The outcome of each economic crisis leaves some of us stronger, and some of us weaker. You could easily attribute your good or bad luck during the storm to the choices you made in the past. Did I bet on the travel industry or on the canned food supply? Did I fight battles that were meaningful, or did I waste my energy on endeavors that will become totally pointless when the crisis ends? These past choices might indeed determine how you end up after the crisis but this is only one aspect of the question, the one aspect where you have no choice in the matter of how things might turn out. The past is the past, it cannot be undone. There is another aspect, the one that has a lot to do with your mindset during the crisis, with which you have a lot more freedom.
Strengthening what you stand for in your life
Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning taught us a very useful lesson to keep in mind in tough times: having a future keeps us alive. As a doctor taking care of sick prisoners in concentration camps, he noticed that the ones who survived their illnesses longer were those who held a deep conviction that they would live through it. What does “having a future” look like? It certainly is not hoping to find and have again all that you knew and liked unchanged.
This is predictably not going to happen. “Having a future” is being constantly intentional about what you will accomplish, who you will be, and what you will provide to the people who count on you. All of this could be summarized in one simple idea: what do you stand for, now? This stance does not depend on the circumstances in which one lives; it is a product of our free will, and we have this freedom at any moment.
Where to focus when there are so many uncertainties?
Today what you have been standing for may be in question; doubt might creep in, or at least the form in which you could have been expressing your stand so far has become blurry, or to be reinvented. What will the world after the crisis allow me to be or to do? Will I keep my job, will my skills be relevant, will the people I support be impacted to a point where I will not be able to provide what I have so far? In your business you may be asking: will there continue to be a demand for the products we produce? Will we be able to serve our customers in the same way?
All valid questions, if they are just held as questions, and you do not jump too fast to provide an answer to them. With so few facts about the outcomes of the crisis, losing oneself in all sorts of conjectures will add confusion and possibly anguish about the future and divert you from what is and will remain certain: your values, what is important to you, what will really count for you, no matter what happens.
Authenticity as an opportunity to face the crisis powerfully
The challenge posed by the time sends us back to the question of who we are, really. The crisis invites us to be authentic and to focus on the essential elements of who we consider ourselves to be. Am I defined by my job, my physical appearance, my titles, my education, my social upbringing, my network of influencers, my standard of living, my political opinions, etc.? Is my business defined by the products we make, our marketing strategy, the customers we target?
These might become superfluous aspects if they disappear, become obsolete, or meaningless after the crisis. All these anchors might be pulled off from the shores where we clung on to avoid having to answer who we are, really. Good news or bad news, this could also be an opportunity to revisit who we are and what we stand for and shake off old beliefs and antiquated views of the world. For our businesses, it is the chance to reexamine our purpose, not what we do but why we do it, the problem we solve, and who we serve.
According to philosophers and mystics, being authentic invariably requires one to first authentically confront where we are being inauthentic about and renew moment after moment who we hold ourselves to be. I invite you to start the journey with this simple question: What do I stand for today if I am not taken by my fears? What will I accomplish as a matter of that stand? Revisit the exercise tomorrow, recreating a future for yourself worth living in day after day.