All over social media – on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs – you name it – self-appointed ‘motivational gurus’ were telling you the [insert any, it seems, number here] things you needed to do to make the ‘pandemic experience’ a ‘success’ – that you need to come out of it ‘better’ than you went into it. They told you straight how, in the weird and wonderful days of lockdowns, empty supermarket shelves, home-working, home-schooling, and a host of other new experiences, you should be using the newfound free time you apparently had to learn new skills, develop new practices, launch new projects and emerge the other side of Covid-19 a ‘better’ version of you.
I know, right? Emerge a ‘better’ version of you? Personally, I had many moments where I would have considered it an excellent result if I emerged alive, sane, and with my business and family still intact. Maybe I’m just an under-ambitious under-achiever, but I don’t think so. You see, while I got the sentiment in all the ‘rah-rah-rah, turn Covid into the opportunity of a lifetime’ posts, they all missed the point.
On the one hand, I actually agreed (and still do) that Covid-19, and all the chaos, upheaval and anguish it has brought with it along the way, has been the opportunity of a lifetime; it just wasn’t the opportunity it was dressed up to be in all those ‘rah-rah-rah-style’ posts. You see, rather than being an opportunity to learn new skills, develop new practices, launch new projects and emerge from this crisis faster, fitter, stronger, healthier and wealthier than you were when it all began, or are right now, what Covid-19 presented you with (and, indeed, contiues to present you with)is an opportunity to use all that the paradigm-shattering times entailed to rediscover who you truly are, what life truly means for you, and to frame a new paradigm for living.
And, while I’m a huge believer in looking forward – because, after all, the best is yet to come – in order to frame a new paradigm for living, your focus must be not on striving for more – on the future, and all those new skills, and so on, that you could be acquiring – but on a search for less. And that search starts not with eyes fixed firmly on the future, but on what has gone before.
By looking back – by stopping, standing, catching your breath, being present and allowing the past to teach you its invaluable lessons, you equip and empower yourself to shape a future that you truly want to embrace: a post Covid-19 future, free of the shackles, interpretations and perceptions of the past; and that reflects the true, glorious, essence of the real you. A future that is an expression of your strengths, your qualities, your values, your purpose, and your meaning.
It seems almost back to front – to first have to look backwards in order to see clearly the way forward. But, experience tells me that, to know where you want to go, you first have to understand where you have been. You see, life doesn’t unfold through a sequence of neatly ring-fenced events, each with a distinct beginning and end. Life unfolds along a continuum, where yesterday blends into today, and today blends into tomorrow. No neatly boxed up sequences, just a lot of blurred and overlapping edges.
Before Covid struck, you had goals: things you wanted to achieve, paths you wanted to follow, and plans you wanted to see unfold. You’d worked hard to achieve those goals. And some of those things you wanted to achieve had come off, while others remained a work-in-progress. And then Covid pulled the rug from under those goals and plans, and threw blockades across those paths you wanted to follow. And everything changed. But, while it may have felt like some of those goals have slipped through your fingers (and, maybe it still feels that way), here’s the thing: not a single moment of what had unfolded before Covid, and not a single moment that has unfolded since, has been wasted.
Every twist and turn, every success, failure and experience, offers a context for what lies the other side of the strange and unprecedented times we found ourselves – and, to some extent, still find ourselves – in. Even if you believe you squandered time and opportunities that Covid and all its unknowns presented, even if you believe Covid poked a pin in your dreams and aspirations – even those beliefs offer learning that can carry you forward. But, to discover what that learning is, you need to stop, catch your breath, and take stock. No striving to acquire new skills, develop new practices or get a host of completed projects under your belt – not yet, anyway. Instead, take the time to re-examine the plans you were working on before all this started, to rediscover where those plans were taking you, and to re-imagine where you want to go.
Maybe those plans were taking you to the right places, maybe they weren’t. Only by stopping, looking back, and learning what the past wants to tell you about your journey so far, will you begin to uncover what shackles, interpretations and perceptions have shaped the paths you followed, what choices and beliefs took you towards, and which carried you away from, becoming the person you truly are. Only by stopping will you pause long enough to know if the path you are on is the one you truly want to follow.
As you begin to embrace the prospect of life after the pandemic is over once and for all, and dare to dream a little of where you want to be, say, maybe a year from now, or whenever you feel able to cast your mind towards, you can weave the story of the journey you took to get where you are right now into those aspirations, hopes and dreams. And you can draw on the experience and learning of all that has unfolded up to this point to identify and map out the steps you need to take to make those aspirations, hopes and dreams a reality.
You have achieved much already, whatever you may think. Take time to recall and celebrate the highs and the lows that have brought you to this place. Look beneath the surface to capture what those moments long to teach you – to find the secret they are itching to reveal. Remind yourself of dreams surrendered and passions subdued in the pursuit of a ‘better’ future, and begin to rediscover the person you once were. Where is that person of yesterday in the here and now? Bits will be present, but bits will be missing – still a part of you, but hidden from view. Where do those hidden parts of you fit in a future re-imagined?
You have a chance not to become a ‘better’ you, but the ‘real’ you. Don’t waste it.