Are We Ready to Return to the Frantic Pace of Pre-Pandemic Life?
Women 40+ Talk about How COVID Changed the Way they Work and Live
President Biden’s declaration that “the pandemic is over” during a 60 Minutes interview in September may have been premature, but with mask mandates and other public health restrictions falling away – and schools and offices opening – COVID does seem to be well on its way to becoming endemic rather than pandemic. According to an Axios-Ipsos poll, 46 percent of Americans have returned to their pre-pandemic lives, dining out, going back to work, and gathering more freely with family and friends.
But are we ready to return to the frantic pace of our pre-COVID lives ?
Conversations with women 40+ reveal that for many, the pandemic prompted a shift in priorities, as well as a reassessment of work/life balance. The lockdowns imposed before vaccines were available – along with the deliberate choice over the past two and a half years to retreat and hunker down to lower risk of COVID exposure – gave women the time and space to reevaluate the way they work and live. Here, eight women reflect on lessons learned, pivots made, and wisdom gained since coronavirus upended all of our lives.
Mandy Ramsey: Yoga teacher, writer, photographer
COVID totally had me reevaluate my work/life balance, and it feels crazy to re-subscribe to the frantic pace of pre-COVID life, so I am not. I am picking and choosing where to plug back in, and how often.
Prior to the pandemic, Ramsey drove her daughter to and from school, eight miles away, often in complete darkness (over ice and snow), prompting Ramsey’s daughter to question whether it was day or night – a “red flag that something in our lives had to change,” Ramsey notes. Ramsey taught yoga at the local community center twice a week, which involved hauling gear for about an hour for each hour-long class. Because her husband was gone 12 hours per day in summers guiding cruise ship passengers on rafting trips, Mandy says she was, in effect, “single parenting, shuttling around our daughter to her various activities, on top of still teaching, being the cook and housekeeper, keeping up with a huge garden homestead, and, oh, trying to write and create art.”
During the pandemic, Mandy shifted to teaching all her yoga classes virtually, she and her husband homeschooled their daughter, and everyone in the family suddenly had time to help tend – and take more ownership in – their land, gardens and greenhouses. Not only has Ramsey decided to continue homeschooling her daughter, but she has chosen to stick to Zoom yoga, with occasional pop-up, special event, in-person classes. “I am choosing to ground into the wisdom I gained during all that pandemic quiet: daily yoga practices and meditations, long walks in nature, deep journaling in the garden, art that sparks my joy, and connection time with my family,” says Ramsey. “I have chosen to continue these practices as non-negotiable priority even as I emerge back into this new post-COVID (yet still COVID) life.”
Wendy Slater Loring: Real estate agent
Cross River, New York
During COVID, work was a good distraction – it gave me a reason to get out of the house, meet and help people, and be productive. But now there are other things I’d like to do, and I no longer want to work as hard.
Loring, a senior sales associate at William Raveis, says her pace actually became more hectic during the pandemic, as potential home buyers seeking to flee New York City during the pandemic flooded the Westchester real estate market. “My career took off during the pandemic,” she says, “and I was ‘very available’ to professionally meet the increased demand for my expertise and service.” Now that the market is cooling off, Loring says, she welcomes the slower pace, as she has other things she’d like to focus on. Her health, for example. Loring says she finally has time to get to the doctor for overdue bloodwork, and hopes to get into some kind of regular exercise routine.
Amy Rogers: Freelance journalist, contract worker
The pandemic pushed me to make a complete life overhaul. Before COVID, I followed the work wherever it led, even when that meant putting my life and my loved ones on the back burner. I never questioned that this was the cost of being a freelancer. I’m no longer willing to prioritize my work above my life and the people who matter to me.
Before COVID, Rogers had a robust career as a freelance journalist, editor, and content-creator, rounded out by a full calendar of social and cultural activities. “But as my work dried up during the pandemic and my friends retreated to their own families, I found myself completely isolated as a single woman,” she says. Though Rogers says she had lots of interaction with friends and family over Zoom and FaceTime, when the pandemic entered its second year she was no longer willing to live alone and experience life virtually.
Rogers had always been close to her siblings, despite the fact that her sister and brother lived in Florida, hundreds of miles away. They got together once or twice a year, and “took it for granted there would be plenty of chances to do so,” she says. Then her brother, a heart transplant recipient, came down with COVID. “It was terrifying,” she recalls. “And it was a massive wake up call.”
After living in Charlotte, North Carolina, for 30 years, Rogers packed all her belongings into a U-Haul, said good-bye to city life, and moved into a rustic cottage outside of Tallahassee, Florida, just three miles from her sister. “Moving from a region of 1 million-plus people to a little cottage on three acres in the woods has been a huge shift,” says Rogers. “But going into this change, I prepared myself to be surprised, challenged and inspired by what I would encounter.”
Stephanie McCullough: Financial planner
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Living through the pandemic reinforced for me the idea of mortality, and the importance of keeping as healthy as possible. I’ve started working out with a personal trainer, and have been seeing a functional medicine doctor to try to get to the bottom of some chronic health issues. And yet I haven’t necessarily stopped the health-sabotaging behaviors like drinking! I feel like the mortality realization has contrasting impacts – be healthier, but also enjoy, because it might all come to an end.
McCullough, CEO of Sofia Financial, says she was able to continue working without interruption during the pandemic, as she’d been meeting virtually with clients for years. What she has had trouble picking back up, she says, is all the in-person networking she used to do. “Taking an hour to drive into Center City from my suburban office, an hour that could otherwise be put to productive use – that’s what I’m struggling with,” she says. Another thing that’s changed, she notes, is that she’s not as hesitant to tell her clients when she’s taking time off. “Whereas in the past I may have tried to hide or downplay it,” she says, “now I’m talking it up – maybe trying to encourage others to also do the things they love.”
Joanne Greene: Podcaster, memoirist
I have no interest in returning to my frantic pre-COVID life and am highly productive and happier than ever since adjusting my work/life balance.
Before the pandemic, Greene was Director of Jewish Engagement at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center (JCC), and owned a business with her husband for which she wrote, conducted interviews, and did voiceovers for a range of corporate and nonprofit clients. A day in her pre-COVID life might have included multiple meetings, volunteer work, fitting in some exercise, and helping out various extended family members or fellow congregants at her synagogue with errands or meal preparation.
Early in the pandemic, when the JCC closed indefinitely, Greene took the opportunity to retire and devote herself to writing. “I developed a website, launched a podcast and have finished my book,” she says. “I have never been more fulfilled. I’m still working, but only on my own projects and it feels great.” Greene says she also has plenty of time to hike, do yoga, read, volunteer, and catch up with friends. Her memoir, By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go, is due out in June 2023.
Karen Rubinfeld: Consultant pharmacist
I was always running around pre-COVID. Now I do more of my job remotely. Without the travel time, I can get started earlier on my work. I’m still not comfortable going to the gym, but I found virtual classes, and not having to commute to the gym also saves me time. We have a quieter social life because of COVID, too, so I’m home more, and I like being home. Now, when I think back to before the pandemic, I wonder, how did I fit it all in?
Though work for Rubinfeld stayed busy during the pandemic, as it did for most women in healthcare, it shifted, she says. Rubinfeld reviews nursing home patients’ medical records and prescriptions to make sure they’re in compliance with state and federal regulations and to check for potentially harmful drug interactions. “I wasn’t allowed to be at the nursing homes for a while, so I did what I could remotely,” she says. “Cutting out the commuting piece was major for me.” She filled some of her newfound time by getting certified to administer COVID vaccines, and has since vaccinated hundreds of people.
These days, Rubinfeld goes into the nursing homes monthly, but has been able to hold onto some of her work-from-home schedule. Both she and her managers realized during the pandemic that because most of the medical records – the charts, the progress notes, the lab work, and the medical regimens – were electronic, it was possible to keep a hybrid set up. “It definitely improved my quality of life,” says Rubinfeld.
Christine Krahling: Writer, editor
Once I settled into the fact that I was going to have some free time on my hands during the pandemic, I didn’t waste any time filling it. I’ve always been a planner and organizer, so part of it may have been my natural “carpe diem” mentality as I definitely wanted to make the most of that time. But looking back, I think the pace I kept was also somewhat of a coping mechanism.
By March 2020, Krahling was moderating two book clubs and had enrolled in CoveyClub’s Camp Reinvention, a life-coaching program for mid-life women wanting to reinvent themselves. Over the course of the pandemic, she registered for classes and workshops on subjects that ran the gamut from self-care to writing to racial justice. “I even completed a certificate in Wellness Counseling from Cornell University online, and began leading wellness and self-care presentations in my community,” she says. “Oh, and did I mention I was also hosting a podcast?”
In the summer of 2021, shortly after her granddaughter was born, she realized she had no desire to maintain the frenetic pace she had been keeping. She wanted to be able to spend time with her new grandchild. “I cannot go back to Pandemic Christine,” she remembers telling her coach as she burst into tears. “Then don’t,” her coach advised.
Krahling has since taken some time off from the book clubs and podcasting, and thinks “long and hard” before signing up for online classes that keep her chained to her desk. She takes a weekly music class with her granddaughter, and is focused on remaining fit and active while balancing work as a writer and developmental editor. “It’s always been important to me to have a healthy life balance, and I’m glad I was able to gradually get that back,” she says. “I’m happy to keep some of my pandemic habits and hobbies – reading on my front porch after dinner, and cultivating plants, for example – but I’m also happy to leave the stress of that pace behind. No one’s getting a trophy at the end of this, you know?”
Cheryl Crabb: Author, journalist
Patience and flexibility: Those two concepts have never been easy for me, and yet I found that through COVID I’ve learned to develop these skills.
In 2019, the day after Crabb signed a publishing contract for her debut novel, The Other Side of Sanctuary, her doctor called to say there were problems with her mammogram. A subsequent breast cancer diagnosis, at age 50, changed her world. After undergoing treatment for the rest of the year, she was finally able to launch her book in January 2020. In March, the night before a scheduled reading at one of her favorite bookstores in Detroit, the venue texted to say they’d canceled the reading due to the looming coronavirus crisis. “Just when I was ready to get going again, a new roadblock (the kind of which I could have never imagined) appeared,” Crabb says.
Soon after, the governor of Michigan shut down the state, ordering people to stay home. “Having already stayed home to recover from cancer, I was in a state of disbelief,” recalls Crabb. As Crabb battled cancer, she rued her loss of control over her life, her career, her family and her health, but gradually learned to take things as they came. Then, during COVID, she feared she might lose everything.
Gradually, over the past two years, with the guidance and support of yoga instructors and fellow writers, Crabb has recovered her yoga and writing practices. “Post-COVID, when I get frustrated and start beating myself up about not doing enough or not being enough, I try to be mindful and accept that if I have set an intention and believe in it, eventually, when it’s the right time, it will ripen into fruition.”