The pace of change, of life, has been brutal. It has all taken a toll, made us fraught, fretful and over-emotional. And yet most of us don’t recognise it for what it is: the fallout of trauma. (Shutterstock) Exclusive
The pace of change, of life, has been brutal. It has all taken a toll, made us fraught, fretful and over-emotional. And yet most of us don’t recognise it for what it is: the fallout of trauma. (Shutterstock)

Finding new purpose in a new normal: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi

The pace of change has been brutal. No way of life has been left untouched in the pandemic. Is it time then to re-examine the role of work?
By Charles Assisi
UPDATED ON JUL 17, 2021 01:11 PM IST

After the wife and I received the second jab a few days ago, and with all the headlines suggesting Covid numbers were still on the decline, we thought we’d finally step outside our neighbourhood. For a drive, and a meal. Like we used to.

The kids were overjoyed. There’s no other way to put it — we all wanted to feel normal.

Upon stepping out though, it became painfully clear that normal isn’t what normal used to be. The roads that led to our favourite part of town were bereft of crowds. Most places the kids wanted to visit had either shut permanently, or were following the instructions on what days they could stay open. The restaurants that were open could allow only a certain number of people in. Going out, shopping out, dining out, it had all changed. We headed home, downcast.

When I described to a friend, a leadership coach, how surreal all this felt, he suggested I take a short break to make peace with things, since this is how they are likely to be for a long while. He did that with his family recently. It occurred to him, he said, that for 15 months the world beneath their feet had been shifting constantly. Everyone had been running frantically just to try and stay at the same place.

The pace of change, of life, has been brutal. It has all taken a toll, made us fraught, fretful and over-emotional. And yet most of us don’t recognise it for what it is: the fallout of trauma.

Each time we have found a new normal, it has shifted. To cite a small example, overnight we were compelled to work from home. Then came the vaccines and, for many, news that they would now have a hybrid model of work-from-home and working from the office again too. Some companies offer this as a choice; many don’t. In either case, people feel conflicted and are forced to reformat their lives again.

Meanwhile, even as the vaccine percolates, the virus is mutating. We are concerned afresh for our lives, and those of our loved ones. We are hyper-vigilant, cautious, out of touch with the people and places that helped define us. There is no sense of when this reality will change for the better; it is very likely that it will change for the worse again first.

Taking time out allowed the friend to try to come to terms with all that we must learn to live with now. Having done that, he could examine the landscape and acknowledge that there is much simmering below.

For one thing, his profession, like so many others, has been altered drastically. The skillsets he brought to the table and his physical presence were thought of as invaluable and mandatory by the organisations he worked with. Now, they have started to engage virtually with others like him from places as far away as Europe. “This was unthinkable a year and a half ago. But the boundaries have collapsed,” he said.

That’s when it occurred to him that if people from other geographies could begin playing on his turf, he could do the same. He began trying to identify where he was needed most, amplify his services and ensure that his voice was heard.

Isn’t that what Thomas Friedman recommended in his book The World Is Flat all the way back in 2005, I asked. Friedman had made the case there that as companies and people became more connected over the internet, the result would be a more level playing field. The pandemic would seem to have accelerated Friedman’s prediction.

“The world is not flat. It is unequal,” the friend countered. He can work out of a room at home with access to high-speed internet. Many have neither. And for them an eventual negative impact is inevitable.

Having never thought of it in quite this manner, I started to wonder who might be lining up to eat my lunch. The friend insisted I think bigger. “If where we work and how we work has changed, it is time we question why we work as well.”

He has a point. What purpose does the busy-ness serve? If it keeps us cooped up all day at home just after we’ve discovered how mortal we are, is it time to rethink the purpose of work and the nature of our relationship with it?

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