There has been a lot written about pandemic hobbies (and not just by me). What they are; which were most popular; and why we picked them up in the first place. But now, as I close the pandemic hobby series, I am wondering what happens as the pandemic recedes and “normal life” returns.
Some think pandemic hobbies will fall by the wayside, at least according to a piece by Katie Smith in NewsNationNow this past February: “As time progressed and the pandemic’s toll on daily life ebbed and flowed, so did people’s interest in the things they once held dear in the days of their first lockdown.”
But after doing this piece, I’m not so sure. Certainly not for people like Rosemary Mercedes, Head of Communications, BBC Studios in North America. “Like many, I started this COVID journey in a spiral, drowning in fear, and freaked by the things I could no longer do or predict. That’s when I turned to a wellness practice I had long abandoned. Today I have a daily practice that includes meditation, hot yoga and clean(er) eating. After spending two years in fear of being sick or counting the degrees of separation from sickness, I am focused on exploring and adopting all the ways I can be healthy in mind, body, and spirit.”
An unexpected upside of the pandemic for some, was forming or finding community when they least predicted it — a time of forced separation. “When my gym closed on March 16, 2020, a big part of my life was put on hold,” said Chris Brathwaite, SVP and CCO, Tenneco, Inc. “Exercise has been a great stress reliever and weight management tool. I made the decision on March 18th to buy a Peloton bike and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in years. Not only did it allow me to continue my workout routine, it connected me to a group of people, many of whom I consider friends today. All told, I rode over 6,800 miles in 2021 between the Peloton and my road bike. And few, if any, of those miles would have been completed if not for the pandemic shutting down my gym.”
Stacey Jones, Head of Corporate Communications, Acccenture, rediscovered an “old friend” in competitive tennis during COVID-19 and made some new ones IRL, too. “Because there was no girls’ team [in high school], I made the boys’ tennis team — albeit landing in the last spot, second doubles. While I have dabbled in the sport in my adult years, the opportunity of being ‘grounded’ from business travel created a path to joining a New York Athletic Club USTA team. Win/loss records aside, the best part of this all has been the incredible tennis partners who helped keep me connected to the world and the wonderful people in it during these dark times.”
Stacey was not alone in finding joy in sports not played since her youth. “I started sculling for the first time since high school and discovered you truly cannot focus on anything outside your boat or you’ll flip, ensuring I had a mindfulness practice even during intense crisis,” said Elizabeth Hogan, Associate Dean, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “Being out on a lake at dusk or dawn — was deeply restorative. Later as I joined the crew training for racing season, the sport gave me daily tangible proof that a group of strangers can get together, work toward a common goal, and come out the other end a community of people who know and care for each other on a deep level. During a period when it felt the country was splintering into ‘me’ — crew was a visceral experience of the joy and goodness that comes from being part of a ‘we.’”
With everyone forced apart, the need to connect was never stronger than during COVID-19. For Tiffin Jernstedt, Chief Communications Officer, Neiman Marcus Group, that meant being sure to both speak to old friends and meet new people. “My only hobby is talking…so I made an effort to create the time…made sure I was calling/texting people back, proactively reaching out to people, leveraging LinkedIn to stay connected, and answered my InMail to meet new people. This outreach quickly turned into doing ‘spot’ career/life coaching, job matching, and digital networking events. I’ve made a commitment to myself that regardless of how busy work and family life gets, I’m always going to create the time to just talk and meet new people because I love it!”
There is no doubt that family took front and center for a lot of people throughout the initial lockdown and beyond. But how we interacted with our families varied a lot over these last few years. For some, it meant not seeing parents, cousins, or adult children for nearly two years. Others, like Vickee Jordan Adams, Partner, Co-Leader, Financial Services, Finsbury Glover Hering, suffered a loss that was not directly related to the pandemic, but certainly influenced by it.
“COVID ushered in an unparalleled amount of chaos in my life, and I have never experienced so much upheaval, change, and uncertainty as I have since November 2019,” she said. “The hobby I developed was caregiving for my father who had suffered a traumatic brain injury, and sadly eventually my hobby became Estate Executor. Not many would think of becoming an estate executor as a hobby, in fact, it is more of a second career. I can say that it has been a sorrowful education, demanding new skills in accounting, legal translation, healthcare, and asset management. I am not making light of my father’s passing. His death has left me parent-less and without my closest lifelong friend. The pain and hurt are deep and will last forever. But the primary difference in my activities from 11/2019 through today is managing the role of estate executor, a position many others may have found themselves in unexpectedly.”
John Calvelli, Executive Vice President, Wildlife Conservation Society, took this opportunity to travel back into his family’s history. “I have gotten more interested in genealogy and have created a family tree (thanks to Ancestry) that has nearly 300 relatives going back at least 5 generations,” he said.
While John learned about his personal history, Monica Talan, Communications and Transformation, AT&T, indulged the very different direction her curiosity took her — which was into Crypto and Blockchain. “In October of 2020 I did something different and unexpected: I began learning and investing in Crypto. And not just reading about it, I enrolled in MIT’s certification programs in crypto and blockchain and in the Blockchain Council’s crypto trading and NFTs programs. I am now on a mission to make sure that Latinos and women are active participants in this new economy. If we learned anything during this time, it is that it’s never too late to try new things. Just ask this 50-year-old Mexican woman.”
Monica was one of many who went back to school. “I finally ticked a box on my bucket list… namely enrolling part time in the St. John’s College Master of Liberal Arts program, based on the Great Books,” said Niel Golightly, Managing Director, Sard Verbinnen. “It’s proving a bit tricky to squeeze it in around a full-time managing director gig and part time work with Lee Hecht Harrison, but it’s hugely fulfilling to be reading and attending seminars on the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Greek tragedies. And that’s just the first class.”
Brett Ludwig, Head of Communications, Gore, also returned to the classroom, but as a professor. “Years ago, I enjoyed the experience of guest lecturing and joined as many classes as possible to share in the energy of exploring practical communication applications with the next generation of leaders. With the extra time afforded by the shortened commute to my home office, I rekindled my passion for being in the classroom once again. What an exhilarating experience! I think our future is in good hands based on the passion and the drive of the students at Bryn Athyn College in suburban Philly.”
Whether it was discovering and then and co-hosting the weekly Airlines Confidential podcast like Chris Chiames, Chief Communications Officer, Carnival Cruise Line, becoming a Master Gardener like Lori Weinstein, Nonprofit and Philanthropic Consultant, or taking up pickleball (apparently the fastest-growing sport in the United States) like Andy Polansky, Executive Chairman, Weber Shandwick, these activities helped get us through the initial lockdown and ensuing years of the pandemic.
Considering we did not know what the next week might hold let alone when the pandemic might end, these hobbies gave us something to look forward to. It reminded me of something Dan Ariely, a behavioral scientist and professor at Duke University talked about in his book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. “The idea is that the real thing is sometimes just too far in the future. When it’s too far in the future, its reward power is not high enough. You need to create an immediate reward for doing the work, not for the outcome.”
Hopefully this is not a theory we will have to test again anytime soon.