At long last, as the vaccines gradually roll out, maybe the end of the pandemic is in sight and soon the new (revised) normal will begin to take shape. But don't wait. The pandemic, with all of its pain, fear and isolation, has also handed us a probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to step back and rethink our lives.
And this is the time to do it.
"We've been obscuring the purpose of our lives without knowing it — with activities, with appointments and social engagements," says Katie Militello, a marriage and family therapist who runs Adapting to Life Transitions in Del Mar, Calif. "With outside activities gone, people can see their lives in a new light."
And, says Boston-based transition expert Linda Rossetti ("Women and Transition"), "The pandemic gives us the runway to ask some bigger questions."
So here are three questions to help you plan a post-pandemic comeback that could make your career and life more satisfying and fulfilling:
1. What do I care about now and what do I want to fix in the world?
Meg Newhouse, founder of Life Planning Network and co-editor of "Live Smart After 50," offers this starting point: "Notice what in your daily life brings you either joy and hope or makes you very upset and angry. Because each of those is giving you a clue about what you might want to do."
You can also try to answer this question through reverse engineering. "Write your eulogy," says Newhouse. "If you can put yourself at the end of your life, you can see what has mattered, what there is still to do."
Doug Dickson, head of Encore Boston Network and a specialist in career and life transitions for people over 50, suggests looking at your high school years "to rediscover the aspirations and latent dreams that have been sitting unattended for a while."
Because of pandemic lockdowns, Dickson adds, many issues — like social justice and climate change — have captured our attention on TV as never before. "That has precipitated a sense of, 'I have to do something about this,' " he says.
What do you want to do something about? Start a list and capture the ideas you're discovering. They'll help set your direction.
2. After looking inward, start looking outward and ask yourself: What opportunities turn me on and engage my energies?
Take a look at VolunteerMatch, a website listing over 700,000 opportunities. Doing so isn't necessarily about volunteering right now. It's about ideas. Scan VolunteerMatch's 29 categories (from Advocacy & Human Rights to Sports & Recreation) and see what lights up for you.
Or go to an online educational site like edX.org and browse courses from cloud computing to writing. Which ones sound exciting? When the pandemic is over, where might you want to devote your energies?
The point is to explore these kaleidoscopes of opportunities to free up your thinking and give you building blocks for a comeback plan that will be aligned — and that's the key word — with what you care about and will really want to do when normal life picks up again.
3. What's my action plan to engage during my comeback?
"Try for one accomplishment each day," says Rossetti. Research one company; network with one person. "Small steps work just fine," Rossetti notes.
And keep moving. "What I advocate," says Dickson, "is that people try something. Don't wait for the perfect opportunity. Don't set the stakes too high. In the end, what really moves the ball down the field is the trial and error process … see what fits, see what works."
The pandemic might let you do this through remote work opportunities. "Think about entrepreneurship, short-term projects and the gig economy," says Dickson.
Your comeback plan might be to return to the office when it reopens and switch to a different part of your employer, more aligned with the kind of work you want to be doing. If so, use this time to look for interdepartmental committees or cross-disciplinary projects you could get involved with.
Also, see if your employer will pay for training or certification to help you pivot to a new career path.
Think about signing up for weekend volunteering to sample organizations and causes you might want to assist.
If retirement isn't far away, start thinking about how you'll want to spend your days in that next stage. Is now the time to look into joining a nonprofit? What about checking out classes in photography or ceramics — or you name it — that could grow into meaningful activities in retirement?
How will you know what's right for you?
"If you don't have energy around something, it's not going to work," Dickson says. Look for a compelling activity or organization. "The energy can also come from the people connected to the effort — who are like-minded and fun to work with — or from the way in which your skills fit," says Dickson.
While there's no secret sauce to putting together a great comeback plan, Rossetti says, "The key is openness, a willingness to explore, to step into uncertainty, to expand your definition of self. To say to yourself, 'Maybe I'm something more.' "
The Zoom world many of us have been living in has let us reveal more of ourselves, ditching business uniforms for sweats, holding meetings from our kitchens, letting our dogs show up on screen. If that sounds familiar, you're already on the path to being more authentic. So your comeback plan may, in some ways, be a come-as-who-you-really-are plan.
Get ready, as Newhouse puts it, to live your life and not somebody else's. So, keep safe, wear your mask and use this time to prepare for an awesome comeback.
This article originally appeared on NextAvenue.org.