What I've Learned From Forcing Myself to Wear Pants

Picking our battles in the pursuit of normalcy

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue." —Lloyd Bridges in Airplane!

We're hearing a lot about how important it is to maintain a routine. In these crazy times, big-picture thinking is what will save us, but it's the little things that will keep us sane. For example, I've made a commitment to wearing pants every day between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. I know that doesn't sound like a big deal, but to me, it's a way of tethering myself to the outside world.

The immediate benefit is that I maintain a sense of professionalism. In the big picture, I'm doing this so my pants will still fit when we all eventually return to the office.

Sure, you could say the driver is ego, vanity, insecurity, blah blah blah. And you'd be right on one level. But the way I see it is that now more than ever, we have to pick our battles.

Kids and adults alike need boundaries, and we rely on them throughout our lives. My wife and I deal with that every day, from managing our kid's screen time to setting standards for healthy eating as a family.

The situation we're faced with is new, and how we orient ourselves makes a difference. Worrying about survival leaves us thinking about the end of days instead of the endgame. I'd rather make progress. So, rather than focus exclusively on routine, I'm also setting my sights on the future.

Beyond the pants strategy, something else I'm playing around with is what I call "Reward and No Punishment." This doesn't refer to condoning unacceptable behavior without consequences. That would be bad. I'm talking about loosening up in the service of getting stuff done.

Example: I'm sitting at my desk (in my pants, duh) on a Zoom call with two clients and three creatives. (Yes, I know how lucky I am.) My son is occupied with his tablet, or at least that was the plan. But since he's bored and wants attention, he crashes the meeting. I whisper "Mama's on a work call" and "Go get your tablet" and also try hitting mute and yelling for my wife to come get him, but these suggestions go unheeded. So, I give in and introduce him to everyone on the call, and the world does not stop. The ideas keep flowing, and everyone has a smile on their face because they are either in the same boat or can relate in some way.

In the end, our project will move forward. We will get our stuff done. It's not how we'd conduct business ordinarily. This is an extraordinary situation and we have to roll with the times.

Rewarding ourselves for juggling all these plates with minimum breakage is also essential. I was very proud of myself when I swore off Diet Coke a few years ago, but I needed a somewhat "healthy" vice for this new normal. Having a Diet Coke at the end of the day is an indulgence I savor now, and it's not the end of the world.

Speaking of which, none of this is the end of the world, and I'm not drinking DC like there's no tomorrow. Because there is a tomorrow. And when the isolation ends, when a vaccine is developed, when whatever long-term modifications that prove necessary are in place, we can go back to a stricter work/play/eat regimen.

For now, we're not shooting for the moon. We're shooting for normalcy and to be the same as we were when this all started. I can reasonably expect that when we emerge from this moment, I will not be drinking Diet Coke. And my pants will fit.

And that's pretty damn good.

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Jennifer Houston
Jennifer Houston is co-founder of the bench, an agency of 400+ vetted freelancers providing high quality work to brands and agencies.

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