The pain of this pandemic, with nearly 4 million deaths worldwide, has led many of us to dig deeper to examine existential questions – from “Why am I here?” To “What is real success and what does it look like for me? “And as much as we all want to leave COVID-19 behind, the answers we seek could indeed be found in our reflections on the pandemic era. Where there is deepest pain and loss, we can find meaning.
This year’s International Day of Purpose (celebrated annually on June 20th) offers us a moment to take stock of three indispensable lessons that the pandemic has taught us for the journey ahead.
Let your pain guide you towards a goal
To say the pandemic was painful is an understatement. And it is only natural to want to organize our lives in such a way that pain in our lives is reduced, eliminated and quickly overcome. However, as I have seen in my work as a professor, executive coach and pastor, the most painful experiences can often signal where our goal is. Not only can the pain we experience generate empathy, but it can also give us clarity as to where we can make our best and highest contribution to alleviating human suffering.
In the first few months of the pandemic, for example, the owner of a small, “insignificant” business had to close her doors. With no income and rising bills, she had to turn to a local pantry for help. However, from that painful experience emerged an overwhelming sense of gratitude and a renewed desire to help others once she was on her feet. When her business reopened, she shared her story with her customers and asked them to contribute non-perishable groceries. Their response was so overwhelming that their little shop actually became the largest collection point for their local pantry! A small act of kindness, born of deep personal pain, enabled this small town entrepreneur to make her goal a reality; it might just do the same for us.
Accept the disturbance
For many of us, the pandemic has turned almost every aspect of our lives upside down. Many jobs (and canceled family reunions) have been catapulted into the unfamiliar environment of Zoom, Teams, or Webex, and many gym memberships have been canceled in favor of home fitness programs. But from this disruption new routines and changed perspectives emerged. As we look forward to a post-pandemic reality, we cannot be in such a hurry to get back to “normal” that we forget what we have learned. This is a unique opportunity to examine our new ways of thinking, being and acting. It will never be 2019 again, and in many ways, that’s probably the best.
There may be some things that we don’t want or shouldn’t take up again. For example, a job that returns to mandatory, 100 percent personal work with no flexibility or hybrid arrangements might best be left behind. Flexibility during the day – to take care of family or even ourselves – has become too important for many to give up. The pandemic has shown how foolish it is to pursue the myth of work-life balance and has put the spotlight on the value of integrating life as a whole – an approach that invites us to do our best every day for everyone complex dimensions of our lives with greater skill. During this pandemic, we’ve seen many workers take on the roles of co-worker, caregiver, spouse / partner, and homeowner – all within the same hour!
In order to lead the meaningful life we desire in each “new normal”, we cannot afford to forego some of the pandemic-induced innovations that have actually helped us thrive in all of our roles in these challenging times.
Let your values take the lead
For many of us, the pandemic has helped clarify what is and is not important in our lives. Many of the things that we haunted and preoccupied with for so long before the pandemic – the garages full of cars, the walk-in closets, or the number of garages and closets you have – just don’t put up with the worrying significance it once was had life or death in the face of a global pandemic. I recently spoke to a manager who, while preparing for his first personal board meeting in over a year, laughingly confessed, “I’m not sure if my suits fit or if I remember how to tie a tie.” The truth is, so much of what used to be important doesn’t matter anymore.
Keeping perspective on what is really important to us can help us move forward – or stay on top of what I call “The Purpose Path”. Perhaps we have discovered the importance of our spiritual wellbeing or our mental health. Perhaps instead of adding an additional conference call, we learned to schedule an additional call to your family or additional training. Or instead of trying to “keep up with the Joneses,” we learned to be grateful for the gift of each day and to be generous to our neighbors. When you guide your values the way, you are investing not only in your wellbeing but also in your ability to purposefully influence the world around you.
A year of pain, loss, and collective breakdown has taught many lessons – who we are, what we believe, what we value, and how fragile our lives are. I believe difficult seasons like this don’t build as much character as they reveal. And as we sprint feverishly toward the end of this pandemic, it is important to carry with us some of these pandemic-born insights. They have the power to guide us as we put our meaning into action and live the life we were always meant to be.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.