I would never say that the current pandemic is a blessing in disguise. It is a painful scourge that has caused pain to many and has dramatically changed our lives. But I would call it an opportunity, if we are bold enough to seize it. An opportunity to reflect on what is important and perhaps change the direction that we are taking individually and as a nation. In that way, it is reminiscent of a personal health scare that I had some five years ago. This event, while extremely negative and scary at the time, changed my life for the better.
Six years ago, I was on a downward trajectory. The bottom hit in 2014 when I was out of shape (350+ pounds), stressed and overworked. I was in Kansas on a work project and I was trying to keep up with one of my colleagues who had offered me a lift to the hotel. I was trying to keep pace with him as we climbed the stairs. On the third flight as we approached the car, I could not catch my breath in the brisk air. It took more than 5 minutes of deep breathing to get it under control. My chest was constricted and heart beating out of control. In that way it had some of the symptoms of the current virus.
Something had to change! Left to my own devices, I would have done what I always done – driven on. But this was something scary and new. The Iron Man’s armor was beginning to rust, and I had to reassess my habits. In this case, one of the habits I had to change was eating junk food. A sugar junkie I used to literally drink Peanut M&M’s as I drove through another 14-hour workdays.
This scare made me make abrupt changes to some of my habits, but not all. Instead of eating junk food such as M&Ms, I switched to apples. Instead of sitting in a chair for 14 hours, I got up and took a walk. Slowly over a year and a half I took off a 150+ pounds and got healthy. But I still retained some bad habits.
That is where the current pandemic comes in. It is a similar shock to the system. But instead of getting rid of junk food, it has forced me (as I suppose some of you) to reassess and replace junk values with real ones. Chiefly these three:
1. Reassessing Work-Life Balance. I am not sure I ever practiced work-life balance. I was more Work first then life; but the current situation changed that. Work can disappear in a second. If you pour yourself into work only, you lose your identity. And then what do you have when work goes away? Fortunately, that has not happened to me yet. But the situation has caused me to reflect and rebalance. I focus now on life first. That has also rippled into my reactions with others. I used to focus exclusively on work in discussions. But with everyone working from home, it has made me more tolerant and even appreciative of the lives of others seeping into work. Just the other day I had the joy of seeing a colleague’s child sing “Baby Shark”. My kids are all adult and with no grandchildren to date it was fun (although you younger parents must think I am nuts!)
2. Slowing down instead of speeding up. I used to change gears at the moment’s notice. With no restrictions, I would get in a car or plane to meet a friend, take in a movie or fly to a client site. The need to social distance and shelter at home has slowed everything down and took away our freedom of movement. But if you think about it, maybe we were too frantic in the first place. We now have more time to plot our next move and to think reflectively.
3. Appreciating the human touch. I am not one for crowds. Truth be told I am a bit of a curmudgeon. But with the inability to see people real time, I now have a longing to be back with friends and family. I cannot wait to be back in the office and see my colleagues at work or sit with my Weight Watchers group in the studio again. Virtual Zoom meetings can help replace some of the interaction, but it cannot fully satisfy the human longing to be with each other. Springsteen says it best that when facing a world with too few answers:
“You might need somethin’ to hold on to
When all the answers they don’t amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to
And a little of that human touch”
– Bruce Springsteen “Human Touch”
I would like to close with one a verse of my favorite Irish song. Although I could not sing it with others on St. Patty’s Day, I am hoping the shock of Covid-19, like a thunderstorm in April, can lead to a flowering of new life in May. And we can again shake hands …