2020 has been a lot, hasn’t it? It feels like we’ve packed a decade’s worth of events into one year, and the year is not over yet. Any one thing would have been enough to define 2020 for generations to come, and each has been stacked upon preceding events to such a degree that this year will be remembered not so much for what happened as for the fact that everything seemed to happen, all at once. Most of us probably read our history books in school and wondered what it would be like to live through various moments, and we can now safely say that it is equal measures scary and exhausting, with some hope and inspiration mixed in.
Given all that’s occurred and continues to occur, it’s hard at times to see or feel the importance of what we’re doing with our work, particularly if it’s far removed from issues of healthcare or social justice. The life-and-death consequences we’ve witnessed in the news and in our own communities seem to challenge any belief that we once had about the role of our work in the world at large if we had any illusions previously. No daily tasks seem to measure up to the gravity of the moment, and so they feel both rote and illusory, meaningless in the broader arc of history that we’d never before considered.
All of that is weight added to our everyday existence, and while many of us are fortunate enough to not have the burdens carried by so many others, it can leave us feeling exhausted nonetheless. And it’s a weight that’s seemingly impossible to escape; unlike the stresses of your work or personal life, we can’t get away from our awareness that the world is spinning off its axis with some time off or a vacation, in part because the very idea of a vacation is stress-inducing at this point.
And so we’re left to try and make our way through what we’re constantly reminded are “unprecedented” or “trying” times — trite phrases from advertisers that are nevertheless true. Our lives have to continue, as does our work, even though both feel as though they’ve been upended, and the effort to undertake either beyond what we’re capable of at the moment. We’ve had to adjust to a certain baseline level of existential anxiety that hasn’t been there for those privileged enough to live lives that were far less stressful and worrying than those of others.
All of this is to say that if you’re feeling worn down by everything going on, and guilty for feeling that way, you’re not alone. It’s a fair bet that millions of people, around the globe, are going through the same thing. All trying to parse the best way to engage with recent events and support vital causes while still doing the work that needs to be done and maintaining both their own mental health and the social distancing measures that countless people are continuing to follow to protect themselves and their family. It’s seemingly an impossible balance to strike in a way that feels ultimately satisfying.
Perhaps the best advice in this time is to disregard balance entirely, at least for the near term. Step away from work when your family needs attention, or when you feel pulled towards adding your voice to the cause. Focus your energies on work when they’re needed there, and trust that your family understands the importance of your job and the challenges of the moment. To the extent that you’re able to retire responsibly and with a considered approach, make time to do the things that you need to at the moment. It’s probably not the approach that you would have taken previously, but this is far from a normal time in our lives.
The truth is, none of us have much in the way of definitive answers as to how to make it through what is hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events. There’s never been one single right answer as to how to approach work and even those answers are out the window when the world gets turned upside down. We should all strive to do what’s best for ourselves and each other, our family and the world at large, and hopefully be forgiving of both ourselves and others who are similarly trying their best every day. With any luck, we’ll all make it safely out the other side, and hopefully, be the better for it. #onwards.