What If Your Old Life Is No Longer In Stock?

There is no going back. The only way out is through — past a turbulent spring, across an unusual summer, and into an unsettled year beyond.” Ed Yong, “Our Pandemic Summer”

The other day my wife, Camille, shared a quote by J. Michael Zenn, a health and nutritional evangelist, “What if your old life is no longer in stock?” 

Zenn’s quote struck me as appropriate for considering what’s next for us in the “virus economy” (a term I heard from HR podcaster Laurie Ruettimann). What happens when we emerge from this great disruption, and our old lives — what we had way back in January — are no longer “in stock,” like disappearing roles of TP from grocers’ shelves? What do we do instead? 

The Virus Economy

In a recent article in The Atlantic, science journalist, Ed Yong wrote, “This isn’t about the next couple of weeks…This is about the next two years.” He quoted public health expert Devi Sridhar: “Everyone wants to know when this will end. That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue.”

What are the signs that we won’t return to the normal we knew in January? We know that most kids aren’t going back to their classrooms for the remainder of the school year. Working parents will need to be home to supervise remote schooling. Employers will need to continue to accommodate remote working parents. College students are uncertain if they’ll be on campus in September.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives. When the “all clear” sounds, it won’t sound the same for everyone. The great disruption will still be felt as we move to a virus economy.


For the past month, I’ve been exploring how the disruption we find ourselves in relates to the jobs we do, and to our careers in general. Disruption occurs when normal activities or processes are interrupted. Sometimes, that interruption can lead to innovation.

Embracing disruption can advance your career and bring you significant success; sometimes 6x from your current status.

Personal disruption expert Whitney Johnson notes that disruptive innovation often occurs when “we play where others aren’t playing.” What are the opportunities that others are missing? How can you frame solutions and actions that move those opportunities forward? She suggests four questions to guide your efforts:

  1. Am I taking the right kind of risk?
  2. Am I playing to my strengths?
  3. Is it hard, but not debilitating?
  4. Am I gaining momentum?

Odyssey Planning

Often there’s not just one perfect solution to the challenges we face. 

Odyssey Plans sketch out three alternate versions of goals and objectives. They consider an extension of your current situation or the execution of a good idea that deserves attention. They assess actions to take if your current situation was no longer available. And they examine how to pull off the ultimate pivot — what you would do if you didn’t care what others thought. 

Odyssey Plans are fluid. They involve testing your ideas, modifying them, and moving forward; and doing so repeatedly. 

And Your Life?

So, how does this affect you? How can you prevent your job, your career, from being adversely affected in the virus economy? What can you do to be prepared for whatever happens in the virus economy? 

The trick is you can’t have a foolproof plan. There’s no one solution that will ensure that your current life/career stays “in stock.” You need to have contingencies ready that can be applied to the situation at hand. 

Having said that, there are preparations you can take now: Understand your strengths; know your Leadership Narrative — the story of your unique value. Make sure that narrative is included in your professional marketing collateral — your resume and LinkedIn profile. And begin looking at opportunities that others may not yet see. How can you disrupt processes to position yourself to take advantage of those opportunities?

In his Atlantic article, Yong quotes Stephen Kissler, a Harvard infectious-disease modeler “We thirst for a swift and decisive ‘victory’…we [need to] learn to make greater peace with the world’s chaos…”

We need to do the same with our careers.


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Image copyright : Suthee Navakul