I feel like I had my first day of work today. I should have taken a picture with one of those signs we all use with our kids that said, “Stephanie’s First Day of Work – January 2022.” But it wasn’t my first day. Far from it, actually. My first day was 17 years ago (I’ll pause so you can do the math on my age…). It only felt like my first day because it was my first in-person client meeting in what felt like forever.
For the past six years – yes, well before the pandemic began – I’ve worked solely from home. And, like many of you, I’ve worked virtually from home for the past two years. No in-person client meetings. No commute. No dressy clothes. No makeup. No small talk. Just log into the Zoom meeting, get down to business, log off. Repeat.
But, today? Well, today I turned a corner. I had an in-person meeting. With a client. In downtown Raleigh. In dressy clothes. With make-up. And a catered lunch. *Gasp* This life still exists, y’all! And the commute wasn’t bad!
I’ve got to share that it was a little surreal. Do we shake hands? Do we publicly hand sanitize? How close do we sit in a conference room? Am I unknowingly exposing my family to COVID, the flu or a cold just by being in a room with strangers for more than 15 minutes? Is anyone judging my very nonprofessional mask with sparkly sequins? (It’s the first one I pulled from my purse, okay!?)
I know many have already shifted to in-person activities, and some never stopped them. I haven’t exactly been a hermit for two years. I’m an extrovert who has chosen to weigh the mental health risks and rewards of gathering with others throughout the pandemic and acted accordingly. We’ve seen close family and friends, and I have hosted several in-person events, but those were on my terms. They were friendly gatherings where we could be real versions of ourselves. This was an actual business meeting with real objectives and firm expectations. It felt different.
The thing is, it’s going to feel strange as we all eventually, and in our own time, revert to what once felt normal. It felt strange in March 2020 to enter into a bubble, so why wouldn’t it feel strange to pop it? Please don’t misinterpret my one in-person meeting as a personal stamp of approval to flip the switch on meetings and gatherings. I’m certainly in no position to make that call. I’m simply sharing that there’s a delicate balance to “re-entry” and that it will look different for everyone as time goes on. For me, it brought a hint of excitement paired with a bit of anxiousness. To be honest, I think I’ll still be a wee bit anxious until a few more days pass. And that’s OK.
Whatever your re-entry looks like, and in the timing that makes the most sense for you and your family, I wish you the best of luck with the least amount of anxiety. But if the anxiousness takes root and it’s mixed with a little bit of happiness, I’m right there with you sporting a sparkly mask.
Stephanie Llorente is a mother of two children and a regular Go Ask Mom contributor. She is the owner of Prep Communications and Restored, a faith-based business that delivers relevant resources and intentional community to working moms.