Perhaps the greatest challenge presented by this virus is the rate at which the prevailing circumstances change. Humans might be extremely adaptable, but that doesn’t mean we like it.
For the past week or two, it feels like every few hours I’m required to accept as part of my norm a new and otherwise extraordinarily unusual fact or condition. Just seven days ago I was still working from a CBD office building, among hundreds of colleagues, airily speculating that this thing might eventually get to a point where we need to work from home for two or three weeks.
As I write this, three days into an indefinite period of compulsorily working-from-home, and already feeling cabin-feverish, I’m struggling to compute a televised AFL-season opener – a game I would otherwise have attended along with 100,000 others – with no crowd.
I’m trying to work out how a globally iconic Australian company, in Qantas, recovers from having to ground the vast majority of its fleet, and stand down tens of thousands of its workforce.
I’m trying to help my wife work out what this year looks like for her high-end retail business.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m a bit overwhelmed.
But the reality is that, for the vast majority of these uncertainties, I won’t be working anything out. At least not in the way my brain wants to, to exercise its intellect and ‘solve’ the problem. Now more than ever I need to accept just how little control I have over outcomes.
However, that does not mean I should ignore these challenges or try to remove myself from their sphere of influence (although I admit the idea of taking an impromptu extended camping trip has crossed my mind!). I remain responsible, and part of the society that has to navigate its way through these difficult times. Burying my head in the sand is, at best, a temporary solution where the problem is likely to return with interest.
Instead, I can look to develop a sense of purpose, and rely on it propel me through these challenges.
In ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, holocaust survivor Viktor Frankle recounts his harrowing experiences in Nazi concentration camps, including a handful of near misses in which he was uncannily close to death. Frankl attributes his physical and mental survival not to any inherent skill or attribute of his, but instead to his choosing to find purpose and assume meaning in his circumstances, no matter how dire they seemed. And, out of this approach, he found a level of composure, energy and resilience virtually inconceivable for someone who had to ensure his experience.
For me, my current purpose is not so much to just remain positive, which, despite its good intention, is probably an unrealistic ideal in the circumstances, as well as being vague and passive. Rather, it is to impose positivity on and bring light to our current situation, regardless of how challenging or dire it seems. Of course, I have not, and will not, maintain or execute this resolve perfectly. But the more I practice it in discreet ways, the more it will start to permeate my general attitude toward life.
One way I intend to practice this purpose is by committing to these blog entries, an exercise which not only gives me the opportunity to impose positivity, but also enables me to find clarity and a sense of personal agency in a scenario where I am otherwise at risk of overwhelm and victimhood.
And through this purpose, I know I will find meaning. Even if right now I don’t know what that meaning is.