You have an opportunity to design your new normal. Taking action to realize that is its own challenge, but a worthwhile one. There has never been a better opportunity to hit the reset button than now, on what is hopefully the downward slope of a very long pandemic. As we transition to whatever comes next, all bets are off. Organizations, communities and particularly individuals all have the opportunity to decide their future, and to potentially take very different paths forward from the ones they may have been following previously.
What I’ve outlined in contemplating your next normal is the chance to design your optimal future. You have the opportunity to think about where you’ve been and where you are, but above all where you want to go next. You have the freedom and agency to make bold changes, and reset expectations from where you have been thus far. The challenge is having the imagination to envision where you want to go next, and the courage to seek it out.
In designing and working to realize that next normal, though, it’s probably useful to mention one very important point: it’s not necessarily going to be a cakewalk getting there. As we talked about last week, there is the very real challenge of stepping up and taking action, particularly in the face of the expectations and reactions of others. It’s one thing to declare what you want for yourself; it is another thing entirely to declare it others (whether your boss, your partner or your friend).
There are risks in terms of stepping out and seeking a different reality. You will in many cases be letting go of what is familiar in order to navigate towards something that is desirable and yet remote and unfamiliar. That might relate to your job, your career or your industry; it may be to do with your personal interests and what you spend time focussing on; it also may focus on your personal relationships and friendships. Letting go is hard. You know what you know; it is familiar, it is understood and—regardless of how unsatisfactory aspects of it might be—it is comfortable.
Making shifts involves all of the difficulties of navigating transformation and change that you can reasonably expect. There is discomfort, there is uncertainty, there is doubt and there is angst. That’s all normal, and to be expected. The magnitude of the impact will depend upon the significance and scope of the change. Even simple changes have their consequences. Large and far reaching ones can take a great deal of time to settle.
Here’s the thing, though. Imagine that you have decided—after years of hesitation, uncertainty and questioning—that it is time to move forward on something you have been dreaming about for years. Sixteen months of pandemic have coalesced into resolve and commitment that waiting any further is a pointless exercise. You are going for it, and fulfilling your dream. You build your plan, you commit to take action, and you set off towards your desired future, confident and clear about what matters most.
You can do all of that, with all of the enthusiasm and commitment you can muster, and there are days that it is going to suck. There will be moments when you question what you are doing and why, and ask yourself if you were crazy to even think that making a change was possible. The temptation of an easy, routine life on someone else’s agenda is going to look powerfully tempting. This is normal. It is to be expected. That doesn’t make those moments any easier to live through.
Part of that is due to the very simple fact that we are all coming through the pandemic, and hoping that we are coming out the other side. It’s still hope, though. Outbreaks are occurring around the world, as are lockdowns. People are getting sick, and people are still dying. Those who are vaccinated are coming to the uncomfortable realization that they still might get sick, and that getting sick is still going to be miserable (although the blessing is that you are unlikely to be hospitalized, and you are even less likely to die).
For most of us, we have yet to process what the experience of the last sixteen months actually means for us. We are all doing the best that we can with what we have right now. We have been trying to live our lives, trying to hew as close to normal as is practical under the circumstances, and trying to hold it all together. Feelings are still raw. Experiences are less than awesome. Despite this, many offices are re-opening, employees are feeling equal parts pressure and dread at returning to the office, and we are all negotiating how we interact and socialize after months of avoiding doing exactly that.
The novelty of this situation does make it the optimal time to shift expectations and show up differently going forward. That doesn’t mean it is actually easy to do. It requires perspective, objectivity, insight, confidence and the willingness to take not insignificant risks. Those qualities can be in short supply right now. If you can manage it, the results can be exceptional; there will likely never be quite the same situation where all bets are off about what comes next, and you have the opportunity to reset or rebuff any and all expectations of what you should do and why you should to it. Valuable, but as I’ve said already, still not easy.
But the more important part to understand is that even when you pull it all together, and sort through your pandemic experience, the road to your dream future is going to be littered with obstacles, roadblocks and hurdles. Many of them will be put there by you.
I have had the luxury of spending nearly the last ten months working on a project that has been a dream of mine for a very long time. Strategy Making is the first of several workshops that distil everything I know about being a strategic leader into a program that is accessible and available to all. After an incredibly successful pilot last fall, I am within a week of updating and revising the curriculum to reflect what I fully want the program to be.
There have been weeks and months where building this program has been a joy. I’m incredibly proud of the content, I’m very grateful for the feedback that I have received so far, and I’m thrilled that I finally mustered the energy necessary to bring it into the world. I would be lying, though, if I didn’t say that there are periods that have been an absolute slog. There have been days and weeks where everything has felt way too difficult, progress has been hard fought and occasionally lost, and the last thing that I wanted to do was dive in and work on building the next module.
What I can also assure you of is that this experience is entirely normal. It is perhaps a little bit more keenly felt right now (see previously mentioned pandemic-related tensions) but I would be experiencing some of the same emotions and frustrations if I had all of the time in the world to bring this to life. You can be living what is theoretically your dream, and there are times that it is going to feel like a complete and utter nightmare. That is just how life plays out somedays.
The reasons for that are many. When you care about what you are doing, and know what it has the potential to be, accepting compromise and challenge can be hard. There will be moments when technology that worked perfectly well yesterday is absolutely unwilling to cooperate or function today. You can have a well-honed process to get results, and there will be mornings where the process seems overwhelming and simply too much work.
The other side of that is that there will be times when the work you do—supportive as it is of something you care deeply about—just isn’t any fun. We all have our talents. We all have work that we love doing, which is often why we choose the directions and careers that we follow. Look closely at any job, however, and no matter how appealing it might be on the surface, there will aspects that you despise.
I worked as a project manager for many, many years. It’s something that I was good at. Most days, it was something that I enjoyed. I loved the challenge, I loved the variety and I loved the fact that you never lived the same day twice. Every day brought new insights and new obstacles. That is what appeals about the role for many.
At the same time, there are expectations and obligations of being a project manager that are routine, are necessary and—in my world, at least—are downright boring. I do not like maintaining budgets. I detest collating timesheets and updating schedules based upon projects. For all that I write (and I write a great deal) I absolutely abhor crafting status reports. The administrative side of project management is the rote and routine that I loathe. That’s not to say that I can’t do that work—and when I put my mind to it, I do it very well. It’s just that I don’t want to do that work. When I was in the role, I engaged in untold amounts of psychic bribery to get myself to do the things I needed to make happen.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t move forward with and realize your dreams. They are possible. You can make them happen. Now really is a good time to be reinventing yourself, if that is what you aspire to do. I genuinely believe that there are many more that want to do that than want to return to their previous realities.
I do want you to make that move with eyes wide open, however. There will be aspects of your transition that thrill and delight you. There will be aspects that horrify and scare you. There are times that you will scream in frustration. Then you’ll figure out how to get to the other side and keep going. That is not a cue to give up; it’s a clue that you should keep going. You need to be ready for it when it happens, and you need to be prepared to keep moving through.
It isn’t all sunshine and roses. But if you expect that going in, you’ll appreciate the bright, rosy days for what they are, and put up with the others because they’re normal.