent. 

Especially, when, in the midst of our ride-along, my wife asks “how are we going to make the most of this?”

I hadn’t thought about making the most of this. I really only thought surviving this. I thought about getting by and getting back to normal. But, I now believe that the new normal is going to be different. We’re not going back to what was before. 

So, in order to make the most of this, I think the best way to make the most of this is to prepare for the world that is to come. If this period of social distancing is a reset–as some people say–then it’s wise to invest in what we’re resetting into. What is the new game afoot?

In the car on our ride-along, I answered that question with “I don’t know.” I can’t stop thinking about it, though. And here’s what I’ve landed on for making the most of this time as we move through the reset.

Making the most of COVID-19 social distancing:

Invest in relationships

Nothing makes us want something like not being able to have it. Am I right? That’s a function of dopamine–we’re drawn to seek that which we have not yet obtained. Relationships are at a premium right now. A relationship is no longer as simple as stopping to chat with the neighbor while we’re both in the driveway, or asking a co-worker what she did over the weekend. 

We have to make efforts now. We have to type messages and schedule Zoom meetings. 

I’ve realized during this reset that while I enjoyed relationships before, most of my efforts were invested in being productive. So don’t talk to me while I have work to do. Our conversation can wait until I’ve completed my to-do list.

I’ll gladly set aside a task for a conversation now. I miss flippant conversations with co-workers. And I’m concerned about my friends abroad who are each dealing with the new normal in their own ways. 

In order to make the most of this time, I’m reaching out. I’m touching base with friends far and wide. I’m even investing in new relationships. For the first time I’m considering starting coaching and therapeutic relationships–like hiring a training coach.

Slow your roll

There’s a strange phenomenon happening amidst social distancing: many of us feel a pressure to accomplish things we weren’t able to complete or accomplish prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. So now that we’re not spending time commuting every day, we’re supposed to be spending time writing that book idea. or working out even longer (you know, without a gym), or getting the garage spotless.

I’m not sure this is supposed to be a time of super-productivity. What if this is supposed to be a time of rest, instead? Might that be of value, too?

I’m entertaining that idea, but it’s a struggle. It’s a struggle to just rest. But during the first couple weeks of social distancing, my energy levels have plummeted–I’m mentally exhausted by week’s end. What might happen if I respected that and, instead of pushing for super-productivity because I have more time on my hands, I simply relaxed instead? I have a hunch that resting in order to meet whatever comes next with strength and clarity would be a great use of this extra time.

Appreciate your stuff

Well, we can’t go buy stuff. We shouldn’t go buy stuff. It’s time to make the most of what we got. It’s time to look for the dust-covered items of our households. It’s time to dig through pictures. It’s time to noodle on that guitar. It’s time to set up a game of Risk and leave it up for three days. And if not–if even now you can’t bring yourself to dive into that jigsaw puzzle at the top of the closet or the parenting book you’ve had set aside for when you “have more time”–then it’s time to appreciate the item to give it another life and let it go. Box it up for donation.

The theme I feel rising up in all of this is a theme of letting go. Let go of a sense of pressure to achieve. Let go of that which is not enriching our lives. Let go of that which distracts and clutters. Let go and rest. Let go and simplify.

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