7 lessons from 2 years in isolation

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!

Leading by example

Winning hearts and minds

We are about to turn a European country into a guerrilla buffer zone. That seems to be the (lack of) plan. Pretty despicable by all sides, and the worst-case outcome for Putin who I assume still favours that outcome to an overt NATO alliance war.

SWIFT may be a symbollic gesture. It is still a more meaningful gesture than the symbollic words and bluster offered so far. All nationalities weighing up economic priorities are sharing the shameful hesitation that Putin was counting on. And denying the early moral support “swift” action would have offered to the people of Ukraine.

This is the overt and globally supported economic action. Whatever is covert as forces and weapons on the ground is not what is putting hope into hearts and minds. SWIFT is the tangible actions that fearful Ukrainian people can see. Ironically slow is this response.

Enough of the powderpuff words that us armchair patriots desire. Time to test the hypobole of contingent planning, not just the rhetoric of resolve.

Original LinkedIn comment here

A servant to debt

Being less to be more

This article was sitting in my drafts. It was an attempt to make a second tentative move to introduce being vs having from Erich Fromm into a wider frame of reference of projects. It was less insightful than I had hoped…

Debt

The project finance world I served – through my construction insurance days until 2018 – my more recent mid-career MSc in Project Management, Finance, and Risk – my consulting that is primarily focused on internal control environments – each presents me with a reasonable understanding of how important the relationships of debt is to projects of social and economic infrastructure. Like the great majority of contributors to a capitalist culture, I have also lived much of my life in financial debt.

Perspectival confusion

This article was prompted by my own decision to put debt back into my life project. To help oil my academic wheels as I embark on MSc number two. It remained a draft blog because I knew it had taken a wrong turn. At the time I could not see why.

When being is less than having

Applying Erich Fromm’s having vs being to my decision to move back into being in debt had me stumped. The principles of having are held as less than being, because being (or becoming) is future action orientated which can enable betterment. To be loving, is to contribute to something bigger. To have love, is a possessive state. To be authoritative is to present the characteristics necessary to direct a task. To have authority is to own a position of influence. Only being offers contribution.

My struggle when I first wrote this piece was to find a way to make that work when the state of being is negative, or at least sub-optimal. How could being indebted be better than having debt? And aren’t they just the same thing? Here’s what I think might be going on.

Being indebted

We all owe something to someone

I wonder how often we sit back, and acknowledge our debts? We all inherit benefits or burdens from other ventures. In projects | within project parlance I am calling all of these ventures projects. We all commit to projects today that require us to deny projects of tomorrow. We all wish we had not started some projects yesteryear that now deny us opportunity of projects today. Debt may have a place here.

The process of moving into debt as a state of being was not sitting well with the Fromm notion of being as the better mode than having. We do not want to be in debt. To be in debt, or to have debt to pay, both require us to be a servant to whomever we have borrowed from. The being state we have adopted, in the present, is denying us a freedom to be in the future. We become less free.

If we are agency to change – as agents with intent – taking on debt is intending change that seems a negative. To understand the rationality, and keep to the Fromm notion of being, I needed to see the other projects in play beyond the handicap of debt. Projects | within Projects.

Being | having | being more

Odd that that had me stumped a while – with no real reason beyond my own modal confusion. Quite the admission given my background, and my recent educational revisit to much that outlines how this assessment and decision-making is best done. Investment theory, portfolio management, economics of opportunity cost, all just functional supports to the assessment project. One project decision, that constrains the next. But a decision that enables projects that themselves enable more.

There is a message here, however. I think as a society we take on debt too easily. Have too little regard for the burden we bestow to our future projects. Our future selves. Think upon that in the context of future generations living in the environment we leave them. Perhaps there in sits a reason debt had me stumped a while. It cannot be considered in isolation. Its future impact and immediate return. The projects it enables today, are they worth what we ask others to repay? Perhaps more needs a little rethinking. Interest of a different kind.

Finding this draft post I had clearly parked two months ago tonight prompted a rethink – and a sheepish redraft. A problem solved simply by the repositioning of perspective. Maybe the first of a few…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Daily meds

A daytime moon. My unblue moon

A blog to present a glimpse of 12 minutes of my day.


A metta[1] start to the day for me. 

I performed this practice “eyes open”. I now know this to be a less unusual practice than I had thought (see this article). But this morning was my first attempt. Prompted by the moon. It was pitched in my vantage point and it seemed a waste to deny its call.

Seeking to extend loving kindness was a pleasure against this view

A morning view, but many perspectives

As I finished I took this picture. I am reminded of how different one’s perceptions are in mind, compared to the static picture. All I had in my view was a brightly shining moon. Yet, it is but a spec in this photo. What also caught my eye were planes that crossed the sky, and a steady stream of birds all heading the same way. Both do make a showing in this picture, but each will take some effort to find.

There are many perspectives one could take from just this one picture. Was this a full moon? No. It was 97.65% visible. A waning gibbous. Sitting 405,483.58 km away. None of that was known until just now. Details here.

As I prepared to begin my practice it was not the distance of the moon that my mind was bringing into view. Instead my metta practice was overcoming my inner critic that wanted to flag some jobs. In response, I was first to receive some loving kindness – this always starts at home.

Hose not away
Birds need a feed
Late Nov – parasol now an insect hidey-hole

Each of these critical views in perspective, my metta continued with Second – directed towards my closest other. Third – directed toward a neutral other. Fourth – a friend or loved one with reasoned opposition in view. An enemy (if one has any). Fifth – the reach to others as far as one may go. This last was the real change – now without eyes wide shut.

Moon (L) – in plane sight (R)

I typically have friends, acquaintances, remembered strangers and places in mind from far away for my fifth level of directed metta. New Zealand and Australia. USA and Canada. Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil. Turkey, Jordan, Nigeria, Mozambique, South Africa. Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan. And many places in between. My carbon footprint has much to explain. Today however, my fifth were the ones sat in aeroplanes. Strangers passing across my moon.

To whom my loving kindness was aimed perhaps matters little, but technology offers a retrospective helping hand.

Welcome from Miami
Okay from JFK
Or leaning in from Pisa

And then what of those high flying birds? What were they and where were they going? Crows, magpies, jays, wood pigeons, buzzards could be claimed as normal fly-by guests. Woodpeckers, gulls, sparrow hawks less often but regular too. I assumed them to be crows, but this picture suggests a smudge of something passing through.

This is the spec in the top left, which I thought to be dirt upon the window but zooming in is perhaps a migrant on the move.

If the continent is cold we may see Waxwings. That seems unlikely on this temperature review. More likely something arriving from the north, but I have no real clue.

I really only touch upon the photo surface with this perspectival ebb and flow. But hopefully the point is made well enough, that it is from changing context that perspectives can be remade. These are insights to be taken into everyday practical use. This is training, not escape. In time the brain connects these perspectives with stronger firing neurones. Pathways that build. What fires together, wires together. And therein each mind can grow.

May you be safe, happy and healthy. May your mind be at ease.

[1] Per mindworks.org, “Metta” comes to us from an ancient Indian language called Pali, and it translates as loving kindness.  From my novice perspective it is my means to bring my mind to attention of my place in the world, and extend an empathy and benevolence as far as I can reach.

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About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: