Which parts of ‘normal’ are worth returning to?

return to workCatherine Gough explores how to choose the areas of our lives we would like to return back to normal as lockdown comes to an end.

The last few months have seen our world turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. We have been living lives far from what we see as normal.

As challenging as all of these changes continue to be, it provides a unique opportunity in our adult lives to sit back and assess our situation. Do we really want life to look exactly the same as it did before COVID-19?

‘In the rush to return back to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to’ – David Hollis.

I would like to explore how we can look at our personal as well as professional lives, and decipher what it is that brings us joy and purpose. Taking control of our lives and decisions today ultimately allows for future happiness and contentment.

What is your why?

What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? Why do you choose to fill the day with the things that you do? Why do you surround yourself with certain people? And ultimately, why dentistry?

In his book, Start with why, Simon Sinek explains how clarity of why ties together happiness, charisma and personal success.

It is a much simpler task to ask: ‘What is it that you do on a daily basis?’ You may also know how you do those things. That is to say what sets you apart from others, for example having excellent communication skills, being a great leader, or showing empathy.

Why is how you explain your purpose and the reason you exist and behave as you do. For example, your why may come from a religious or spiritual practice, a core belief, or passion to see a change in the world around you.

Once you understand your why, you will be able to clearly articulate what makes you feel fulfilled. Although this may take some time, it will ultimately make it easier to identify which parts of your normal life allow you to live out your why.

Plough your own furrow

Self-reflection is one of the defining characteristics of our species. It is what makes us look up at the stars and ponder our purpose. Importantly it helps us to grow and to thrive personally and professionally. However, at times we find ourselves looking at the lives of others, and comparing them to our own.

Research suggests that we tend to choose a comparison target that is similar to ourselves, which could be our friends, peers or colleagues. Maybe others are earning more money, working longer hours, choosing a particular career pathway, going on certain courses or getting more attention on social media than you.

A useful phrase that I carry round with me is to ‘plough your own furrow’. This means taking your own direction. Sometimes this is acting against conventional wisdom and finding your own way of doing something.

Each of us was born in a unique set of circumstances, with individual characteristics and skills. Remember, your story is not worthy of comparison.

Choose to have a career that makes you happy, and don’t worry if it means standing out from the crowd a little.

Resilience isn’t a personality trait

Resilience is the ability to bounce back and adapt to challenging circumstances. We can all take steps to look after our wellbeing, which ultimately builds our resilience. This will allow us to deal with pressure and reduce the impact of stress.

Some tips recommended by the charity Mind are:

  • Practise being straightforward and assertive
  • Use relaxation techniques
  • Develop your interests and hobbies
  • Find balance in your life.

My foundation training year has taught me that resilience is built during both the good and bad days. At some point in our careers I’m sure we have all experienced setbacks, difficult conversations with patients, complaints, time pressures, or making mistakes. However, be encouraged that through failure and hardship comes growth, development and strength of character.

Making a conscious effort to build ourselves up physically and emotionally when things are good is what allows us to cope with what life throws at us. Do the things that make you feel stronger, so that you are equipped to return to all that ‘normal’ life brings you.

Challenging your to-do list

I encourage you to write down a list of all the things you have missed over the pandemic. This could be morning chats over a cup of tea with your nurse, treating your patients, spending time with family and friends or going to the gym. Afterwards turn your attention to the things that perhaps you don’t miss very much. The early commute to work, keeping up with a busy schedule, and the ‘fear of missing out’ on social events.

Then ask yourself if you can address any of the items on your list. Can you take anything off the list? Maybe you could make some changes to your clinical diary. Or turn your phone off for a day at the weekend to focus on time for self-care.

Just as we budget our finances, we should also budget our time that we have to spend. It is up to you what you choose to put your time and energy into. It takes great courage to make changes in our lives, especially if this is not what people expect of us. Choose your priorities wisely, and decide what really belongs on your to-do list.

Find stillness in this time as you begin the return to ‘normal’ life. Explore your values and priorities, worries and concerns. You may just end up thanking yourself for making one small change today, that has a major impact on your life and career in the future.

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