On Living in the Pandemic Age

By: Hart Hillman

Adversity, in business and beyond, is unavoidable; the only power we have over it is in how we choose to manage it.

As someone who has been in the leadership business for over 20 years, I’ve spent my career studying how our best business leaders react and adapt to difficult circumstances. This disease, however, doesn’t discriminate, and will ultimately touch each and every one of us. As a result, there is an opportunity for everyone to demonstrate strong leadership, to take responsibility for his or her actions, to offer assistance to those in need, and to improve our own wellbeing by supporting those around us.

Remaining optimistic in the face of a global pandemic that will kill thousands and impact millions isn’t an easy task, and by no means am I attempting to downplay the seriousness of this situation. However, my experience has demonstrated how, despite having little control over what happens to them, the best leaders are able to remain calm under fire, seek out positive solutions, and demonstrate to others that there is a steady hand at the wheel. This moment in time is absolutely unparalleled, but as we face down this global pandemic many of the same rules apply.

Much will test our resolve in the coming weeks, and while we can only do so much to control the spread of the virus we can make this very difficult situation better by being mindful of our approach, attitude and outlook. After all, reality is informed by one’s perception. Even when things are objectively trying, it’s often just a matter of how we choose to react.

As CS. Lewis wrote in 1948’s “On Living in an Atomic Age,” at a time when humanity was grappling with the possibility of total annihilation:

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s been difficult to ignore the instinct to retreat, panic shop, hunker down and maybe even give up. Each day has been a wild swing of emotion, ranging from deeply optimistic to deeply fearful as the impact and reality of this global epidemic hits increasingly closer to home.

What I’ve discovered through this experience, however is that what you choose to focus on will ultimately become your reality. Watching hour after hour of alarmist newscasts can strain even the strongest and most optimistic amongst us. Rather than watching the wreckage unfold on live television, hard as it may be to look away, we can instead help improve our own state of mind by dedicating our time and energy to nobler causes. Reach out to friends, family and associates, spend a little extra time on the phone, really listen to what they’re going through and offer a helping hand whenever possible, especially to those most vulnerable. Doing so will go a long way in improving your own wellbeing, the wellbeing of those around you, and by extension strengthen our collective resolve against a very real threat.

In the face of this pandemic many will deny, distance, cower and even profiteer from the challenges ahead. Others, however, are already rising to the occasion, improving their own wellbeing by doing what they can to support others. Neighbours are voluntarily helping at-risk neighbours, distilleries are converting their production lines to create and donate hand sanitizer, musicians are putting on live performances on balconies and rooftops, and our front line healthcare workers are carrying the weight of the world as they wage a daily battle against a deadly virus.

These are trying times for everyone, and all signs suggest things are likely to get worse before they get better. Instead of resigning to the spiral of despair, fuelled by dystopian news stories and uncomfortably close quarters, take a moment to think about the bigger picture, and the small role you can play in improving the overall outcome.

In the not too distant future we’ll all look back in judgement of our own actions during this extraordinary and perilous time. When the dust finally settles the question that remains is whether that change was influenced by the more noble aspects parts of our nature, or if we gave into our more basic instincts. I sincerely hope that we are able to reflect on it as the moment when we came together, allowing our shared adversity to dissolve the superficialities that divide us, and wash away those labels that separate us.

The coronavirus will bring many tragic outcomes, but I hope our shared adversity also brings recognition of our shared humanity. After all, this disease doesn’t discriminate, and in doing so it offers us an opportunity to unite against it. We’re all already fighting the virus in our own way by staying home, washing our hands and being mindful of the risks we could pose to others. We can further our collective cause even more so by demonstrating strong leadership. That means taking responsibility for our own actions, offering assistance to those in need, and improving our own wellbeing by supporting those around us.