Lockdown may be, to all intents and purposes, more or less lifted, even if the pandemic is not yet over. Whatever we think of this, it does offer us a moment to pause, take stock and reflect on the last three months, and to plan for the eventuality that we are placed in similar restrictive circumstances again.
At a recent webinar, panel members were asked what they had learned from lockdown and I found myself able to relate closely with all they said. Some talked of emotional journeys of discovery, some of learning about personal strengths or weaknesses, and others talked of practicalities such as computer mediated communication. I suspect we know we have learned from a situation when our perspective at the end of it is different from that at the beginning of it. I can certainly say that I have learned quite a bit from lockdown since 23rd March here in the UK.
Practically I have learned how to use Zoom and how to develop courses around skills development on a virtual platform. I have also learned how patient and kind colleagues have been in sharing their knowledge with me in these areas. I have gone from thinking that computers have no place in facilitating learning to seeing that they can have a place but that it requires a lot of work, time and effort and that it is not a cheaper or easier or quicker option. There will be a backlash against the knee jerk “just do it virtually” attitude and I hope that I can learn the patience to help those who need support to understand why virtual is not always the best or easiest option. But at least now I speak from a position of expertise rather than of personal prejudice.
I too have been on a huge inner journey of self discovery. Three years ago I found myself weeping in front of my GP, saying that I hated my job. That statement surprised nobody more than me. It was the first I had thought about it but it was the beginning of a period of self scrutiny, examining the complex components of the work I do, and trying to find out what exactly had made me say that. Gradually I began to see that some of the people I worked with were abusive, that some of the systems I had to work within were exploitative, and that some of the work I was doing was diametrically opposed to my professional and personal values. Gradually I cast off the damaging areas. But the process was not complete by the time lockdown began.
At first I was furious that I was effectively rendered workless when lockdown happened. I had no work, or rather, no paid work…..the unpaid preparation for events that might not be, has continued, but I have had plenty of time between all the unpaid zoom calls to really take stock. If I was to never work again, how would it be? What would I do?
The answer has been illuminating. In some ways I wonder why I am surprised. I have discovered that just as I am self sufficient when working, so I am self sufficient when not working, but that I don’t need work any longer to validate who I am. Instead, the very things I love doing but which get shoved to the edges of my life, usually, the Christmas holidays or the summer weekends, the once or twice a year hobbies, have become regular pursuits. I have always written, but now I do it almost daily and for hours on end. I have taught myself to sew with leather, so am making bags from a range of materials. I make jewellery, and paint and garden. I am planning a refurbishment of the house. And I am gradually beginning to see that not doing anything is also OK. Time to sit, read, watch or think is good.
I have found my maternal instinct. My grown up daughter, my dog and the wood pigeon sitting on her eggs in the tree reflect back to me the love and protectiveness I feel for them. What is the choice between sitting on a filthy, delayed train to goodness knows where versus sitting under a tree watching my dog sprawled on the grass? It’s no choice at all.
A number of things have made me relive aspects of my childhood in the 1970s. Reading my favourite children’s books to a friend’s ten year old boys has caused me to share reminiscences with them of life in the north back then. They asked me today if I had friendship issues when I was ten. I told them I did but they were dealt with so much quicker then, without technology enabling the prolonging of disputes, screenshots of he-said-she-said unpleasantness, and on-line games that cause misunderstandings when accessed by many. Somehow this complexity has invaded adult life too, with people feeling pressured to conform to all kinds of social – and financial – expectations.
If I do retire earlier than I had planned, I will have several things to thank for doing so. Lockdown may be one, in helping me see that life without work is more than survivable. I can also thank the opportunity I had to go to university when my fees were paid. Both of those are contributing factors outside of my control, and I feel very fortunate that I did go to university and did have the opportunity to work after graduating. But I ought also to remember that I have spent over 30 years working hard, financing myself through subsequent qualifications, and have saved hard, resisting the temptation of a bigger, better home, or a newer, more expensive car. Thankfully I was never seduced by the lure of keeping up with the Jones, and for that I am truly grateful, because that will enable me to take my leave from work when I like, and not when my employer, or my pension dictates.
So what have you learned from lockdown? Has a rest from the norm given you an opportunity to reevaluate what life is about? Or has being at work and in the eye of the storm perhaps brought revelations if its own? So often we end up in workplaces we would never have imagined being in at the age of 16. Or we travel through our lives and end up in leadership and management roles, but when we stop and reflect, maybe we realise that we are unhappy to be removed from our original vocation. A teacher friend has hated teaching full time without pupils in front of him, and a medical manager has hated being so far removed from patients. Life, our careers, the need for more money, takes us often beyond where we belong. I started off my career being creative and maternal with total agency in my work. I ended up having all three of those vital parts of me suppressed as I moved further away from who I was. I was suffocating in a world where very few actually understand what education is. Lockdown has given me the space to rediscover and reinstate the essence of me. And because I have been prudent in my financial planning, I am not going to lose that again.
I am grateful to lockdown for reminding me of who I am.
We would love to hear what you have learned from lockdown.
The Covid Diaries has been posting stories weekly since April. It will remain as a section on the blog, no longer posting weekly, but as and when stories are submitted.