My 20-year-old daughter, off teaching dance routines in North Dakota, called me the other day, exasperated. COVID
“Nothing in my schedule ever works out for me,” she complained.
“What happened this time?” I asked.
It turns out that Job Number 1 scheduled her to work on a day she is already committed to Job Number 2, which she already moved once because of Internship Number 1.
She really wanted to take the new shift at Job Number 1, in order to earn the money she needs to be able to start Unpaid Opportunity Number 1. All this, while she’s working around Responsibilities Number 1, 2, and 3.
This is not the first time I’ve listened as my daughter plays pinball with her many commitments, paddling like crazy to keep them from falling down the drain.
My stock advice to her is usually something like: “You’ve got too much on your plate, my dear. You’ve got to prioritize and slow down. Then you can make sure everyone knows your availability well in advance, and you can avoid these scheduling conflicts in the future.”
It’s the kind of advice my parents would’ve given me in a similar circumstance. It’s probably the kind of advice most of us parents would give in a normal situation.
But we are not living in a normal situation.
As I continued listening, I realized this time, her story had a twist. This time, she had done her best to organize and communicate her schedule to all parties. This time, the conflicts arose not because she did something wrong, but because the businesses themselves weren’t organized. In fact, they scheduled her to work on a weekday that they had previously told her she would not have to work this summer.
I’m not blaming the company. They’re short-staffed and doing their best in these trying times. They’re just not as organized as they used to be before, well, COVID.
So, I told my daughter to explain to all the players exactly what was happening.
“Just tell the truth, don’t stress about what you can and cannot do,” I said. “Things are upended right now for everyone. No one I know can keep their schedule straight or is doing anything like normal. Honestly, they’ll understand.”
They’ll understand, because we all have our “because, well, COVID” stories right now.
None of us are traveling to see extended family, because, well, COVID.
We’re eating at home more, because, well, COVID.
We got a puppy, we started biking, we put a project on hiatus or started a different one because, well, COVID.
We are living in an unprecedented time. Every business, school, family, and individual is reprioritizing and revamping. My daughter is not the only one playing pinball with her schedule.
For those of us parents who are trying so hard to give good advice, it can be confusing to know how to best steer them through a period of time with no working norms.
On the other hand, it can also be the perfect time to advise something we might never have advised before.
In other words, it’s time for some creative, norm-free advice and actions.
Normally, if a deadline has passed for an internship, job opening, or other opportunity, we’d advise our child to look for something different.
Now, we might advise them to apply anyway. Who knows what might happen?
Normally, if they haven’t heard back from an opportunity, promotion, or raise they’ve sought, we’d advise patience and tenacity.
Now, we might advise them to call and inquire. What’s the harm?
Normally, if they’ve considered another major or line of work but have already invested time or money in their current one, we might advise them to not get distracted and finish what they started.
Now, we might advise them to follow their hearts. Why not? If not now, when? Life is proving itself to not be as linear or predictable as we’ve made it out to be. Perhaps we don’t need to guide our children to lead linear or predicable lives.
Life is not normal right now. It may be a long time before it returns, if ever.
Businesses and schools are not running like normal. They may not ever return to the way they used to be.
Along with rethinking our lives and priorities, we probably should be rethinking the advice we’re giving others. We certainly shouldn’t be offering the same kind of advice our parents gave us. Even the advice we might’ve given a year ago has hit its expiration date.
There’s no good reason to continue to work safely inside norms in a world where normal has disappeared.
Instead, let’s pause and consider other creative possibilities and directions with our child.
At least for a while. We can always return to more standard advice sometime in the future.
After, well, COVID.