The outbreak of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, caught humanity with its pants down. The virus, causing the disease known as COVID-19, spread through the globe like wildfire, forcing us to change our behavior in ways we couldn’t have imagined. This text is my reflection on how the sudden increase of uncertainty caused by the virus compromised my ability to maintain focus in my daily work, what it taught me, and how I got my focus back. One simple question turned out the be especially powerful when navigating through tough times.
In January 2020, the new coronavirus meant very little to the most of us. Maybe we had heard about it in the news or seen some speculation, but it was hardly present in our daily lives. Now, three months later, the virus — a miniscule thing that can barely be said to be alive — has turned the world upside down. Life, as we know it, has changed dramatically we can only guess what’s coming next. Currently, we’re both fighting the crisis and bracing for impact at the same time.
Now, some time having passed, the situation isn’t as strange anymore as it was a while ago. The dominant feeling, however, is still confusion. We learn more about the virus every day, and thus the instructions we get keep updating. The changing information about the contagiousness of the virus and the ways to protect ourselves from it makes it tiring and frustrating to continuously having to reevaluate our own behavior.
For the most part, my own confusion is caused by the uncertainty of the future. There are quite a few big questions hanging right in front of me. Will my loved ones be alright? When will this situation normalize and what kind of effects does it have on our society? How does the global community recover from this? In essence: is this situation going to make us stronger or take us down?
In the middle of all this, I’ve tried to stay focused on my work and daily life. Many of the activities that formed the foundation of my weekly rhythms — and therefore my identity — are gone for the time being. Not too long ago, plans for the summer and the next fall seemed very straightforward. Now, for all I know, I might be strolling in the ruins of western civilization by October, scavenging resources like Max Rockatansky. And even if I really know that we’re not heading towards a post-apocalyptic dystopia, the sudden uncertainty has definitely challenged the assumptions on which I base my focus, motivation and sense of security.
The lesson learned
Finally, I decided it was time to get on top of the situation and start my personal crisis management. How could I minimize the damage and turn this crisis into something positive? I believe we all want to come out of this stronger. It’s important to notice that despite all that is happening, things are still pretty ok for many of us, and that gives us the chance to think ahead. This situation is revealing us something which I believe holds the key to relocating lost meaning. The fact that some of us can stay in the comfort of our own homes and carry on working is based on certain structures in our society and, most importantly, the hard work by people we may have taken for granted in the past. The significance of a functional healthcare system, everyday retail as well as the value of strong leadership have rarely been more evident to us than right now. People in the front line, who are often working behind the scenes, are willing to compromise their own safety and comfort because they believe in something greater than themselves. This faith in greater good is what we all need right now.
This is what I meant by the key to relocating lost meaning and focus. After I was reminded about the systems keeping me safe and warm, I was able to see more helpful ways to use my time. I may have to update some of my skills, but that’s just healthy. My way out of the confusion is to figure out what my community needs from me right now. This doesn’t have to mean volunteering in hospitals; considering my knowledge in medicine, I believe they’re better off without me. It means that I have to learn to become a cooperative part of the group. Getting this thing under control is in our shared interest, and I have to be ready to put some of my personal needs aside for a while. Living under restrictions is starting to take an emotional toll on me for sure, but it helps if I know how much it means to the people who are watching my back right now.
After minimizing the damage I do, I can then focus on the ways I can actually contribute. I need to figure out how I can use my skills and resources to help us deal with this outbreak. I believe it’s now important for all of us to take a look at our skills and capabilities and think how they could be harnessed for the battle against COVID-19. In addition to its vital functions, a sustainable society needs culture, social structures and technical expertise — and innovations in all these areas are more than welcome.
The one big question that entrepreneurial education is helping to answer is “what do I want to be and do.” A great amount of the motivation one needs to put up with the entrepreneur’s weary lifestyle stems from the freedom to follow one’s passion. This crisis will not take this freedom away. It may, however, change the subject of that passion. Things that seemed important in January may seem irrelevant right now and that’s ok. We have to take an analytic look at our personal situation in relation to society and potentially do some serious readjusting. That can be scary and difficult at times, which is why we need to turn to others for support. Instead of asking “what do I want”, one should ask “how can I help?” This is a powerful question, no matter whether it’s asked by world leaders or close friends. That’s where you can find the answer to lost focus and meaning.
Life after coronavirus
We have a long way ahead of us no matter what happens. In the near future, we have to solve a whole bunch of new problems and learn to deal with the damage caused by the outbreak. We have to adapt, which is, fortunately, something we humans are pretty good at. So, let’s adapt but let’s also take a moment to learn what this crisis can teach us. We have learned how fragile our consumer culture really is, and how too much optimization has led to vulnerability. On the other hand, we have learned a lot about human potential and our capability to innovate and change ourselves, when we’re out of options. Tons of hidden potential is discovered when times get critical. It’s not too early to think what it really means to come out of this stronger.
When this is over, we will “come back” to a different world and the question for you and me is this: What kind of a world do you want to come back to? For sure, there’s going to be a whole lot of finger-pointing and accusations in the aftermath, but I think the person we should be the most critical towards is ourselves. It’s times like these when we learn how individual actions can make a huge difference — for better or worse. Often, it’s very unpleasant to make sacrifices, especially when free riders weaken our moral foundation. They are unfortunately unavoidable and now we just need to be stronger than them. We have already shown how we can put aside our personal comfort for the greater good, and in the future more of that is expected from us. We are resilient and together we can survive this but while the whole society needs to adapt, we cannot expect others to do the process for us. We have to make that journey individually, but still, together.