Image: Bex Walton/Flickr

What Does a Post-Pandemic World Look Like?

A year ago, the United States joined the rest of the world in navigating a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis that mandated an indefinite lockdown and quarantining to help combat the deadliness of COVID-19.

Weeks before New York City became the epicenter of the mysterious coronavirus that arrived from God knows where, I was preparing to retire from an extended hibernation that was never meant to last as long as it did.

Two years prior, I made the difficult decision to cut my losses and give up on the unrealistic dream to recapture the magic of LA, that I had woefully taken for granted more than a decade earlier, when my unrequited love for NYC forced me back to self-masochism.

Being out in the world with reckless abandon had done its worst, and I was tired, disillusioned and terribly unhealthy on all fronts. It was time to choose a more doable path back to reasonability, and I needed to be sober and alert in order to recalibrate life goals.

Moving back east to reconnect with family members and rediscover my roots was exactly what the doctor ordered, and perhaps the gloriousness of no longer submitting to the thankless 9 to 5 grind that leaves little room for personal pursuits was the luxurious status that couldn’t end.

But once 2020 finally came into focus, it brought opportunities for self-reflection, self-evaluation and the increasing hunger for ambitious plans that realign you with the outside world, that you discarded in favor of peace and a much-needed mental reset.

It can be a daunting task to greet a brand new decade, after realizing how fast the previous ten years went by, and why this new era can’t be a wasteful endeavor.

Going into the 2010s wasn’t a scary transition, and if anything, it felt like an empowering statement for a woman in her thirties, thriving both in corporate America and as a burgeoning writer on the scene, while also securing her first-ever apartment on the Upper East Side.

Taking inventory of bad decisions that were made during periods of vulnerability and desperation and how those consequences have lasting effects, is the motivation to get back out there and fight for what’s within reach.

I spent the whole of 2019 in mental bondage, and that reactivated my worst habits and dug a deeper hole that could never be filled. By early 2020, despite the nagging feeling of doom that overtook my soul on New Years Eve, I was absolutely ready to take the world by storm.

But days before purchasing my one-way Amtrak ticket to New York’s Penn Station, the nation’s pulse went from 0 to 100 in a blink of an eye, and the concrete jungle swiftly shutdown to weather the rapidly rising cases of a deadly virus.

Like so many who shared a similar vision of what they hoped 2020 would yield, both professionally and personally, once COVID-19 became our grim reality, we were abruptly stopped in our tracks and forced to reconcile with the scary uncertainty of a future on shaky ground.

Fast forward to the wonderment of a hopeful season that has been made possible by the miraculous presence of lifesaving vaccines that are currently being distributed across the country.

Anti-vaxxers and Trump’s #MAGA can try to scream loudest with the help of Fox News, when it comes to conspiracy theories that are constructed to discourage Americans from getting vaccinated, based on the lies that aim to discredit the legitimacy of mass-produced vaccines.

But the evidence clearly illustrates the correlation between the impressive number of Americans who’ve at least received their first doses and the sharp decline in new cases of COVID-19 that can be tracked in most of the major cities.

Needles aren’t the most pleasant encounters, but even I had to woman up and schedule my first dose, which wasn’t a straightforward experience, and proves how your end goal of getting fully vaccinated really depends on not taking “no” for an answer.

After I take my second dose at the end of the month, I will officially be part of the population that has been approved for the long-awaited reentry into a scarred society that will not be functioning in the exact same capacity as what we recall, pre-COVID.

As much as we tout our “big plans” and high expectations in celebration of surviving the end of the world, and being gifted another chance to reinvent or reactivate what has been dormant for too long, we can’t downplay the real fear of juggling aftershocks from a global pandemic with rejoining an uneven landscape that was already torturous before the brutality of a shutdown.

The job market was in serious jeopardy, despite the coerced messaging of White House communications via the epic dysfunction of the Trump administration. And by mid-2020, the catastrophe of a mandated shutdown was the disruptive force threatening households and businesses with irrecoverable results.

Back then, in the midst of death and destruction from a global pandemic that was fast and furiously eating us alive, it was hard to imagine the unimaginable in the form of a lifesaving serum that would successfully destabilize the wrath of a cunning virus that hasn’t stopped mutating.

But here we are!

The light at the end of the tunnel that once seemed so dim is now brightening with the strength of a progressive way forward with a mostly fully vaccinated workforce, that very much wants to return to the rewarding balance of working hard and playing just as hard.

Yet, when we contemplate what a grand return to some semblance of normalcy could look and feel like, it’s challenging to anticipate that structure of functionality in a post-pandemic climate.

And let’s be honest, for the rich and famous who were able to rent exotic islands, far, far away from the maddening elements stemming from a global pandemic, their return to the new normal won’t veer that sharply away from their curated existence, that they can afford to reshape to retain privileges.

For regular folks, our plight is a lot more complex and cumbersome when you weigh how much we have to lose in this unforgivably competitive race to the top, taking into consideration the valuable time lost in response to a dire health emergency that created a societal crisis that will take a whole lot to overcome.

Going back to being a vital member of society with the give and take that requires the resumption of relational transactions sounds a lot easier said than done.

Just the other morning, while working out on the treadmill with my mask on, and wondering when the day will come when I can freely breathe without the safety of an accessory, I looked over to the side and realized how much I wasn’t looking forward to the snug fit of another user, dominating a once vacant machine.

The exercise machines were too close together to begin with, and it will be a hard adjustment to no longer have that reasonable separation.

And what will the workspace look like as companies reconfigure to fit budgetary needs and the updated preferences of existing and new employees who are empowered by the convenience of choosing to operate remotely, depending on industries and job description?

But as far as certain facets of living, including dating and recreational activities that definitely can’t flourish under the restricted codes that dominated our lives for a year and counting, it’s hard to map out a visionary board, when items are scrambled from the disarray of a stormy period that left a rubble of unease.

It’s okay to lead with trepidation as we slowly but surely pick up the pieces, and begin the painstaking process of recovery mode in whatever form we can muster.

For regular folks, whose previous employers didn’t award paychecks that can fund the safety net for rainy days, it can be overwhelming to start aggressively job hunting, and to be rudely reminded of the insufferable nature of demanding hiring managers, who understand the power they wield over harassed candidates, who are de-powered enough to take the shit.

It just needs to be said that as eager as we all are to get back to business and reignite the passionate quests for career fulfillment and a resurrected social life that makes up for the excruciating self-isolation, we should also pay homage to the roadblocks that will appear to derail our best intentions.

I joke about “hating people” and being the exact opposite of my younger more friendly self, who enjoyed the senseless crowding of Subway trains and over-populated sidewalks of NYC. But after what we’ve been through, I’m cautiously willing to return to the office, and the no chill thrill of managing multiple assignments at the same time, while dealing with nosy, backstabbing coworkers.

Okay, I’m kidding!

I’m not eager to go back to cubicles and gossip centers like the pantry or copy room, but I am dying for an increase in human contact that’s beneficial and stimulating for career purposes that can spread into fun hangouts.

Whether we realize it or not, we are certainly not the same people we were before the coronavirus did its worst, and those revisions will be revealed as we try to make strides in a new world that will still enrich the rich and give the rest of us a harder time to catch up.

I’m nervous about the journey and how to be prepared for it.

But a post-pandemic world is what we deserve, and no matter the trials and tribulations, we can’t forget what it took to get us here.

So onward we go!

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