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By Jessica Chertow, Ph.D. (EMBA 2023)

One year ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shifted to maximum telework in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Major shifts across the institution were occurring and employees had to reinvent their jobs and adapt to an entirely new virtual setting. Many of us were not only managing a new way of work but were also figuring out how to balance life outside of work with children at home in virtual learning and caring for loved ones near and far.

This month, schools are returning to in-person learning in our area. When I asked my eight-year-old son if he would like to go back to school, he said he was scared of the virus and didn’t feel comfortable returning just yet. So, at this point, I thought it was a good time to reflect on what this year has been like serving in a leadership role in my organization while also balancing the needs of my two young children at home, as we faced a very uncertain year together.

Life during COVID-19

My 6th grade daughter has figured out she can get my attention by standing right outside my door because I can see her head peek in the Zoom meeting I am in — as can all the other meeting participants!

The balancing act we all do, while already a delicate dance before the pandemic, was tried and tested over and over again this past year. For me, there were moments when my strength and my resilience were being called upon more than ever and, as a working professional, taking on an Executive MBA at Kellogg and still trying to take care of my family, the juggling act was getting harder and harder by the moment. Most days could be described as a flurry of back-to-back Zoom meetings, with sounds of my daughter down the hall singing John Denver’s chorus, ”Country roads, take me home, to the place, I belong! West Virginia, mountain mama… “ — with my dog barking at the mailman. Days would run into each other. Those were the lighter times. The darker times were filled with severe Zoom exhaustion, not feeling like I want to go to work anymore, and times when I turned to my husband and simply said, “I’m not sure I can do this for much longer.”

Looking forward

In light of the staggering death toll, suffering and economic loss the world is facing, my experiences pale in comparison. My family members are healthy, I have a job and we have a home. However, it has been a struggle nonetheless. As a leader in my organization, I will work to shed light on the challenges both women and men have faced and are still facing during this pandemic and begin to openly talk about it. Over the next few years, we will no doubt be processing the effects of the pandemic and what it meant to be a prisoner in our own homes for an entire year. As we pivot toward figuring out what it might mean to go back, I plan on using my seat at the table of leadership to ensure we are taking care of people through these different stages and realizing caregiving continues even after the Zoom meeting ends.