Surviving or Thriving?

We have now been in lockdown for over a month.   “How am I doing?” First and foremost, I am grateful that I am healthy, and I am even more grateful that no one in my immediate family or close circle of friends has been afflicted with Covid-19.   But this plague became all too real when I learned that a former business partner had succumbed to the disease.  In a few short weeks, he went from a happy healthy man to the hospital, to being on a respirator in ICU, to passing.  Ugh.   This hit me like a stomach punch.  My colleague was successful in his career, happily married, and a father to young children.  He had no underlying conditions.  How can you make sense of that?   You can’t.  Don’t even try.

Why do bad things happen to good people?   Oh, that question.  There are books that try to answer that question.  (e.g., “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, by Harold S. Kushner). Religions try to provide answers.  I tried to answer that question when my 18-year old brother died in a fiery car accident in 1985.  I was consumed by this question most recently when I was preparing the eulogy for a dear friend who lost his year-long battle with lymphoma.  Google that question and you could be reading commentary and quotes all day.  These days, I tend be in the Stoic school of thought when it comes to such matters.  While I do very much enjoy a good philosophical debate, and I have experienced my share of bad things happening to good people, I think I will leave that alone today.  Let me just share this quote I picked up from my own Googling.

“Bad things happen to good people all the time. It sucks. It’s not fair but then much of life isn’t fair. It’s how you live that matters. It’s how you deal with the bumps in the road.”  Maya Banks, best-selling author of romance novels.  (No, I have not read any of her work.  But I observed that she has been prolific, pumping out dozens of romance novels since 2006.)

So, how are YOU doing?  How are YOU dealing with this really big bump in the road?  (I know, for many folks all over the world, it’s more like a sinkhole appeared out of nowhere.)  Have you seriously asked yourself these questions?  And then, have you spent some time actually writing down your answers?  If not, I recommend it as a useful exercise.  Here’s why.  Asking yourself good questions can help you with your state-of-mind.   You really can choose how you respond to circumstances not of your own making.  You can decide what you will do and how you want to feel during this time.  You are in control of determining how you want to feel.

As I shared way back when I was writing about my battle with throat cancer, I have been a voracious consumer of the writings and podcasts of inspirational leaders, personal coaches and speakers for many years.  Yes, I am a fan of the self-help genre.  And I love to learn about the life hacks, habits and practices of people who are successful, who live purposefully, and who challenge themselves and others to live life to the fullest.  (It sure beats the negative vibe of the 24/7 news cycle.)

I very much enjoy the podcasts hosted by Tim Ferriss.  Tim is a master at developing and posing questions that, if you think seriously about them, can positively impact your mindset and quality of life.   Recently, during a podcast with guest Ryan Holiday, during a discussion about living in a time of social distancing, shelter-in-place and outright quarantines, proffered this question: “How can you make the next 3-6 months the most enjoyable, most happy or most productive of your life?”  Or, if that is just a step too far for you, how about:  how can this be something you look back upon as a sacred time that you really treasure, not just a time where you survived.

Tim reflected on an interview of Nelson Mandela by world-famous life coach Tony Robbins. Tony asked him: “How did you survive all those years in prison?” Mandela replied: “I wasn’t surviving, I was preparing.”

Ask yourself good questions.  I personally like: “How can I most benefit during the next several months?  What is this an opportunity to do, that I would otherwise not have time to do?”

Are you preparing or are you surviving?  Are you a source of energy and goodwill?  Or are you complaining?  Have you found courage, or are you paralyzed by fear?   Fear and worry are not necessarily bad.  They are part of our internal wiring.  (Our ancestors survived, in part, because they feared there was a saber tooth tiger behind every tree.)  Instead of allowing fear and worry to consume you, let them motivate and inspire you.

I am reminded of the New Testament verse: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:27, New International Version

Maybe you do not have an inclination toward big changes or some significant personal achievement.  That is totally OK.  But surely there must be things that you have put off?  Are things that need to be done, but never made it to the top of your list?  I know that I and many of my friends have mundane or time-consuming things that otherwise would not get done.

As I write this, I am cognizant that many people are suffering.  I know that reality.  I know that for some, my words might seem unsympathetic or even harsh.  Please know, and you can be certain, that I am deeply empathic to the trials and tribulations many are facing. My heart goes out to you.  Context matters.  Timing matters.  To those of you battling the disease, either personally or on the front lines, I send you my thoughts and prayers.  I write here now mostly for those who are disenfranchised, disconnected and disgruntled.

Whatever you choose to do with this time, there is one thing I know for sure: complaining is utterly unproductive.  It’s not good for you, it’s not good for others.  It is easy to criticize and blame, but it is more beneficial to focus on personal accountability.  Focus on the things you can do, and the things you can control. You will be happier if you commit to making the best of these unprecedented circumstances.  Seek and attract the positive.  Acknowledge the negative; but strive not to live there.

So, I leave you with this challenge.  How can you make this time enjoyable, happy and productive?   Remember, your answer will be infectious.