“Huh? I have no idea what you mean,” I replied when my wife shared that ‘our feet had spread.’

“During the pandemic,” she said. “Turns out that people the world ‘round are having a hard time fitting into their work shoes after 18 months of barefoot and slippers.”

“Huh. Fascinating.”

It’s all part of the new normal, I guess.

As we find ourselves emerging from the pandemic, things still aren’t feeling normal. Our shoes don’t fit. For my daughter, it’s realizing the classroom no longer fits; she strongly prefers online school rather than classroom learning. For me, it’s been so long since I’ve stood on stage and delivered a traditional keynote address, I can’t even remember some of the jokes and stories that came so naturally to me in the moment — and many of the ones I do remember don’t apply any longer. Industries are changing; people want different things from their restaurants, providers and government. Teams have gotten out of the habit of relationship; for many of them, proximity is uncomfortable. And the list goes on. In so many ways we have “spread,” and the old ways no longer fit, or no longer work. 

What to do?

Well, in some cases we go back to the start. We remind ourselves why we do what we do, what we value, how we intended to impact the world or our market. But in most cases, I’m finding that it’s time for new shoes.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. wrote: “Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.” Our feet have spread, but so have our minds, emotions, personalities. Many of us are struggling for the very reason that we can’t go back and we can’t see the future — and that scares us. Or, at least confuses us.

So how do we lead ourselves and others through this?

Well, step number one is simple: Don’t go back. Go shopping (figuratively, not literally). What kind of shoes do you want? What’s your new size? Recognize and own that things have changed, and remove all judgements that tend to accompany those thoughts. It’s neither good nor bad. Your feet have been growing (i.e. things have been changing) since the day you were born. It should really come as no surprise that things have changed yet again.

So instead of trying to go back, try instead to understand the value. What are you most lamenting, longing for, wish was the same? Those questions are a great place to start — as long as you ask the next deeper question as well:  Why do you wish for, lament, and long for those things? What about them brings you value, joy, comfort, _________? When we understand the value and the return on that investment, whether it literally be shoes or a job, or an environment, we are way more likely to find the next iteration. Because in asking that question, we can also ask the inverse. What did we not like, what won’t we miss, what are we glad to have gone? This is how we can find new AND better.

It’s not enough to just want what we want; we must also understand why we want it. Life is virtually never about holding on to the past, but it is about holding on to the value of the past. Though I made both my girls promise to never grow up, they still did. We couldn’t stop it if we tried. I miss their younger years, but then again, there are aspects I am SO happy they’ve outgrown (as I’m as I’m sure my fellow parents can relate!). And if they’d stayed the same, I would never have had the experiences of their aging. When we hold too tightly to the same, we miss the evolution. The pandemic gives us an opportunity to evolve, to realize our feet have been spreading all along, we just hadn’t noticed. And now that we have, we can either fight it, or build on the learning.

I for one, am looking forward to the new shoes. I can’t wait to see what they’re like.