Coming to terms with our pandemic selves versus our real selves

pandemic selves

Take a spin through these snippets I’ve picked up from recent pandemic-era news:

  • A woman said she will only date a person if he stands six feet away from her.
  • A friend recently took a day trip to a nearby city and left after a short time because it felt like there were too many people on the streets.
  • There have been multiple accounts of people getting into fistfights over a refusal to wear protective masks.
  • There is a huge surge in eloping (would you call that elopetations?). People are dropping the idea of a dream wedding for an Instagram-ready “I do.” This is creating ripples of resentment in some families who dreamed of sharing this memory.

Certainly there is a spectrum of responses to the real fear and anxiety of living at a time of crisis. In fact, as I write these words in America’s autumn of 2020, we are in a period of deepening crisis.

Something I’ve been thinking about — during this unprecedented time, temporary alter-egos are emerging. A subtle but important idea.

For example, a woman would not normally insist on standing six feet away from a date. That would make her appear like an extreme germophobe. But that behavior now is an understandable response under these current conditions — and that does not necessarily make her a germophobe. We need to suspend judgments about people when they are flexing into these seemingly strange pandemic-generated alter egos.

Our pandemic selves

I see this playing out in a million possible ways. Some of these behaviors seem rational, some may appear extreme, but it doesn’t necessarily define that person in the context of “normal society.” I think whether we are thinking about our customers or even conditions in our own family, we need to consider that there are pandemic selves and our real selves.

Right now, we should be careful to not overreact to pandemic selves, especially when it impacts important long-term relationships.

Long-term implications

Of course, the pandemic can simply amplify behaviors that were already there. But I think there is something more than that going on here. Living with months of unrelenting fear is re-wiring us.

Here is where life for marketers gets interesting … what happens when this goes on for so long that our pandemic selves may become, or at least influence, our real selves in the long-term?

It takes about 21 days for a behavior to become a habit and for many of us, the strain of lockdowns, fear of a deadly illness, and isolation from friends has lasted far longer than that.

If we have a “persona” in mind that represents our normal, ideal customer, will that be relevant six months from now? Is it relevant now?

Recognizing our pandemic selves

As I look deeply and honestly at my own life, I see evidence of my newly-minted pandemic self.

  • Having survived the coronavirus, I have a more present view of mortality. I’m more cautious.
  • I’m more preoccupied with lost vacation dreams, reviewing long-term finances, and cabin fever. At this point, I would pay somebody to be back on stage in front of a live audience!
  • In some of my human interactions, I am more tolerant, in some cases, I am more irritable.
  • My work habits have changed dramatically.
  • I have more time to read, a lost love.
  • I want to be a supportive friend but I am mentally wearing down from the endless stories of suffering I hear each day.

No question, part of my pandemic self will endure and transcend the crisis, for better or for worse.

I think the implications of these real alter-egos are worth thinking about for every person and certainly for every business owner. It will define sales and marketing strategy for the next 10 years.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions and COO for B Squared Media. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy picryl.com

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