Growing up, I had an aunt who was inspirational to me. She was a banking executive in a time when not many women reached that level in the corporate world. She had no children of her own, so she would often share bits of wisdom with her nieces and nephews, and I can report that most of it was good and has stuck with me over the years.
She was fond of saying “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” I’m sure the expression was not her own, but it was true to her no-nonsense, “no-whiners” ethos. The point behind the saying: everything disappointing in life has the power to teach us something if we’re paying attention.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely did not want the COVID pandemic. Over the past five and a half months, I would have much rather kept to my work routine, socialized IN-PERSON with friends and loved ones, planned trips and celebrations, and used much less hand sanitizer. I think we can safely say that most of us are not really getting exactly what we want right now. This begs the question: Are we getting experience? Are we learning anything from living through coronavirus? When this is over will we have anything to show for it beyond wasted time?
The lives lost every day to COVID-19 should be sending us a message: life is short; don’t waste it. In the beginning of the quarantine, many of us chose to just put things off until this was all over. Many months in, it is becoming obvious that “over” could still be some time in arriving. So, do we continue to focus on not getting what we want, or do we turn that disappointment into an experience we can grow from?
We can’t travel, but we can learn a new language so we’re ready for the day that we can. We’re having a hard time finding employment, but we could be honing new career skills while we’re waiting for this economy to improve. We can’t gather in large groups, but we can still connect through a video conference or just a daily text check-in. We can’t all go to class in-person, but we are learning handy new technologies to get the job done. In a time when there is so much pain in our country, we could make the time to join a cause or be an ear to listen to a friend on the front lines. We can say “no” to living in constant anxiety and say “yes” to yoga, meditation, painting, or just dancing in our kitchens with our kids, partners, or parents.
Hopefully, steady progress toward your degree will be one of those growth experiences that comes out of this time. Chances are, you did not hope for COVID-style instruction or campus life but, if you’re smart, you won’t let it stand in your way. After all, when you dreamed of coming to Mason, was it just because you just wanted to spend a lot of time within 6 feet of your peers? No. You wanted to learn, meet new people, explore ideas, have your assumptions challenged, and build for your future. All of that is still possible and, if those things are really worth it to you, no mask, no webcam, and no amount of required social distance can stop you.
For those of us fortunate enough to have escaped the disease thus far, and who are able to continue to safely isolate, the pandemic is a call to define ourselves and our own happiness and to choose how we wish to grow, or even if we wish to grow at all. Nearly six months into COVID-19, one thing seems clear to me: It is time to stop thinking about what we do not have and start making sure we have something to show for this moment in our lives. If experience is truly what we get when we don’t get what we want, what experiences will we choose to create for ourselves?
Meg Yoder is living the dream as CEHD’s Student Communications Coordinator. If she’s not trying to entice you to read your Mason email, she’s probably crafting or gardening.