At some point in our lives, most of us relocated from one community to another, even if just temporarily, such as going off to college. At first everything seemed strange. Routines we used to take for granted no longer fit. Places we used to go are no longer available. We were often surrounded by new people who may not be exactly like those we left behind. In short, life felt like anything but normal.
Yet, before long we developed new routines. We found stores to buy what we needed, medical professionals to rely on, and other resources to bring stability to life. Even the people who once seemed so new became friends and coworkers. We adjusted to the “new normal.”
Our institutions, staff, students, and other stakeholders are experiencing something similar right now. In retrospect, life may have been hectic and stress-filled, but it was familiar and mostly predictable. Much of what we face now is new, unfamiliar, and uncertain.
Of course, we do not know if what we are experiencing will be temporary or become our more long-term new normal. Yet, how we think about what we are going through will make a significant difference in how and whether we adjust and how successful we will be in the coming months and beyond.
If our perspective is that we just need to hold on for a while and everything will return to normal, we are less likely to build strong, sustainable systems and acquire skills and habits that will ensure success in the current context. We risk becoming focused on just getting through rather than committing to success now.
The truth is that we cannot and will not ever go back to exactly how things were before the pandemic. We have confronted new challenges, crafted new solutions, and discovered problems and issues that existed previously, but were not recognized and addressed. We are different and so are members of our staff, our learners, our families and even our communities.
Rather than continuously “looking over our shoulders,” wishing for what was, we have a special opportunity to engage, embrace, and press forward in today’s reality. There is much to gain by treating what we are experiencing as the new normal: It is the new normal.
Stakeholders who are looking to us for insight, encouragement, priorities, and vision need us to help them embrace this new normal too. Instead of becoming stuck in what was, and may never be the same again, we need to help them thrive where they are. Here are some places to start:
- Remind everyone that our mission and values have not changed, but we can apply them in new contexts and new ways. We can discover together new routines and practices that remain consistent with who we are and what we value.
- Focus on where we are going and what we are committed to accomplishing, rather than looking back and relying on what used to be.
- Build new systems that reflect and support today’s work and challenges. The sooner everyone becomes accustomed to what the current situation demands, the sooner everyone will feel more comfortable and “normal.”
- Look for new practices and processes developed in the new context that can be carried forward, if and when we return to life that looks and feels more like a year ago than what we are experiencing today.
- Of course, forgive yourself for occasionally longing for the “old days.” But refuse to become preoccupied and paralyzed by what was.