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Lessons from the Pandemic – Part 1: Roadmap to Recovery

What lessons have you personally learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic Era?

What have we learned as a global human family, and what do we need to learn?
Why is it important?
What do we do about it?

These are big, daunting questions. But I’m convinced we need to be asking them right now, before the pandemic fades completely into the background of our experience.

In this blog series, I’ll first illuminate why holding these questions in focus is absolutely essential to our post-pandemic transition and growth going forward. Then I’ll share some concrete actions we can all take, as individuals and collectively, in our personal, professional, and social lives. These insights draw on many observations, conversations, and research I’ve been doing as part of InVocation Spiritual Guidance’s community pandemic recovery work.

Note: This direct recovery work will continue through the first half of 2023 at least. I’ll keep offering supportive resources – what I’m now calling the Lessons from the Pandemic – in various community and online contexts. As this all progresses, I’ll share more lessons learned along the way.

Why is this important?

I expect for some folks at this stage, the third question above may stand out. For many of us, by the time we passed two years since the pandemic began, it had mostly ebbed from our awareness. Why is this conversation still important? Why should we care? Haven’t we had enough of pandemic-talk? The world keeps turning, life goes on – why shouldn’t we?

Out of everything we’ve endured in the Pandemic Era, passion – in a word – is what we’ve been most deprived of. That vitality, vivacity, vigor, and verve – that’s what we most need to reclaim. But it’s still eluding us.

The hardship of these past few years has worn a lot of us out. Maybe you’ve felt it. There’s a malaise and melancholy that still afflicts many of us, a slump and stupor, a sort of social hangover you can sense when you talk to people or show up in community spaces. Students, employees, and eventgoers are less engaged than they were before the pandemic. People are less active and energized in their relationships and their private lives. There’s less excitement and zest for life than before 2020. We’re more disoriented, distracted, and disconnected.[1,2,3,4]

Even if you haven’t felt it palpably yourself, the data, as we’ll cover in this blog series, show it plain as day: we’re in a kind of collective long-COVID. And we need to shake out of it. We’re still living in a hazy grogginess, and we need to wake up.

We need to get back to the passion we once knew. We need to rebound and recover. And we may even have the chance to usher in a new era beyond the Pandemic Era – a Passionate Era. But unfortunately, we can’t teleport to that destination. We have a journey ahead of us.

In the three years of the Pandemic Era, we’ve experienced a worldwide communal trauma. And when we look at the history of similar mass traumas – or even personal traumas – there is a clear common message: merely moving on is not possible – only moving through is.

In other words, we have to proactively process what we’ve been through, or it will haunt and soon sabotage us. We have grieving to do, and grieving denied is only grieving deferred and intensified. We have to talk about what we’ve been through, and what the future holds. Some of us only have a little grief to process from these past few years, some of us have a lot – everyone has some, even if it’s not apparent. And rather than pretending we can bypass it, we need to move through it to find our way back to passion.

Furthermore, the pandemic has provided us with a planetary-scale natural experiment in how to – and how not to – deal with suffering and grief. These are fixtures of the human experience, and we should be eager to learn how to handle them more skillfully, especially since our modern culture is so ill-equipped and hasn’t yet learned from the mistakes of the past. If we don’t review and heed the results of this experiment we’ve been through, we are dooming ourselves to an even worse fate in the future. And we’d be passing up a crucial opportunity to drastically improve the world – to find a new sense of passion, vitality, vivacity, vigor, and verve, beyond what we even imagined.

In a nutshell, that’s why we should care. So what should we do about it? In a nutshell, I hope you read on, sit with the insights and questions that get stirred up, talk about them with others, and plug into the post-pandemic effort.

My goal here is to provide a Roadmap to Recovery we can all use. So let’s start with start with some key terms that can guide us going forward:

  • From Pandemic Era to Recovery Era – from there we can launch into the Passionate Era

  • From Greater Resignation to Greater Reengagement and Reimagination

  • Moving On with Business-as-Usual to Moving Through with Transitional Ceremonies

Future articles in this series will focus on specific, tangible actions that go into these. Think of this article as the high-level, big-picture concepts that can help us organize the rest of our practical steps – the boundaries and compass of the Roadmap to Recovery

From Pandemic Era

To Recovery Era

After going through three years of a Pandemic Era, we now need a few years – maybe more than three, maybe less – of a Recovery Era. By capitalizing this term, I hope to highlight the ideal scale of the Recovery Era, as a concerted social response to the coronavirus – a public health program like any other that’s cropped up in response to COVID.

In the Pandemic Era we addressed the immediate impact of the virus with masking, vaccines, social distancing, working and learning from home, etc. In the Recovery Era we’ll address the pandemic’s ongoing impact, with efforts designed around the lessons illustrated in this blog series.[5] Ideally, we need to think on this large scale, in order to adequately respond to the toll and legacy of the pandemic.

That said, even if we fall short of a massive, coordinated national or global healing project, individuals, families, organizations, and institutions can still adopt their own Recovery Era mentality. This will be especially helpful and needed as we support vulnerable people in our lives – bereaved people, frontline workers, children and elders, people with disabilities and people from under-resourced communities. This blog series is essentially a playbook for the Recovery Era mentality, so I hope you keep reading to learn more! This is how we pave the way to a Passionate Era.

It’s important here to make a distinction: relief is not the same as recovery. Both are part of the healing process, but relief only goes as far as, “good thing we stopped the bleeding!” Recovery takes the necessary next step of, “now we need to clean, sew up, and bandage the wound, so it doesn’t keep reopening and getting infected.” Relief settles for a mentality of, “well, I guess this looks... fine... enough – I hope it stays that way!” Recovery opts for the mentality of, “let’s do this right and make sure it's fixed.”

From Greater Resignation

To Greater Reengagement & Reimagination

One of the big social upheavals instigated by the pandemic is, of course, the Great Resignation.[6] Millions of workers have left their jobs, whether due to inadequate pay, flexibility, respect, advancement opportunities, or life balance. Many more (like me) found the last few years to be the right time to follow their Soul’s calling toward their ideal work – hence why a friend and colleague of mine refers instead to the Great Reimagination.[7] This has all added up to a headache for employers, but the benefits for workers indicate it’s a net-positive and overdue phenomenon.

Riffing off this terminology of the Great Resignation, I’ve identified another phenomenon that isn’t so encouraging. I call it the Greater Resignation: declining mental-emotional-spiritual health and community cohesion in the U.S.; increasing depression, anxiety, despair, isolation, loneliness, escapism, animosity, polarization, and inequality.[8,9,10,11]

More and more people are feeling hopeless about the way the world is heading.[12] I think comedian Bo Burnham spoke as well and as tragically as anyone to this gloomy zeitgeist, in his landmark 2021 film and Pandemic Era time-capsule, Inside.[13] These trends were all undoubtedly in play long before 2020, but COVID-19 exacerbated them. They threaten to hang like a dark cloud over the future, effectively extending the Pandemic Era for many more years to come. Unless we intervene.

To counteract the Greater Resignation, the Recovery Era requires at its center a Greater Reengagement. Collectively and individually, we need to at least double our efforts at building belonging and relationships. We must reinvigorate a sense of membership in society and innovate new community projects. And at the same time we must lean into my friend’s notion of a Greater Reimagination, at least doubling our efforts to nurture an attitude of courage and imagine hopeful futures, whether via works of art or simply in our conversations with others. By approaching the Recovery Era in this way, we hasten the arrival of the Passionate Era.

From Moving On with Business-as-Usual

To Moving Through with Transitional Ceremonies

How do we start moving from Pandemic Era to Recovery Era, from Greater Resignation to Greater Reengagement and Reimagination? We’ll explore the particulars in upcoming blog posts. But in general, we have to abandon the fantasy of moving on, instead adopting the ethos of Moving Through.

And we have to interrupt our slide into illusory business-as-usual with what I call Transition Ceremonies: special, set-aside contexts to acknowledge, process, and honor the Pandemic Era, and reorient to the Recovery Era.

What does this Moving Through and these Transition Ceremonies look like?

Stay tuned for Part 2: Learning from History and Our Stories!

If you’re looking for some practical insights before then, check out the Lessons from the Pandemic Hub on my website. And if you’re looking for ways to help the Recovery, Reengagement, and Reimagination effort ASAP, share that Hub page and share this blog with people you know, especially if they’re struggling with these things or are a leader who can make a difference in your community.

For now, I leave you with some reflection questions and conversation starters:

  • What lessons have you personally learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic Era?

  • What have we learned as a global human family, and what do we need to learn?

  • Why is it important?

  • What do we do about it?

  • How have you been proactively processing what we’ve been through?

  • How have you been embracing the Recovery Era, the Greater Reengagement and Reimagination?

  • How would you like to?

Works Cited, Further Reading
  1. Hewlett, E., Takino, S., Nishina , Y., & Prinz, C. (2021, May 12). Tackling the mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis: An integrated, whole-of-society response. OECD.

  2. Patulny, R., & Bower, M. (2022, June 23). Beware the “loneliness gap”? Examining emerging inequalities and long-term risks of loneliness and isolation emerging from COVID-19. Wiley Online Library.

  3. Davis, S. (2022, July 12). 59% of U.S. adults find it harder to form relationships since covid-19, survey reveals - here's how that can harm your health. Forbes.

  4. Pasquini, G., & Keeter, S. (2022, December 12). At least four-in-ten U.S. adults have faced high levels of psychological distress during COVID-19 pandemic. Pew Research Center.

  5. Clifton, J. (2021, December 3). The next global pandemic: Mental health.

  6. Parker, K., & Horowitz, J. M. (2022, March 9). Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected. Pew Research Center.

  7. Johnson, C. (n.d.). Our team. The Milkweed Group.

  8. Keeter, S. (2021, March 16). Many Americans continue to experience mental health difficulties as pandemic enters second year. Pew Research Center.

  9. World Health Organization. (2022, March 2). Covid-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. World Health Organization.

  10. Putnam, R. D., & Garrett, S. R. (2020). The upswing: How America came together a century ago and how we can do it again. Simon & Schuster.

  11. Kochhar, R., & Sechopoulos, S. (2022, April 20). Covid-19 pandemic pinches finances of America's lower- and middle-income families. Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project.

  12. Committee, U. S. J. E. (2019, September 5). Long-term trends in deaths of despair. United States Joint Economic Committee.

  13. Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, March 23). Bo Burnham: Inside. Wikipedia.

Image Credits



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