This year, Women’s History Month got me thinking how the roles women play in culture and society have expanded so dramatically in the past year.
This month also marks one year since I returned home from my last business trip. Next week, it will have been a year since I caught my daily train into the city. It’s been a year since COVID disrupted our ‘normal’. Our whole lives were based on a routine that we had come to rely on for its familiarity, predictability and comfort.
Prior to COVID, I traveled over 25 weeks a year just for work. That sounds like an awful lot (and it was), but that was my normal. That was my time with me, myself and I; where I got to be alone.
Before we jump on the mom-shaming bandwagon, let me say: I am incredibly grateful that this past year I got to spend additional time at home with my family. The impromptu lunches between Zoom meetings, nightly dinners and little conversations — I’m thankful for all of it.
But I've also realized how many minutes (and I valued every minute like it was an hour) on trains, planes or in hotel rooms where I got to be alone. Completely alone. In my own thoughts, or sometimes with no thoughts at all. Free from kids shouting “mommy,” free from talking family strategies with my husband, free from calls and now Zooms. Just complete, heavenly, silence.
I’m realizing how much I took that time for granted: the mental reprieve, the solo space and the impact it had on my state of mind. More than ever, we’re expected to do it all and be it all. But when ‘doing it all,’ you forget about you.
I’m an introvert, and I desperately need my alone time to recharge. When your normal sanctuaries are off-limits — whether that’s an office, a plane, or even just a room in your own house — how do you make time for yourself?
One thing I learned from all those flights (aside from the fact that they never clean the seat pocket) is always put your gas mask on before helping others. Figure out what alone time looks like to you, and carve out space to make it happen.
My company implemented a policy that allows employees flexible time off that can and should be taken to for mental recharge. I’ve set a goal to embrace this policy and not feel guilty about it. It may not always offer the alone time I crave, but it helps me take a step back.
I’m not alone in looking for these pockets of time to be, well, just me. Getting a respite from it all is “laughably impossible,” according to a New York Times article about how working mothers are suffering during the pandemic. Finding time for you makes better parents, friends, spouses and co-workers.
As we continue to wear many unrealistic hats, it’s important to acknowledge we need a reprieve. Bearing the mental load of “doing it all” comes at a cost, and that cost is usually yourself.
It just took a pandemic to make us realize that.
Kat Shafer is chief client officer at EP+Co