Find Purpose In This Pandemic
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make one step back and rethink life.
So while this crisis has tilted our world on its axis, leaving many feeling ungrounded and off-kilter, it’s not all bad. A lot bad, yes. But not all.
My own recent experience is a case in point.
I tend toward packing a lot into life. Back in the ‘good ole days’ – like in February – I had two business trips across the globe, spoke at six conferences in four continents, attended a wedding in Australia, hung out with my two oldest kids at college in New York and launched You’ve Got This! in Singapore. Like a said, ‘a lot.’
That all came to a grounding halt a month ago when my husband Andrew was diagnosed with COVID-19 and I began 14-day stay-at-home quarantine. For two whole weeks, my biggest trips were up and down a set of stairs. Then, within hours of my quarantine ending, Singapore issued a 28-day lockdown. So while I could venture outside, there was little reason to do so.
And yet…. like I say, it’s not been all bad.
Sure, I felt quite anxious during Andrew’s first week in hospital when he was laid flat with a fever. But once his fever broke, the enforced slow-down held an element of respite. With nowhere to go and my book tour canceled, space opened up to do things I’m often too busy for. Reading books. Deep conversations. Journal writing. Rethinking life.
While my self-reflections affirmed the path I’m on, they made me uncomfortably present to how often I get swept up in busy doing – “planes to catch, people to see” – at the expense of who I am being.
Over the last month, connecting to my purpose has galvanized my courage on the harder days when fears have dialled up and overwhelm crept in. Rituals that have helped me get back ‘on cause’ have enabled me to refocus my energy in ways that have served me and, hopefully, others as well.
Purpose does that. By connecting us to a compelling ‘Why,’ we tap into reserves of strength, courage, creativity and resilience that may otherwise lay dormant. As Nietzsche wrote, ‘He who has a why can endure any how.’
This forced pause on our busy default mode has compelled many of us to rethink how we’re ‘doing life’. Where calmer waters create conditions for mindlessly skim along the surface of life, hastily racing from one event to another, one accomplishment to another, often to fill some deep-seated need to prove or please or impress or protect, though from what, we’re not quite sure.
Yet when storm waves blow in (and we’re in the midst of one mother storm right now), lives built on superficial values and governed by untamed fears of inadequacy can quickly fall to pieces. As David Brooks wrote in The Road to Character, “The central fallacy in modern life is that external accomplishments can produce deep internal satisfaction.”
While we may not enjoy the auto-pilot of our lives being disrupted so royally, this crisis holds a silent invitation for transformation at the deepest level – individually and collectively.
Albert Einstein once advised that we should not aim to be a person of success but “a person of value.”
Being a person of value requires anchoring ourselves to values that transcend our ego and resetting our ‘life compass’ on the highest vision for our one and only sacred lives. A vision that aligns to the deeper truth of who we are, harnesses the best we have to give and calls on us to step into our lives, and into the world, in a wholly new way.
While I often speak about courage, I’m no less immune to fear than anyone else. With nowhere to go, my enforced slow-down has made me more present to how fear of my own inadequacy has found me forever striving, yet never arriving… on my race to some imaginary, arbitrary finish line.
Living purposefully requires constantly resetting our attention on the things that matter most. Yet ironically enough, “things” that matter most are rarely things at all. Rather they’re the values upon which we want to build our lives; they’re the attributes of the person we aspire to be; they’re the mark that, in our truest heart of hearts, we feel most called to make.
The gift of this crisis is that as it has pulled us, albeit shockingly, out of the hurly-burly of our lives it simultaneously gifted us with precious time to pause, to recalibrate our ideas of ‘success’ and what it means to live a meaningful life.
“Amid the whirlwind of modern life,” says Sr Joan Chittister, “we risk the loss of life itself.”
If you’ve often felt tired or yearned for some spark of life to be ignited within you, then perhaps it’s not that you’ve been too busy, doing too much. Perhaps it’s really because you’ve been doing too little of what your deepest self wants.
So take seize the opportunity to seize this quiet hour in the long arch of your life. Take yourself somewhere quiet and, whether on a keyboard or with old fashioned pen and paper, reflect upon your unexamined answers and the deeper questions we too rarely take time to ponder:
What values do I want my life to stand for?
What mark do I wish to make?
What kind of person do I want to be others?
As life’s end, how do I want to measure success?
As I wrote in Make Your Mark: A Guidebook for the Brave Hearted, our purpose lays at the intersection of what we’re good at, what we care about and where we add value in the world. It also unfolds and evolves as we do. Breakdowns precede breakthroughs. Sometimes it takes a breakdown of the highest global magnitude to force us to examine our lives more holistically, to confront the stories we’ve spun more honestly, and to reimagine our future more bravely. With more thought to how our part in it can impact the whole and how we bring more of our whole selves to it.
If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that life is both incredibly fragile and immensely precious. Yet amid a future filled with uncertainty lay untold possibilities to serve the world in new and more impactful ways. So if you do nothing else today, ask yourself where your life is calling you to be braver in service of a nobler cause? Then move in whatever direction your answer beckons. Tomorrow, repeat.
Creating a better world requires creating a braver world. And creating a braver world begins with you. To quote the physician and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer:
“One thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
Margie’s Reset Your Life Compass Course provides a 7 step roadmap to help you get unstuck and on track to making your biggest mark. Until May 15th you can register for 70% off. Just enter 2020VISION at check out! Learn more….
I am extremely grateful and happy to let you know that Andrew is home! His 30 days in hospital and isolation with COVID-19 was quite the journey. There was a lot of good within it but I am SO very happy it’s behind us. (Here’s a photo of us upon his arrival home… our smiles probably say it all.)