Quarantine Mulligan

What if you could do the last three months over again? You’re about to get the chance.

There’s a concept in golf called a mulligan—basically a free do-over that weekend warriors grant one another to help ease the pain as their straight-out-of-the-package ProV1’s go sailing into the woods. 

Amateur golfers tend to appreciate the opportunity to take one more whack at it, this time with a bit more forethought, intention and knowledge of what could go wrong. 

After 3+ months of quarantine, it appears that we may be about to get our own version of a mulligan. Sure, things are opening up in some regions and plans are being made to return to school and the office, but in other places, infections are still hitting new highs. Couple that with the consensus view that work-from-home has proven effective for most knowledge-based workers, and the obvious conclusion is that many of us will be at home for the indefinite future. 

This brings about an interesting question: What did you accomplish during your quarantine, and what would you change if you could do it again?

For me, the quarantine brought a set of new challenges. The initial transition was painful: How the heck are we going to educate (or at least supervise) these children? Can I actually do my job with this technology? (Turns out the answer was yes - probably more effectively than in the office). Where can I get a new chair? Why is my Zoom background so bad? 

But I also gained perspective—on the importance of time with family, on the rat race of constant activity that many of us had allowed our lives to become, and on the value of long periods of uninterrupted, focused work.

It’s understandable that the majority of us spent most of what I’ll call “quarantine #1” simply learning to adapt to this new world that was thrust upon us. Forget about optimizing habits—we needed to secure toilet paper.

But we’re past that now. Most of us who fall into the category of knowledge or information workers have figured out our new work and life routines, and have at least some confidence that our basic life needs like access to food and supplies are in decent shape.*

So now what? If this is reality for another three months (or more), how do we want to improve upon what we’ve already done? 

One way to think about it is that quarantine #1 was about taking care of the bottom layer or two of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid. Assuming our physiological needs are squared away (food, water, clothing, sleep), we can begin inching our way higher up the pyramid. And that’s what I think quarantine #2 can be about for many of us. Moving higher and higher up that pyramid. 

This means turning our attention from necessities like toilet paper—and novelties like Zoom call happy hours, Tiger King binge-sessions and bread-baking recipes—to the harder improvements that we want to make in our own lives—the work we want to do on ourselves. 

For me, self-improvement has taken a backseat to survival these last several months. But I’m ready for that to change. 

I’m particularly inspired by a recent re-read of James Clear’s masterpiece, Atomic Habits. One of the chief arguments that Clear makes for constructing lasting positive habits is that you need to clarify the identity you are looking to achieve in each part of your life, and then back into the habits that will get you there. As an example, for me, the identities are things like: a great husband, an exceptional father, an effective and empathetic leader (at work), a prolific writer and a physically fit person. 

What I’ll be experimenting with in quarantine #2 is how I can achieve these identities through consistent and intentional actions. And given the “prolific writer” identity that I’m attempting to cultivate, one of my goals is to write about all of this on a daily basis—which you can read here. (Note: I said write daily, not publish daily).

I’m sure I will fail often in my attempts to live up to these various identities but if you’d like to follow along, I’d love to have you. And more generally, with anything I write, I want to hear from you about it. I’d like to know what you agree with and what you think I’ve got totally wrong. And I want you to tell me what I should be writing about. Or making videos about. Or making podcasts about. Tell me, please, because this will guide me to produce content that I hope will help you and others in your own journeys. 

So that’s how I’m thinking about my quarantine mulligan. Just like a typical round of golf, there will surely be up’s and down’s in this next phase of the quarantine. I expect there will be a few moments that I’m particularly proud of, and others that I’ll hope to forget. But I want to consciously acknowledge that I’ve got an opportunity here. And I don’t want to squander it.

What about you? What will you do differently this time?

Caveat: This entire article assumes a lot. Like that you have a job. Like that you don’t have to deal with a childcare crisis. Like that you or your family aren’t dealing with illness. Believe me, I know that this is a lot to assume and that this article will not be relevant for many, many people. I empathize with those who are in difficult situations and don’t have the luxury to consider more than survival right now, and I hope you don’t find what I’ve said here too incredibly tone deaf. - GC

Source: Maslow’s Hierarchy graphic; www.simplepsychology.org