Pandemic Gifts in a World of Change
We have all been getting information on how difficult the pandemic can be. And it is. Without a doubt, these are challenging times for all of us dealing with quarantine, and with the lack of control and uncertainty that it brings. As we move forward in this new phase of human reality, we are getting great advice from thought leaders about how to reduce anxiety, help team members feel in control, lead in a crisis, manage ourselves and others, and work remotely. We are learning to deal with the new realities of social distancing and thinking about what our “new norm” will be.
As we move through the global grief change cycle of this pandemic and we hit the 6 week anniversary of when many of us in the U.S. had to “go virtual” (from March 16), I would like to offer a different view. I believe this pandemic may have beautiful gifts inside of it, rather than only the tragedy being described by news outlets. For those critics out there, I AM NOT saying the pandemic is good, nor that it is needed. What I AM saying is that with every great challenge there is also a great opportunity. It has been so for the entire length of human existence.
As we reflect on this event in human history down the road, we may see how we were given the opportunity to stretch and expand in our abilities to reach deep and show resilience. We may describe how it allowed us to rise above our fears, come together and truly make a difference in our world and lives for the long term. This event may even be seen as a pivotal point where we began to change the trajectory of our entire species in how we engage, how we live, and how we work. In supporting clients during this time, we have already seen many positive themes emerge.
Here are a few of the gifts and opportunities we are being offered right now and how they may change us for the better.
- We have to slow down
We are not allowed to live and work at the frantic pace that we have always kept. Quarantine and lockdown are forcing us to slow down, stay in one place and move deliberately to decide where to go or what to do. Research shows that slowing down not only reduces stress levels, but also allows us to be even more productive with the things that matter. We also make better decisions, increasing our efficiency overall. This is a great lesson to remember when “outside life” returns.
- We are forced to be present
In this current world, we must think about how we engage and how to keep 6’ of distance. We have to find new ways to reach out to others and communicate while also changing our work habits and schedules. We must pay attention to everything we touch, and then wash our hands after we go out for food and supplies (20 seconds!). We must even think about whether to go out at all because of the risk it may pose. This forces us to live in the moment and pay attention to what’s happening around us. We call it good hygiene; I call it making deliberate and conscious choices and being mindful. And the research is very strong about the impact mindfulness has on the brain and its long term benefits.
We are also having to think about OTHER people as well. Who are we infecting or not infecting because we don’t know if we are contagious? We must consider folks around us and whether we might be passing along germs that will create a health crisis for THEM (the elderly, the kids). It’s forcing us to live in the moment instead of thinking about all of our plans for next week or even thinking about our past. Being in the moment is about paying attention to now. Since now is the only real-time we truly have, this is a good thing.
- Opportunity for healthy habit changes
From a health perspective, the bad news is that exercise can be harder to get. I, for one, REALLY miss my yoga community. However, we are being forced to get outside in the sunshine when possible while also being somewhat limited in eating things like processed foods (or at least we think more about it). Traffic at McDonald’s, Burger King and other restaurants is drastically down as people worry about how food is being prepared everywhere. How many of us have now stopped picking up truly unhealthy and processed foods “on the go”? It’s forcing us to get real about nutrition and we are being given a chance to buy foods that are better choices because we now have time to cook them in our homes as we have nowhere else to be.
Bringing healthy and whole foods back into our lives and using this time to reduce sugar and processed food dependence will have long term impacts health-wise. If you are not convinced, take some time to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime documentaries about our gut microbes or the sugar and fast food industries. They are very eye-opening. Even pollution rates have dropped with a reduction in motor vehicles on the road, creating more health in our environment as a whole.
- Family time is returning
The pandemic is making us get closer again as families, and parents are re-engaging in the education and rearing of their children. In our previously fast-paced life, time may have been hard to find. We are now taking the opportunity to spend time that has been missed in our daily lives. Parents are understanding just how important and hardworking teachers truly are. I have heard from several people they now have a better understanding of their children’s learning styles and preferences. Hopefully, this forced crisis of homeschooling will help us realize the value in our underpaid and overworked teacher population and the role parents CAN play in the education of their children.
It also makes couples get real with themselves. In China we saw a rise in the divorce rate. This is a good opportunity to assess and work on relationship challenges in a proactive and deliberate way and come out the other side stronger than ever before as a couple and/or as an individual.
- Invitation to get personal and back to community
We have an amazing opportunity to get to know ourselves and each other better — not just on a frantic, work-based, project-based, 90 to nothing, daily life, doing stuff, superficial basis way. We can now stop and have conversations with colleagues and business partners on zoom with video and phone or in our homes with our families, spouses, friends, and kids — and with our communities as well. Getting a glimpse into someone’s personal life makes us all a bit more human. Great leaders are using this time for team bonding by adding personal touchpoints where home and work come together as part of their standing meeting agendas.
- Re-assess our priorities and business strategies
We get to spend time thinking about our priorities. Where is our energy and time scattered normally? What truly matters to us? What are our priorities? And from a business perspective, how are we going to come out on the other side of this? What is our “re-entry” point into the world when this is over? How will we change? What will be different for us as people, as employees and as organizations? How will we shift and live in a post-pandemic world?
The time to re-evaluate our personal and professional strategies is often a luxury, and now we have it.
This pandemic gives us a clean slate for our lives. Much of our “normal” has been stripped away. We have the opportunity to be very deliberate about what we add back as we emerge in the new world.
In many ways, the pandemic is very similar to 9/11/2001 in the U.S., but now on a more global level. If you recall from 9/11, what came out of it on the backside was love, community, collaboration and people coming together in ways we had not seen in recent history. What came out was a heightened sense of who we are and what truly matters to us. All the minutia dropped to the wayside. People left unfulfilling jobs and got back to family because we realized we were focused on the wrong things. Times like these help us to get clear on our priorities and the things that truly matter.
The Covid-19 event is going to be the time where we will see who is going to emerge stronger and brighter. Those who continue to freak out and panic will really struggle when we come out on the other side. Those who have taken this opportunity to go within, re-look at their personal and organizational strategies and priorities, support their communities, and used the time to re-build and strengthen families and teams will succeed.
They are also the ones who use this time wisely to grow and figure out how to pivot in this new world by asking themselves what is going to change forever, how can we change with it, and what does it mean for the future? Everyone will be impacted by this, no one is immune. Some will come out stronger and some will come out weaker, there is no going back and no middle ground.
Take advantage of the gift this isolation time offers! And settle in for personal and global growth! It will be inevitable. Be part of it!