Before the pandemic, our lives answered to the needs of the workplace. We mapped our personal lives around our work lives. In the post-* era, it’s exactly the opposite. To thrive in this new world, everyone needs to find new ways to gain new skills and build new relationships. These aren’t two different things – they’ve converged.
No one enjoys flinging themselves into the unknown. With certain death behind and an abyss dividing the path ahead, the only possible response – other than laying down and dying, or falling to certain doom – lies within a singular moment of rallying, gathering all of one’s strength to leap the void.
We all did this at the end of March 2020 – individually and collectively.
While many feared we might tumble to destruction, few openly considered giving up. We leapt into the unknown, as we always do at such moments.
Landing that jump left us thrilled – excited to be alive – and dazed. We had trouble finding our footing. On this side of the chasm, the ground beneath our feet seemed utterly different, as if physics itself had somehow subtly changed the way things had always worked. Not no rules, but certainly new ones.
We felt lighter.
Nearly everything that we carried along with us – the psychological and institutional baggage of history, inertia and unexamined practice – had to be left on the other side of the abyss. We had no time to gather it up – nor any way to make that leap so heavily laden. To survive, we had to let it all go. Without a second thought, we abandoned all of our culture, and made the leap into another.
Where we are is not where we have ever been before. There are some bits of it that look familiar, but that’s mostly our own memories, trying to shape this new world in our minds to look like the old. Novelty can be exciting – but too much can be terrifying.
For most people, those first ten weeks of global lockdowns felt like ten months. We judge the passage of time by the flow of events, and that flow suddenly became so dense with novelty – or, as we got used to hearing and saying ‘unprecedented’ – that our time-sense skewed. We experienced more change, more quickly, than we had ever seen in our lives. We learned new ways of being, working, connecting, and learning. We explored this new world – together – sharing what we found, creating stories to tell one another about what we’d seen, and what we could now do.
Those weeks had the quality of an emergency – the pandemic never left our minds – leaving their mark in lasting ways. Psychologists believe that it takes around forty days for a person to embrace a new habitual pattern of behavior. Seventy days of lockdowns established a whole new set of habits which we continued to practice after those lockdowns ended. We made the leap, and there is no going back.
In order to make the most of this new world – for ourselves, our families and our organisations – we should begin with an inventory of what has changed, and how those changes have changed us.
Only very rarely does history ever draw a line so thoroughly under an era as the pandemic has. That global crisis cut deep into time – everywhere – leaving a sharp gash separating a now-inaccessible past from our present. All of our long history before March 2020 will forever be known as pre-pandemic.
All of the time following, for all time to follow, will be known as post-.