Colin, I find myself just really thrown off by everything that’s happening in the world right now.
I’m struggling just to get out of bed in the morning, and I feel like the things that generally motivate me to get up and get going aren’t helping anymore. I don’t know, it’s probably just temporary, but I also feel like I’m wasting so much time and will be worse off when all this is over and done with.
Any thoughts on how I might looks at things differently? I don’t know if there’s really a way to pull myself from this funk, but I’m open to advice.
You’re not alone in feeling this way. It’s normal and okay.
A few things to think about:
There are a lot of very large variables that few of us have any control over at the moment. That’s true of governmental mandates, but also raw biological reality: we as individuals (most of us) cannot directly influence how a coronavirus spreads, how long it lasts, and so on.
Thus, it’s prudent for most of us to maintain a sense of environmental awareness—to ensure we’re keeping up with the best health advice from professionals—but beyond that, to perhaps recalibrate our expectations and goals so that they fit within the confines of what we can control.
Temporarily, that is: we should absolutely do what we can to influence laws and policies, and to think beyond the confines of our homes most of the time.
But when our reach is literally and effectively truncated, it may be prudent to pull back a bit, reinforce one’s mind and one’s body, and prepare for the moment when our range of potential influence increases, once more.
The benefit of thinking in this way, for a time, is that it gives us permission to focus on more concise goals like, for instance, keeping our homes clean, keeping our bodies healthy, and keeping our friends and family as sane as can be expected. It allows us to perceive these relatively simple and attainable action items as being sufficient to get us up in the morning, filled with a sense of purpose, rather than suffering under the sense that our temporarily truncated space and range of options aren’t enough.
Another way of looking at our present circumstances is that resting and recuperating in a stressful moment—during a genuine pandemic-based health crisis—is actually one of the more productive things you can do.
By typical standards, lounging around in bed all day, noshing on snacks and watching Netflix may not seem like a productive way to spend one’s time.
At a moment in which physical contact with other human beings is somewhat risky, and when a lot of our work is reduced or canceled, though? It’s nowhere near the worst way to spend one’s time, and it’s productive in the sense that it’s helping reduce the spread of germs, and, hopefully, keeping us calm while we do it.
Enjoying such moments, while they’re practical and available, could be just the thing to perk us up, catch us up on sleep and entertainment, and ensure we’re psychologically ready for all the work that’s on the horizon: the immense amount of effort that will be required to put our societies and economies back together, after this unprecedented shock.
Also: there’s some truly incredible work out there right now, from TV shows and films, to video games and books, to podcasts and newsletters and music. Taste-testing some of these offerings now, when you have the time, could help you build up a collection of artists and curators and genres and publishers to keep up with when you’re back on the job, with relatively less time to invest in media exploration at the end of the work day.
One other potential approach is to spend your time on activities that feel at least tangentially productive, in that they align somewhat with your typical goals, even if they’re a different sort of work than you’re accustomed to.
Education is low-hanging fruit in this regard, and in the modern world we benefit from an embarrassment of options when it comes to self-education, in particular: books, e-courses, MOOCs, podcasts, etc.
I’ve been learning Python in my spare time, using a combination of three books, a few online courses, a podcast, and gobs of online resources. The combination of these elements has allowed me to approximate something like a more typical educational experience, but I can spend hours on it each day, or just a half-hour here and there, depending on my mood, motivation level, and the other things I have going on.
Alongside longer endeavors of that variety, I also like to have another course going, usually on a less practical-seeming subject, so that I’m learning about broad concepts while also picking up some very practical, immediately applicable skills.
I recently finished up a free investigative journalism course through the Knight Center, for instance, and before that, I took a course on criminal law—because why not?
You can feel free to copy my approach—one main, multi-source educational path, supplemented by other, generally single-source classes on random things—or you can build your own curriculum, either following the pre-made paths set up by the abundance of educational resources available online, or cobbling together your own, based on your preferences, lifestyle, pace, and preferred method of learning.
The edX platform is a wonderful place to start if you’re looking for some inspiration as to what you might learn; I’ve taken several of their courses, and they tend to be very high-end, and are often from well-respected and well-known institutions, like Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley. They offer certificates of completion for many of their courses for a fee, but these are only necessary if you’re keen to prove you completed a course for future school or professional purposes—so if you’re just interested in learning, these classes are 100% free.
Consider, then, that rescaling your personal expectations might be prudent, for the time being.
Also consider that rest and relaxation—and a lifestyle that seems very different from the usual—could be one of the most productive things you can do, right now, to prepare yourself for what comes next.
And consider that there are other goals you can set for yourself that will be valuable in the long-term, both for professional development, and for personal development, helping you become a more well-rounded person while you wait for things to stabilize in the world around you.