Commentary: Summoning the fortitude of forced change

Editor’s note: One year after COVID-19 was first documented in Florida, we all know the stories of illness, pain, isolation, death, and suffering, but we don't always take the time to think about how the pandemic has forever changed us in ways that may become or ought to become permanent as a result. So 83 Degrees asked local thought leaders to consider what's different now compared to pre-COVID in terms of lessons learned, reimagined goals, and vision that have the potential to make a difference for good. We’re thinking of these things as inspiration, encouragement, and potential solutions -- all duplicable by and for others. Below is one response.
Pre-COVID-19, I loathed working from home. I very much relished in the compartmentalization of being a professional and strategist at the office and being a wife and mom at home.

These comfortable boxes allowed me to shut things off in each role – out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes peering outside of my compartmentalized comfort zone, I used to envy those that could so rhythmically float between different aspects of their life, moving from personal life to work-life like a choreographed dance. But no amount of “trying” made it easy for me. 
When the world shut down, along with our ad agency’s treasured office space in Ybor City, the walls of my compartments crumbled. Not only was I working from home, but I was also homeschooling my kids -- it was not rhythmic, and my discomfort was abrasive. 
But forced change invades our lives in waves. 
At first, you get by -- as I did -- by telling yourself, “this is only temporary.” The idea that “normalcy” will return is comforting.
“Everything changes. I have built my career in advertising where change is the very foundation of our craft. But not all change is created equal.’’
-- Katy Parsons, ChappellRoberts
Despite my brushing off reality, I was still working from home and my energy reflected the challenge this posed in my life.  
The second wave is acknowledging that you have a choice in how you respond. As I personally struggled to find comfort in the chaos, ChappellRoberts was recognizing the urgency to evolve or fail amid this forced change. Agency leaders deconstructed and rebuilt our service products, adapted our engaged culture to ensure its relevance in a virtual world, and quickly identified the key strategies to keep us and our clients moving forward. In the last year, our agency has grown our team and client base and won numerous awards -- all while working 100% remotely. 
Inspired by this resilience, I embraced how forced change ultimately leads to letting go of the past or how things were. I recognized that nothing has or will “return to normal.” In fact, I think “normal” may be a fallacy I believed in because it was a comfortable place. The pandemic has devastated so much and so drastically changed our world -- these dire outcomes cannot be overlooked. But there is also much to be grateful for:
  • Finding creative energy in the flexibility to move between our personal and professional lives in virtual workspaces.
  • Seeing those you have worked with for years or even decades as people first, professionals second.
  • Basking in the joy of more time with our families.
  • Feeling complete without sacrifice. 
  • Building the skill of resourcefulness by finding solutions vs. relying on in-person answers.
  • Growing an even deeper focus on mental and physical health and wellbeing as part of our culture.
Personally, I am excited by the evolution of the business world and how its embrace of even a partially virtual world enables so many – especially parents – to better balance our lives. Professionally, I’m excited about how a nimbler and more virtual world will open doors, lower barriers, and increase opportunities that may have once seemed unattainable in the confines of physical spaces or geographic office locations.
This was not the first or the last we’ll see of forced change. But the magnitude of change in the last year stands as proof of our resiliency and capability to evolve. And this is what I’m most excited about -- the prospect of where it will take us. It’s unknown. It won’t be comfortable. But, we can be sure it will most definitely make us stronger.

Katy Parsons, APR, is Senior Director of Account Strategy at ChappellRoberts in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa.
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