The last twelve months have hardly been like any other, for so many reasons. And it’s logical to focus on the big changes in our lives that are directly related to the pandemic. But we also are all dealing with the usual major life events, albeit under such strange circumstances. People are still graduating from college, or moving house, or starting families. Those things may not, during a pandemic, look quite the same, but we are still living our lives. And we are still – I hope! – willing to take chances and finding ways to do some of the things we had always intended. For me, this past winter has been about endeavouring on a long-awaited professional step – starting my own consultancy. While I’ve enjoyed so many aspects of the different career stages I had with traditional companies, I think I’ve also always known that they were part of a journey to this one.
I’d like to think that one of the few good things that has come out of living through a pandemic is a wider lens through which we make decisions. There is most critically, the acute awareness of our mortality, and the impact of isolation. But I think there are probably more subtle ways in which we have all become a bit more introspective as well. Life generally slowed down for the majority of us (excepting, of course, the many health care workers and first responders and service industry workers whose lives have been turned upside down). We have more time to think about what matters to us, and fewer opportunities to discuss it with others. A lot of parents likely know far more about their children’s day to day education needs. Some of us have discovered a green thumb, or that we decidedly do not have one. None of this means that most people’s lives will overtly and permanently change after the pandemic. Logic would probably say we’ll drift back to some resemblance of our former lives. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. But I suspect quite a few people will make at least small adjustments in what they thought they needed or are sure they don’t. I think some – and I count myself among them – may find they have a little more courage to take chances on something they’d always wanted to do.
Sadly, one of my best friends died of Covid a few months ago, way before his time. It was fast and all happened so suddenly. The realisation hit me hard. You’ve got to value your time, you cannot just assume that you’re going to get to retirement and live this life, you’ve got to go and do what you want now. We all know that allowing ourselves to run on autopilot was never a good idea. We understand, in theory, that we should challenge ourselves and take chances and seize new opportunities. But many of us are not built that way and it can be difficult without pretty severe prompting. Despite the meme appeal of FOMO, it’s the fear of the unknown – not missing out – that is more common. And that’s true whether you’re aged nine or 90. (Seriously. My 93-year-old widowed grandmother went on a ‘date’ with a younger man (he was 87) . . . and told me she was as nervous as if she was 17.)
Fear and nervousness are with us our whole lives. You have to divorce your ego from all the things in the past that were giving you that sense of status, that sense of comfort because those things won’t give you comfort or stability going forward. To quote Steve Jobs, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” For me, I knew that starting a business isn’t always about coming up with an ingenious idea. If you know something well and love doing it, you’ll find a way to stand out and share it with the world. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t still intimidated by the uncertainty of being in the world without predictability. There were strange new skills to learn, and even the simpler ones – do I like these colours for the website, which accounting software should I choose – felt so unfamiliar. But I’m grateful I have the opportunity to do this and the courage (I think) to take the leap. It’s a brand new adventure, and I’m equal parts uncertain and exhilarated. I’ll keep you posted.
Robert Kovach is an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100, and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership and team effectiveness. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own. Contact him for speaking inquiries.