When I first started at Madison back in January 2020, I could not even imagine what was to come in just a few months. I was already working diligently with the team when we heard the news about COVID-19 becoming a serious threat to the world.

Come March 13th, we all said our goodbyes at the office and began quarantining. We only expected it to be a few weeks, maybe a month, and here we are seven months later slowly easing back to the office – with increased safety measures, of course. Quarantine was especially challenging for me as I live alone in a one-bedroom apartment, only able to call or video chat with family and friends. Luckily, I was able to use technology to my advantage and felt connected to my colleagues, just as much as my family and friends.

At MEI, we utilize applications like Slack and Zoom to stay connected. It is remarkable how these various tools enable interaction with other people and have slowly become the norm. We humans are social creatures and we are really not meant to be isolated for so long! However, sometimes the most interesting hobbies can come out of living in isolation.

Puzzles were all the rage at the outset of COVID season and were a welcome distraction for adults and kids alike. I admittedly got my hands on a few puzzles, but honestly, they did not do much for my anxiety about the pandemic and the overall state of the world. I like organization and puzzles can be soothing, but once they are done, what do you do with them? Frame them? Admire them? Well, I frequently found myself completing a puzzle and then destroying it and putting it back in the box within a day. So, I had to find some other outlet to focus my attention outside of work.

One of my best friends invited me to a park one weekend for a socially-distant, mask-wearing hangout. Along with her came a fun activity known as ‘paint by numbers.’ She brought an extra for me and I immediately found it to be surprisingly relaxing. You must focus so intently on what you are doing, that it is almost impossible to think about anything else. It was very therapeutic.

Funny enough, I like organization as I mentioned before, so painting within the lines is something I was aiming to do. But alas, precision is quite difficult. Though, I was eventually able to conquer my fear of going outside the lines and just started enjoying the activity for its simplicity.

After visiting with my friend, I decided to buy my own paint-by-numbers. Of course, I picked a company that took a little over a month to ship the art activity to me, but it was worth the wait! I bought two sets, one for me and one for my mother (because she studied art in college and I knew she would enjoy it as well). Almost every weekend, I would spend a few hours painting my canvas and I realized it completely took my focus away from all the worries the world had to offer.

I highly recommend this activity to everyone! Once the canvas was finished, I enjoyed a real sense of accomplishment – more so than with the puzzles – because it was a picture I painted. Regardless of the lines and numbers on the canvas, I still painted it myself. Now I have my painting hanging above my desk at home and I can look up any time to see my work of art. It may not be 100% precise, but I can say I did my best and the painting will always serve as a friendly reminder of that.

Sometimes you need to do something outside the norm to discover new qualities about yourself that you maybe did not realize existed. I may think I am this super organized person amining for precision, but at the end of the day I know it’s okay to stray outside the lines every now and then (within reason), and I will probably be better for it. Life is all about instability and unpredictability, so it is good that I now know that I am able to relinquish some control and still get the job done.

Stay safe out there!