Those with moderate interest in science probably remember that the phrase “Punctuated Equilibrium” was used by Stephen Jay Gould, the gifted and well-known evolutionary biologist and palaeontologist at Harvard — to describe how our world has evolved over many millenniums. Equilibrium would exist for a while, only to be disrupted by an event of one sort or another, which would then start the planet down the path to yet another equilibrium. Our current situation is akin to this — and, it will evolve us over time. The theory of evolution postulates that changes, such as speciation, can occur very quickly, with long periods of little change in between.
For species — this means they must evolve or perish as the world around them changes. This is just as true for ‘careers’ as it is for organisms. I think it helps you to think of ‘your career’ as a new organism that will evolve stronger over time with punctuated equilibrium — brought on by COVID -19. Every person chooses how to deal with challenges. If that person is proactive, then they will focus on preparing. But if that person is reactive, then they end up focusing on repairing.
As the video screen flickers to work life these days — so too does our human behaviour. Tribal behaviour is still a fundamental human enterprise. In uncertain times, what we value the most are people who know how to be resilient. This is one of those moments, which is very revealing. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years on Robben Island in isolation with no family, luxuries, or any technology — but, with just hope and a vision for the future. Unlike him, for the most part we all have avoided any semblance of a monastic life up until now — but, with easy access to plenty of new age luxury. So, I’m certain we can do this. Challenge does not change us — but, it reveals us. Ultimately it is the mind that will win this fight — and, the future.
As we entered the third month of working from home — it seems isolation inevitably begets introspection, an unsettling prospect even when things are going well, and more so in this precarious and unprecedented era. It throws you off your game, your routine, your discipline — and, certainly your headspace. As this ’forced experiment’ continues, like the rest of the world, we all have been forced to innovate like never before to develop virtual alternatives to showcase our value to clients, colleagues and companies — in real life. Amid the proliferation of new ways of connecting virtually we are learning to adopt to this new abnormal.
But try as I might to avoid this one thing, I cannot. So here it is: As my feelings have risen to a state of unabashed fandom, the burbling of a begrudging acknowledgement cannot be no longer denied — or hidden. I am going to say it, plainly and simply: I miss all my colleagues and miss going to the office. I’m not alone in the bewilderment I’m feeling at saying this out loud. I’m sure many of you can relate to this. Humans are social animals — it is our nature to interact with one another and to feed off each other’s energy. This situation has definitely moved the human race in a new direction. What’s exciting to me is the anticipation of how we will evolve out and from this situation. The secret to persevering through this is to maintain a positive mental attitude in the midst of these obstacles.
Last week, it’s been nagging at me — as I hunkered down in my home office. When I was alone and trying to remember precisely what day it was while eating through another bag of chips, there it was, in the nether recesses of mind, niggling away. In the end, I believe this is a story for our times. Yes, we are going through a very difficult and frightening period. However, there have been other times in history where challenges and crisis descended on humanity. It is the resiliency of the human spirit that we need to embrace here. Reminding ourselves that we have the strength to endure — and, this crisis in fact will give us the strength to persevere. So, adopt a proactive pandemic mindset. Find structure in your day as you work from home. Get into a discipline and routine.
There are constant interruptions while working from home. The day unfolds, you get busy & before you know it the day is over. It is important to take a moment or two to evaluate how effective your present structure is. Do you run your business or does your business run you? Finding your focus begins by having a clear vision of the kind of result you want and determining what weekly, daily and even hourly activities must be accomplished in order to fulfill that goal. Your results are a by-product of activities — not the other way around.
Take an inventory of your weekly, daily and hourly activities. Are they aligned with your goals? The vast majority of us use a "wing it" method which is a recipe for disaster. You need to optimize your process and not leave your success up to mere chance. The more often you go into any situation with an intentional positive attitude, the more likely that it will become a habit. If you begin each interaction knowing what you want to happen and prepare your dialogue for inevitable objections you will undoubtedly increase your probability of success. Human spirit thrives on hope. William Arthur Ward — an often quoted writer of inspirational maxims once noted that “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The realist adjusts the sails.”
This storm too shall pass — new opportunities will present itself. In crisis first we need to care for the vulnerable, then cope with the pressure it brings on — and, finally command the situation. Collectively, we are currently fighting a war against an unknown enemy — one in which we are all on the same side, as COVID-19 is agnostic to our colour, creed, culture and country!!! Stay strong in your trenches — and, be realistic. Adjust your sails, it will change your course.
If you adopt this frame of mind while not allowing self-loathing, navel-gazing complainers infect you with their gaseous doom — you will soon realize that you will persevere! Accept the current reality — but, be laser focused on the solution and the future. Focusing on the future is much more important than what has happened in the last two months. Unfortunately, our emotions respond more to spectacle — than data. Take this crisis, take this setback, take this problem — and, turn it into something good.
Don’t let setbacks in life defeat, distract or define you — instead, let it strengthen you. And — if you are a part of a team, that attitude will spread throughout. If you are frustrated, frightened right now, it means you are still alive. And — if you are still breathing, that means you have some fight left in you. So, get up, dust off, reload, re-calibrate — and, re-engage as a professional. Use this time effectively to equip yourself with new — and, updated tools that will help you add value to your relationships with your clients.
In times like these — sometimes it’s as much about people hearing your voice and less so about the message itself. In the immortal words of Star Trek physician Dr. McCoy, "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it." With this philosophical backdrop in mind, we are always going through change, but sometimes the pace is quickened by an event. Our equilibrium was abruptly "punctuated" by COVID-19. However, our commitment to life and to our respective professions cannot and shall not diminish or perish. Rather, our commitment to the craft will push us, and evolve us to another more efficient and higher equilibrium, resulting in much stronger, agile — and, skilled humans and professionals.