It’s easy to get caught up in the storm that creates these ‘unprecedented times’ and not think about where we’re currently at on a personal level - just think about where we’ll be once we’re ‘back to normality’. You’re familiar with the phrases. They’ve been used for almost a year now, the length of the pandemic.
In terms of my current time on this planet, that 1 year represents 3.6% of my life to date. It would be easy for me to sit here and talk about things like “wow, I’ve lost 3.6% of my life during this pandemic, can’t wait to tell my friends this fact in the pub” You would probably relate on some level to that. And most likely decide that you’d rather not go to the pub with me at all.
But it led me to a curious thought - have I actually grown on a personal level by at least 3.6% during this pandemic?
I’m going to share 5 ways that the pandemic has fundamentally changed my outlook on life as we teeter on the edge of a return to normality and explain why, in my mind, I believe I’ve grown so much more than the time snatched away by the pandemic.
1. Discovering the meaning of a hobby
Pre-pandemic, I would have described my hobbies as skiing, swimming, socialising, eating in nice places, drinking with nice people and general time passing. Sure, these activities made me feel good, they released very welcome endorphins into my brain which certainly made me feel happy. But satisfied? I think now there’s a little more to it than that.
Throughout our yoyo-ing in and out of lockdown in the UK, I’ve had to learn what a hobby is good for. Google defines a hobby as “an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure”. But what about when all those things you usually associate with pleasure are taken away?
I have come to learn that a hobby is something that you get the simplest and purest form of enjoyment from. That you are equally content doing by yourself or in the company of someone, when legal. I’ve discovered the pleasure of seeing leaves turn brown in Autumn, and waking up to see a frost or a few centimetres of snow. Taking time to clear said snow from the car and look at the individual snowflakes and how they do indeed look like the snowflake emoji. Miniscule parts of the day have turned into moments of utter joy. Opening an avocado encompases this - I’ve never enjoyed opening avocados more and looking forward to assessing the contents and the elation when it's just simply perfect.
When I’m inevitably asked on a first date again what a hobby is, gone will be the exciting and easy answers that sound fast paced and thrilling and are likely to get me a second date. It’s going to be answers such as staring at snowflakes and opening avocados. I may never have a second date again. But that’s okay, because I’ve discovered how to get fundamental enjoyment out of life, not surface deep. I read 25 books last year, I would not have been able to achieve that if I was spending all my time on first dates talking about my trip to the Alps last month.
2. Applying new skills at work
I was (depending on who you are reading this) lucky/unlucky enough to have my life turned upside down by the pandemic. I had been living overseas and got shut out as the borders closed around the globe. At first it was rather funny. Then 3 months later, not so much. I was fortunate to start work with CCM Group as a Marketing Executive for the team that has brought to life Trusted PPE.
If you’d have told me in January 2020 that I’d be working for a company at the forefront of the effort to help protect Britain, I’d have easily laughed you all the way into 2021 saying “Pandemic? We don’t have those in Britain.”
However, this job has changed so much about my perception, outlook and purpose of work. Hearing day in, day out about how the products you’re providing and changing people's lives is frankly harrowing. It provides a lot of insight into people's lives on such a personal level, selling masks is deeply personal in itself. After all, the health of the individual buying it is on the line. It has given the task of getting these products to market greater purpose and meaning to ultimately help people.
I’ve come to realise that I enjoy being able to help, inform and be a part of something. A movement. A thing. That bit is yet to be fully worked out. But as Aristotle once said, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". That’s very true for the team I work in.
A few years ago I worked out some personal values that I try to uphold everyday. These being integrity, wholeheartedness and to make a difference. They fit well into the wider values of CCM Group/Trusted PPE. If you’re unsure about your personal values, there is no better place to start thinking about it than at work.
Companies often have a set of written values and values that they actually put in place, the latter being the culture of the company. Very rarely do the two match. But knowing what these are within your organisation allows you to start thinking about yourself. Do you fit in with any of these values? Do they translate into your personal life too? If so, they could be a personal value for you too.
If you’re fundamentally at odds with what your company’s values are, spoiler alert, you’re probably not loving life at work right now. But learning this is growth and if anything can be achieved from this pandemic, it is growth on a personal level.
(As a side note, CCM Group does a fantastic job of bringing their written values into their culture. You can find out more here).
3. How I sometimes enjoy wearing a mask
Okay okay please don’t stop reading.
I had to mention masks - they’re everywhere and we have to wear them all the time. However, one thing I’ve started to come to enjoy about putting on a mask is they are amazing for using as a figurative mask too.
I’ve had days during the last year where I have felt blue. Some days very much so. And what I really wanted was down the road, in a shop, in the form of melted cocoa butter and sugary goodness oozing with caramel in a block shape. However, that meant leaving the house and potentially bumping into someone who would expect small talk at a 2m distance and all we’d have to talk about is the pandemic. But then I remember, I can wear a mask.
When wearing a mask, you don’t need to smile if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to think about what that spot on your chin might look like - nobody will see it. I get a bizarre feeling when wearing a mask. It’s become symbolic of the pandemic. If you are able to, you’re expected to wear one. It’s protective for both the wearer and those around you. But it’s also protective in an emotional sense too. It’s something to hide behind when hiding is all you want to do. I’ve found myself getting attached to certain masks too - particularly the ones that I remember getting said chocolate bars in.
Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to the day they aren’t considered mandatory. But will I stick one on when my beard has a few too many day’s growth on it and my skincare routine has been neglected for a few weeks? Absolutely. Post-pandemic, I’ll still be using mine.
4. Have faith that you don’t have control
A few words spring to mind when I think about my outlook on life and how it has changed during the pandemic. Resilience, faith, gratitude to name a few. But I think what I’ve learned the most about life is just simply how little control we have over it. Sure, we can control the food we put in our mouths and jobs we choose to work. We can choose the people we want to see (at some point, surely?) and those we do not. My favourite author, Brene Brown, has a great quote around faith.
“Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”
And there has been a lot of uncertainty. But what I’ve discovered is just how many emotions I am able to feel and make a start at learning to recognise them. When life is crazy and hectic and frantic, we still have days that are harder than others. But it can be so difficult to know what it is that makes certain days harder when we’ve got so much going on.
There was a particular day in June that I distinctly remember I felt blue. And it just would not budge. Not even an Espresso Martini at lunch cured it and that, to me, is the antidote to everything. People were losing loved ones at an alarming rate and I thought myself silly. I was fine. My family was fine. How dare I feel blue?
So I took my book and my mask (I was smiling for nobody) to a field nearby. I parked myself with The Man with the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming and got started. It was one of the most enlightening days of my life. Second only perhaps to the first day I tried an Espresso Martini with the birds tweeting and the sun beating down, I realised that I was overwhelmed and felt so out of control.
I don’t have a cure for this feeling I’m afraid, if I find it I’ll let you know.
But take the time to understand it - at least next time that feeling arrives as a black cloud, you gain an element of control in knowing that it too will soon pass. I’ve realised I can’t control a whole lot and I’m learning to be okay with that.
5. Feeling blue and blue light go hand in hand
Since 2017 and living overseas, I have really loved switching off from technology. Pre-pandemic I hardly watched any TV. That habit has slowly crept back in as I got FOMO about missing out on shows like Bridgerton and It’s a Sin. Plus, it’s pretty hard to watch Home Alone at Christmas without a TV. When I moved back, I didn’t even know what a USB-C was. I still don’t. I just know I shake my head as a polite ‘no’ when someone asks me for one.
But with the rise in working from home, I’ve come to loathe a digital screen in my personal time and gain great pleasure by turning everything that emits a blue light off. Perhaps I’ll add that to my list of hobbies. Turning technology off. Or move back in time to the 1800’s.
One of my very good friends, Hedd, is on board with me too. It would be easier to get a person on Mars than to get her to attend a Friday night Zoom call. And I see her point. We spend all week clicking at a mouse, typing on a keyboard and attending meetings staring at pixelated faces of people talking who sound like a Dalek. More often than not, that person is me. So I end up muted and off video which equates to partial attendance of the meeting. My mind then naturally wanders, mostly to what my avocado at lunch will be like.
I do implore anybody who finds themselves stuck to a screen throughout the day to prise it away for just a little bit of time. Just sitting in silence and closing your eyes and listening to your thoughts is really good for you. I recently discovered that it is impossible to have two thoughts in your head at once. So close the laptop, lock your phone and spend two minutes in silence. Try it now. I bet you can’t think about this blog and what’s for dinner at the same time.