For many, the pain of the COVID-19 pandemic and upheavals remains.

Psychiatrist Scott Peck’s 1978 pathbreaking bestseller “The Road Less Traveled” offers insight into what’s happening now, including some comfort. He starts this way: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth. One of the greatest truths.” But, he continues, “once we truly see this truth, we transcend it…then life is no longer difficult.”

None would argue that COVID-related deaths, employment shutdowns and closed schools were good for humankind. But many of us, upon reflecting on how we adjusted to the situation, might see the positives in post-COVID life.

First, consider where people live and how that changed. During the peak of the pandemic, July 2020 to July 2021, large office shutdowns in major cities brought an abrupt change in commuting habits and preferred home addresses. Many fast-growing locations lost their luster. Major growth occurred in suburban and smaller urban areas where, it seems, people preferred to live. With many workplaces shuttered, life became difficult, as Peck put it, and necessity entered the picture.

People adjusted. Work from home exploded. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that telework accounted for 50 percent of paid work hours during 2020 versus 5 percent pre-pandemic. According to the Census Bureau, in 2019, less than 6 percent of working Americans were employed at their homes. Two years later, the share was 17.9 percent, an increase of nearly 19 million workers. Interestingly, higher-paid workers showed a larger increase in the shift to telework.

Now, many employers are mandating a return to the office, often for three days per week. Some call it “dinosaur management thinking” and others call it an effort to rebuild the positive aspects of at-work interactions. It’s being resisted by people who’ve adjusted well to a new lifestyle and discovered that it doesn’t require the difficulties, time and costs of a commute (or who simply prefer a world without the words “Sorry, I have to get to work.”). Whatever the outcome of this tension, the previous definition of work — one created in an industrial era — has changed.

But that was just one of the big post-COVID responses. Another was an explosion in new business start-ups. In 2019, there were 300,000 new businesses started each month in America. In July 2020, the count jumped to 545,000, then settled to a plateau hovering around 430,000 monthly, where it remains. Retailing is the largest new business category, followed by professional and business services and construction.

By comparison, since June 2021, 300,000 jobs have been added to the economy monthly, yielding 3.6 million annually. This relates to the 5 million businesses started yearly, each with at least one person associated with it. In some cases, the same individual is being counted on both lists. Some sought and found a traditional payroll job and started a new home-based business, too.

The upshot in an extraordinarily tight labor market is this: A larger part of the competition for businesses to attract workers now comes from workers themselves. Millions of Americans have gained enough of an understanding of what self-employment requires, especially now that it involves more home-based businesses.

Let’s not trivialize the human toll of COVID. Let’s also welcome some of the ways in which the adaptation energized suburban and smaller-town life, redefined the world of work and ushered in an economy that is poised to be more dynamic.

Thinking back to Peck, life is no longer as difficult, but, as always, it’s challenging. We might even expect the new post-COVID world to include a new U.S. entrepreneurial age.