Situation: not normal
A couple of days ago I woke up to an email form Rob Hale entitled, aptly, “Situation: Not Normal”.
My first thought was: you can say that again, buddy.
My second thought, half a second later, was: wait, is he talking about me?
My next and most disturbing thought was: but was our normal ever bloody viable?
He doesn’t know what I am about to do with it, but I have his blessing to use this in this week’s #LedaWrites, so here it goes.
Situation not normal: you can say that again, buddy
COVID-19 can go and do one. Seriously.
So many deaths.
Families torn asunder.
Lives cut short.
Lives put on hold.
The economy slowly crumbling.
Livelihoods put at risk.
Dreams shattered before they ever had a chance.
Children who haven’t seen one parent for weeks. Parents who don’t know when they will see their children again – small and confused, adult and residing abroad, the pain is different by no less. Exhausted nurses, inadequately protected. Postmen taking on immense risks every day.
Banks struggling to update interest rates and payment schedules in ways that don’t sound credible unless you know how to spell COBOL-20, because it is the year of our lord 2020 and yet.
New problems. Immense urgency.
An unknowable denouement in both duration and effect.
We don’t know what gives.
We don’t know what will still be standing.
We don’t know how long to hold our breath for.
In the words of the philosopher Bart Simpson, “this sucks and blows at the same time”.
He can say that again, too.
Situation not normal.
We are scared, we are scrambling, we are stumbling.
Isn’t wanting a future the reason why you act like one is going to happen and therefore prepare for it?
That was Rob’s point and although I am paraphrasing, I am not bringing anything to the clarity of vision. This sucks. When it ends, what’s the plan?
Or more aptly: what’s the plan for when it ends?
Because if we act today like all that matters is today, are we not robbing ourselves doubly, both coming and going: robbing ourselves of the opportunity to prepare for the future ahead and robbing ourselves of the comfort of believing in one?
So Rob was doubly right.
Our situation is not normal. Because this is out of the ordinary in every way. But also because our reaction to it is not entirely normal. We have – at the personal, societal, corporate and national level – thrown ourselves at the challenge with cinematic abandon. We need to survive. The rest will follow.
We need to survive. True enough. The dead don’t have a future.
But surviving alone, does not a life make.
So when this ends, and it will, what are we shooting and rooting and praying and striving for?
“Back to normal” ain’t an option. Depending on how long this goes on for, there may be no going back. Society, industry and the economy will be transformed beyond all recognition. So what option do we have… if we can’t go back and we don’t know what the options for going forward are?
Situation not normal… Wait, is he talking about me?
I mean. I am not normal. Normal is a statistical expression of averageness. No judgement there but I know I am not: statistically average.
My sister bought me a t-shirt years ago that says “Up Close, Nobody Is Normal”. She put in a fridge magnet that said “you weirdo” in the parcel just for good measure.
I am joking. And I am not.
I have the t-shirt. I have the fridge magnet. I am here, defiantly not normal. Not normal is what I am as well as what i do. By virtue of my personality and my upbringing, my options and my preferences, not normal is what I am and what I go for.
So I always defend the dictionary definition of the word normal. Because we often use it to mean acceptable, natural, good.
I say sod that.
Normal means “conforming to a standard. Usual. Typical or expected”. Look it up. I will wait.
I am not.
Conforming to a standard.
And right now life isn’t either.
So let me tell you what someone who thrives in “not normal” thinks right now… it hurts. And it’s hard. But this is the back foot opportunity to pirouette that we talked about in the work life imbalance piece not so long ago. Not normal is when those who habitually tend to conform to a stand and be usual, typical and expected get to say… wait, if all I know was in disarray and I had to choose… what would I actually go for?
Situation not normal… But… Was our normal ever bloody viable?
Banking evolved over a century and a half of opportunism, inertia, profitability, opportunity, monumental fuckups, spectacular comebacks, immense creativity and accumulating bureaucracy.
The resulting Frankenstein is… normal.
Despite the implausibility of it all.
Despite the sheer weirdness of trading in futures and considering options and swaps viable instruments and not the fabrications of a petulant child who wants to have their cake and eat it and have it again later… despite the fact that, somehow, we have managed to train our people and our customers to believe that putting process over humans and profit over purpose ‘is the way of the world’, despite how not normal all this should be… banking as we know it is usual, typical and expected.
Even to the eyes of those most brutalised by it.
It is usual, typical and expected by customers, employees, winners, losers, experts and wide-eyed pensioners.
It is normal.
But that doesn’t make it good. Or sustainable.
So enter left COVID-19.
And everything that was usual, typical and expected in everyday life became dangerous. We can’t talk to our neighbours. A kiss is a lethal weapon. We are locked in our homes. People are dying in their thousands. “Normal” is a currency not worth its salt right now.
And although Rob was not talking about me (I don’t think… ) he could have. I am a case of “situation never normal”. I don’t do normal. Normal doesn’t do Leda. We have an understanding.
So here’s my only bit of advice for dealing with “not normal”.
You have two choices.
Cower and hope things “go back” to mundane predictability where you can feel safe in the shelter of the tropes that keep you from having to ever think or choose.
In a world where everything is topsy turvy and the only things we know are… 1) we don’t know whether things will ever go back to “normal” and 2) when the disruption will end…
Choose what you want “next” to look like.
Choose what you think good and right is.
Choose what you want to stand for.
Choose what you want normal to be.
This is the story being re-written before your very eyes. It is messy. It is painful. It is scary.
But that’s what “normal” breaking looks like.
Choose to act towards the next chapter. Choose to live each day of “not normal” as if more than survival is at stake. As if you believe that the future will happen. We don’t know when. But we know it will and we know that when it does it will be different. Not different in a wounded, sorry, broken way. But different in a life affirming, “we got here” way, cheering loudly for all the choices we actively made while things were not normal.
Different in a way that was intentional and deliberate.
Different in a way that captures everything we hope for, packed tightly into the space between what is usual, typical and expected and what should be.
About the author
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!