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Transitioning to the New Normal

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

The spring of 2007 was very wet and rainy. Just into my second year at ICC, I crossed the Onion Creek bridge south of Dearing twice daily and on several occasions that spring I had to detour back into Coffeyville when the water rose above the roadbed. Then, on July 1, a 500-year flood caused extensive damage in Independence and many parts of southeast Kansas, but especially Coffeyville. The “Great Flood” wiped out scores of homes and businesses on the east side of town. One of entities destroyed, that actually turned out to be a good thing, was Coffeyville’s deplorable animal shelter. A growing group of us citizens had been trying to figure out how to replace it with something humane and in the blink of any eye it was gone. This created an emergent need for a temporary shelter to house not only animals displaced by the flooding, but also the routine stray animals that were roaming loose in the parts of town not flooded. I went AWOL (absent without leave) from ICC for about 6-weeks to help set up a temporary shelter. My boss, Jan Fischer, knew what I was doing and supported me fully. During that time, many lives were changed, and we wondered how we’d get back to normal. The Great Flood made its mark on both cities, but over time, things returned to a new normal and we moved on. Now for many of us, that recovery period is but a small part of our memory. 

In November of 2015, I had a hip replacement. At one point in recovery, I passed out and apparently there was trouble waking me up. I spent a night as the only patient in the ICU. You get wonderful service by the 24-hour ICU staff when you’re the only patient. At the time, the whole experience seemed like a huge disruption in life. Recovery went well, but for six weeks the life disruption continued. Now, the hip is fine, and those six weeks are but a blip in my memory. Life returned to normal. 

Now, we’ve all come through this dreadful pandemic, for many months wondering if the CDC was going to scare us into wearing masks for the rest of our lives. No doubt the pandemic has been devastating for many, many families around the globe with death and lingering health issues a concern for thousands if not millions. Many have wondered if we’d ever get back to “normal” and, if so, what that normal would be like. The effects of the pandemic will leave an indelible mark on individuals, families and businesses, but we will get back to normal. That’s the way we are made, to not only survive adversity but to figure out new ways to thrive. 

My wife, Susan, and I recently ventured out in our camper to Lake Thunderbird south of Oklahoma City. It was the first time using the camper since before the pandemic and, indeed, the first time both of us made any kind of fun trip together in two years. This was a few days after the CDC said the masks could come off. We actually went into a restaurant where employees and most customers were mask-less. Everywhere we saw traffic, working people, construction; life going on. It was surreal for us to realize that just a year ago, everything looked very different, much of it shut down. We could not have gone most of the places and done most of the things we did on this trip, but things have returned to a new normal. 

While in Oklahoma City, we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum commemorating the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. For those too young to remember, the Oklahoma City bombing was a domestic terrorist truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (OKC)on April 19, 1995. One hundred, sixty-eight people died and more than 680 were injured. The museum experience is a sobering and eerie reminder of the death and devastation that happened that day. Six years prior to 911, the OKC event made international news. The event brought a city, state and nation together. This horrific event left indelible scars on scores of people and their families yet those remaining endured and eventually, life returned to normal. 

The first life’s lesson in our entrepreneurial mindset training states that it is our choices not our circumstances that determine the outcome of our lives. Throughout millennia civilizations have chosen to shape the “new normal” even after unimaginable tragedy and adversity. That’s the innate resilience of the human race. Transitioning to a new normal, in the aftermath of the global pandemic is a choice we can all make. We can choose to return to much of what we had before the pandemic, as we transition to a new normal in our personal, academic, family and work lives. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at Archive columns and podcasts at 

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