Anniversaries are fraught with worries. We fret we might forget them. Choose an inappropriate gift. And frequently, we reflect on our choices and the changes that we can still make to feel better about ourselves in the future. 

Coming up close to the holidays we fear the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, it seems that life again imitates fiction. Yet again, an apocalyptic leitmotif has become reality. Over the last 2 years, we have been beset daily with surreal closures, empty streets, and millions of us around the planet looking for a new normal.

Anxiety multiplied and our societal conversation shifted.  While some have been able to work from home dressed in bathrobes, others binged TV and longed to meet friends for a drink.  And, as with any other crisis, we suffered hoaxers, conspiracy theorists, and conflicting advice.

For most of us, the new normal eventually found its point of equilibrium.  Our daily habits adjusted. Rather than leaving the kids at daycare before continuing on to work, we could still work walled into nooks and hoped to be able to concentrate or conduct online Zoom meetings while kids wailed in the background.

Some companies that were already trending towards remote working leveraged their preparations. But many could not and they solved the challenges on the fly. Regardless of the level of preparation, nobody was designed for the competing need for a workspace nor how all of this would change how we derive satisfaction from life.

The new norm forced us to revisit how we managed our time and interacted with our family and/or housemates. Though the pandemic has now, for most of us, been relegated to a back seat (and the next worldwide crisis is upon us), its effects have lingered on.

Of all the realizations, the pandemic exposed the truth about meritocracy; just because you work hard, there is no guarantee that you will be rewarded. The pandemic exposed us to how we need others around us for input and affirmation. According to Lensa's research on the global work-life balance, the pursuit of work-life balance is one of the 3 main decisive factors for choosing a certain job and state to live in. Thus, enterprises should pursuit to put a special focus on work-life 

The Insight

Employers, since time immemorial, have often found that pay and conditions alone were not sufficient carrots to retain employer loyalty and concentration. Bonuses often sufficed, as well as stickiness; but many companies also boasted that their missions included loftier, societal goals. To be the best at X, Y, and Z and do no evil.

But whether you accepted such or not, a majority of employees sense that their employers’ objectives are to squeeze out as much productivity for as little pay as possible. If given the choice between realistic goals and controlling costs, costs win. 

With the advent of Covid, many people realized that they could survive on less money. For those laid off, perhaps even none. And this, in turn, has caused workers to re-examine their motivation and life goals. Perhaps paying off one’s mortgage is not a key goal? Maybe one does not have to be the hottest worker on the team?

He Who Has All the Marbles

Nigel Marsh (Youtube video) how gone to lengths to unveil the myth that somehow, those who die with the most money have won the game of life. But he argues that this is not what constitutes a life, well-lived. What we should be asking ourselves is are we surrounded by love and admiration.

Going beyond healthy eating, balancing one’s work-life is more holistic. We can segment what fulfills us into:

  • Physically - not just what we eat, but rather, activities that satisfy our souls: exercise, sports, and other physical routines, for example, gardening
  • Emotionally - the stimulation and encouragement derived from family, colleagues, friends, and society in general.
  • Mentally - the activities that get our minds to work, feed our understanding of the world, improve our mental models, and stimulate our curiosity.

While what works for one person is not a recipe for another, all of us need to find Finding the right balance.

Marsh recommends taking stock of ourselves by imagining an ideal day.  By cataloging what we do, rituals and routines, by the amount of satisfaction we derive, we can build a model of what we need. This model, though, is in flux. What is important this year might not be the same next year. 

Beyond all of this, we also need to catalog what diverts our attention. Is it being forever wired into the internet, checking our smart devices, and reacting to every push notification? All of this noise distracts us, sometimes at inconvenient moments, when our focus should be elsewhere.  

Interruptions compound on each other. Responding to a couple of notices throughout the day easily ends up consuming a precious hour. And that is a time that you will never regain.

Where The Rewards Are

Of the many takeaways from the pandemic is our need to interact and be of use to others. We are, as a species, social in nature. Sure, we can relate to the hermit in the woods who gruffly mutters about the imposition of somebody passing through. But, such people are by definition, the outliers. 

Human history is a story of people, not lone explorers that do not meet others. Consider, even in the story, “The Martian”, the protagonist wants to interact with others. Throughout the story, he journals his actions so as to inform others; treks out to find a way to signal back to Earth that he is alive.  And though remote, those on Earth want to help him. 

We do not have to be in space to want to be of service to others. In the past two years, more of us are wanting to help in some capacity. Hence there has been an uptick in social work jobs. And as with everything else, during the pandemic, social work can also be carried out from afar. Reaching out to others is one of the ways that we can derive a new sense of purpose in what we do. We only need to step outside ourselves to see that there are many other ways to be fulfilled.

Helping Others To Help Yourself

Helping others though is more than doing something that delivers a sense of satisfaction. It is also a strong reference when being considered for other positions. An earlier piece in the HR Gazette pointed out a slew of benefits that one gets by helping others. While it may not pay well, what it does do is communicate that as a person, you can put others first. It also shows a sense of motivation and community which, let us hope, is contagious.

Of all the possible tomorrows, let us hope that the one we live in is filled with one of hope and charity. And that, as we age, each anniversary is a celebration of what we accomplished.