As New York City enters “Phase Two” of the governor’s New York Forward plan, many people are still curious about what the new normal is going to be like. How do we find our way back to normal when the road map is unclear? Like any other situation in life, we have our own choices to make — and in this scenario, it might be helpful to think in terms of the way forward rather than thinking of a way “back to normal.”

New Yorkers have overcome challenges ranging from the horrors of 9/11, to power outages in the midst of sweltering summer heat, to disruptions created by natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy or the occasional polar vortex. We know how to move forward in spite of, or perhaps because of, adversity. And we, as a community and as individuals, can do the same in response to COVID-19. The question is, how?

It’s not easy when we challenge ourselves to step out of our comfort zone. The word “comfort” itself contains the Latin root fortis, or strong — an indication that the notion of comfort ties in closely with where we feel strength. Stepping away from the mental fortress of your comfort zone may lead to feelings of insecurity, defenselessness, fear or even panic. Acknowledging this as natural, and choosing how you label, sit with, and work through those emotions, is the way we grow.

When we try new things, it’s in our nature to have some trepidation; but when we become more familiar with the process of trying, evaluating, and continuing, we are able to face this uncertainty with less exhaustion and more optimism. So as you begin to test your new normal, I want to encourage you to approach these experiences with a beginner’s mindset. The beginner’s mindset requires curiosity over judgment, and holds back on making assumptions. When we approach “normal tasks” like sharing public spaces, venturing into stores, or picking up take out from a local business, people are going to have a wide variety of responses. Be patient with yourself, practice compassion and recognition of the progress you are making, and work to extend that grace to others who may be at a different stage of their own journey. Remember that you can only control your own choices and behaviors, and acknowledge that everyone you meet is also working to define their way forward. We hope you will continue to stay safe and healthy!