How this Crisis is Reshaping My Expectations & View of the World
We are all dealing with isolation differently. I’ve seen joy, gratitude, depression, fear, restlessness; occasionally all from the same person. However, I’ve heard almost everyone share some variation of the phrase, “let’s not run back to our old way of doing things until we know what‘s worth running back to.” At first, I didn’t get it. When I’m not traveling, I work remotely. So life hadn’t changed that much for me. I wake up with a long to do list, listen to The Daily, drink a cup of coffee with coconut oil, spend 7–8 hours on zoom, use some post-its, cook dinner, have a margarita, watch a show… wash and repeat.
However, unfortunately, my partner’s mother had been battling Alzheimer’s for 10 years and her journey was finally coming to an end. She was placed in Hospice in March, so Nathan and I moved in with his brother and nephew and later his Dad. We lived together for a month. This felt like extenuating and difficult circumstances, but nothing to evaluate further in the context of COVID. And then it hit me…
A Few Hits of Joy
Even given the awful circumstances, I was happier. Usually, my job takes so much of my positive energy and extraversion and selfishly keeps it for itself. It leaves me only scraps of interest in others when I’m home. But I felt totally different. I wanted to play, talk, and eat together. I was experiencing authentic joy cooking, cleaning, and walking the dog. I felt physically and emotionally compelled to pour myself into work and into Nathan’s family. These are things I always do, but before, they felt like a burden. Everything in my life felt like a chore. Even fun started to feel like a check-the-box activity.
But not today. Today Nathan and are home in Little Rock and I am bursting with joy. Things that used to drive me nuts are bringing me peace. For example, we live in a 100 year old house and we’ve faced a lot of challenges with this home. It smells, there are bugs, it never feels clean. But today I want to kiss these old wood floors. I value the stories this house tells. The smell has become an ingredient, something to be used and adapted, not despised. It’s all part of the process, the process of my life. And when I have time to actually live it, I enjoy it.
Want another taste of joy?! I’ve got you. Each night Nate and I have been watching shows about the universe. We finally think we partially understand stars and we are just starting to fathom supernovas. Last night while watching our show, I said something to Nate about how cute he’d be on TV. His profile didn’t change, he didn’t laugh, or respond, but I actually heard his smile part. Listen for that today. It’s maybe the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I cried and I’m crying again now. I was so in tune with my present life that I could actually experience Nathan’s most nuanced reactions, which is the only way to experience my sweetheart. Just a small crack of a smile on the side of his face I couldn’t see, an expression of love and warmth. It was my favorite moment of this year.
All of the little things around me have become so much more interesting. While living at Nate’s dad’s house, I spent 3 hours watching our dog and his dad’s villain cat try to figure out how to co-exist. I seriously have over 20 videos.
So while I could lose my job this year, we’ve lost loved ones, others will become sick, I am overwhelmed with satisfaction… and I’m not an easy person to please! I’m digging deep on this. How could I possibly be feeling better when the world around me is falling apart? Well, first, I must acknowledge tragedy. Nathan and I have experienced two traumatic life experiences in 2020 and it finally feels like we are rebounding. So yes, on the other side of tragedy there are tears of joy and relief. That’s absolutely playing a role in my part-time high, but I think there are two other things that feel very true to me right now. One is living my life with a renewed sense of purpose and the second is shifting expectations of myself and those around me. While these are just preliminary hypotheses, I’m eager to explore them more.
So, with my newfound perspective, here is what I want to run towards.
Clarifying My Personal Purpose
Hello overused buzzword, it’s Barbara here with a fresh perspective. But seriously, what the fuck is a personal purpose? We are all trying to answer this question for ourselves on this brief journey we call life. For me, I’ve often found purpose in caring for others and personal growth via my work, but I’ve never felt fully fulfilled. It’s never felt like enough. Until right now.
When I was living with Nate’s family, I was playing a role in the family structure. I was the peacemaker, the playful Aunt, or the person who forced others to have difficult and deep conversations. The universe wanted me to be there. I met Nathan when I did so we could experience this together. There’s no job or project that could ever call to me as deeply as my role as Nathan’s partner during this difficult time.
After a month of living with Nate’s family, I really didn’t want to leave. It was so interesting to me to experience intergenerational living. We were a retired 70something judge, three 30something professionals — an accountant, a lawyer, and a consultant, and one 7 year-old sharing a three bedroom house, WiFi, and meals. That might not sound very fun to you, but it was fascinating to me. We each played different roles and we needed each other to remain optimistic and healthy. What greater purpose is there? In my normal life, my only real role is to do great work, bring home a paycheck, and find a way to optimize Nate and I’s happiness. It’s a privileged life, but it’s an overrated one.
It’s also a hard time for our small business. So my role there is also essential. How can I help our business survive and thrive during a challenging time? How can I be there for our partners who are experiencing loss and fear? How can I support my colleagues who are trying something for the first time in a difficult time?
These are reasons to wake up in the morning. I want to run towards a deeper and more meaningful purpose in my life. One that expands hearts and minds, especially my own. I know myself; good, bad, right or wrong, I need to be needed. I need to be of service to others. I’m at my best when I’ve got a damn good reason to give it my all. Right now, I’ve got some pretty good reasons. As things evolve, I need to figure out what the world needs from me over and over again.
A Revised Social Contract
As I’ve shared my positivity with others, each person asks me what specifically do I not want to go back to when the world reopens. The obvious answer is travel, but I think it’s more complex than that. I’ve noticed over the last 6 weeks we’ve been much more willing to accept each other, to forgive, and to ease up on our expectations of one another. It’s now, “Wow, your kids are screaming in the background, you are a super hero.” vs. three months ago,“Wow, your kid’s are screaming in the background, get your shit together.” We are re-writing our social contract and I think we need to pay special attention to what feels better and why.
At Stoked, we try desperately to prioritize self-care and time off from work. We had the unlimited vacation policy, a few leaders lead by example, but we learned, just like everyone else, that doesn’t work. We all have to agree, align, and model behavior. And we have to be really specific in our agreements. If a few influential people stop taking vacation, so does everyone else. It becomes the new informal contract. The reality stops resembling the intention. Let’s examine a few other things we’ve socially agreed upon that we are currently questioning, especially within corporate cultures:
- Showing up to work in-person at a specific time
- Wearing business casual, uncomfortable and unflattering clothes
- Separating work time and family time completely
- Tackling big projects virtually vs. in-person
- Being polished and professional in meetings, which requires us to often hide what’s really going on with us personally
- Working 40 hour workweeks (sometimes it’s more and sometimes it’s less)
- Expecting everyone to be productive at the same time of day
If we shift these norms, we can make so much more space for other priorities. We created the previous shitty ones, we can create the new ones too! Or rather, we let the previous norms shift slowly over time without most people questioning them.
What would a hard right turn feel like right now? What if we experimented with an intentionally designed and totally fresh social contract? What if we eased up our expectations of each other? Because let’s be real, the current ones are hurting all of us. The reason I am so much happier right now is because I’m not on the road every week, sure, but it’s also because I feel like I am still doing a good job. I am still showing up for people in ways that are meeting their new expectations, but I’m also showing up for myself and my little family in a much bigger and better way.
So yes, my days are repetitive. I’m no longer traveling the country and visiting exotic vacation spots. But damn my roses look good this year, fresh Arkansas strawberries give me butterflies, and writing this on my back porch on a Saturday morning while Nate plants tomatoes feels perfect.