The Pandemic Mirror – March 2022

Sean Hotchkiss

The first thing I do every morning is roll over, grab my notebook and write in my journal. So I always remember dates. One date I will never forget is March 13th.

March 13, 2020: I was standing in line outside a tattoo shop in Highland Park, Los Angeles with a couple of friends. There was a hum of anxiety in the air that day, even amidst the laughter and camaraderie. COVID-19—at the time, still a relatively unknown virus—was coming. Rumors of a lockdown were spreading. I remember being scared. I didn’t want my life to change. I didn’t want something so big, and so beyond my control to shift everything I knew. I felt helpless.

Fast forward two years, and the pandemic and its reverberations have changed our lives indelibly. Regardless of where we each stand politically, socially or ideologically on how the last twenty-four months have transpired, all of us can admit that these have been first times—and that the resulting impact brought up a lot more questions than answers about the state of the world we live in. And while we might all be hoping to sweep COVID and its aftermath under our collective rug, the value of a post mortem here is, in my belief, truly priceless.

One of the first principles I introduce to my clients, and that I have come to deeply know in my own life, is that reality is subjective: The world is a giant mirror—reflecting back to us our thoughts, feelings and beliefs, both individually customized and as a society.

The pandemic revealed a Western World reeling: fear, anxiety and panic took over. The last two years have sent addiction numbers through the roof, ditto mental health diagnoses, depression and suicide (men—especially the demographic reading this piece—have had it particularly rough in this regard). The pandemic also, of course, unearthed longstanding cultural shadows around race, gender, healthcare, government and corruption, just to name a few of the newsmakers.

As humans with giant brains, we always have a choice: we can see things as working for us, or against us.”

Culturally, we were primed for catastrophe long before the virus, though. Modern life is notoriously long on dysfunction and short on meaning. We work ourselves tirelessly, into a zombielike state that only a steady stream of dopamine can quell. Most of us are over-caffeinated and under-nourished. We’re more attached to status and stuff and less connected to each other. Our screen time eclipses our face time. (No, not that FaceTime.) So COVID was like a cosmic joke: “Oh, you like being indoors, huh? You like Zoom? How about all Zoom everything?”

I struggled so deeply in the early days of lockdown. And feeling cut off from the world only emphasizing how alone I’d always felt in a culture seemingly aimed at pushing us further apart. It hurt. But when things hurt, we have a choice: we can allow ourselves to slide further into victimhood (which only perpetuates the harmful cycles of wanting to numb the pain) or we can choose to take ownership. We can use our rock bottoms as springboards to something more fulfilling.

Coaching has taught me that change only happens on a person-to-person level. If we heal ourselves, we heal the world. It’s not the other way around. And over the last two years, I’ve challenged myself to confront my deepest fears and to break my own versions of societies’ harmful cycles. It hasn’t always been easy: I had to face that, as a member of this culture, I was often painfully out of alignment with myself. I’d spent the majority of my life addicted—to work, to pleasure, to consumption—and attempting to manipulate even the most subtle aspects of my life felt like spinning out of control. I allowed myself to become brainwashed by the forces that seek to dilute us, succumbing again and again to comfort and security over the uncomfortable truths I didn’t want to see or own.

All of us must endure a de-conditioning process if we seek to break free from the destructive cycles that keep us stuck. And the first step in that process is slowing down. Quarantine was, in its earliest days, often referred to as The Great Pause. And I hear stories nearly every day of guys who were forced, in that slowdown, to dig deep and harsh truths, and then work with whatever they found. How many dead-end relationships expired in the last two years? How many people left unfulfilling jobs they hated, that left them feeling drained and lifeless? How many escaped the crowded confines of cities for literally greener pastures? I was one of them. In the middle of 2020, I relocated from the dense sprawl of Los Angeles’ East Side to a little cabin in the mountains. I wake up to roosters and fall asleep to frogs and crickets. I’m a COVID cliché, but clichés endure for a reason.

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