Glancing at the clock, you realize it’s time.
You gather the gear: face mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, and the mental resiliency to brave the outside world.
You take one more unmasked breath before stepping out of your safe space into the unknown.
Grocery store, here I come!
The queue of fellow masked marauders wraps around the block. Everyone maintains a safe distance — without ever looking up from their devices — as if there were an electromagnetic field repelling us from each other.
The anticipation builds as you review your mental checklist, strategically mapping your route through the store like you were a contestant on Super Market Sweep.
The security guard gestures you inside and the race begins!
You’ve done this before and know exactly where to find what you need. Avoiding eye contact with fellow shoppers, you traverse each aisle and try not to get irritated when someone who is caught up in their own world abandons their cart in your path. What’s the rush?
You’ve learned to adapt to the reality of empty shelves. This reminds you of the online order you placed a month ago, scheduled to arrive in June. You experience a brief tinge of nostalgia for the days of instant gratification.
It gets harder to keep distance as the checkout line bottlenecks, but the finish line is in sight. You feel yourself tensing up as the woman behind you edges her cart closer to you and you can sense her irritation. What’s the rush?!
The cashier acknowledges the number of items you’ve gathered and vocalizes her concern, “Hope you’re not walking too far with all this!” You try to be clever and respond: “It’s my workout for the day,” realizing that she can’t see the playful smile under your mask.
The heavy contents within the double bags should sustain you for another week or two before you’ll need to return. You’re desperate to get home, back to your safe space, but force yourself to take a moment every few blocks to pause. What’s the rush?
Back inside your safe space, the washable facemask goes into the laundry bin, gloves tossed away, and sanitizer returns to the shelf. Recounting every touchpoint in the store and along the way home, the bubbling anxiety manifests in the way you meticulously wash and repackage every item, careful to avoid contamination. You remind yourself that it’s only groceries and feel guilty for making such a big deal out of it. After all, this is nothing compared to what your nurse friends deal with every day.
Exhaustion overtakes you and you fall asleep on the couch to dream of a time when things were normal.
If a trip to the grocery store is any indication, the return to life as we knew it will be far from normal.
In this time of physical distancing, we are being forced to experience ourselves differently. How we relate to those close to us, to the outside world, and to the work we do. What used to be a quick trip to the store has become an entire production that requires careful planning, increased mental agility, and the ability to dissociate from reality just a tiny bit.
So why are we in such a rush to get back to normal?
Allow me to pause right here and clarify that my intention is not to downplay the significant loss of life and the psychological impact that this pandemic is having on all of us, in ways we can’t begin to fully comprehend. On the contrary, I am asking us to be present in the experience, take it all in, instead of trying to jump back to normalcy.
Although some states in the US have been quick to get back to business as usual, San Francisco has pushed its SIP mandate to the end of May (and probably beyond), no telling when we will be able to return back to normal — shopping in stores, socializing with friends, and commuting to work.
However, this hasn’t stopped everyone in the past few weeks from prognosticating the death of the urban-center HQ or listing off all the steps that companies need to take immediately to make the workplace safer for employees to return. Alternating shifts for employees, TSA-style lobby checkpoints, density restrictions, the end of shared amenities…the list goes on and on.
The truth is there is still so much that is unknown.
Knee-jerk reactions and gimmicky solutions aren’t going to get us back any sooner, especially if we don’t feel safe. Not to mention that so much will be dictated by the world outside of our safe spaces (e.g. Government mandates, urban planning, public transit). Can you imagine taking the subway or getting on an elevator?
So again…What’s the rush?
We’re all swimming in ambiguity right now, uncertain of what the future holds. We want so desperately to skip over this part, diving towards the future where we might feel back in control of our lives.
Perhaps we could all take a collective pause and instead of trying to jump back to normal, we take stock of this moment.
What is this friction? This agitation, anxiety, fear, grief, loss..?
Just like we created a space to work from home, can we create some mental space for all of these feelings of uncertainty? Instead of trying to rush back to normality, is there an opportunity to slow down and focus our attention on the essential parts of our lives?
Instead of asking when will we return to the workplace, maybe we should be asking why should we return? What purpose does the workplace provide?
Beyond the joy of sharing space with the people we consider a second family, how can the workplace continue to evolve as an inclusive destination for collaboration and innovation?
Mindfulness has never been more important to both our individual health and for companies who are so desperately trying to support their employees in this current reality, while also navigating the business’s future.
We’ve never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. It has pulled back the veil, revealing so much about our institutions and ourselves. Let’s seize this present moment to examine who we are and what we want our future to look like. Our future selves will be glad we didn’t rush.