As an educator of college students, professionals, leaders and executives, I often ask people to identify the specific things that have had the most powerful impact on shaping them into the people they are today. Their “life-shaper” responses typically fall into three important categories.
First, human beings are molded in powerful ways by the people who are part of our lives, from family, friends, teachers, coaches and people in the workplace. At the same time, they are greatly influenced by the personal challenges and difficulties that they have had to face over the course of their lifetimes. These can include difficult family times, academic challenges, interpersonal conflicts, economic hardships and workplace difficulties. These “trying times” test all of us to be sure, but they can teach us invaluable life lessons about perseverance, discipline and grit.The final category includes personal hardships and tragedies that people have had to endure that could include divorce, loss of loved ones, health crises, and unemployment among other truly difficult experiences.
I share these findings to remind you that each of us is shaped in powerful ways by the myriad of experiences and people that touch our lives.
At present, we find ourselves amidst the COVID-19 “viral trial,” which has caused extreme financial and economic uncertainty, large-scale unemployment and extensive discouragement for people. During this trying time, I have asked a cross-section of friends, co-workers, students, business associates, neighbors and family members what they are learning going through this period of sheltering in. Their responses have been very instructive and very encouraging to me, and I thought that you might enjoy them as well.
People have shared:
• “How fortunate we are to have medical personnel and first-responders who are willing to risk their lives for complete strangers.”
• “I have a newfound appreciation for my kid’s teachers and what they have to put up with.”
• “I enjoy my work and co-workers more than I realized.”
• “Going for a walk is very refreshing even when the weather isn’t great.”
• “I will never take my paycheck for granted again.”
• “To never take toilet paper for granted.”
• “It’s important to look for ways to be kind and connected to the people around us.”
• “It’s great to have family dinner on a regular schedule.”
• “You never really know what you will find when cleaning out a closet or drawers.”
• “It is so important to take time to just think and reflect on life.”
• “Reconnecting with old friends on the phone and internet is really a great thing.”
• “You never really know what you will find when cleaning out the garage.”
• “I can be very productive wearing pajama bottoms and slippers at a Zoom meeting.”
• “I didn’t realize how many home projects actually needed my attention.”
• “Shame on me for not taking the time to get to know my neighbors until now.”
• “We are so blessed to have access to food and supplies in our grocery stores.”
• “I need to do a better job of saving money for a rainy day or another pandemic for that matter.”
• “Hey, I can feel close to someone even at a distance.”
• “I am taking my family, friends and faith much more seriously.”
• “With the exception of hand washing and tooth brushing, other hygiene activities can become more or less optional.”
• “That there’s a big difference between having wants and having real needs.”
• “It is very sobering and even embarrassing that it has taken a crisis to make me step back and appreciate the quality of my life before the pandemic.”
I think it’s safe to say that all of us can relate to any number of these invaluable lessons as we go through this pandemic, and there will be further lessons to learn. And while the loss of life and financial impact of this pandemic are incalculable, we now share a common bond in that we are all looking at life and our blessings differently than we did back in February 2020. We are being shaped by this experience. It has been said that hard times can make you bitter or they can make you better and the choice is ours. Choose wisely, my friends, to learn large from this experience.
Longenecker is a Distinguished University Professor in the College of Business and Innovation at The University of Toledo.