How the pandemic could make us better

Some experts say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Others say it’s more like 60 – 90 days, but either way, the novel coronavirus has given us some time to get comfortable with new patterns. When we emerge from this ordeal and our post-pandemic normal takes shape, I wonder what new habits will stay and which old ones will die?

I realize, that for many of us, there’s not much comfort to be found in silver linings. Our economy is crippled and our collective anxiety continues to rise even as we watch the curve flatten and go down. And, we may be in this crisis together – but we’re not experiencing the same things.  

How well we manage the COVID-19 recovery remains to be seen but there are some recent changes in policy and attitude that I hope will stick around. 

The world before and after COVID-19

Before: Our 2020 outlook was pretty good. Most experts believed growth would be slow but sustained and the presidential election was the biggest unknown contingency we faced. 

Americans were working harder than ever. During the last century, workism, which is defined as a belief that work is the centerpiece of one’s identity, became a new way of life for many. Our self-worth was tied to job success and whether or not it fulfilled us and/or served a greater good. We went from having jobs to having careers, a calling. Unfortunately, most jobs (ex. cashier, trucker and delivery person) don’t offer the kind of self-actualization we were looking for and ultimately that was a recipe for disappointment, depression and anxiety. 

After: For some businesses there is no life after COVID-19. They will live on only as another casualty of the pandemic. The fact is that we’ve only just begun to realize how different the post-pandemic world will look and the expert predictions and cautionary words of wisdom are still conjecture. 

The only thing we know for sure is that we are all vulnerable. Whether it’s the actual virus or one of the many consequences COVID-19 created, no one is immune – not even those of us with great job titles and stature in the community. If this crisis means we now look at the grocery store clerks, delivery people, truckers and health care aides with more respect because they helped keep us fed and healthy, then that’s a habit we should keep. 

Before: Technology continued to boom, but many of us were still reluctant to adopt it. An in-person sales call or meeting was considered better than a video chat or phone call. Who had time to learn how to Zoom, much less download the app? People who remained technologically challenged were, for the most part, reluctantly tolerated. Telehealth was gaining ground, but government restrictions still limited coverage for what could be its largest group of users – Medicare recipients. 

After: People who can’t remotely connect to work or learning online will fall behind. People who were finally forced to shop, work and play online, now benefit from new possibilities. Suddenly the barriers, such as time and costs, associated with adopting new technology don’t seem so insurmountable. Employers who didn’t think employees could work productively outside the office, might now be willing to offer work-from-home opportunities as a benefit. 

As for telehealth, I believe this crisis marks the beginning of a huge boom. If the government can relax its restrictions and health care providers and patients can master the technology during the pandemic why should that practice end? The time it can save health care providers and patients could be used to improve our health care system in the post-pandemic world. That’s a win-win habit we should definitely continue.

Before: Many people valued materialism over less tangible benefits such as family time, good character and shared experiences. Black Friday sales morphed into Thanksgiving-day sales, despite the warnings from experts who said consumerism was increasingly linked to human insecurity. We believed that more “things” helped us feel better about ourselves and our status in the world.

After: The “things” that seemed important before COVID-19, suddenly don’t matter. Toilet paper is the new must-have item. And, thanks to video conferencing we can glimpse how our bosses, colleagues and clients live. We learn through observation how much we have in common and experience how valuable our families and pets are – even if it’s a cranky toddler or barking dog. If this means we move on to count our blessings instead of our possessions then that’s a habit I want to keep.

Jennifer Rodgers is product editor for Lehigh Valley Business and Central Penn Business Journal

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