Imagine this. You are among the best in what you do, you belong to the top of your industry and count among the finest in your profession, and you are sure you are way, way ahead in the game you have chosen to play in your life. You are unquestionably riding high in your business or may have just started a venture that’s growing at gratifying warp-speed. Or you are flawlessly on track climbing the corporate ladder and are up for a much-awaited promotion very soon.
In sum, you are having the time of your life, and you are sure that soon you’ll have the freedom and the means to do the many wonderful things you have long dreamed about—free to travel anytime you feel like it, free to move anywhere you want in the world.
And then came the Covid-19 pandemic.
Suddenly the world careened to a stop. You yourself have been brought to a total standstill—shocked, terrified, woefully unprepared. Staggered out of your wits, you find yourself totally inadequate to find a way out of the situation. You realize in great shock that there is no going back to the good old days, for your world as you knew it has gone from reassuringly good to excruciatingly bad, even malevolent.
The world at large has changed incredibly. And so has your own personal world.
Like most everybody else, you tried to look for a quick fix. But you fell short of finding it. The quarantine period that you thought would only last 15 days became a month, then two months, then three months, then dragged on through end-2020 until today. Almost a year now and still there’s no assurance when and how this crisis will end, so you gradually have reconciled yourself with the new reality. And that new reality is that things are vastly different now and you have to accept, adapt, and adjust to it just to survive.
You and I are fortunate that we are surviving the crisis, but definitely not without getting bruised all over.
Worldwide, as the International Labor Organization tells us, a jaw-dropping 1.6 billion people have been left without jobs as of May 2020. In the Philippines itself, 7.2 million employees and workers had been left jobless by April. The governments had to distribute food and money to people for them to survive. Thousands of businesses big or small had to be bailed out or had filed for bankruptcy. Some have even closed for good.
Schools locked down. Students and teachers found themselves in virtual classrooms. Parents became teachers. Teachers became learners. Churches closed their doors to the faithful and have even jumped into the commercial mode of live-streaming their religious rituals.
In an instant, your world and mine has been horribly transformed, and into what shape or form ultimately we still have no way of knowing.
Certainly, many communities in our midst and elsewhere in the world have been shattered. They were turned almost into rubble by the pandemic’s unthinkable destructiveness.
Such devastation, along with the overwhelming disappointment and frustration the pandemic has engendered, made us question ourselves and shook our entire being to its very core. It challenged us to revisit our character, our philosophy, our beliefs, our perspectives. It forced us to dig deep into the various aspects of our humanity—our biases, our preferences, our ideals, in fact everything that makes us what we are—and to do excruciating rain-checks on ourselves.
Some leaders turned to old leadership playbooks to see if there’s something in there to help them lead amid a crisis of this magnitude. Some of them simply moved forward and tried to figure what might work later. They, too, began doubting their ability to lead. They began asking themselves this hard, gut-wrenching question: How do I lead now?
As we struggled individually at home and professionally in our virtual workplaces, we also began questioning ourselves—our inner desires, our fondest passions, our strongest interests. We desperately wanted to know whether what we are doing still matters to the world that, at the moment, just needs only the barest minimum of safety, shelter, and sustenance.
We started making a big distinction between the so-called “essentials” and “non-essentials” as if only those in the essentials category will survive and that such a trend will last forever. We now know that it really isn’t true. For some who still don’t believe it, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll believe it to be so.
From the boardroom to our living room, from the meeting room to our bedroom, from the clerical table to our dining table, we wrestled with ourselves to adjust to the new reality of having to work remotely. We led and managed our people from a distance without knowing precisely what to expect. In our own case, we generally delivered. We got the job done. But is this going to be only for the moment and not for good?
Admittedly, all of us are in for a serious setback. But in my case, rather than look at the negative side, I tried to see through it using another lens. I saw something else.
In my February 20, 2020 column in The Manila Times, I wrote about what I saw:
After every setback is a comeback. I always believe in working more on what was left than what was lost and to find yourself again in times of losses and misses. Too many broken pieces scattered all over the place don’t make sense until you put them together to form a masterpiece.
Some masterpieces come from rubble and debris brought about by our painful past. A once messy story can become a remarkable testimony. The human spirit doesn’t totally break. It simply flexes. But it can be a very painful, ugly, and disorienting experience.
I was once rubble, a rough fragment of humanity myself—always on the go, always thinking, always trying to make sense of what happens around me by believing that logic made everything right.
Well, I now know that it doesn’t—not always. Logic takes away emotion from the equation. And who are we without our emotion? Logic may solve many problems but not all of them. Logic denies people from expressing who they are by presenting them with dead ends. It gives us an illusion of an ending that we fear; thus, it give us the same power to stop us from living our lives to the fullest.
I am a human being, capable of feeling something and acting on that feeling regardless of what logic tells me to the contrary.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s what makes me vulnerable to pain, frustration and disappointment. But the same makes me capable of expressing the human spirit—broken but thankfully not irreparable.
Quitting is almost an instant choice for people who are caught in difficult situations. It seems to be a justifiable escape plan. But something else is more important than quitting. That is finding your meaning.
While the year 2020 is regarded by some as a wasted year, I saw it as a year of uncommon opportunities. In retrospect, in fact, in 2020 we may have gained more insights about ourselves and about life itself (if not equally), than in any other year in history. The gain, though, is more personal than economic. And that’s good because it is people like us who make up and run our economy anyway. Thus, our personal transformation has a great influence on our nation’s economic recovery. We are therefore impelled to press a reset button that could revitalize and refresh our efforts towards recovery and long-term prosperity.
Now that we have a better of understanding of how to turn the low into high, pain into joy, defeat into triumph, perhaps we can say with some confidence that 2020 was definitely far from a wasted year.
True, this global crisis that’s still ongoing has brought us terrible discomfort, pain, disability, perhaps even deaths among our families and friends. But it has not brought to an end what we had come together to build. Our dream is alive and the game is still very much in play.
We actually have this choice: play the game and hopefully win, or else just watch from the bleacher and miss the opportunities being seized by the hardy players in the world’s greatest reset. I still believe that no crisis can ever kill our strong desire to survive and to rise from the ruins of the pandemic.
This is what is demanded of us humans. That’s why we are here in this world.
The still raging pandemic could delay our recovery process up to a certain level but it can’t deny us the path we are taking to get on with our lives and aspirations, the actions and engagements we want to pursue, and the people we want to take with us in our journey to recovery. In the end, we really would lose nothing. We simply would get transformed by the pandemic’s relentless disruption of our lives.