I've been nervous about my return to work–but my six-year-old son has been my biggest inspiration.
Vaccination rates are rising, the weather is cooling and the great return to the office is nearing. I've been thinking through balancing this new hybrid work world, restarting a commute and how to juggle life as a family with two parents now working outside of the home.
I'm finding inspiration in a surprising place: how my six-year-old survived his pandemic kindergarten year. He was the first one in our family to 'go back' into the world while his father and I worked from home this past year. This means he's now the expert in dealing with constant change, straddling a remote-yet-in-person world and putting yourself out there when you may not yet feel quite comfortable doing so.
While he was busy learning how to sound out words, count his way to infinity and navigate his first-ever school year, I watched in awe. He plunged in head-first, with zero self-consciousness and 100% gusto. I'm hoping to channel his tenacity and confidence as I approach the return.
Here are four lessons for my return-to-office life that my kindergarten graduate taught me.
Go with the flow. Everything may feel weird at first, but you'll settle in.
My son thrived in a wild kindergarten year of change, as his school was at first fully remote, then hybrid and then in-person. As working parents, we tried pods, nannies and on-site remote learning to fill in the gaps.
Situations changed overnight. Multiple times.
Each morning he'd ask where he was going that day, and (usually) be OK with it. He didn't question the reasons for the constant change or get caught up in asking why we couldn't go back to the ever-growing list of 'old ways.' It was a dizzying time, especially for young kids who crave structure. And don't we all crave structure?
I've long told him his job is to learn and it's the greatest job there is. He focused on his goal and didn't get sidetracked by things that were out of his control. He learned how to sound out words and read–all while adapting first to remote learning and then back to classroom learning.
Takeaway: Keep your goals in focus as you navigate the return. Things might be uncomfortable at first, but they were when we all went remote in March 2020. We can get used to this new way of working, too, splitting our time in the office and remote. I plan to set aside time at the end of each work day to plot out the next, get my head straight and limit the overwhelm.
Make the most of every in-person opportunity.
The following sentence is a true paradox: My son did remote learning for his school in his school. Midway through the year, he was physically in his school through a program operated by the YMCA. But his teachers and many classmates were at their homes. Working parents are indebted to programs like the YMCA that allowed us to work and our children to learn.
One day he came home and said: "I met my teachers today."
"Really?" I responded skeptically. But he was with the YMCA. His teachers weren't there.
"In the hallway!" he explained.
Turns out, a serendipitious hallway moment brought him into contact with his two teachers, who were stopping by to collect items from their classroom. Despite the masks, they all recognized each other. He was so excited he got to meet them. I believe this interaction inspired him, making him even more excited to return to the classroom with his full class.
Takeaway: You never know who you're going to meet or how a small interaction will inspire you. Returning to the in-person world means so many more opportunities to interact. Be ready and open to take advantage of every opportunity and person who comes your way. When we get back in elevators, don't waste that ride!
Be resourceful. Lean on experts, fellow parents and community.
One day, after my son had been doing remote kindergarten at an on-site learning program for a few weeks, he came home and opened up his laptop.
"How do you spell 'Pac-Man?'" he asked. I was intrigued.
We sounded it out together and he typed it–on his own–into Google. Within seconds, he was playing Pac-Man, with a big smile on his face. He didn't know how to write or read (yet), but he knew the questions to ask and where to ask them. He was so proud of his resourcefulness. If he had asked for a different game, my response may have changed!
Takeaway: You don't need to know the answer to every question or feel like you've got it together right away. You may feel uncomfortable getting help. Do it anyway. Have experts and a community at the ready, and don't be shy about tapping into them. Companies offer employee resource groups. Use them. Look around on your commute, strike up conversations. We're all in this together, and you'll likely be surprised that other people want to help–and receive it, too.
Have a growth mindset: You can do the change.
I'm psyching myself up for the big changes ahead by recalling the pledge my son's class repeated each morning. Imagine telling yourself these words each day:
- Today is a new day.
- I am ready to be the BEST me I can be.
- I will listen so I can learn.
- I will try hard so my brain can grow.
- I will NOT give up!
- I can learn ANYTHING I put my mind to.