Lessons from the year of the virus


It’s all finally coming together. Almost a year after most of our lives were flipped upside-down by this pandemic, I’m starting to make sense of what I have discovered about myself these past twelve months, and I think there are some ideas worth sharing here.

When COVID hit, I had one thing crystal clear: I had to adapt to my new reality. By the way, I don’t think this was unique to 2020 — life is full of twists and turns, so adaptability is a necessary skill we must all hone to deal with whatever comes our way. But having to adapt to the unprecedented circumstances caused by the virus felt interestingly different, don’t you think? — Is it just me, or did you also recognize that 2020 brought opportunity disguised as hardship and adversity?

I have to be honest with you; despite losing a business that took me eight years to build in the blink of an eye, these past twelve months have been the most fulfilling of my life. Granted, I still think we can manage a strong comeback in the future, but I know deep in my heart that if it doesn’t happen, I’m ok with that too. It feels almost wrong or immoral to admit that for some reason. And it’s not like I was miserable before the pandemic; on the contrary, I loved what I used to do. So, what happened? What did I discover that made this such a fulfilling year?

The first few lessons I learned this year were how to find hope in a crisis, how to turn problems into opportunities and how to enjoy adversity. I’m not saying this as feel-good advice, by the way. I’m not trying to motivate or inspire you. I simply want to point out that what makes life worth living is solving problems. Think about it, what is at the core of what drives high-performance athletes to train, improve and compete? Hope, opportunity and adversity. Hope that they can keep getting better, having the chance to savour glory and the enjoyment of competing against strong adversaries. A team that always wins would find success dull and boring, the lack of opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment would demoralize any organization, and an athlete that can’t seem to improve would find training fruitless and dreadful.

Having this mindset made the difference between feeling a sense of optimism or despair this past year.

Sure I felt sad, worried and angry sporadically throughout the past few months — the circumstances weren’t easy to deal with. But I was too busy learning, improving and trying to figure out how to make it through to have any spare time to be depressed or anxious.

Which is a perfect segue to the second lesson I learned this year. Actually, this is more of a discovery, I guess. I found the true meaning of having a purpose. When you wake up every morning to willingly learn and work on the subjects that interest you for days on end without really knowing if any of your projects or ideas have any real chance of success, then you have found what it really means to have a purpose.

None of the projects I have worked towards during this year is a safe bet. As far as I can tell, every initiative or idea I have engendered throughout the year could fall flat on its face, yet I would still be as convinced about the direction I have taken as I have been in the most optimistic of times.

It’s not blissful ignorance or wishful thinking (and it’s not “the secret” either, in case you think I joined a cult or something). It’s about having certainty in what I want to do when I wake up every morning and commitment to invest my time pursuing the things that matter to me. I may be completely wrong about how I see the world, and I may even be naive; but I have this inexplicable confidence that if I create value through my work and ideas, the world will remunerate me somehow.

Look at it this way, we place the same blind conviction and trust on pursuing a formal education, don’t we? We invest years of our lives and tens of thousands of dollars in getting a degree in hopes that we will see a return on our investment. Sure, we get a piece of paper that validates our knowledge and mastery on a subject that will help us land a job, but we don’t always get the kind of return on investment we initially hoped for. At least I didn’t. Maybe you can relate. I left school with more questions than answers, and I sure hadn’t found a purpose. So, just like this year of self-discovery was an intelligent gamble for me, going to college was too — the difference is that this year seems to be actually paying off.

This brings me to the third and main point I want to make: the value of self-discovery.

I had never taken a gap year before. I went straight to university after high-school and straight to looking for work after I graduated from university. My professional journey has been full of changes and new beginnings, but I never quite had a chance to step out of the driver’s seat while I went through those changes. This past year, I finally had the opportunity to step back, reflect and think. And as I just alluded to in the previous paragraphs, It has been the most powerful, insightful and valuable year of my life.

Sometimes we are so busy swimming with the current that we have no time to see if we’re actually headed in the right direction. It’s essential to lift our heads out of the water every now and then, breathe and ponder about the choices we are making. Yet, almost no one does it.

Why is it so hard for us to invest our time and money in self-discovery? Why is it so hard for us to stop and jump out of the hamster wheel of life for no other reason than to discover what we could find if we do so? People take time off to go back to school, raise a child and start a business — then why not just take time off to learn about yourself? Wouldn’t you want to know if you’re spending your time doing something that actually fulfills you while you can still do something about it?

Some people argue that college serves that purpose, but I couldn’t disagree more. At best, attending university is just as busy as life with a full-time job; at worst, it’s so hectic and stressful that you rarely get a chance to cook a real meal, let alone find the meaning of life.

Money shouldn’t be a problem either. People get in debt to buy a house or get an education, so why not invest your time and money in discovering who you are and what you want? That is why we save money in the first place, right? So we can use it in the things that matter.

I think we should all take gap years (or months) several times throughout our lives. Not only when we graduate from high school or college, but whenever we need to check in with ourselves.

Serendipitously (because of a global pandemic), I ended up taking some time off to reflect and figure things out, and I cannot be grateful enough for having that opportunity. The best way I can think of to pay it forward is by recommending it to you. Check your bank account, see if you can afford it. You won’t regret it. You don’t even have to quit your job — just take a leave of absence.

Do whatever feels the most natural with that newfound time and freedom. You don’t have to travel, start a business or learn a skill — there is no recipe. You could meditate the whole time. You could read books. You could develop more meaningful relationships. You could troll people on the Internet. Just do whatever you truly want to do when you wake up in the morning. I’m willing to bet that you will not want to waste your time; in fact, I’m sure you’ll be eager to do more than what you do now. Avoid planning and take off the pressure of showing something off at the end of that journey.

Personally, I felt the urge to express my ideas — that was my initial drive. That push set me off in an exciting new direction where I have been finding insightful answers to important questions along the way, and the deeper I get, the brighter things become. I can’t wait to find out what comes next!

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