BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON
I’ve been asking myself, “What’s going on with my pedal to the metal girls?” The women who, like me, have worked for many decades and seem to be experiencing a seismic shift. They, “we,” are everywhere, excelling at the built-in discipline of work, the continuity and focused persistence that pays the bills, provides for tomorrow (we hope), and keeps us sane in some weird and mostly-fulfilling way.
As I venture out more often, having conversations with women who own and operate their own small businesses, hold more traditional corporate jobs, or who work in healthcare, retail, and other frontline roles, a new thread is emerging. Many of these women tell me that they don’t want to go back to work as it was. Let me clarify: it isn’t that they’ve lost or abandoned their work ethic. It’s that they’ve discovered something else: a different way of working, living, and being, one more in sync with who they are or have always been. For some, it is exhilarating, for many surprising, and for still others, somewhat baffling.
“Work-life balance” is a term we’ve used to capture a state that respects the human need to make your living and to live your life. Now, as millions have been “sent home to work,” many are realizing that they can create a life of “balance” where the personal and the professional co-exist in greater harmony and integration. This may not be “news” for those of us who have long worked from home, but it is a revelation to many. I’ve heard: “It’s scary. It feels like subterfuge, like this can’t be okay.” Ah, but it is. The traditional construct where work exists in one box and life in another worked more-or-less, but it was always a bit of an illusion. Who didn’t handle personal matters and certainly mini-crises from work? Who didn’t respond to emails and worked on PowerPoint presentations at 10 p.m. from home? Life – and work – don’t lend themselves to a hard and fast construct of time and place. One by one, and in our own unique way, we are discovering that we can work productively, and, as the research tells us, often more productively from home while living and enjoying our lives more fully. With the support of our friends, co-workers, and sometimes, our boss, we find our rhythm.
The initial shock and disorientation of “being sent home to work,” and sheltering in place have worn off and transformed into something new. In my neighborhood, a mix of young couples with dogs, families with grade school kids, and older working and retired folks, I am observing a fresh energy. People I’ve seen only in passing or never before are roller-blading, bike-riding, dog-walking – sometimes while conference-calling. For the most part, they are waving and smiling. It’s a beautiful thing. This experience we know as COVID-19 has challenged our conventions and our constructs. It has blurred the lines between work and home, school, and home, strangers, and neighbors. I don’t have to look far to see the potential, lasting good in all of this. I hope we never go back to things as they were. I hope that we sustain the courage and the creativity to reimagine how we live and how we work. I hope we use social media less and make more time for congregating and connecting in real-time in our suburban and urban neighborhoods. Here’s to you, my “pedal to the metal girls” who are doing just that!