By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner
You remember Groundhog Day. No, I do not mean the day celebrated every February 2 when Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow to tell us whether we will have another six weeks of winter. I mean the 1993 film in which Bill Murray plays a cynical television weatherman. He is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. His character becomes trapped in a time loop forcing him to relive February 2nd over and over. That is what I have felt like over the past sixteen months. It seems like every day is my own personal Groundhog Day.
It started in January when politicians, medical personnel and newscasters began talking about a new virus that appeared in different places around the world. And so, the cycle began. Every day we would be peppered with news about it. We would hear about something new called “social distancing”. We were encouraged to wear a mask outdoors. We were told it would last a few more weeks, then a few more months, then perhaps into the next year. We were regularly informed that there were no known vaccinations and that we would have to social distance a little longer and wear masks more regularly. Then we were told vaccinations would be developed. But then later we heard that more people were contracting the virus than expected and we had to be even more careful. Businesses started limiting hours, even closing. Public venues like theatres, movie houses and sporting arenas closed. We were told that these were going to be eliminated from our lives more permanently. They would return after we developed successful vaccines and achieved something called “herd immunity”. Several global companies announced that they were developing vaccines and gave timelines related to the development. First the timelines were going to be more spectacularly successful than ever in the “history of vaccine development”. Then a few “ooops” incidents occurred! There were fits and starts in vaccine development, but eventually, different vaccines became available vaccine distribution began. Reports surfaced that the distribution process wasn’t going all that well, but then it was, but then it wasn’t. In some cases, waiting lines for vaccinations were longer than the wait to get tickets at the box office of Hamilton.
Thankfully, vaccination processes now appear to be progressing somewhat smoothly. Venues are re-opening. Children may, or may not, be back in school this fall. People are beginning to gather for social and athletic events. Businesses are re-opening; people are being encouraged to come back to their “office” offices. Only time will tell if additional surges develop and the impact that will have on re-starting. As one of my favorite prognosticators, Yogi Berra, said: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” And it still ain’t over. But it feels like it is getting better.
The back-and-forth and ups-and-downs of this pandemic has affected all of us in many ways. We feel like our stay-at-home days have become repetitively consistent or consistently repetitive. Though we have made significant changes in the way we do things, it often feels like we are in our own personal groundhog cycles.
How has the pandemic affected your lives? What changes have you made? How have you avoided falling into your own Groundhog Day patterns? Are the changes for the worse, or for the better? What have you given up or how have you altered your lifestyle—either temporarily or permanently? I would like you to share your experiences.
I share some of my own experiences in the following paragraphs. Read through my list, think about your own lifestyle, or habit changes and send them to me. With your permission, I will share them with our audience in a future newsletter.
First, here is a bit about my pre-Covid life. Those of you who know me, know that I am in the “senior” category of the population. At this stage, I have pretty much planted both of my feet in the retirement chapter of my life. As a result, I have not been affected by workplace impacts as much as many of you. Here are some of the adapt-to-Covid changes I have experienced.
· I have not been in a movie theatre in almost two years. I cannot even remember the last movie I saw in a theatre. And there was a time when I would see 60-75 movies a year.
· As children of the 50’s, Carol and I have been avid TV watchers all of our lives. With the advent of Covid, we have splurged on Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming options. It is amazing how many British, Polish, Italian, Spanish, French and other crime dramas we have found—and enjoyed!
· We used to subscribe to three different playhouses. The theatrical companies we supported have closed, or switched to video presentations, and are just beginning to talk about re-opening. I have no idea when, or if, we will return to this form of entertainment.
· Pre-Covid, as a part of expanding my personal exercise program, I decided to take up swimming. I enjoyed it and made some progress in this new skill but have not gone back to the aquatic center since March of last year. I am, however, walking or using our elliptical machine much more.
· I have never been a sports fanatic, but I did enjoy an occasional baseball, football, or basketball game. Covid has killed my interest in returning to any of these, except for my grandson’s basketball games.
· In the past several years, Carol and I have taken numerous vacation trips, including river cruises which became a favorite. We had to cancel two of those last year and we are not likely to resume taking any until—at the earliest—next year or even 2023—assuming we continue to stay healthy and are comfortable with cruise-ship and foreign country Covid-related protocols.
· I began to participate in a brain performance research project through one of our local universities. I have taken brain-performance assessments, had periodic meetings with a “brain coach”, performed certain test challenges and practiced certain training exercises to enhance brain performance and development. It continues to be a remarkably interesting project and challenges me to change certain behaviors.
· The Brain Performance project also encourages me to try new things, to alter scheduled routines or to do some regular things differently. Recently, Carol and I responded to this idea by bringing a new member into our household. His name is Barkley, and he is a five-month-old miniature Schnauzer. Without a doubt, he has altered our scheduled routines and challenged us to do several things differently.
· Covid has limited the opportunity to work directly with our personal trainer but to his credit he has begun using Zoom to help us keep up our physical training regimen alive.
· Volunteer organizations we work with have also resorted mostly to Zoom-type contact to share their messages, describe their alternative plans and conduct fund-raising projects.
· I have developed an amateur interest in geopolitics and subscribe to three newsletters and participate in periodic Zoom sessions to expand my understanding of what is going in the world.
· I continue to participate in the programs of OneDay University, which now offers their professorial lectures via Zoom. I can listen to lectures by college professors from universities around the country on topics related to business, arts, science, music, world affairs, politics, history, human behavior, and others. We have also just started viewing a lecture program called MasterClass. It provides lectures and personal development on a variety of subjects including writing, sports, cooking, politics, economics, and even video game design. MasterClass programs are often delivered by celebrities in their respective fields such as Ken Burns, Penn & Teller, Dan Brown, Neil deGrasse Tyson and many others.
· Meditation is another activity my brain coach suggested. I use an app called Headspace to assist me in this effort. I would love to hear from those of you who do some form of meditation. I do not think that I am doing so well in this area and would like to learn from other’s experiences.
· Prior to Covid, Carol and I began to subscribe to a dinner program called HelloFresh. There are several like it in the marketplace. We both enjoy cooking but found that we had fallen into a predictable routine of dinner offerings. Our subscription provides us with three two-person meals every week that we participate. It has helped us vary our meal selection and try different choices that are not just the traditional meat-and-potatoes. In the past year, I have probably had more purely vegetarian meals than I have had in my lifetime. In addition, it has also stimulated my interest in cooking and creating my own version of meals.
· Oh, and finally, there is my Hoverboard. An important part of our personal training as we age is to work on maintaining physical balance. I convinced myself that in addition to the exercises our trainer promotes, I could work on my balance with a Hoverboard (and have some fun in the process). I am still in the early stages of this effort, so the jury is still out on this idea.
Each of our personal, professional, and social lives have been impacted differently by Covid. I would love to hear about your experiences. Have they been positive or negative? Permanent or temporary. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and permit me to share them.
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay well!