University of Nebraska Medical Center

Let’s Not Rush into a “New Normal”

The following was a message from our dean, Kyle P. Meyer, PhD, MS, PT, FASAHP to members of the College, and it’s too good not to share. Thank you, Dr. Meyer.


If you’re like me, the only thing you are certain of these days is uncertainty. Every day we awaken to more dire news. Increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, new cities experiencing widespread community transmission, growing joblessness, and myriad economic concerns.

I’m sure you too have heard the advice that we need to “embrace a new normal” in these difficult times. I suppose the intent of such advice is a desire to restore a sense of certainty and routine. I agree that we all tend to do better with each, but after some contemplation, I have decided to resist the urge to pursue this advice. And here’s why…

At its core, I think the advice implies the state of “normal” is universal, and that arriving at a “new normal” is a linear process. I disagree with these assumptions. In fact, I am concerned that embracing the concept of a “new normal” risks minimizing the uniqueness and value of each of our individual journeys, and places undue pressure on us by implying “everyone else has this figured out but me.”

As an aside, I don’t actually think that “normal” ever exists. “Normal” is really an abstract state that results from aggregation. In other words, if we take each individual person’s unique set of circumstances, experiences and adaptations and “mush” them together we arrive at what we collectively agree to call “normal” (i.e. “average”). But our individual “normals” vary markedly.

The idea of a “new normal” implies we will collectively and ultimately arrive at some different (new) end state – the resumption of a shared, routine, “normal” existence, and that the sooner we “embrace” it, the sooner the crisis will be over. First, the current state is anything but normal. Like you, I am trying to adapt to it, live the best I can through it, perhaps even learn from it, but I am certainly not embracing it. As sure as I am that the current situation will eventually pass, I am equally certain that I have no idea what will be left in the wake of this pandemic. But I suspect it will be anything but the “normal” we once knew. I am certain the world will change forever as a result of the pandemic; I am just not sure that today, I could tell you how.

Hence, I am not going to try to embrace a new normal anytime soon. I can’t because I have no idea what it will be…and that’s OK. I urge you to give thought to the same. I don’t think there is a “right way” to go through a crisis. I encourage each of you to give yourself plenty of space – and I don’t just mean social distancing. Give yourself and others time, forbearance, and permission to take two steps forward and one-step back.

Personally, I am working on recalibrating my own thinking – about the CAHP, about my various roles – some related to work, many not. And I am thinking that it may be several months before we are through the most immediate part of this crisis and several more before we fully “recover.” I believe (or hope) that I will continue to adapt as the months go on. I’m not aiming to “arrive” anywhere. I am focusing on a slow, adaptive process in which I will learn more about myself and others, and during which I can learn to more simultaneously embrace joy and sorrow, success and failure, good days, and bad days. Daily, I am experiencing a wide range of emotions – anxiety, hope, sadness, joy… the list goes on. Honestly, sometimes I experience all these emotions in a given hour!

Amid so much uncertainty, we are all trying our best to do our jobs – albeit in different ways – and do them well. I am immensely impressed, encouraged, and grateful for the work each of you is doing. You have demonstrated dedication, innovation, resilience, and optimism. I know we will each grow individually, as well as collectively, as a result of going through this experience; we will persevere and adapt. And someday, we will return to a sense of predictable routine – we will arrive at a “new normal. I trust we will know when we get there. For now, let’s make sure to allow ample time and a variety of routes for the journey.

Be Well,

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