“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandolf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
The following isn’t necessarily a story about human resources. It’s simply me wanting to write – randomly scroll my thoughts down as I find some time to come to terms with the new world we share.
It’s been a while since I sat down to write for the HR Philosopher. It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to do much of what I used to do routinely. It’s been a while for obvious reasons. Although, that statement has the benefit of recency bias. Those reading this today, likely obviously, understand where I’m coming from. Those reading this years from now may not understand the context.
We are living in a world dominated by COVID-19. This microscopic virus, this “organism at the edge of life,” has forced many of us to live on the edge of lives we once knew. Our world, our earth, at least for the time being, does not belong to humanity. It belongs to COVID-19.
However, it won’t always be that way. Eventually, we will overcome and reclaim the earth, our lives, ourselves. I have hope that we will come through this and enter a post-COVID world. This world will be drastically different from the one we used to know. Am I ready for it? Are you?
I sat down to write not knowing where I was going with this. I just know I wanted to write. It had been a while, and I wanted to write something that wasn’t a COVID-19 email to employees, or a policy related to COVID-19. Hell, I don’t even want to write about COVID-19. I hate that damn virus. Although, hating it is pointless. It changes nothing. Wasted energy to hate. My energy is better spent focusing on this blog post.
It shows the power of COVID, the power of a microscopic barely life-form that the entire earth is focused on one thing like never before, or not for a long time. So, I decided to write about something. That much I can control.
I have been thinking a lot about how the world has changed. It reminded me of stories my grandparents told me. They survived the Great Depression and World War II. Those events instilled characteristics in my grandparent’s generation and made them different.
For example, my grandpa, who grew up on the southside of Chicago, told me how the city would have “black outs” during the War in case of air raids. He told me how their food and supplies were rationed for the war effort. Certain items, like rubber, just weren’t available.
My grandparents reused everything. I joke that my grandma didn’t have Tupperware containers for storing leftovers because she had plenty of used washed margarine tubs that had ALL THE FOOD!
My grandparents never wasted food. They would suck the marrow out of chicken bones. I remember my grandpa hated certain food items, but he ate them every single time my grandma made the meal. Being a picky eater wasn’t a luxury one could afford.
My grandparents worked differently than I do. I feel I am a hard worker due in part to them instilling a work ethic in me. However, their work ethic was just “different.” I complain about work every once and a while. I never ONCE heard them bitch or complain or moan about having to do work. Work was a sacred duty that had to be accomplished. You don’t bitch about a sacred duty.
I haven’t lived through anything like my grandparents. 9/11 was the defining event of my generation, but ultimately, Islamic Terrorism isn’t on the same level as Hitler’s Nazism, or even the very real scare that mutually assured destruction posed following the Third Reich. The Great Recession sucked. It set my generation back, but most millennials came through it and are doing better now. Even during the Great Recession life was nothing compared to the Great Depression. The hardships of the Great Recession were real, but I don’t feel the two compare to the overall human misery that came in the 1930s. Those evens changed everything; however, I haven’t lived through anything like my grandparents – until now.
COVID-19 feels like an economic calamity / war effort. Domestic business is disrupted (and not in the good way). Unemployment claims are skyrocketing. The economy is on shaky ground at best. Industries have shifted production to assist with our frontline soldiers – doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals fighting every day to make sure this virus doesn’t spread. And, as of today, they’re doing it (seemingly) unsuccessfully. People aren’t working and unsure of how to provide for their families. The world feels chaotic, uncertain, scary.
I am mentally and physically drained. The world has changed, and it continues to change by the day, by the hour, sometimes by the minute. I cannot keep up with what I need to do as an HR professional. Trying to communicate with staff, keep them informed, keep them calm and on point has been… trying. It’s been necessary and important.
Yet, I feel calm. I feel hopeful. Doing what I am doing feels like the single most important thing I will ever do as a human resources professional. People need me. I know they do, so I continue on despite having no energy. I find strength in helping others. And I know they appreciate it.
It will take a while to better understand the lasting lessons from this part of our shared history, but here are some random thoughts that have been running through my mind during the last few weeks.
Social distancing. It’s been so engrained into our shared experience. Will we ever return to a social interaction where being closer together isn’t looked upon with a raised eyebrow?
Handshakes. Will we ever be able to shake hands with others again? Will the fist-bump be our new way of showing respect to one another?
Working from home. I’ve been on so many conference calls this past week, and I’ve been so energized how many of my coworkers have embraced technology. If there’s a positive from our shared situation, it’s that we’ve now been thrust into a world not many thought was possible. Our post-COVID world will feature a heavier reliance on technology, and just as importantly, work from home is more “doable” than many skeptics thought. Employees will have the ability to shape their own professional destinies and mental health like never before!
Resilience. People will find a way to make it through this. We are a strong species. We wouldn’t have made this this far if we weren’t. After all is said and done, our lessons from COVID-19 will make us a better society, a better people, and most importantly, a kinder one.
People are good. For every story of some assholes going to the beach and saying “if I get Coronavirus, so be it” there are 20x more stories of people rising up to protect and serve one another. What I find most impressive is that more people are doing this on their own! There’s no overarching government mandate telling people to do well to one another. It’s been natural. Distilleries stopped making booze so they could make hand sanitizer for medical professionals. Restaurateurs are donating food to senior citizen housing facilities. Neighbors are stepping up and bringing meals to their sick neighbors, going to the store for them, and bringing their garbage to the street. I find this so beautiful. You cannot mandate being good. You have to allow people the space (pun unintended) to think about what it takes to help one another and act upon those thoughts.
The only constant is change. This won’t last. COVID-19 will eventually die out. We will develop a vaccine that Jenny McCarthy will refuse to take. We will eventually have it good again. And that good won’t last either. Everything is ephemeral. Wars, countries, pandemics, roaring economies, you, me, the Sun, the Moon, the earth, Pax Americana, Tom Brady’s good looks, the White Castle shits: Nothing lasts forever. Good, bad, indifference – it’s always in flux. Just enjoy what you have now, and prepare for it to end. Move on to the next scene in history knowing it will be but a blip on the radar that no one will truly remember 100 years from now.
Memento Mori. At the end of the day, we don’t know if we will have another day. Remember, that one day, you will die. Every minute that passes is a minute that is gone forever. It should not take our current situation to remind us to appreciate the time that is given to us. I have not been “stuck at home” for almost two weeks with my wife and son. I have been “safe and sound” in my home with my wife and son. I love them, and I will cherish the time we’ve spent in the house during this ordeal. Sometimes, they drive me nuts, yes. But most of the time, they put a smile on my face, and teach me that one day, I won’t have them around, or they won’t have me. Either way, I am appreciating what I have while I have it.
And what I have, is good, and I am appreciating that more and more each day. I hope you can say the same thing. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Grow your love. Develop your patience. Cultivate your understanding. Challenge your perspective. We are in this together, and we will make it through this together. One love. One truth. One destiny.