What two years in lockdown has taught me

Life lessons from lockdown. Here are 7 lessons from two years indoors, expanded on below:

  1. take ownership of risk
  2. acknowledge your luck
  3. go with the flow
  4. acknowledge your relationships
  5. listen and learn
  6. set your boundaries
  7. start and end with respect

Two years ago, today

13th March 2020 was a Friday. The fear, and denial of a distant threat, had turned to a reality. SARS-Covid-19 had definitively arrived in London. I had already sought permission from my university course to either defer or be given means to complete my course remotely. This Friday 13th marked my last face to face meeting. A pass/fail assessed MSc presentation on Engineering Safety Management – a group exercise which I had unwittingly become the coordination point to conclude. My daily train trips to Farringdon had become notably more hazardous – to the point that walking the last mile or so from Blackfriars had already become normal. A walk that meant I could visit three pharmacies en-route and buy precious paracetamol, a daily need which was already in short-supply.

Living from home

Within days the whole country was locking doors. We speak of it now as “Working from home” but that is perhaps not quite equating to the same thing. The service industry was about to be starved of patrons, as life outside stopped. For the likes of me, indoors was now life. Work, rest, and play; becoming extended study, anti-socialising, and staycations.

Two years in, and perhaps a little more to go, I have a few observations to share. The remainder of this blog I therefore offer as lessons from living a lockdown life at home.

Lesson 1 : take ownership of risk

Life was already changing, but it was becoming increasingly clear that there was no contingency plan in high places. Hospitals were reporting high death-rates. Medical advice was contradictory. There was no clear guidance for those clinically vulnerable. If I were to come home with the virus, my wife (and the 21% of her lung capacity still working) would be quickly overwhelmed. We were not the average risk case. We could not live at the level of uncertainty now present. We needed to determine risk from our own perspective.

It was also obvious that even the average risk was late to be realised in high places. We had no confidence that we had institutions around us – government in particular – adapting or even reacting in a manner that was going to keep my wife safe. So the decision was made; we were staying home.

Luckily for us, we had been living with contingency plans set for some time.

Lesson 2 : 🍀 acknowledge your luck 🍀

Two years is a long-time to be away from the world. We are however more fortunate than many who have been in similar situation. We had less domestic or work related constraints to manage. Most people in the support groups for Pulmonary Fibrosis had a tougher time adjusting. Sadly, not all did. Economic or medical care demands exposed many to risk they could not manage. Others just boldly or foolhardily carried on – loud in their protest or denial but all suddenly stopping; followed by news of another death in the group.

We were lucky. Adversity had already found us. So too therefore had contingent planning already long been put into action. Life had dealt a crappy hand to a fine teacher and had forced her to give up work several years before. I had already made a career choice that enabled me to work from home. The home office was already built. The mortgage paid. Financial priorities reviewed, repurposed, dumbed down. Wanting less, needing less, earning less.

But I had also buried my own thoughts deeply, and they had already broken free. I was back at university revisiting life goals and needs. Dealing with mental illness, diagnosed the year before. Part of a reset already underway. For a multitude of reasons, we were already primed for dealing with change.

Lesson 3 : go with the flow

Going with flow is not quite as compromise-orientated as it first sounds. For any independent person, there is a stability problem if one just meanders and adapts to any and all demands put upon your time. My wife and I have a strong domestic platform: in our relationship; in our physical security, safety, and basic needs; and now also in our clarity of priorities. It is only by that stable base that I think we have been able to maintain a perspective of hope as daily challenges come and go. We can go with the flow. But only because we can also let some things flow by, or wash over us. Going with the flow has meant letting some options and aspirations go.

Lesson 4 : acknowledge your relationships

Love your network. Be part of the network you wish to know. With 21st Century technology to hand, networking is fundamentally how we each grow.

As a household this presents a moment to acknowledge many people:

  • Friends, family, and the kindness of strangers who have been at the other end of a phone. Places to chat, the occasional quiz or game of cards.
  • At the height of the pandemic local people making themselves available to fetch and carry medicines and sundries.
  • Long-standing relationships with supermarket chains, car dealerships, banks and credit card companies. All were vital sources of assistance and being looked upon favourably in our moments of need.
  • Prioritised, reliable, and understanding gas-heating engineers, white goods repairers, gardeners and tree surgeons.
  • A fleet of delivery services who have kept us going. A postal service that has regularly supplied me with books.
  • My business associates and client friends, university staff and fellow students, all making allowances for my situation.
  • Neighbours who have overlooked rickety fences, raggedy hedges, and occasional unkempt lawns.
  • The many medical staff at various hospitals who have enabled distance orientated treatment possible. A pharmacy who have delivered medicines to our door. Oxygen suppliers and breathing apparatus repairs as and when called. Plus my therapist, and GP both of whom have kept tabs on me too.
  • Long standing mentors and mentees, plus a few new relationships I’d categorise here. Old business contacts reaching out, offering support, or just revisiting online as a social outlet and checking we were okay.
  • The hundreds, many hundreds, of new connections, contacts, and sources of inspiration on platforms such as LinkedIn. A true lifeline connection to the outer world. A place of discourse, learning, and chat which eventually encouraged me to begin this blogsite. New connectivity in new places leading to new opportunities, invitations to join think-tanks, guest slots on podcasts, working groups, organisations and societies. Plus many moments to talk over zoom with amazing new people at leisure and at length.

So many kindnesses, from so many places.

This lesson in management is also a moment to appropriately acknowledge relationships at home. In many respects we are self-contained. Our relationship to each other is one of love and respect. We have built a home in that image. We habitually lunch at the table. Moments to regather from different corners of the home. We enjoy each other’s company, and our moments alone.

We rescued a cat a few months before I started university. Or maybe he helped rescue us. Like us, he is happy looking into rather than being in a garden that looks after itself, offering up wildlife at our windows. Each of those interacting relationships have helped pull us through.

Lesson 5 : listen and learn

Two years into a lockdown, and maybe just a few months to go. It’s been an enforced time of reflection and new learning. Communication in new ways. Cooperation in discourse, and collaboration in effort.

Listening and learning from the experiences of others and ourselves. Listening and learning from what is happening within ourselves, within our relationship, and within the home. Communication, or just checking-in.

For me that has also been part of deeper journey. Serendipity played a hand here, that I began to find ways to do this before this lockdown ensued. For me this is now meditation, contemplation, journaling, and occasional therapy. It is also this blog. Critically, it was also giving myself permission to reignite and feed a curiosity, a more open mind to see more, and hear more. Hearing the wisdom of others in many forms.

Lesson 6 : set your boundaries

Everyone will have different perspectives on working from home. How do we create the appropriate separation, if any? Not expecting people to be 24/7 at our beckoning or call.

My attitude is one of adaptability. To accept that there are times that other people’s need for work/life balance are going to impact my own. But I have also been prepared to retain boundaries that mean others respect my time too.

Thankful to my neighbour for tolerating blurred boundaries

I personally place a necessary lesser expectation upon others. Colleague, client, or collaborative partners. But I’m curious to know how this changes expectations of behaviour in ourselves. I work in different time zones, to deadlines or towards developmental ideas of my own, as well as remotely from people I interact with.

Lesson 7 : start and end with respect

There are no binary rules here. Home and work can co-exist. Being present and being honest with what that means becomes critical if it is to work long-term. This is simply relationship building and management by both sides, built around mutual respect. Both sides, therefore also meaning you.

My heartfelt thanks – so many have pulled us through!