In a Covid World — Redrawing Boundaries, Focusing on Our Bliss, Soaring With Eagles
“No is a complete sentence” (author Anne Lamont).
What’s this all about? Let me explain.
Years ago, I attended a business seminar where Tim Ferriss, a popular podcaster known for his head-turning book The 4-Hour Workweek, was presenting a “10-minute talk” to Genius Network members. Suddenly he said, “When you see a new opportunity, don’t answer yes or no to it. Instead answer ‘No’ or ‘Hell Yes!’” Wow. That got my attention.
Ferriss’ advice is very simple. Any idea, project, investment or opportunity that grabs our attention for any reasonable amount of time should be a hell yes! – or it’s a no.
Lamont and Ferriss are providing us with the simplest of boundaries – no. No means no. It does not require justification or explanation. “It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important” (the late Steve Jobs).
But sometimes isn’t this a bit harsh? Even rude? How does one learn to say no? Well first, establish your personal boundaries. Be aware of others’ persuasive gambits. When appropriate, start with expressing gratitude at having been asked or invited. But give a clear no.
Boundaries are a critical component of self-care. They are healthy, normal and vital. Even the nicest people have their limits. As the saying goes, you are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.
In our pre-Covid world prior to March 2020, people proceeded normally with whatever routine boundaries they had installed. Then suddenly the pandemic apocalypse! Gaping holes abruptly appeared in personal boundaries — what an old military euphemism called “gaps in the wire.” Long-standing, tried-and-true, safe behaviors swiftly dissolved.
Our world suddenly became topsy-turvy, uncertain, with dramatic shifts in our jobs, travel, eating routines, childcare, exercise, and even our sense of time. Covid’s impact has been uneven and erratic, sparing some demographic groups while devastating others. The shift to remote learning has damaged traditional schooling, particularly for the most vulnerable students. Parents’ careers and mental health also have suffered.
Yet there’s also evidence that staying home has benefited many children, raising questions about how we educate and care for them during normal times.
Let’s admit it: We often get too excited about new things, but we want certain things to stay exactly the same. Covid has attacked both, our consistency (same) and our innovation (new).
Now, you may be asking yourself, “where’s he going with this? Why is this important?” Give me a minute to run through this.
Our country was founded on the fundamentals of freedom. Many small business owners start their businesses because they want more freedom in their work and play lives. From the perspective of an entrepreneur – based on core principles taught by The Strategic Coach – they seek the four freedoms of Time, Money, Relationship and Purpose. They may employ these freedoms in any manner they choose. In the past, these freedoms were not completely controllable by an employee.
“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” – Albert Camus
Suddenly, however, Covid has enabled employees -not just business owners – to experience these freedoms more broadly. That means you and me.
If you are not currently employed, this still applies to you too. The means is just slightly different.
Let’s start with time: A mother, a remote-working employee, gives birth during Covid. Set aside the virus for a moment. She (and her husband) can now spend more daily time with their newborn because of the new time boundaries they have established. There is no commute to and from work. No mandatory 9-to-5 schedule under usual circumstances. The work day can be structured around the baby’s schedule, permitting work at hours not traditionally kept.
How about money? Covid empowers employees to pursue their “hell yes,” purpose-driven, digitally based initiatives more aggressively. A former 10 hours of unproductive weekly commute time may be turned into freelancing for FIVERR, Upwork, or other digital platforms providing skill-driven (purpose) work.
With this extra time and these other self-employment prospects, recently minted college graduates with heavy college debt can make additional college debt principal payments – thereby releasing themselves early from grueling 10-year repayment schedules that may be the size of a monthly auto loan or even as high as a home mortgage payment!
Relationships are the third freedom that affects everyone in many different ways. When Covid began, our office began noticing more automobiles parked in our vicinity. No, our clients weren’t buying new cars with the stimulus checks. What we found were millennials, primarily, had temporarily moved into their mom and dad’s spacious home from their cramped “remote work” apartments in major metro areas. Many of them are still there more than a year later.
With Covid’s rise, remote workers also have begun and continue to establish home-based relationships locally with neighbors whom they may not have met in their pre-Covid single-family, home-oriented environment.
We want connection even when we’re required to do social distance. Human connection doesn’t go away even during horrible times such as world wars, famines, hurricanes, and other disruptive circumstances in which we may find ourselves.
Did filling up the “empty nest” create issues? Maybe yes, maybe no…well, just as long as they brought the grandkids!
Remote workers have gained a valuable level playing field during work hours using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeetings, and other popular video conferencing software. Video conferencing has the seemingly magical effect of giving every attendee a fair chance and equal time, including the typically “silent” workers in large face-to-face meetings. Interestingly, we haven’t fully absorbed the potential of this yet.
A fourth freedom – purpose – becomes very important to the retiree crowd. This final freedom, besides the other three, takes center stage when one contemplates what’s next after raising kids and retiring from active work.
One can only play so much golf, read so many novels, complete so many gym workouts, or research so much family genealogy before one asks a very serious and sobering question: “What do I do now?”
Purpose – once identified, massaged and engaged – can be deeply satisfying and rewarding. Covid upended a lot of traditional purpose, especially if you frequently traveled to visit your family. Thankfully, after an 18 – month hiatus, many of our clients happily report that they can at long last visit (fully vaccinated) relatives and friends.
To be sure, purpose and the other freedoms are all well and good, but they are ineffectual without boundaries.
Boundaries! We’re back to those wonderful, glorious boundaries!
Okay, you’re saying to yourself right now: he’s fixated on those military “gaps in the wire.” With the court’s permission, I’ll state my case.
Social and behavioral scientists have known for a very long time that people who place boundaries (structure) around their daily lives can enjoy full and happy ones. The Stoics had much to say on this subject: “We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them” (Epictetus).
Boundaries certainly seem like the opposite of freedom. Many current-day mainstream populists would have us think that freedom is doing what you want, anytime you want, in any way you want.
As a kid long ago in Bible School, I first heard the word omnipresent – explaining God’s presence everywhere at all times. Then, as now – very difficult to fathom. It’s certainly unfathomable for you or me to believe we can do anything, anywhere, at any time – without falling victim to the criticism that we are attempting to be omnipresent.
We attempt and fail at many things throughout our life. Just as we couldn’t fathom placing a toddler
learning to walk next to a busy road, or at the top of a long stairway, we, too, place boundaries on ourselves to avoid or limit damage.
And not only to dodge and deflect damage – but, so importantly, to also expand our personal freedom into the entire social sphere that we create.
The Quadrennial Summer Olympics recently ended in Japan. Many, if not most, of the elite athletes endured years of grueling five, six, seven, or even 10-hour daily training schedules in their respective sports.
They are highly structured. They love their sport (purpose). They thrive on the “thrill of victory” and stoically face the possibility and “agony of defeat.” Their boundaries are clearly defined.
We are thrilled when they win Olympic medals in sports they have spent 10,000 hours mastering. They did it because it was their hell yes! in a structure that enabled them to flourish.
In my experience, this is also true for successful entrepreneurs, entertainers and people in all walks of life. We like our boundaries. We like our structure. They empower us to focus and expand our freedom as we vector toward our goals.
We are happier, fulfilled, energized and successful in whatever way we define success when we do this.
Of course, Covid’s “new normal” has both expanded and degraded our boundaries. A unique and peculiar opportunity stands before us. Should we try to restore the former status quo? Or innovate in this new environment?
Over the past year, the United States has witnessed a sizable pandemic migration involving millions of Americans. Certain cities have lost residents, and many younger households have left for the suburbs. U.S. cities and neighborhoods may be forever altered by the pandemic, as many of those surveyed say they are staying, permanently or indefinitely.
“Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” exhorted New York Tribune editor-publisher Horace Greeley in 1865. And millions did so. Americans have always picked up stakes – sometimes by dire necessity, often for new opportunities – to seek new frontiers.
But by 1890, a year after the Oklahoma Land Rush, the West’s frontier was nearly settled. In 1893, a young historian at the University of Wisconsin, Frederick Jackson Turner, presented a paper declaring the closing of the American frontier. As the Industrial Revolution gained steam, cities became the hub and heart of commerce. Larger and larger cities – more light, noise and air pollution; more hours spent commuting to work; and less green space and tranquility.
And for many decades the urban life-and-livelihood norm prevailed, until….
Suddenly! In March 2020, our world convulsed. The calamity of Covid.
Today millions of teleworkers have ushered in a new era of remote work from home, attending office Zoom meetings without daily commuting and long-distances travel, and capitalizing on new time-management flexibility to achieve more in less stressful ways. (that is, of course, except for young parents with babies and toddlers!)
In this Covid era, we see more individuals and families moving permanently to formerly unconventional, atypical locales – primarily to fulfill their freedom of purpose and relationship. No longer does noisy urban geography and monotonous daily commuting hold the appeal it once did.
Our archaic and sometimes arrogant mindset that companies can only survive and thrive in a face-to-face-only environment has been blown wide open.
Remote work began with the building of the internet in the early ’90s. It started with tech-based companies in places such as Silicon Valley, then steadily expanded worldwide.
Harvard professor, author and organizational specialist Tsedal Neeley has studied remote work for the past several decades. Her new book, Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding From Anywhere, says it all. This new frontier has a different set of conditions, with higher productivity along with expanded flexible freedom for time spent on work. People’s habits are changing. Their work and home lives are being further integrated and conjoined. Their professional and personal geography has changed, literally and figuratively.
What about you? You have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redraw your boundaries. You certainly have the time and you have the money. How do you want to redraw the lines around your relationships?
What about your intentionality? Your purpose?
What stays the same? What consistently do you want to keep for care and comfort?
What changes? What innovations will you make in your life to be and stay happy?
Despite the debacle of Covid, these are exciting times to live in. Yes, we grieve deeply for those who have experienced loss due to Covid. And we remain humbly grateful for being spared this horrible virus and its after-effects.
We have been afforded a unique opportunity to reset, resize, reconfigure, and redo our boundaries.
Again, I would remind us: No is a complete sentence. It’s high time we intensify our efforts to find the rare hell yeses!
“Look to the future, because that is where you’ll spend the rest of your life” (comedian George Burns).
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you” (professor Joseph Campbell).
“Ask yourself if it sparks joy” (decluttering consultant Marie Kondo).
“Love lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry
On a mountain high…”
– song by Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Will Jennings
The next time, out of an abiding love and care for your loved ones, as you yet again order dinner for pickup and delivery to share with your family who are still remote-working from your home office den for at least the next several months – along with your beloved grandkids, of course! – perhaps ask yourself this:
What might spur me to pursue a more stimulating mountain high during my golden years?
Every one of us in this age cohort – particularly during this confounding and confusing Covid era – deserves the chance to halt our omnipresence, redefine our boundaries, and soar with eagles, condors and falcons.
On our own terms – like my grandfather.
I once caught him sprinkling gunpowder on his breakfast grits. I asked him why.
He explained, “Kid, my father did this, and his father before him. If you do this as well, every day, it’ll keep you hale and hearty well into your golden years.”
It was true. Right to the end, he ascended and soared like an eagle. When he died, he was 97, and left 13 children, 27 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, 4 great-great-grandchildren, and a 15-foot-deep crater where the crematorium used to be.
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