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What I Learned from Contracting COVID

I learned that I’ve wasted far too much time.

On a recent family vacation outside the country, I contracted COVID, notwithstanding being double vaxed, double boosted, and masked during travel.  As they say, that totally sucked.  Given people’s schedules and geographies, family gatherings are rarer these days; so, this was going to be extra special.  I’d been planning and organizing this event for many months, and was so looking forward to everyone’s being together. 

Instead, I had the pleasure of quarantining in a 200 sq ft room for 5 days.  Thank heavens for a balcony and a change of scenery.

With little to distract you, you become aware of your chronic distractions.
With little to do, I became vividly aware of the time I’ve wasted being distracted.  Until now, I willingly received and read way too many emails, email subscriptions, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter alerts, etc., etc., etc.  What started out as a way to stay connected, informed, and up to date has become a burden and a distraction from my life.  And the same thing with podcasts.  I thought it was great to be informed, learn new things, hear what other people think, etc.  But what’s missing?  What’s missing is me.

The distractions reflect a false sense of a full life.
I’m not saying it’s categorically false, but relatively false.  But relatively false in a very meaningful way.  It reflects the perceived value of staying busy.  Of always having something to do, something to learn, listen to, react or respond to, etc.  Of always feeling like one is engaged, but is actually distracted.

The “existential alarm”
In my work with leaders, we at times discuss what we call the “existential alarm”.  And it’s likely we’ll have several of them throughout our lives.  The “alarm” is your inner voice ringing out to you, saying, “Hey!  Over here!  What are you doing?  And why are you doing it?  Is this really what you should be doing?”  On the balcony, mine was saying, “What’s with all these emails, podcasts, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter stuff?  And by the way, what else is distracting you from you?”

The snooze button
The reality is we tend to ignore our existential alarms.  We press/swipe the snooze button, thinking we’ll get back to the alarm at some other time.  Or we deal with a portion of its focus, thinking we’ll get back to the remainder when we have the time.  But it’s our busy-ness that continues to prevent us from addressing what we need to address.  So that time never comes.  And ironically, staying busy seems to make sense to us.  Being distracted from ourselves somehow doesn’t feel that bad.

What shall I do?
Being confined to a 200 sq ft room for five days ensures that one has more thinking time than usual.
And during those five days, I was reminded of the Buddhist meditation:
“Death is certain.  Its time is uncertain.  What shall I do?”

Indeed, without the distractions in my life, wh­­at shall I do?