(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text.)
(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River near the Three Gorges Dam.)
May 2020: As we emerge from our winter/spring of fear, uncertainty, and death, we are adjusting to a “new normal”. Forget the old normal; much of it will be gone in the wake of the pandemic. For a few examples…
1) I have a friend, my son’s kindergarten teacher, with whom we have stayed in contact. For many weeks now, she has been marooned in Thailand. Not a bad place to be marooned, in my opinion, but it is still discouraging not to be free to travel… or to return home. Her winter holiday trip has been extended indefinitely because of required self-isolation after she arrived, canceled flights, and intergovernmental finger-pointing. In addition to the frustration, expense, and lack of control over her own life currently, she expects a mandatory 14-21 day quarantine when she returns home and finally steps off the plane – maybe in August. Maybe. Still think international travel is glamorous?
2) Another friend traveled to America for medical treatment. He was caught in the pandemic lockdown and is uncertain when he will be able to return home. His wife accompanied him. He recently told me that his wife needs to return to her job but travel arrangements are complicated by the same factors hindering my Thailand-stuck teacher friend. Additionally, “Her Visa runs Out June 4, … filed for an extension ($444). But the government office is so backed up… When she called, they said not to worry, they were 6-9 months behind.”
3) My niece, a doctor in America who works with Covid-19 patients, told me in March that her hospital had a critical shortage of masks. At the time, she had only one mask which she had to clean each night and wear again the next day. I immediately shipped her a package of surgical masks, paying the expensive, 7/10-day delivery rate. Because of fewer flights and less cooperation between countries, the package took 54 days to arrive.
In the past, did you ever daydream about traveling to many countries around the world? You never expected that to become a dangerous lifestyle, did you? Bet you didn’t think that you could travel to another country… only to be met with suspicion and even hostility, and seen as a potential virus carrier. It certainly makes wandering the globe less attractive, doesn’t it? As for jobs that require extensive travel, they will probably come with hazardous duty bonuses in the future. Even with the extra pay, it may be hard to find qualified people willing to take those jobs.
Sad, sad, sad. And those are only a few examples. But not all the changes are negative.
Many things from our past idea of “normal” have suddenly become quite dated due to the pandemic. International travel is only one example. The Good News: Some concepts from pre-pandemic times are still very applicable. Good ideas are virus-proof. I hope the best elements from earlier times will be retained. Moreover, the changes we are forced to accept – perhaps short-term, perhaps indefinitely, perhaps forever – also include some splendid new opportunities.
Read this archived article from June 2018 and see how much of the concept is still relevant in our new era – maybe more than ever. It’s called evergreen because it doesn’t go out of date.
The concept of reinventing yourself seems to be a popular topic in recent years. Perhaps this is a reflection of the general unhappiness many people are experiencing currently. Or maybe this is a timeless human trait: After we have met the minimum conditions for survival, we begin to look around and ask ourselves if there might be a better way to live our life. This post explores changing our habitual way of thinking, a precondition for reinventing our life.
For most people reading this, recent advances in technology and the increased discretionary time brought about by those advances, mean that we live in an environment rich in opportunities for taking our life in new directions. Internet access allows us to digitally observe lifestyles around the globe and realize that we are not limited to the roles available in our immediate physical environment.
However, the very first step in the reinvention process doesn’t require moving to a new time zone as I did. It doesn’t even require a coach, a role model, or a self-help book. If you are deeply discontented, living what Thoreau called a life of “quiet desperation”, the very first step to reinvent your life is to change your thinking.
This comes before any clarification and focusing on the exact physical changes. It comes before any classes or online courses, and before detailed planning and gathering of resources. This rethinking comes before the studying and staging, before the first action steps, and before any announcements or commitments. It even comes before you make the conscious decision to change. All those things are part of the process but the very first step of reinventing yourself is to recognize that it is possible for you to make such a change, that you are not stuck forever where you are now. This epiphany marks the beginning of rethinking. First you change your thinking; then you change how you live your life.
In a prehistoric hunter-gatherer society, group-think was enforced and useful. Following the crowd was wise, even essential. Individuals did, after all, depend upon being accepted by the family or tribe or clan. They needed the group for protection from a hostile environment. There was a definite risk in breaking the tribal norms. It was more than just lonely if you were cast out of the group; it was dangerous to be alone in the woods.
But those societies were rather static; doing things the same old way carried very little downside. Modern technology had not yet appeared to create wide gaps between those who used technology and those who refused to adopt the changes technology brought. Until fairly modern times, the king and the beggar both depended on a simple fire for staying warm; they both walked or rode a horse for getting places. The differences between them were hardly measurable.
In today’s world, that gap is very real and is rapidly getting wider. You may master the latest apps available on your smartphone or see the amazing boosts in effectiveness brought about by utilizing artificial intelligence. But, while you are benefiting from all the possibilities available today, you may be standing next to someone who is still confounded by operating an elevator. Even with the efforts to make apps foolproof, if you are to truly utilize the technology, you must learn to use it effectively. Artificial intelligence cannot provide answers to help you if you don’t know how to ask questions.
It is true that you cannot force someone to think; you cannot make people consider the consequences of their actions or become aware of all the possibilities open to them. But, that is the nameless herd; there is no excuse for you as an individual not initiating changes in your own life. If you get cast out into the cold and dark woods, you will find other individuals there to join for mutual support and protection.
If you never examine your habitual way of thinking, you cannot change your habits. If you fail to open your eyes to see new and improved ways of doing things, you will never take the first step in reinventing yourself. The process doesn’t begin with a physical relocation; it starts with thinking… or, rather, rethinking.
So, where are you on this path of reinventing yourself? And, what is holding you back?
我们过去认为 “正常 “的很多东西，在这场大流行病的影响下，突然间变得相当过时。国际旅行只是一个例子。好消息是：”好消息”。大流行病前的一些概念仍然非常适用。好的理念是防病毒的。我希望能保留早期时代最好的元素。此外，我们被迫接受的变化–也许是短期的，也许是无限期的，也许是永远的–也包括一些精彩的新机遇。
然而，重塑过程中的第一步不需要像我一样搬到一个新的时区。它甚至不需要一个教练、一个榜样或一本自助书。如果你深感不满，过着梭罗所说的 “安静绝望 “的生活，那么重塑人生的第一步就是改变你的思维。