9 Life Lessons from a Year of Shelter in Place

I sat on my living room floor, my computer in front of me and a small dish of dried cranberries next to me. Friday after work, I was on a video conference happy hour with a friend who had expressed some frustration earlier in the week about the ongoing pandemic situation here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

March brings a number of anniversaries to me. The last time I stepped foot in the office (March 2, thanks to an engineering offsite and a common cold that lasted a week and a half… just in time for a shelter in place). What started out as a 2 week work from home mandate has now stretched into a year.

I’ve experienced my share of frustrations, but for the most part, I’ve striven to live in a place of contentment and thanksgiving. As Peloton instructor Ally Love recently shared, I’ve been focusing on “the donut, not the hole.”

As I approach this anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on what lessons I’ve learned as a part of this strange new left turn in the world. What will I take from this time into a post-pandemic world? How will I engage with the world differently? What life skills have I learned?

It turns out, I’ve learned a lot.

#1 Be intentional about connecting.

This pandemic life has been a similar type of struggle; our day-to-day lives have been flipped upside down. Normal modes of connection, the intersections of daily or weekly life, have been disrupted. The people who have navigated this world the best have been intentional about their human connections.

The lesson of being intentional and initiating contact with friends (instead of waiting to be reached out to) has been hammered home. Relationship takes effort, and it takes deliberate outreach and scheduling to make sure that friendships don’t just slide out of apathy.

The other lesson I’ve learned is that just as you have to pursue depth in a relationship, you also have to pursue breadth of relationships. One recent article in the Atlantic mourned the loss of casual friendships, as the pandemic has forced us to maintain the closest of our relationships with friends and family, leaving little time for the casual intersections of people in our lives. I’ve made time to broaden my connection points with both acquaintances and strangers, and it’s benefited my sense of overall well-being.

#2 Be intentional in your conversations about life.

  • “What’s your emotional temperature check? What’s the one word to describe how you’ve been feeling this week? And how come?”
  • “If you were to summarize your entire week in one word, what would it be?”

#3 It’s okay to expose your struggle to others.

#4 Invest in rituals to bring order to your living space.

Photo of two hands holding a mug full of tea. The hands are partially obscured by the sleeves of a long, white sweater, exposing only the fingers. One hand is gripping the handle of the mug, while the other is cupped around the bottom of the mug.
Photo of two hands holding a mug full of tea. The hands are partially obscured by the sleeves of a long, white sweater, exposing only the fingers. One hand is gripping the handle of the mug, while the other is cupped around the bottom of the mug.

#5 Bring small luxuries into your life, and mindfully enjoy them.

#6 Intentionally reflect, think about next steps, and make them happen.

#7 A big project can give you focus.

#8 Know when to say no.

#9 Remember what matters.

As I reflect on this past year, I hope that this is the lesson that I walk out of this pandemic with: that people are not replaceable, and that I need to decide how I show up as a result.

I have a longtime friend that I’ve begun to regularly spend time with during the pandemic. We have a standing virtual activity every weeknight, and it’s one of the things I anchor my day around. There’s something about the ritual that helps me remember that I am more than my job, something reliable that is connecting in a way that isn’t mission-oriented.

This past week, I took the time to text this person: “I do not take you for granted. I’m thankful that we get to do this.”

And that’s the most important lesson of all.

Elaine is a senior product manager at Adobe. You can find her on Twitter at @elainecchao. All statements in this essay are her own and do not reflect the opinions of her employer.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

I work for Adobe on Adobe XD. Also a martial arts instructor, musician, writer, volunteerism advocate. Opinions mine.

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