Getting back to “Normal”

Reading at University BookstoreWhat is normal anyway?

As many have received vaccines, case counts decline, and we reach the end of Pandemic Lockdown, there’s talk of returning to normal.

But what is normal?

What constitutes normal for us is a series of routines or habits that shape our days.  Breakfast, brushing our teeth, commuting, dinner with friends, concerts, ball games, drinking heavily, exercising, etc. They are things we become accustomed to doing, whether they are good or bad.

When we interrupt our old routines for long periods, for whatever reason, we have a chance to reevaluate our priorities.  We have a chance to start anew and recommit to things that help us grow in new ways.

We can take advantage of the extra space to focus on what we desire most.

Before I left for our sailing voyage, I worked long hours in an office.

Once we departed for our journey, I spent seven years mostly outdoors, communing with nature. My days were filled with frolicking in waterfalls, swimming in the ocean, and harvesting fish from the sea and fruit from trees in the wild.

When I returned to land life after a lifestyle of so much freedom, I couldn’t fathom returning to working in an office environment.

I took that interruption to consider how I wanted to approach life upon our return. I used an aversion to cubicle-filled offices lit by fluorescent lights, and an outdated skillset to grow in new ways. I started working towards a new goal: Writing a book to capture the story of our unusual adventure.

I started with baby steps. I took classes on writing and practiced my skills.

I cultivated a new set of habits and created a new routine to support reaching my goal: I started writing every morning at the same time every day. Soon I had chapters to show for my efforts. I met with a writing group to give myself regular milestones to measure my progress and to obtain feedback and figure out how to refine what I’d written. I attended conferences to learn about the publishing industry and make contacts with publishing people; eventually I had something to show for my efforts: a book I could hold in my hands and share with the world. I am delighted to report that my first book Tightwads on the Loose has been well received.

The cover of Tightwads on the Loose

After I finished writing my first book, Tightwads on the Loose, I was ready for another challenge. I wanted to figure out how to write someone else’s story. I studied, did extensive research, and refined my writing skills. I used habits and routines to make progress on my new story every day. The result was a second book, Sea Trials: Around the World with Duct Tape and Bailing Wire, which has won even more recognition for skillful storytelling, including a Kirkus starred review and being named a Kirkus best book and a Foreword Reviews best book of the year. Yikes!

Now I’m working on a third book—fiction this time. I’m trying to figure out how to devise a made up story from my imagination. The challenge has been fascinating. Once again, the secret has been to use habits and routine to support making progress towards reaching my goal of completing and publishing this fictional story.

When my first book came out, I realized I needed to develop new skills to help me market the book. I needed to refine my presentation skills because I was getting many invitations to speak. I joined Toastmasters and accepted every opportunity to practice speaking whenever I could. I wasn’t a very polished speaker when I first began, but over time, I have become adept at weathering whatever strange obstacles present themselves whenever I’ve been presenting before a crowd, including interruptions, a city-wide power outage, equipment failure and the like. After so much practicing, I find these curve-balls can’t derail me from providing an entertaining show.

What I’ve realized is that whatever I devote my time to doing (or the habits I incorporate into my daily schedule) produces related results. If I spend time sitting on the couch eating ice cream, I may end up adding a few pounds. Or, if I make a point of writing for a few hours every day, I may have a new novel to show for my time.

During pandemic quarantine, we may not have invented a new app or learned Spanish, or completed a new novel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t begin today. For anything we want out of life, any day is a day we can begin to pursue it in earnest.

Right now, though, we know that we are on the cusp of a period of great change. We have an ideal opportunity to reevaluate our priorities and rededicate ourselves anew to activities that feed our souls. And discard those that don’t.

If I am conscious about choosing what I resume doing after this hiatus, I can take this precious gift of time and preserve it for what is most important to me.

I am taking stock and reminding myself that:

  • Dreams become goals;
  • Goals become practices;
  • Practices become habits;
  • And habits lead to results.

I find that I feel most alive when I am actively in pursuit of something that requires me to learn and stretch myself in new ways.

You have probably changed as a result of this pandemic. Forced by conditions beyond your control, you’ve probably adapted in many ways.

As you begin to emerge from your pandemic cocoon, think about how you want to focus your limited energy.  You have an opportunity to proactively consider which habits you want to keep and discard those which don’t help you thrive.

How do you want to grow? What skills do you want to develop?

Every day offers an opportunity to grow in new ways. But an opening like this makes it even more obvious.

Take it.

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