It’s been fifteen days, ten hours and four minutes since the Coronavirus became real in our household. Not that I’m counting.
I went to pick my son up from school on a Wednesday, and the teacher reported that he was definitely under the weather. Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes. A regular, run of the mill cold. Probably.
I took him home and fussed over him. We decided to keep him home from school the next day, just to be sure. We did a big grocery shop (purchasing a normal amount of toilet paper, people), and hunkered down. That ended up being his last day of school for the foreseeable future. Governor Kate Brown made the call to shut down Oregon schools by the end of the week, and that was that.
And we are still hunkering. Like many others, we wonder how long this will go on. Every day brings new surges of cortisol through my veins, as I fear the worst. And every day brings new laughter, shared delights and unprecedented togetherness. It’s a mix of so many things. Fear and anxiety, yes. But also, supreme moments of clarity and reflection.
I wanted to share some of these, in case they are hopeful or helpful to anyone else.
#1: Productivity and the Hustle
So here’s an interesting confession. Prior to the outbreak, I was a bit of a wreck.
I was working long hours, exhausted every day. My doctor reported that my adrenal glands were close to non-functioning due to stress. I felt guilty for the networking events that I should have been attending but wasn’t, and resentful of those that I did attend. They were taking me away from family time, which was in short supply.
And I know it wasn’t just me.
I went on a walk with a dear friend, who cried and told me how burnt out she was at work. There was no wiggle room to change her shift, and her male superior had called her out for something incredibly small, shaming her in front of her colleagues. Her husband was working days and nights, and she barely had the energy to make dinner every night, let alone hang out with her kid.
Another friend shared that she had been waking up at four am to get work done so that she could be home in time to pick the kids up at school and spend time with them. But she was too much of a zombie to actually be present with them, and felt like a terrible mom and a terrible business owner as well. “It’s like I’m doing everything at 50% capacity,” she told me.
American work ethic is known to glorify the hustle, prizing and prioritizing those who throw their whole selves into their work – regardless of the cost to their mental health and personal lives. Burnout was recently recognized as an official illness by the World Health Organization, characterized as “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy”
The “I’ll sleep when I die” rhetoric is causing increased depression, anxiety and reported feelings of helplessness and burnout in America.
I felt it too. Self-Inflicted burnout. As a business owner myself, I knew it, but I didn’t do anything about it. A coach told me “you’re treating yourself as a paid hourly employee.”
Then COVID-19 came along. I’m not going to paint this virus as a knight in shining armor, charging in and saving me from my overbearing workload. Far from it. But it has forced me to think differently about my priorities. And I am sure it has for you, too.
I’m one of the fortunate few who are still able to work during this time. But I’m approaching work differently now. I’m grateful for the work I have. I’m more present in each moment. And meetings and networking events are happening online, allowing me to spend less time in the car driving to things, and more time with my family.
I dearly hope that when this nightmare is over, people will approach the notion of the hustle differently. I know I will. If you want to read more about how to be less addicted to “the cult of busy”, you can read that here.
#2: Even Professional Organizers can Over-Consume
As an organizer, I’m pretty good about not over-buying. But that doesn’t mean I don’t fall for the trap of “oh-my-god-that-product-is-just-the-thing-I-need” once in a while.
Since COVID-19, being home-bound has made me think more deeply about our real needs. And it turns out that they are even fewer than I thought.
The other day, I saw that Old Navy was having a 50% off everything sale. And yeah, I fell for it. Bored and listless, I browsed through pages of cute and colorful clothing. Thinking to myself “I need some color to brighten my life, and I deserve this,” I selected a few items and added them to my cart. I asked my husband what he wanted, and added some more.
When I went to check out, guess what my cart was filled with?
A black dress, black sweats and a black shirt. Just like all of the other black items of clothing I already own.
Disgusted with myself, I snapped the laptop closed and stormed off. Why had I fallen for that? I don’t need clothes! I have an entire closet full of clothing! It turned out that what I was craving was a little variety, so I went out to find it and came back with…what I already have.
Working with our professional organizing clients, this is a pretty common story. People end up with multiple items of the same thing, and don’t really understand how that happened. But there is an explanation.
When we shop, especially online, we get a sweet little hit of dopamine, the feel-good chemical in the brain. And when the package arrives at our door, we get another hit. Often times, the thing that we are really after in that scenario is the dopamine – not necessarily the item itself.
COVID-19 has made me view this impulse a little differently. With stores, parks and public spaces closed, we are forced to sit with ourselves longer than we normally do. If you look for it, you’ll see patterns of behavior emerge. Examine them and determine if they are worth taking up space in your life. Write them down and remember them for the future, when the world starts turning again.
#3: Sustainability, Food and Gratitude
For our family, thinking more about where our food comes from is another big takeaway from COVID-19. The farmers, stores and grocery workers are heroes to us right now. They are putting themselves on the line every day so that we can continue to eat. We’ve realized how much we depend on those people, and how much we took our food for granted before the virus began.
Last week, we planted a vegetable garden. While this act was admittedly a trifle apocalyptic in nature, it felt great. We are growing our own vegetables! My husband is teaching my son about propagation in “home school,” and we are having more conversations about where our food comes from, and the importance of eating healthy, nutrient-rich fruits and veggies to support our immune systems.
I’ve spoken before about my frustration with the over-abundance of choices in huge grocery store chains, and I still feel that way. I’ve taken a break from my beloved Trader Joe’s in favor of Fred Meyer’s pick-up service. They still don’t have toilet paper. WTF people?
I’ll go back to my minimalist grocery shopping at some point, but I will never again take for granted where my food comes from.
This pandemic will end. And when it does, we will all go back to the grind. My dearest hope and wish is that we will all return with a new perspective about our choices. We’ll relax our glorification of the hustle, think more about what we buy and where it comes from. Shop small and feel grateful for what we have. Perhaps I sound preachy; I don’t mean to be.
I know that my goal when this is all over will be to live more simply. To consume less, to be thankful more. Take better care of my mental and physical health. To value and support my community and myself and my family.
And to never take toilet paper for granted again.