We crossed the threshold of two years with the pandemic just a few days ago. We all entered into this liminal experience together, unequal though that still was. Two years on, we are not all leaving it together. There are more than cracks around the edges, and our personal experiences are fragments of a shattered whole. For those still trying to navigate through to the other side, there are insights that liminality has to offer, and perspectives to manage wrestling with the complex question of, “What’s next?”
We all get to choose who we wish to become. While that has always been true, there have been few opportunities quite so significant and meaningful as the situation in which we find ourselves today. We have been collectively in a liminal transition from the start of the pandemic. While we didn’t choose this, there are opportunities to learn from it. In particular, there is a choice of how each of us emerges from the experience. This isn’t about going back to where you were before; none of us are doing that fully. As you navigate towards your next normal, you have the opportunity to use your current liminal reality to shape and define who your future self. There will never be a better opportunity for broad reinvention of who you become and where you go than the situation you find yourself in today.
At the start of the pandemic, all of us wanted a reset button. The desire was enormous to go back to the way things were. That idea was a non-starter then, and nothing has changed about it. For many of us, what we have experienced since has felt less like a reset button than a pause button. The world has suspended itself in a repeating cycle of lockdowns, cautious reopening and questions about when the next normal might assert itself. We may be getting close, finally. As we do, a different reset button is presenting itself. It is an open question about whether you will push it or not.
That we are in a collective and unprecedented liminal experience is pretty much beyond debate. We are also now at a point where we can see the return to something like normalcy being dangled tantalizingly before us, somewhere in the near-distant future. The question is where we want to go from here. The pandemic is a universally experienced imposition of reality where none of us had control. Emerging from the pandemic, however, is an entirely different proposition. We have choice. We have opportunity. We have agency. But what do we do with it?
It’s been a year now since we all went over the cliff together and entered the space of the pandemic. We have arguably been held in liminal space ever since, individually and collectively. That’s an entirely unusual, difficult, complicated and unprecedented place to be. Liminality usually defines the transitional space for individuals or small groups. It is rare that an entire society is plunged into the void, without clarity, guidance or a clear way out. A year on, we’re still in a liminal space. Here’s what that means, and what it could mean for what comes next.
Last week I made the argument that we cannot do our best work in periods of stress. The value of having physical and mental space is that it allows us the ability to explore and experiment. It would be easy to conclude that all stress is bad, and that stress is to be avoided. That would be a mistake. While it is true that stressful experiences can keep us from doing our best work, sometimes the opposite of that is also true.