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The New Normal



These are strange, scary times. I’m a writer and an eternal optimist, and I’ve struggled for days to come up with the right words. Maybe part of it is that I’ve got two kids and two dogs at home and I, like so many, are juggling multiple hats for which I have no training and no expertise. Teacher. Trainer. Therapist. Chef. Dog walker.


We’re all learning. We’re all adapting. I didn’t know what “social distancing” was before COVID-19 (although, I’m finding, I am pretty adept at it, for better or worse). I didn’t know who Anthony Fauci was a couple of months ago, and now, even though he has now crossed over into sports by appearing on a popular sports podcast, I can’t get enough of the guy. He’s 78. He’s working 19-hour days. And he’s still running 3 1/2 miles a day.


What I can’t understand is why people freaked out about toilet paper, but that just means not all actions are understandable and, well, humans are imperfect creatures.


What I do know is this: We will get through this pandemic. I’m not sure exactly how or exactly when, but we will as long as everyone does what they’re supposed to do. The stock market will recover. The restaurants and bars will reopen. The games will return.


But what do we do in the meantime to stay productive and sane? I imagine this is going to be an evolving list that I will add to as we go, but for starters, here are 10 things to do while we all navigate this new normal.


1. Be a self-starter. I’m a big believer in ambition and pursuing your dreams. I was a little girl from North Carolina who dreamed of becoming a sportswriter and working on the national stage. I did that for nearly four years at Sports Illustrated and, later, nearly seven at ESPN as an NFL reporter and analyst.


But as I’ve learned, life often has other plans. I was happily working my dream job at ESPN when the company decided to lay off more than 100 front-facing talent, including me. My world fell apart. And then, through hard work and determination, it got better.


One thing we can control is our approach to business and life. My father used to frequently quote a saying: “If it is to be it is up to me.” That means being accountable, reliable and a self-starter. That means being a leader either at work or at home or both. That means not having to be told to do something but to do it yourself.


There are a lot of people right now dealing with a lot of unknown and a lot of stress. Don’t add to it. Handle your business.


2. Create a workspace. Except for my first job as a reporter at Sports Illustrated, I’ve worked mostly from home my entire adult life. It is a learned skill. It helps to have a dedicated workspace, be it in a home office or at a coffee table. Have someplace to go to work and then have a way to unplug afterward.


It’s also important to create a schedule and stick to it. Have a routine. Try not to work in your pajamas. Take a shower. Eat lunch. Stay on task. Execute.


3. Build relationships. We’ve all heard the old adage: It’s who you know. Put another way: Relationships determine results. That isn’t going to change now that a lot of us are working from home. And it’s even probably more important than ever.


How do we build relationships when we aren’t supposed to be face-to-face with others? Technology is our friend here. Text. Email. Talk on the phone. Video chat.


The best relationships are built on trust and authenticity. And in times of turmoil, relationships can be our salvation. My father died four days after the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018. The next night, my phone buzzed. It was a text message from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who had just achieved his career goal: Winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history. Nearly two million people showed up at the victory parade through downtown Philadelphia.


Lurie somehow heard that my dad had died, and he took the time to shoot me a text offering his condolences and support. He didn’t mention the Super Bowl or the parade, just my father. It meant everything.


Reach out to people, particularly those who will expect it the least and probably need it the most. It will matter.


4. Read. Expand your mind. Pick up a book. Read a newspaper. Educate yourself. Dive deeper into your craft. Disappear in a good novel.


One of my kid’s teachers had an excellent suggestion: Schedule family reading time, where everyone sits down and reads at the same time. If you have young children, read to them. Mandate that everyone reads for at minimum 20 minutes and preferably longer. There’s time to expand a child’s reading fluency, and that will serve them well later.


5. Listen to music. Silence can be deafening and depressing, and we are all probably feeling a little isolated and alone anyway. Music breaks up that monotony. Pick a music provider and stream a station. I love one called Miami Chill radio. Listen to classical. Turn on the radio.


Just don’t have the news on ad nauseam. I tried that. It’s debilitating and depressing and counterproductive.


6. Exercise. There are lots of industrious trainers offering classes online, often for free. Take one. Go for a bike ride. Take a walk. Play basketball with your kid. Do something to get your heart rate up and, if possible, break a sweat.


Exercise is a terrific combatant of depression, and given how isolated we all are right now, we need a terrific combatant. Exercise is that. It helps clear the mind and strengthen the body. Thirty minutes a day, at minimum, will do wonders.


7. Teach. With my kids’ schools shuttered indefinitely and “virtual learning” underway, my respect and admiration for teachers has grown exponentially. I don’t remember how to multiply imperfect fractions or translate French. Helping them with their subjects is tough.


But I do know how to type, how to write, how to research, how to edit. I do know how to sew a button (sort of), how to unload the dishwasher, how to do laundry, how to vacuum out the car, how to shoot a foul shot, how to do a cartwheel, how to smoke a crosscourt backhand and how to wash the dog.


There are teachable moments everywhere.


My daughter turned 16 on March 16. She was supposed to get her learner’s permit on March 17. She has an app on her phone that has counted down the days until she could drive for nearly a year. She has practiced the driving test she was supposed to take for months in preparation for her big day.


And then, the night before she was supposed to get her permit, Pennsylvania closed all of its license centers for at least two weeks (and probably longer).

She was crushed, of course. The lesson for her is that life isn’t always fair. It was a hard one to learn but one that eventually will serve her well.


8. Become an expert at something. We’ve all got extra time on our hands. Try something new. All you need is curiosity and YouTube.


For me, that has meant learning how to make sushi rolls. It takes practice to wrap a tight roll filled with tuna and rice in seaweed. I’ve watched dozens of videos trying to perfect the technique. I’ve always wanted to make my own sushi. Now, I’ve got the time to learn and perfect the art.


9. Don’t give up. It might not seem like it at the moment, but this isn’t going to last forever. There will be a day, hopefully sooner rather than later, when normalcy returns. Stay positive.


10. Be kind. People are understandably on edge. People are worried. People are starting to go a little stir crazy. I went to the grocery store the other day, and it seemed like no one wanted to be there, in public, potentially exposed to an invisible virus while doing a chore that, until recently, was merely that: A chore.


So smile. Be patient. Say something nice. Do someone a favor. Help out. Tell someone thank you. A little kindness goes a long way.

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