The Positives of a Pandemic

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In early 2020, the world suddenly stopped.  It was a moment that will live in infamy.  A moment that changed time.

Like an Emergency Stop on a treadmill, a button was pressed.

The belt froze in its tracks.

Within days…

  • Cruise ships became living nightmares.
  • Self-isolation became a thing.
  • Rush hour ceased to exist. 
  • Parents became teachers.  Homes became schools.
  • Nursing homes went into lockdown, cities followed, then states.
  • Everyone wondered if they had “it”.
  • Some of those that did, died.

Everything.  Stopped.

We all know the horrors that ensued in those early weeks of Spring.  The horrific deaths.  The heroes on the front lines.  The thousands of unemployed.  The isolation. The financial ruin. The suffering.

The fear.

All of those things were very real, very horrific, and in the front of the world’s mind since that button was pushed. 

But all of those things are not what this post is about.  

This post is different.

This post is about what happens next.

We all know the horrors that Covid-19 has wrought. But how many of us have stopped to consider the positives of a pandemic? Click To Tweet

The Positives of a Pandemic

Perhaps I’m eternally optimistic, but I prefer to live my life that way. If you prefer to view things otherwise, I’m fine with that.  You live your life, I’ll live mine.  Let’s just agree to disagree, and leave the political and personal warfare back in the “pre-pandemic” world where it belongs. 

Where so many things belong.

Things are different now. 

Let’s try to take advantage of the change.


The Pre-Pandemic World

You still remember what it was like, don’t you? 

Life in late 2019, before that giant “Stop” button in the sky was so dramatically pushed?

A life when you were…

  • Striving for that promotion,
  • Hurrying, hurrying, everywhere.
  • Worried about things that really didn’t matter,
  • Sitting in that traffic,
  • Racing the kids to the next event,
  • Living life in a blur.

Things happened fast back then.  Our calendars dictated our lives.  

We barely had time to breathe.


The Pandemic World

Do you remember the day when your world came to a screeching halt?  That day they closed the school?  That day they closed your office, your restaurant, your factory?  The day the bear emerged on Wall Street?

That day news anchors began broadcasting from their bedrooms, their hair growing longer by the day?

It was all very strange at first.  Apocalyptic, even. 

Cities, empty.  Houses, full.

Everyone locked in their fortress, with an unseen enemy prowling the streets.  An “essential” trip to the grocery store, where the eyes of strangers said all you needed to know.  6 feet!  6 feet! 

When a cough was no longer just a cough.  

When we stopped shaking hands.

Don’t accept this new normal, the world will move on.

The larger question is what will life be like in the post-pandemic world?


The Post-Pandemic World

While we can all relate to what’s happened thus far, none of us know what The Post-Pandemic world will look like.  Rest assured, that treadmill will start moving again. That battle over “health” vs. “economy” WILL be resolved, kids will return to school, and everything will slowly return to normal.

Except “normal” won’t be “normal” anymore.

The world will have changed.  So will you.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I suspect we may face the realization that The Pandemic had presented an opportunity unique in human history.  A giant reset.  An emergency stop that gave us all the rare chance…

  • … to pause,
  • … to be introspective, and
  • … to think about what really mattered in life.  
The Pandemic gave everyone a chance to stop. To Think. To decide what to leave in the pre-pandemic world, and what to carry forward. Click To Tweet

An opportunity to decide what to carry forward.

For the first time in history, we have the freedom to decide what to leave in that Pre-Pandemic box, and what to pack in our smaller suitcase for our journey forward.  While we’re still in The Pandemic world, we have a decision to make that will shape our Post-Pandemic reality.  We have a moment in time to decide what matters.  To decide what we want in our lives when the world starts turning again.  To decide what we don’t.

What will you pack in your bag? What will you leave behind?  This opportunity won’t last long.  Before we know it, that treadmill will be back up to speed and the opportunity will be lost.  I encourage you to be intentional and use this rare opportunity of isolation to decide what’s important to you, and how you’ll change your life going forward.  

When we look back on this Pandemic from the years ahead, will we have made the right decision?

Will we have brought along the things that matter?

Will we have left behind the things that don’t?


Conclusion

In the end, the ultimate positive of a pandemic may well be the decisions each of us makes in the coming days.  The decisions we make before that belt starts to move again.

The things that we choose to carry forward, and the things we leave behind. 

Choose wisely.


Your Turn:  Do you see the pandemic as a chance to change your life for the better?  What will you bring into the post-pandemic world?  Perhaps more importantly, what will you leave behind?  Let’s chat in the comments…

39 comments

  1. “A giant reset”

    I like that phrase, or maybe we could think of it as finally closing that browser widow that has 22 tabs open that you never got to… haha. Just start over.

    I love sociology and it’s going to be fascinating to watch how society comes out of this, and what things look like afterwards. Many books will be written.

  2. I wonder how many people will actually ‘treasure’ this experience. Human beings have an incredible ability to forget!!…

    As for us, we have learned quite a lot from this situation, in particular around how quickly things can go wrong. We retired just a few months ago, so it has been a BIG eye opener, and definitely a good one. Not that I like seeing our portfolio going down 30% of course! But it has emphasised how important it is to be flexible and not overstretched financially.

  3. Wonderful summary of this event! We are forced to stop and smell the roses and not try to smell them while we run with them in our hands like most of us have been doing! I’m am now trying to figure out the after covid reality and I’m beginning to appreciate the reset. I’ll sure reflect back while watching college football in the fall (hopefully) or going to my favorite pizza joint that’ maybe these are gifts we have taken for granted. I’m especially missing going to Church even though our online Church has been awesome. A lot of good will come out of this in my opinion but I too am always more optimistic than not !

  4. I’m with Dave. It is going to be fascinating to watch how society comes out of this. I hoping for the best, of course, but I’m afraid very few Americans will be “scared straight” by this pandemic and ten years from now we’ll be just as financially and culturally weak as we were the day the coronavirus hit our shores. I hope I’m wrong as hell, but as a very learned man once remarked:

    “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they’re too strong to be broken.”

    Sorry for being such a downer, Fritz. But I am the resident curmudgeon in the FI community, after all. Cheers.

    1. Great quote, Mr. G. That’s a new one to me, love it! I’m afraid it’s also very true, and many folks will fall back into their old habits when this is but a distant memory. I hope my words cause a few people to pause, to think. Especially those curmudgeon’s in the crowd. Wink.

  5. Thanks for the words of encouragement Fritz. We shall prevail and hopefully be better for it. My concern remains that we must open the economy soon or else we will suffer long term consequences financially and health wise, as the latter will have a lingering effect as people will suffer from medical illnesses and other physical illnesses for not being able to work and provide for themselves. The government simply cannot pay for all those who have lost their jobs and livelihood. We have an incredibly daunting Federal operating debt that is presently $24 trillion and will rise to $28 trillion with all the borrowing we are doing as people sit at home. Moreover, our unfunded liabilities are well over $125 trillion. This will result in not being able to respond adequately to the next pandemic or national or international disaster because we will be bankrupt. Waiting for that magic bullet called a vaccine is unrealistic according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Paul Offit who is on the annual CDC committee for annual flu vaccinations determination and co-founder of several virus vaccines including rotavirus and smallpox. The 12-18 months thrown around by Dr. Anthony Fauci is unrealistic according to Dr. Offit because the average time for developing a viral vaccine is 20 years and the quickest was four years for the Mumps in the 1960s. Unless we have a Manhattan Project like priority, which we should, we must plan on getting those less risky back out to work, protect those who are vulnerable until a vaccine is tested and deployed; and develop treatments for people to recover faster.

    1. I’m with you on that, Eduardo. Amazing to me how reopening the economy has become the latest “hot button” in politics, seems obvious to me that we’ll have to get there sooner rather than later. We’re not meant to be locked up indoors, and I’ve no doubt there will be negative consequences for many folks the longer this goes on. Tough balance, glad it’s not a decision I have to make, though I’ll be watching with interest as the drama unfolds.

      1. Hi Fritz,
        I have a different perspective…I have 4 family members who are doctors working in Michigan and NYC. My brother is a Navy reservist ER doc at ground zero in the Javits Ctr. This is horrific. Are economics more important than lives? I understand the financial struggles as 2 of my children are laid off and may never go back. And my brother’s new brewery may not survive.
        Still, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 1918 anyone? While I understand that we have to find a new “normal” that also includes a new normal “economy” and workplace it is too soon. And leadership is sadly lacking to keep us safe. If all restrictions are lifted in the name of freedom and economics, those of us in the “vulnerable” category, which includes lots of your readers, risk our lives simply to go to the grocery store.
        I’m so afraid of how this is playing out and trust the judgement and reports of trusted individuals I know who are actually on the front lines and not quarterbacking it from their couches.
        Sorry…rant over.

  6. I think for people who still work at jobs what you are saying is true. For retired people like me nothing has really changed. My wife and I still got up and went for a four mile run this morning. It was freezing! We waved at the same people who drove by us. We still take our boat to go fish local lakes, social distancing there is about a quarter mile vs. six feet. We can still hit tennis balls to each other, even if our competitive season is postponed for now. We still cook together and eat at home, Blue Apron still drops at our door. We still drop meals off next door to our widowed neighbor and she exchanges desert treats with us. We just have a drop and pickup spot in her garage and never get within twenty feet. We still do church meetings, board meetings and committee meetings, just by Zoom and teleconference, but that’s not a big change. I still consult, remotely as usual. Our kids are grown and they do their jobs from home, except for our medical doctor son and his ER wife, they are kind of front lining it now. We don’t know a single person who has tested positive, not family, friend or casual acquaintance. I think in a couple of years this will not register on my memory much because for us it is a nonevent. A distant tragedy, like an earthquake or tsunami across the ocean. That could change if one of us gets sick, but otherwise life is pretty routine. Great post, I can only imagine what this is like for young families, or single people struggling with lonliness. But I think for many like me, it is life as usual, just less hugs.

    1. Your wife’s a stud.

      Our life hasn’t changed too much, either, though I really miss my gym classes five days a week. Finding it hard to motivate myself to go out for a run these days, but getting them in as I can. Awesome that you take care of your widowed neighbor, I hope more folks are doing the same these days. Save those hugs, the time for them will return soon.

  7. Great piece, Fritz! Well said and well written. From a personal standpoint, with retirement right in front of us, this IS a perfect time for US to follow your advice. You’ve even said it before … slow down. Take the long way home. Hopefully we, and everyone else (retired or not), finds the path to a much more peaceful “new normal”.

    1. Bob!! I saw your comment on last week’s post about your upcoming retirement, but couldn’t respond with all those comments streaming in! (351 comments last week, wow!). I’m excited for you and Mary, you’re going to love life on this side of The Starting Line!

  8. it has certainly emphasized the importance of “financial preparedness”. Being debt-free, having a few years of expenses in cash…has made it tolerable to offset the impact.

    I was contemplating reducing my medical work…and then it was all cancelled. The pandemic made my retirement (from medicine) decision for me.

    Now, just flying ag/fires, living/loving life.

    Good post, Fritz.

    1. Doc – glad to hear the decision was made for you, I recall how you were struggling with it. Funny how life just works out sometimes. Enjoy your time in the air, I’ll be thinking of you when fire season resumes. You’ve got a cool life, and I’m proud to call you a friend. Look forward to seeing you at a nearby airport when this thing blows over!

  9. Well written. I also am an eternal optimist. Having planned well for retirement and holding cash as a bridge, I am thankful for staying the course In 1987, 1991, 2000 and 2008. Our retirement funds are conservatively invested with the philosophy of “if you’ve won the jackpot, why continue gambling.”

    Our life in retirement hasn’t changed that much. Grocery pickups and deliveries may be the norm for some time, though. Living in a peaceful walkable neighborhood allows us to talk to neighbors from very far social distances. Technology allows us to stay in touch everyday with family and loved ones.

    At the same time, my heart aches for those less economically fortunate. This is the black swan of century but I do have faith that the efforts to overcome this virus will be at a Manhattan Project level. The economic and psychological fallout must be handled safely and compassionately.

    1. Judy, glad to hear you’ve got a nice place to walk, we’re loving our 1 1/2 mile loop in our private woods! I’m with you on feeling for those who are taking a bit hit, let’s hope our leaders are able to negotiate our way through Manhattan without too many casualties.

  10. I don’t know what others will do, but I do know that I will never again take so many simple things for granted. If we don’t learn a life lesson from this experience, we never will. I agree that it isn’t fun to watch investments plummet, but not being able to be with my grandkids on their birthdays, or hug and give my daughters a kiss, or go to (and I never thought I’d say this) a grocery store without fear of getting deathly sick. I think there will be much pain suffered, but much good will come too, and many of us will be impacted for the rest of our lives.

    1. Missing those grandkids is definitely a blow, Tom. We were supposed to be in Seattle for two weeks this month with our 18 month old granddaughter, needless to say we had to cancel that trip. If that’s the worst we have to face, we’re blessed indeed. Let’s hope those long term impacts will be positive in the end. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Very little change for me from my day to day living. I live in the country on a horse farm and pre-pandemic only ventured off the reservation maybe once a week for a supply run.

    Now those supply runs are reduced to bare necessities – no more spending a few hours going to places that are fun to go to, but not really crucial. One grocery store, not grocery AND Sam’s Club. Still have to go to the feed store, of course, but stocked up and took hay deliveries when possible.

    Biggest change was that when I went out into public I was VERY mindful of that 6 feet, and as of late many of us are wearing masks and/or gloves in stores. And using a LOT of hand sanitizer. Plus far more awareness of face touching and more frequent hand washing.

    And no hugging.

    Have been doing a fair amount of thinking towards the year ahead and what lifestyle changes I want to make.

    1. Lynne, sounds like you lead a charmed life. We’d love to have a horse farm, but know the care of the horses would conflict with our love of travel. It sounds like you’re riding things out well, interesting how little this virus impacts those of us who live a more isolated life (like our mountain cabin), definitely not a time I’d want to be living in the middle of a major city. Good luck with that longer term thinking, it’s a good time for that.

  12. I retired early almost 3 years ago. My wife retired early 6 weeks ago. We had planned quite a bit of travel and were exploring housing options to right size our housing as our children are all grown. We were able to get a quick 8 day road trip in before the shutdowns started but have been pretty much confined to home for over a month now. Our early retirement travel plans and housing search have been paused until things reopen. We will carefully decide if/when to right size our housing once we have more firm indications the market is recovering. We have no debt and created a bucket strategy before this situation occurred that encompassed 3 years of living expenses in cash type accounts in preparation for any future financial meltdown so other than seeing our net worth value drop, we are financially secure at this time. We are going a little stir crazy with staying home so much, but we have used the time at home to clean out our attics, cabinets, closets, etc in preparation for an eventual move. We have been having virtual happy hours with family and our church services and small group meetings have moved online. We were already in the midst of a major life changing event in us both retiring early from our professions when this virus hit, so the impact from the lock downs and social distancing changes will likely be blurred in with our retirement transition change.

    1. Dan, nothing like choosing an interesting time to adjust to retirement with your wife! We’re all getting a quick taste of those “slow go” years, when we thought these were going to be the “go go” years. Ah well, at least you can put them to good use getting your house ready for the eventual move. And, for the record, I think we’re ALL going “a little stir crazy” at the moment. Hang in there, this too shall pass.

  13. I gotta say you really got me thinking about what will change Fritz!

    This might be the biggest social interrupter in the past century. I don’t expect we will experience the fatalities of the 1918 Spanish Flu; however, this may have much greater impacts on society as a whole.

    I love Dave’s comment on the 22 tabs open on a browser window! That sort of typifies life prior to the pandemic. With the emphasis on “staying at home to protect others”, our collective focus has shifted from ourselves to the welfare of others. We are all working toward a common goal. We are observing the best in people as they rise to the occasion.

    I also choose to be optimistic and believe each of us will get more in touch with their core values. The things that matter most such as family, friends, and kindness to others.

  14. Great Post Fritz.

    I am also an eternal Optimist.
    Here in Australia, Covid has been less severe health wiase, but similarly lock down has hit many hard, with business already going under and mass unemployment, much like else where in the world.

    Luckily I am an architect and our firm works on Hospitals and Labs (one of our cleits is working on a vaccine) so we are working very hard (from home) still. Working from home is a dream come true. I never had a long commute, but working with my partner is great, and not having to make idle chit chat with fellow workers is bliss.

    We too are missing friends and eating out, missing yoga and swimming at the local pool. but really taking time to work out what works for usand what we value.

    We have seen an increase in working hours, decrease in real wages and fees charged for work, and general malaise / stress / unhappiness in working life. Things had to have amasive reset. Some while try to steer us back toward that imbalance.
    Im confident that this won’t happen – im an optimist.

    Thanks again for the great post and the resultant conversation – love it!

    Shaun

    PS – $28Trillion debt? Really? Who did you borrow that from? (asking for a friend

  15. Great post Fritz.
    It’s funny that just before I say down to read this post my boss and I were having a conversation about how things had changed, not only in our business (we’re in the oil and gas industry and are really feeling the hit right now) but also how things are different at home. For my wife and I not much has changed since all our kids are out of the house and making their own lives, but my boss was talking about how his three college age kids are all home now because their schools have gone “online “ for the remainder of the semester. He said how much they had enjoyed having them all back at home and having meals around the table again. Without this virus, he said probably the only time they would’ve been together was at holidays beachside two of them will be completing their studies and moving onto their careers and gone from home permanently. Funny how things work out! I do hope we all remember the good things that have come out of our slowdown and carry them into our post pandemic lives.

    1. Dale, I can only imagine the chaos in your O&G world, crazy times. Nice that your boss is able to get a special treat of time with his college aged kids, I suspect that’s true for many folks with kids that age. I’m sure he’s enjoying it, the last time he’ll realistically have the opportunity. Indeed, a real positive of this pandemic, thanks for sharing.

  16. Life is busier for me because my wife and kid are working/schooling from home.
    I don’t have any time for myself. I know we’re lucky to have the financial resources to power through this shutdown. But I’m still ready for things to go back to normal. I didn’t sign up to be a homeschooling teacher. 🙂

    1. Haha, I’m sure a lot of other parents are feeling your pain, Joe. It’s got to be difficult for those who are trying to work from home while also taking care of (and homeschooling) they’re unexpectedly homebound children. Hang in there, savor the time with your son and wife. This too shall pass!

  17. Eternal optimist here! And a long distance teacher. Retirebby40 —I feel your pain!!! Teaching online is challenging at every developmental stage-each brings a unique hurdle to engage kids to learn in most challenging situation. Ad much as I can’t wait to be with my students in person—I expect distance learning technology will be a booming business as will work from home scenarios.

    Yes I will be in a classroom again, Will it be different, will it be better? Hopefully so, the challenge of cognitive learning under stress (think how children learn in impoverished, war torn or abusive homes) will be what it is all about for the foreseeable future. The gap between haves and have nots remain a reality and public school teachers are and will continue to be frontline leaders.

    1. Karen, I love that optimism! I have a friend who’s also a teacher, and he’s been struggling with trying to adapt to the long distance teaching (and increased parental involvement, haha). It will be interesting to see what longer term impact the virus has on our schools and our workplaces. As someone said earlier, a Sociologist’s dream come true. It’ll be fascinating to watch things unfold over the coming months/years. BTW, both of my parents were teachers, and I appreciate all of you who commit your lives to this worthy profession!

  18. Hi Fritz,
    Found you on Roger Whitney’s RetirementAnswerMan podcast site, am now an avid consumer of your great info. This has been a rough time for so many, I constantly see my High School classmates (3+ decades past) posting in Facebook and such “OMG!, the government needs to do more to take care of us!” All the while they have been posting about their new houses, vacations, cars, they are buying, on credit…
    Cannot respond as I like to them as that would be seen as talking “down” to them. But while they were partying/surfing I was working in the family business (making the same as every other person in the restaurant) and reading voraciously about alien concepts such as compound interest, living below your means, and to “never stop learning”. I went to work with a cruise ship line to pay for my MBA, later my company paid for another Masters in IT (that I completed in my own time after hours) and I would have been stupid not to take advantage of this. Many companies do this, they will pay you to advance your skills. While we are are “bored” and at home we could be learning and increasing our value. But that takes discipline to actually commit to the time and do it. If you have the opportunity, do it!
    In short, love your content and please keep it up. For those that continue to whine about how bad things are, go look in the mirror. That person looking back at you is responsible for your future, get him/her to stop whining and get busy. You cannot blame anyone but yourself if you do not take advantage of all the education out there.

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