This blog is the first part in a series that will explore the philosophical and human impact of change, growth, and purpose.
It’s very tempting to dismiss 2020 as the year in which everything went wrong; to draw a line under it and talk about it only in hindsight, as that terrible year when we couldn’t work, travel, or hold our loved ones. Simply to forget it. Before you compartmentalise and vanquish 2020 to the depths of your subconsciousness, ask yourself these four questions, which might help you move forward from a place of strength:
1. How can I actively participate in change?
2020 has forced a huge amount of change upon us, from big life-altering decisions, to minute ripples that may last for years to come. But let’s remember that change is inevitable: it is a fundamental reality of being human. It’s a grounding principle of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Everyone is going through change right now, but it’s how we deal with change that makes us exceptional. When we talk about the human spirit, we don’t talk about something that’s feeble, fleeting, or ethereal. We talk about grit, hope, and reconnection.
To tap into this spirit, we must not be passive agents in change, especially when it’s our livelihood and happiness at stake (or the livelihood and happiness of others). We must participate in what’s next: in what we can learn and how it helps us evolve.
2. What can I learn?
My biggest learning this year is not to take anything for granted, big or small. When watching Netflix now, I find it strange that characters aren’t wearing masks… because that’s life in 2020, right? In Hong Kong at least. When I leave my house, I have to double check constantly that I have everything that allows me to exist during a pandemic. The sudden panic that I may have forgotten my mask or hand sanitiser is sure to linger for a while.
There are bigger things that will take longer to overcome, as we mourn the old way of life. A connection with family and friends that Zoom simply fails to satisfy. Visiting my family in London or France; sunrise runs and philosophical chats with my twin sister in Australia. These seem so incredibly far away right now. When I enjoyed my last visit or last run, I had no idea it would be so long until the next.
I count myself lucky that I have those kinds of things to miss, but I also live with a nagging grief in the corner of my mind. A strange longing that jolts me from my thoughts at random points throughout the day. I miss them all, terribly, and I do not know when this will end. Worst of all, I am not in control of what will happen next.
What do you do with that kind of feeling? The peripheral grief. The simmering terror that things will never be the same again, and that you didn’t do enough when you had the chance. You ask yourself:
3. How can I evolve?
For me, this has been a time of reflection and evolution. Interrogating this feeling to see what it really is, putting a name on it and saying it out loud. Then working out how to live with it… and eventually how to remove it. Have I done enough for my friends and family? What will I change when things change? We talk about the ‘new normal’ in a work context, but do we really understand what it means for us as individuals, families, and communities? If grief has its way, the new normal will be filled with mistrust, uncertainty, and a lack of connection.
So, as an individual, family member, and part of a community, I promise to connect more with people whom I might not have connected with before, to invest more time and energy in the things around me, and be more present when the digital world tries to steal my attention. I have already taken big steps towards this, towards what might be possible. Some things have failed (which has led to more learnings) and some things have changed the way I live my life completely.
Perhaps most importantly, at the heart of everything that has happened, I promise to be authentic, to not be pulled in different directions when there are so many choices to make. I promise to remember or rediscover my purpose, which is more important in a crisis than ever before (and often the first thing we lose sight of). I promise to continue to try, learn, and grow. So, the final question:
4. What promise will you make to yourself and the world to ensure a better 2021?
I’ll leave that for you to answer.