By Dr Erik Lithander, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement)
The lockdown mantra that I’ve been applying to both my personal and working life for the past 12 months is that “good enough is enough”. As someone who has historically placed himself under a lot of pressure and applied a good dollop of self-doubt in the process, this has not been a straightforward transition. There is no question, however, that I’ve found “good enough” to be an unexpectedly satisfying philosophy.
Work-wise, my approach has simply been to celebrate the small victories, not beat myself up if my big complicated projects are not progressing as quickly as I would have liked, and be measured in my expectations of myself and others. Exactly the same applies to my personal life. For instance, rather than agonising about how little running, cycling or Joe Wicks I have the energy for, I’ve been celebrating the joy of walking. Precisely 3,650 km of it over the last 12 months, according to my exercise app. No wonder my morning lockdown stroll around Bishopston is starting to feel a bit repetitive. And in the evenings, rather than having wildly unrealistic aspirations to catch up on my reading of the Russian masters, I’ve been devoting my severely compromised attention span to streaming episode after episode of MasterChef Australia. Exotic, exciting and unapologetically upbeat, it fits perfectly with my “good enough” approach to life right now.
Something else that I’ve noticed in recent months is that when you’re working from home, it’s not only more difficult to separate your personal life from your work life: it’s also more difficult to separate your personal life from other people’s. Zoom and Teams bring us straight into each other’s homes, and our lives are compared and contrasted in a way that they would not necessarily be on campus.
I’m thinking for instance of the experiences of colleagues represented by the University of Bristol’s excellent Childlessness Network, which I have the privilege of being the Senior Champion for. It is of course interesting to gain insights into our colleagues’ interior décor styles, but when you’re an involuntarily childless person it’s impossible not to notice all those kids’ drawings stuck to fridges and pinboards; and it’s difficult not to occasionally wince at the lamentations about how inconvenient it is having the children home from school (while acknowledging that these are perfectly understandable, and that ‘inconvenient’ may sometimes be a drastic understatement for some). Similarly, those of us who complain about having to share our WiFi with working-from-home spouses, partners or housemates should be sensitive to the situation of colleagues who are involuntarily living alone, and who would be delighted to have someone to help make their internet connection occasionally unstable.
All of our pandemic and lockdown experiences are subtly different, but the one thing that they share is that we are all vulnerable right now, and we need to collectively acknowledge that. I certainly do. But I also take great comfort from knowing that, when I’ve shut down Zoom and Teams for the day, I still have seven unwatched seasons of MasterChef Australia to look forward to.