Becoming a Young Professional During a Pandemic: One Year In
When I applied to the FAO Schwarz Fellowship in the winter of 2020, life was different. I submitted my application before heading over to a friend’s house to have a gathering of 15+ people, no masks involved. In late February and early March, as I was interviewing for my position, sanitizing surfaces was a new normal, but still, I did video calls from a classroom at Northwestern, not knowing that I wouldn’t return for a spring quarter.
Life is different, but working from home is normal to me, as I started during the pandemic. My first interaction with my job was having a laptop dropped off at my house the week I was supposed to start. I logged in and learned about my organization as it exists virtually. Every now and then, my co-workers would reference how we did things when we were in person, but conversation quickly shifted to how we would adapt to the virtual environment, the environment I was onboarded into.
Although the pandemic has been detrimental in a lot of ways (making new friends in a city I had never lived in before is uniquely challenging in this virtual world), there are some skills that I am sure many others who became young professionals during this time will have on the other side. My ability to be adaptable and react to a changing environment has increased tenfold. Before March 2020, the idea that my work style would be forced to change overnight would have been frightening, but now I know that anything is possible if an organization puts its mind to it.
Additionally, the tools and solutions available to solve problems in the workplace have expanded rapidly. There are many ways in which Zoom and working from home inhibit us, but we have also discovered new ways to interact with students and families that may stay with us past the pandemic. For example, connecting students with speakers and peers in different states or countries was something that required extensive preparatory work in the past, but is now entirely normal. Having a virtual toolkit of meeting platforms, collaborative workspaces, and electronic communication norms that most professionals are proficient in is exciting and will unite more people beyond the coming months.
Lastly, this pandemic has brought grace and understanding into the professional world. Being taken into my co-workers’ homes through meetings has shown how important respecting work-life boundaries has been. Rescheduling meetings due to sick children or plumbing emergencies have demonstrated that life happens and that our work world is robust enough to support employees that need to just be a person for a little while. I hope that this understanding and empathy shifts the way employees interact with the organizations they work for, and we make strides toward work becoming something we do, rather than a constraint on our lives.
Overall, this pandemic is terrible and has devastated the world and upended countless lives, but what keeps me going is the light at the end of the tunnel. A life where people are once again connected, not in the same way as we were in March of 2020, but in a new way that represents the lessons we’ve all learned over the past year.
Feature image by Nelly Antoniadou, courtesy of Unsplash