Some of the initial shock of the Covid-19 pandemic is beginning to abate. "Deer in the headlights" moments are beginning to give way to acceptance: acceptance of the realities of the pandemic; acceptance of the challenges our health care system faces right now and will continue to face for some time; and acceptance that social distancing is not a "few weeks and we're done" phenomenon. There’s a realization that it's going to take some time to get past this. The transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2, combined with the global fight for medical resources and testing resources, combined with the realities of vaccine development for a coronavirus, almost guarantee it will be so.
In your virtual conversations with colleagues or friends recently you have likely heard someone utter the phrase "this too shall pass." It's a wonderful phrase and very much applicable to this moment. But so often we only hear (or think) that phrase when we face our most difficult challenges. And it implies that if only we can get through this time, then everything will be OK, and we can find joy again. I'd like to offer a counterpoint to that usage and its implications.
First, let's go back to the supposed origins of “this too shall pass” (which I'm borrowing from James Montier at investment manager GMO¹):
"I leave you with a story relayed by Abraham Lincoln:
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him with the words "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!"
I love Lincoln's interpretation of the phrase. I love that he recognizes the other side of the coin, so to speak, that good times or good things - or what we interpret as "good" – inevitably change too. In other words, ALL THINGS shall pass. ALL THINGS. How quickly we forget that "what's going well" can change! Whether it's relationships, health, financial matters - it's all subject to change at a moment's notice. This doesn't mean we shouldn't allow ourselves to feel joy at these times. It just means we should acknowledge that life is necessarily a process of change and evolution - that there is no such thing as permanent.
Now back to the tough times. When under stress, there is always the temptation to think that if we can just get past this, if we can just get to the other side, then we can let ourselves feel joy – then we can be happy again. But that thinking betrays the current moment. Look around: your family is likely at home with you, sheltering-in-place. None of us have ever experienced this before. How long will it last? Might it ever happen again? We don't know, but it's possible we won't experience this ever again. It's worth taking a moment to appreciate who is with you right now; to soak up their presence at this time; to appreciate this moment with them. Furthermore, it's Spring now in the northern hemisphere, and if you've gone for a walk lately to get out of the house and clear your head you might be noticing – more than usual – the birds, blossoms, and flora around you. We have an opportunity to slow down and be grateful for what is unfolding right under our nose.
Finally, there is another opportunity in the chaos of the current moment, and that is to evaluate what's happening around us. This is particularly apt for business owners. Most owners we work with have switched from "peacetime CEO" mode to "wartime CEO" mode to use Ben Horowitz' terms². The last 4-5 weeks have been incredibly stressful and difficult, and the struggle continues and will likely continue for at least several more months. But look around: how are your employees responding to this crisis? Who is fearful and struggling to adapt to demands and realities of the lockdown? And who is meeting the challenge head on, coming up with creative ideas to satisfy customers, support vendors, and provide leadership where needed? Some are shrinking in the face of crisis. Others are embracing company values and proving to be a source of ballast and calm. In other words, this is - or will be later - a great opportunity to evaluate your key personnel.
This too shall pass. But don't forget that all things change in due course. And don't forget that there is much to be gained by appreciating what is offered to us in the current moment.