Work/Life Effectiveness

Women & COVID-19: Design The Life You Want to Live

“Design the life you want to live.”

You see it on pillows, mugs, and social media so much that it’s become cliché, but what if you actually had the opportunity to do exactly that?

When I resigned from my six-figure Wall Street job in early February to focus on starting my own strategy consulting company specializing in the entertainment industry, “COVID-19” wasn’t in the general lexicon yet, and a world without concerts or theatrical releases was inconceivable.  Little did anyone know the world as we knew it would soon cease to exist.

My last day was scheduled for the end of March, serendipitously coinciding with Los Angeles’s stay-at-home order.  For the first time in nine years I was facing the second-most scary conceptan empty checking account being the scariest of my lifean empty calendar. Every time I opened it I felt like I was staring at a blank canvas waiting to pick up a brush.

Suddenly I was forced to ask myself three potentially life altering questions:

  • How do I define happiness?
  • If I had an unlimited amount of time to pursue that definition, what would I actually do?
  • When future generations ask me about COVID-19, what experiences do I want to share with them?

In answering those questions, I also had to come to terms with the never-ending to-do list in the back of my mind of things I always said I would do if only I had more free time.

The first few days were ambitious. I laid out a daily routine of wake up early, spend 30 minutes on Pilates, another 30 minutes on cardio while listening to an audiobook, complete an online class in a new skill, send at least one informational interview request, actually have the previously requested informational interviews, practice a new language, learn how to code and play guitar, and don’t forget to spend at least an hour before bed writing a future (hopefully) NYT best-selling book.

In between all of this, make sure the apartment is spotless, learn to cook as if I was a Michelin-rated chef, reorganize my already color-coordinated closet, achieve Zen through a new meditation practice, and complete all MBA class assignments at least three weeks in advance for no reason other than just ’cause.

After two weeks of Zoom-exhaustion, I came to terms with the fact that I had once again fallen into the trap, and safety, of living out society’s expectations rather my own definition of happiness.

Thankfully, somewhere along the way I was asked to write the business curriculum for a local music school.  It wasn’t initially in the ten-year plan, but in designing the lessons I finally took the time to just stop and reflect. Ultimately, it reminded me of all of the reasons why I originally fell in love with business and none of them had anything to do with how I arranged my closet.

Sometimes life unexpectedly sends you a reminder to take time to assess your definition of happiness, rather than constantly worrying about what’s next on the to-do list and that is perfectly okay.

Olivia McDonnell is a USC MBA Candidate, music lover, and connoisseur of life experiences.

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