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Career Tips

Reemerging after COVID-19

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
July 9, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 25


A woman peers into an office hesitantly.
Credit: Yang H. Ku/C&EN/Shutterstock

In the spring of 2020, it felt as if every decision was life and death, and the rules changed daily. Over time, we learned more about COVID-19 and were able to adjust to minimize exposure. After a time, working from home, deliveries, and masks started to feel normal. But now the rules are changing again, so it’s time to readjust.

Some reactions are irreversible. Make sure you have realistic expectations. Some things have passed a tipping point and will never go back. People changed jobs, moved, or retired—maybe without being able to say goodbye. Some activities were halted and may never restart. Allow yourself to grieve for what has been lost, and then starting looking toward the future. Life wasn’t perfect before the pandemic and won’t be afterward, either.

Collect data. Read and understand policies as your company releases them, but also discuss with your coworkers and supervisor what the organization expects, prefers, and requires. For now, many companies are allowing people to decide for themselves when they feel comfortable coming back into the office, but eventually it may be required. You and your colleagues may disagree about what is safe and how soon (or if) you should all go back to the office. You can make your position clear while respecting the personal boundaries of those who are in different situations and have different comfort levels.

Reevaluate your priorities and values. Many people had to seriously reexamine their priorities over the last year, making hard choices about what was most important and what they would do without. It’s now time to do this again. For example, many people who stayed in their jobs for security during the pandemic may be ready to find a new position that will advance their professional goals or better support their personal values.

Use what you have learned. Use the lessons acquired during the pandemic to make this next round of changes for the better. If you were more effective when working from home, can you continue that, at least part time? Now that you have become a video conference expert, can you avoid some travel? The pandemic has made us all appreciate the value of personal connections, so can you use that knowledge to become more intentional about building relationships with fellow professionals?

Do it. Once you have decided what you want to do, make it happen. Start with baby steps out of your safe cocoon, but force yourself to take steps. Over time it will get easier, and you will realize what you want to do. As you add old favorite activities back into your routine, you may find that you don’t enjoy them anymore—or maybe that you missed them more than you realized. Be honest with yourself and moderate how you spend your time until you find a fulfilling mix.

Change is always hard—but it’s also the only way to grow. You are not going back to prepandemic, but are moving forward, to the next stage of your professional and personal life. If you are intentional and decisive, it could be the best stage yet.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to


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