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Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

After reading the news it’s hard not to end up feeling worried and/or anxious. The headlines are designed to grab our attention and nothing does this more than negative stories about the state of the world as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. You’ll be pleased to read this post isn’t about doom and gloom. Instead, I’d like to reflect on the positives that have emerged during previous lockdowns and how, for many, the pandemic could be the best thing that has happened.

I should first start by clarifying my intention is not to make light of the pandemic or suffering that’s been far-reaching. Think of this as merely a reframing – looking at the same thing from a different perspective. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, wrote one of the most important and influential books of the 20th century, Man’s Search for Meaning. As a Holocaust survivor, imprisoned in Auschwitz, his book describes first-hand his daily encounters with human suffering. A key theme that emerges and one that started my own shift in perspectives is:

‘everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances…..’

This revelation compels us to acknowledge that we are ‘more’ in control of how we respond to a situation than we think. It helps us become a creator of opportunity instead of a victim of circumstance.

So, how can we apply this to what we’ve faced over the last few months? Let’s consider this from two perspectives:

Our personal lives

Community: It was one early morning when I heard a knock on the door. I tentatively opened it to find a cheery-looking lady standing there. She asked if there was anything we needed as she was popping to the shops and checking in with neighbours beforehand. This had never happened before, particularly in a built-up area where prior to lockdown, you would hardly speak with neighbours, let alone offer to do their shopping. The pandemic has brought us closer and reawakened a sense of collective community. Let’s see if this changes once we’re moving around more frequently.

Family or friends: There’s no doubt this has been a challenging time for those living on their own, but perhaps the point above will have helped alleviate that sense of isolation felt by many. For those who live with friends, family or have children, this has been a time when we actually get to see them. One person I spoke to recently commented, he’d never spent so much time with his kids – and was loving it. On a personal note, seeing my son grow and develop during the first year of his life has been a privilege and a joy I’ll always be immensely grateful for. This wouldn’t have been possible without the pandemic.

Hitting the brakes: We were initially forced to slow down, which would have felt counterproductive for many of us used to rushing around. Over time, we’ve become used to this and it now feels normal. Granted we don’t want to miss out on opportunities but, by slowing down, we allow ourselves to recharge. We have the opportunity to build in time to reflect on what’s important to us. This has resulted in many of us re-setting our priorities, both personally and professionally.

Our professional lives

You’re no longer a ‘job title’: We have witnessed a blending of personal and professional boundaries as our work has infiltrated our home lives. Whilst many will argue this is a negative consequence of lockdown, progressive leaders will have capitalised on this by getting to know the person behind the job title. By sharing our vulnerabilities more openly, we’ve shown that we are simply human – and that’s a great thing. My hope is this will encourage us to be more authentic and close the gap between how we want to be and how we think others expect us to be. Oh, and it’s ok for your cat to walk across your keyboard.

Seeing in others’ homes: Who has ever wondered what a co-worker’s house is like? This intrigue is not isolated – many of us have been caught wondering the state of another’s home, based on the tidiness of their work desk. Virtual meetings satisfy our wonder – we can now look behind the person we’re speaking with and look at a version of their reality. If they use a virtual background, sorry, you’ll just have to keep guessing.

No/limited commute: Pre-lockdown, the average UK commute took just under 1-hour per day, and regionally this varied: in London, 81 minutes per day. Your preferred mode of commuting can also greatly increase this average. How are you spending that extra time each day? For some, it may be bolted onto an already long working day. For others, however, this time has been spent walking, running, reading a book, talking with friends or spending it with children. You have a choice of what you’ll do – what’s going to give you the greatest enjoyment?

When we’re faced with situations that challenge us, particularly as many face a long stretch of home working ahead of them, remember those words from Viktor Frankl. Whilst we don’t have control over many external factors, we have absolute control over how we react to them. 

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