My Reflections About the Pandemic: 5 Ways I Changed
Updated: Apr 16
Last Saturday marked the 3rd anniversary of the pandemic.
I've noticed that we no longer discuss the pandemic these days. We appear to have recovered from the pandemic, at least mentally!
Therefore, I believe it's time for me to reflect on this once-in-a-lifetime event and share some of the significant ways the pandemic has changed my values and how I live.
First, let me tell my pandemic story from the beginning...
In March 2020, I was getting ready to fly to Boston for Spring break to visit my partner.
Since I heard about the first U.S. cases of non-travel–related COVID-19 on February 26, I already seemed to have a feeling that there is a decent chance that I won't be back in Minnesota (where I was studying) for a while, so I even packed my passport with me!
On March 5, 2020, I was on the plane to Boston with a box of disinfectant wet wipes in my bag. The guy sitting next to me saw me wiping my desk and politely asked for me for one as well...
The WHO first announced that a "pandemic" has begun on March 11, 2020. Who knew that we were being thrust into a new era of the COVID-19?
From then on, there are the times PRIOR-TO and POST COVID.
In July, 2020, we drove back to Minnesota to move all my stuff out of my apartment, and with no time to say proper goodbyes, I fled Minnesota - the place where I spent almost 8 years, and started my new chapter in Boston.
Reflecting back on the past 3 years, there are 5 major ways I changed as a result of the pandemic. To be precise, the pandemic did not directly lead to these changes. The pandemic has merely forced upon me some new circumstances that I had to cope with: having more disposal time, slowing down the pace of life, less social interaction, and not being able to travel as much.
Here are the 5 ways I changed:
1. I Realized Sunsets are not Ordinary, but Extraordinary!
The COVID death tolls each day was a constant reminder that life can come to an abrupt end for us at any moment, so we began to appreciate everyday moments more. I realized that the things I once thought were ordinary were in fact, extraordinary.
My apartment windows at the time faced the West. One afternoon, the sunlight poured into the living room, casting a beautiful orange glow around the shadow of the tip of our palm tree onto the white walls. I even took a photo of this magnificent scenery, immediately transporting me to a beach in Florida! Before the pandemic, sunsets seemed to appear only on vacations. Looking back, how many sunsets did I miss out on already!
Sometimes the beauty is there, we just need to see it.
Blown away by the sunset on that afternoon, I began to catch sunsets whenever I could. While working from home, I had the luxury of going out for a walk right after work occasionally to chase the sunsets in Boston.
I saw the sunset by the beach on the ocean, on hills above the skyline... The more sunsets I saw, the more I realized that every day's sunset is unique depending on whether there are clouds, the shapes of the clouds, and the season we are in.
This ephemeral nature of the sunsets is what makes us appreciate it so much more. Once you see one you will never see the exact same one again. Moreover, I realized that proper sunsets are not ordinary at all! In fact, we are lucky if we can see one real sunset once every two weeks in the winter times in Boston!
2. I Value Social Relationships More
The pandemic has made me appreciate the value of social connection in my life.
In general, I'm quite an independent person. I'm VERY comfortable being alone and can keep myself entertained. In fact, most of my hobbies are those I can do alone, so there was always a lack of incentive to interact with others.
However, the experience of isolation during the pandemic was even too much for an introvert like me.
I began to regret the times when I said no to a party or gathering, pretending to be busy but in reality I just didn't feel like going. I hoped the restaurants were open and my friend would invite me out to dinner. I've learnt that social connection is necessary for my mental health.
Video chats or phone calls were not a regular thing I did with friends before the pandemic. But during the pandemic, since we were all at home, it did not matter if someone was across the Atlantic or Pacific ocean or across the street!
So I reached out to my childhood best friend (who was across the Pacific ocean at that time) whom I haven't contacted for four or five years. We chatted for hours and had so much fun!
To stay connected, I started to set up recurring calls with some friends and this habit persisted till this day! If it weren't for the pandemic, I would have totally lost contact with these friends because of my introverted nature!
As the pandemic took a positive turn, I began to organize small group in-person workshops and made many new friends. Nowadays, I regularly organize gatherings with my friends because I know how important this is for my mental health.
3. I Shifted in My Values Towards Work & Refocused on Living My Purpose
I have to admit that I am a recovering workaholic. The pandemic and graduating from my PhD studies was the turning point.
Before the pandemic, I had bought into the hustle culture. Each day, I would work myself until I was too tired to continue. Apart from the basic activities to keep myself healthy, eating, going to the gym and sleeping at least 7 hours a day, I was basically working all the time. Even on weekends, on flights, and in the car on roadtrips!
Work was basically my entire existence.
In my view, any time not spent doing something "productive" toward my professional goals was time wasted.
When the pandemic started, I was finishing up my dissertation, while job searching as an international student under the dire economic situation and the increasing number of unfriendly immigration policies, while the world was turning upside down...
So just like many others, I was not in a healthy mental state to say the least. I was burnt out from my studies. I even thought about quitting my PhD many times as I faced hurdles in writing my dissertation...
What we have all learnt in the past years is that you should not put all your eggs in one basket. This is not only true for your money but also for your career.
In October 2021, I submitted the draft of my dissertation and was getting a number of rejections after final rounds of job interviews. Seeing hiring was slowing down as the holidays were approaching, I didn't really have anything to do for a week.
So I reconnected back to my purpose: I've always wanted to contribute to improving people's well-being.
Coupled with the frustration with academia's long publication process (that fails to get research findings to the general public in a timely manner), and the need to cope with stress, I decided to create a well-being blog - and thus, My New "Perfect" was born!
I've always had a strong need to live my purpose in my daily life. I mostly lived it through my studies and work. Creating the My New "Perfect" blog has given me a new outlet to live my purpose of contributing to improving people's well-being. After-all, "all roads lead to Rome"!
Since graduating from my PhD studies and finally settling into a full-time job, I have also picked up some old hobbies like playing the piano, reading, baking, singing and doing arts & crafts. I've also started new hobbies such as growing pileas! All of these activities are ways of improving my own well-being, so that I can be the best version of myself. I am proud to say I feel so much more balanced, satisfied and just happier with my life compared to before!
Now that I have diversified my sources of happiness and ways of living my purpose, I have a much healthier relationship with work. I think of work as just "one road to Rome"!
4. I Realized You Don't Have to Travel to "Travel"
During the worst times of the pandemic, my partner and I became creative in how we "traveled".
First, we went crazy with local travel. We not only explored different areas of Massachusetts, but also different neighborhoods in Greater Boston (still many yet to explore!). We discovered so many hidden gems that we would have missed if it weren't for the pandemic!
We also realized that we could trick our brains to make it feel like we went abroad for vacation by eating food while listening to music from that country.
We began to plan out weekends and live as if we were going on a vacation for two days! For example, we catch the sunrise (no longer wait to see the sunrise when we travel somewhere exotic), plan out which little shops to explore in a particular neighborhood and where to eat our meals. This has made our weekends much more exciting! In fact, research shows those who treat their weekend as vacations tend to be more happy, less negative and more satisfied than those who spend the weekend like they always do.
Be sure to check out my article on how to Live Everyday With A Traveler's Mindset!
5. I Stepped Out of My Comfort Zone & Started My New "Perfect"!
My New "Perfect" has been my best friend and companion in the past 3 years. Writing articles has not only been therapeutic for my mental health and a creative outlet for me to cope with everyday stressors, it has also become a primary way for me to live my purpose of contributing to improving people's well-being. I always feel energized after publishing an article, and I'm even more pleased when someone tells me that my articles inspired them!
I don't think I would have started this blog to write publicly (at least not so soon) if it weren't for the pandemic. The pandemic made me realize that life is unpredictable and short so I should treasure my time to do what I want to do while I can! I let go of my insecurities about my writing and fear or judgment from others and just started writing! Whenever I have doubts about myself, I tell myself: As long as I write, I am a real writer! :)
Be sure to check out my article: 5 Reasons Why You Should Start Writing - Reflections After A Year of Writing Blogs to get inspired on why you should also start writing! :)
Moreover, as someone who has fear over public speaking and suffers from social anxiety, I stepped out of my comfort zone and hosted several My New "Perfect" workshops. Even though I was always feel anxious before the events and extremely worn out afterwards, looking back, those were also some of the most fulfilling activities I engaged in over the past three years! My social anxieties seemed to be insignificant compared to my passion for sharing ideas on well-being and inspiring others to craft their new "perfect life! :)
Overall, I'm grateful to say that the pandemic has generally transformed me in positive ways - or as an optimist, I choose to think of it this way! :) I hope to continue to find beauty in my everyday life, nurture my relationships, find new ways to live my purpose, be creative in exploring and experiencing the world around me, and to constantly step out of my comfort zone!
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