Dean's Blog

Lessons from the Pandemic

Burnout is real. That’s one of the many things that I have taken away from the last year. From students of all ages learning virtually since March of 2020 to those of us who worked remotely, we all feel Zoom fatigue. So much so that those things on the Internet of Things no longer interest us quite as much as they used to. As a result, many people discovered and rediscovered activities that do not involve technology or that utilize technology in fresh ways.   

My teenage son picked up cooking over the pandemiccooking chicken, to be exact. He is now fantastic when it comes to making pulled chicken and using the air fryer to make chicken wings. My daughter, who is preparing to head off to university in the fall, has started a nonprofit, started three gig economy jobs, and even did a TED Talk this past year. My husband and I have taken up kayaking in the Charlottesville reservoir. We are out on the water around 6 a.m. a few times a week.   

As we begin to reimagine what “normal” looks like and the fast pace of fall starts to loom on the horizon, I wanted to share some other takeaways from being a virtual dean for my entire first year in the seat. Going forward, I plan to remember these new truths I discovered:  

  1. It is important to believe that people are doing the best that they can. It is so easy to judge the output of others based on our own personal yardsticks. I mean, if I can show up in top form given all that I am dealing with, why shouldn’t everyone else do the same? I learned to recognize that your best day may be someone else’s worst day, but it’s important to give everyone the benefit of assuming they are showing up as best they can given the circumstances. This shift in perspective spurred great empathy and fundamentally changed my approach to my personal and professional interactions.

  2. It is okay for a task to be put on the backburner in support of the team. As an accountant, I prefer to work from a framework that has action items, timelines, and measures of success. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” This past year, our humanity was on display through our emotionally lived experience. Many of us experienced the threat of or reality of loss of life within our families and friendship groups. It is hard to ask for and expect emotional support when others are losing their jobs and quite literally dying in the street. In truth, there are times—even at work—that the task must be shelved in order to support the team. We never know what someone else is struggling with in their lives. As a result, I am trying to carve time out of each meeting to check in with others to see how they are really doing before jumping into work.

  3. Smiling can make all the difference in establishing rapport and communicating tone. When I was a little girl, I remember someone saying to me, “Smile; it improves your face value.” During the last year, what I experienced by smiling proves that it also improves your mood and that of everyone else on a Zoom call. We want to like smiling people; where there is a smile, a laugh cannot be far behind. During times of extreme stress and anxiety, sharing a laugh can be a tremendous antidote that welcomes in a breath of fresh air capable of cleansing the mind, body, and soul. 

As the U.S. and the world navigate what comes next, I encourage you to reflect, and to be mindful as you reemerge and reengage. There was a lot of good learning that came out of this unusually hard time. If you’re like me, you will commit to making those lessons part of your DNA.

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