Observations from a Millennial who lived through 9/11, the 2008 economic recession followed by a global pandemic in 2020.
I started writing this post in 2020 as a way to cope and process what was going on during the COVID-19 outbreak. I updated it in late 2021 and all I can say is I’m really glad we stopped panic buying toilet paper. We will continue to get through this.
Here’s the thing…
It was one crazy ride. I don’t think anyone expected half of what happened in 2020. In a small way, I wanted to reflect on how I’ve personally tried to move through and forward from some of the major black swan events that have occurred in my lifetime.
In each circumstance, I try to focus less on returning life to normal and more on adapting to the new normal.
The first two significant events in my lifetime which I have experienced were the September 11 attacks. At the time, I was a junior in in high school in Southern California. The second is the Great Recession of 2008. I was just entering the workforce then.
In many ways, though, the global pandemic is very much its own event. It’s unique in that it has caused what some are calling the “great pause” due to the shelter in place orders that occurred nationwide. It has also fundamentally changed the nature and acceptance of remote work as well as shed light on the pay and conditions of essential workers.
On the morning that a plane struck the World Trade tower, it was a school day. I watched the television in disbelief nearly thinking it was some kind of publicity stunt for a film. Looking back, I almost can’t believe we went to school that day. I remember much of it was spent basically in lock down watching updates on the news and trying to determine if those we knew were in that area were safe. I remember asking my parents if there was a building or target in the Los Angeles area that could be targeted; not likely since the city itself is so spread out. Thank goodness for that, I think.
Some of the fundamental shifts I remember about life after the September 11, 2001 attacks was that it changed airport security and the way many Americans traveled abroad. In the days following the attacks on the World Trade Center towers, I remember seeing no airplanes in the sky. Zero. In fact, on the rare occasion I did spot a plane in the sky in the days following, I immediately became concerned and fearful of its flightpath. As the general public was able to get back into traveling on commercial airlines, there were announcements over the loudspeaker reminding the public to not leave luggage unattended or to accept packages from strangers, and above all: “if you see something, say something.”
I remember boarding a plane and while making my way to my seat, basically racially profiling each passenger because there was a certain profile we were told to be on the lookout for. More than that, it was a reminder that you couldn’t just put on your headphones and tune out while you were in public or that when a confrontation is happening it’s someone else’s problem. Being in a crowd meant the need to be vigilant because there could be someone with a completely different agenda, potentially one of malicious intent.
There was concern that things that represented symbols of America were a potential target. Large crowds like festivals and concerts became a potential for bomb threats (sadly, the Boston marathon). Within two months of 9/11, groups of athletic teams representing the United States were banned from traveling internationally.
I remember TSA got a lot more strict after 9/11 because authorities were looking for explosive devices. there were no “TSA Pre check” lanes. Everyone and every thing in your backpack or purse went through a metal detector. You had to be at the airport up to two hours earlier than your flight to budget for security lines because everyone had to take off belts, shoes, coats, cell phones, keys, wallets, jewelry and place laptops and electronic devices in plastic tubs.
Separately, a different kind of black sawn event occurred in September of 2008 when the stock market crashed. I was in my mid twenties and had no business or money buying a home but it certainly impacted my ability to land my first job out of college because everything slowed down. In a way, it felt similar to the economic recession we experienced as the economy slowed down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 16 million people applied for unemployment and daily life was forced to come to a halt in an effort to “#FlattenTheCurve.”
Out of this, two lessons come to mind:
- Always be saving money and investing in yourself; you never know what job you’ll need to be able to do in a recession or skill set that will allow you to temporarily ride one out.
- You have a right to your own body and what you do to it and put in it but when the broader issue impacting human beings is a global pandemic the right thing to do is to get vaccinated.
Life eventually evolves into a new normal. For many Millennials (myself included), it’s one of continued adaptation.
It will be the same for the months in 2020 after the shelter in place is lifted. I’m writing this now from the Bay Area in California where it’s Day 28. There will be waves of life recalibrating to a new normal (I sincerely hope it starts with toilet paper and hand sanitizer being in stock at the stores).
As someone who looks at marketing demographics and trends as part of her profession, I understand that there are geographic idiosyncrasies that will occur. Every person on the planet has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That fact alone means every corner of the world will move forward in its own way in its own time.
On the bright side, nature has had a chance to heal and enjoy the world without the impact of humans and our subsequent pollution. I even think the hole in the ozone is improving. Pollution and traffic have been drastically reduced which has helped the environment.
Bringing it back, my hope is that the recalibration after this Great Pause we’ve all gotten to experience means we’ll hug each other a little longer. We’ll find ways to continue to work on ourselves to become better communicators especially with those we love. We’ve all been stuck inside with family (or a new boy/girlfriend?!) for longer than any stay-cation should last.
I hope we’ll finally realize that we really do need to sanitize common areas like planes, trains and busses. The flu season cycles in each year and the Coronavirus has been the most deadly virus of all. Hopefully this is the jolt needed to put systems in place that proactively protect our physical health as well as the mental health of those around us. Pro tip: Just don’t ever stop washing your hands or covering your mouth in public when you sneeze.
And also: wow, teachers and educators need to be paid more. People on the front lines deserve at least 3 months of PTO after this. I don’t know how to make that happen but…vote for me for President and we’ll figure it out 😉
I always thought being able to eat out 1-2 times a week was a small luxury, and after living through this global pandemic it really drives home the point about food, earning a living wage and benefits. I thought I tipped well but now I’m going to to tip really well because the restaurant industry is still hurting and evolving.
Closing thoughts: earth is our home. Your human body is also your home. We only get one of each so let’s do a better job taking care of ourselves and our planet.