Sometimes we navigate our lives easily. Days, weeks, even decades go by without a moment where we feel disrupted from our everyday flow.
But there are other times. Times when it feels like we are swimming alone in a dark ocean. There may be light ahead, but below us are waters dark and deep - and like the old sailors we fear, "there be monsters down there."
These are the crucible moments - the ones where everything seems to hang on what we decide. We may feel surprised and unprepared, like a freshman given the final exam on the first day of class, but still, we must choose how to respond. Life will not wait.
We’re in one of these moments now, wondering what to do about a virus that feels as vast as an ocean about to overwhelm us. There’s no single answer big enough for this threat. But there are three choices that can make a difference in how we navigate.
We choose where our energy goes.
A friend of mine has chosen to give all his energy to the worst outcome he can imagine. He wouldn’t say it this way, of course, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
Every day he imagines all the terrible things that could happen in such vivid detail that he’s now certain they are facts. Even the gentlest suggestion that something different may occur makes him angry and defiant.
To be candid, he’s created a story in his mind that is so real to him that it’s affecting his health, his performance at work, and ultimately his relationships. At the very moment when he needs his best resilience, all his energy, and the full support of his family and friends, he’s chosen a focus that robs him of all three.
Why not choose differently?
For every person quoting dire statistics in the media, there’s an equivalent story on YouTube or Facebook of strangers bringing food to the elderly or an envelope of cash being handed to a waitress facing a layoff. Dogs being rescued, children being adopted, lives being saved – we are awash in goodness. Why not focus on that?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I know this is serious. I also know many are suffering, and grieving. My heart aches for them and knows that I, and those I love, may also face harder days ahead.
But in the end, it’s not really a question of what the future holds. It’s a question of which version of the future holds us – our thoughts, our energy, our imagination.
What we focus on is a choice we make, consciously or unconsciously, and it affects us deeply. We must choose wisely.
We choose what we are prepared to do.
Change forces choice. In simple times we can sit comfortably and speculate on all we would or wouldn’t do in a certain situation. But in the big moments, even doing nothing is a definitive choice.
I have never once, in all these years, lifted myself from dark thoughts of fear simply by thinking. After all, it was thinking that brought me there. You can never find a solution if you stay at the same level as the problem. You have to take another way.
We need to stop thinking and start doing. The smallest match, when struck, dispels even the deepest darkness. A smile, a wave from one window to another, an uplifting note emailed or left on a doorstep can mean the difference between hope and despair in fearful times.
There is no one, who can’t help someone. But we won’t see them unless we look up from our lives and notice what is all around us.
If you’re baking, make an extra loaf for a neighbor. If you’re singing to your kids, make a video of it for your parents. If you’re planting, hold out a bulb or two for your friend who loves flowers. Share your secret stash of toilet paper, wipes, and sanitizer. Seriously. If you share what you have, you’ll always have what you need.
In my work as an Executive Coach, I’ve counseled CEO’s of major corporations, but I’ve also coached entrepreneurs, artists, teachers - all people of passion reaching for the next level in their work and in life. Recently, I decided to “volunteer” two free coaching sessions per week for several months to anyone in need of help or a listening ear.
The open sessions booked within hours, and in the process, I was able to connect more deeply, and feel more helpful, than I can ever remember. Two hours a week in exchange for a deep sense of fulfillment and joy? There’s no better deal anywhere on earth.
But the real irony is that these wonderful people think I’m the one helping them, when the truth is very much the reverse. I leave every session filled with gratitude. And gratitude is the ultimate antidote to fear.
Try giving the smallest pieces of yourself away to those in need. You’ll end up richer than you could have imagined.
We choose who we will become
The ancient stoics believed that we actually construct our character through our actions. I think they were right. Adversity tests us, but it also teaches us. What happens to us matters less than how we respond.
We become brave by doing brave things. We become kind by doing kind things. The smallest act of kindness reverberates, one heart to another, until it can be felt across any distance. No darkness can withstand it.
One day, this challenge will pass. And all that will be left will be the people we became as we made our way through together. Will we grow smaller? More mean spirited and afraid?
Or will we be strong enough to trust, kind enough to help, humble enough to listen, and courageous enough to stand vulnerable in our open hearts?
I believe we will.
Beyond everything else, I believe in us. I believe in the goodness in each of us. I believe in the light and love that lives in every heart. And I believe that all of that love will come shining through if given even the tiniest opening. I believe.
Even if you’re still scared and the risks are still frighteningly real, when we believe, faith lights a flicker of hope. And we swim through the dark water towards that small light of hope, until the morning comes, and our way becomes clear again.
That’s what faith is. The light that leads us forward when it’s too dark to see.