When I think about the last 18 months a few thoughts come to mind immediately – tough, uncomfortable, stressful, fear, confusion, and loss. These are only some of the words I associate with our time in Covid. These words are all true, and they hang in the air often, as I try to be a solid parent and a good husband, in a time that could not be more uncertain and upside down.
But then, when I go beyond these words that describe my initial thoughts on the past 18 months I start to think of words like awareness, growth, bravery, courage, hope, and love. These are also words I would describe as associative and very present during these times of turmoil. Isn’t it interesting how alongside very difficult thoughts and feelings reside feelings of power and of great importance to the development of my person and to the development of the people around me. Where there is darkness there is also light. The two great partners of our experiences in this complex journey of life.
This period is not the first time I have felt very different and yet consistent sets of feelings, coinciding together, and taking turns, to shine brightest or to cancel out the light completely. I have been through other very dark times, and sometimes in this darkness, I have found shards of light which have radically shifted my human spirit and which have become driving forces in my life today. I have learnt over time that the challenges we are put through, no matter what they are, can be the greatest teachers, and from these challenges we can always find the vitality and the insight to forge a way forward, sometimes one step at a time, or even one moment at a time, until we find our next breathing space, our next stop to rest and to breath in with relief or satisfaction.
It is possible to find valuable learning and personal progress out of anything, so long as we are open to seeing it. So long as we are able to recognise the lesson that can be learnt and remembered. If we are not courageous, open, and willing to see it, then we will miss it. I have found many lessons in my worst periods. I have found true courage when I felt my least courageous, I have found strength when I thought I couldn’t take another step, and I have found humanity and love when I felt I could not even love myself properly. This is the fascinating contradiction of how we find light and use it to build our spirits.
When things are all good and fine we tend to learn the least. Quite to the contrary, we become oblivious to many important lessons, because we are simply floating along on a river of easy living. We don’t need to consciously seek meaning or insight, we are lulled into an automatic way of floating through each day. But these days invariably do come to an end, they are changed by events and situations which are completely out of our control, but which are also a feature of a world that is subject to periods of stability and of instability. This is how lifes goes. So, when the heady days of ease are brought crashing into times of trouble, or loss, or of fear and uncertainty, we are presented with the possibility of deep philosophy and personal reflection about what this all means, and most importantly, what does it mean for me in how I deal with it? What does it mean for my loved ones, my friends, my community?
I learnt long ago that I learn best, and most profoundly, when things are hard and uncomfortable, which has made Covid a very fruitful period, even though it has also been one of the hardest times of my life. I can see how these very different thoughts fit perfectly together – because this is how our greatest growth occurs. When we can be in the fire and also in a positive growth trajectory, we are in the most profound learning zone. The fire does not paralyze me, instead it catalyses my senses into a deep process of renewal and personal development. This might sound crazy but I can only reflect on how my own difficulties have been the source of my greatest learning. So, why is this true? I don’t think this is true of all people. Some of us refuse to learn, in good times or bad. Some of us can only see the struggle when it hits, and not the golden light that always accompanies a flash of darkness. What is the difference?
I believe that it has been my process of becoming more aware of myself, and of the beliefs I have about the world I live in, which have helped me to find profound and consistent personal development in times of difficulty. It hasn’t been easy but it has been worth it. I was not always someone who found the light when things were bad. I was often someone who obsessed on the bad, and even made the bad worse by acting in ways that added petrol to the blaze. It was this behaviour that brought me to a point of reckoning which made it clear that I was never going to make it if I did not radically change my perspective.
It is easy to say this but far more difficult to actually achieve it. Any form of personal change is very hard to achieve. It is one of the hardest things to achieve and sustain. I don’t mean to put you off but it is true. Very few people successfully manage to change the important things they need to change, which is one of the reasons many of us fail to learn how to transcend the perception and translation of our difficulties into learning and growth.
I had to do, and only once I found myself in an impossible situation, in which my life depended on it, did I find the willing, courage, and honesty, to do whatever it took to shift myself. So what did it take?
I needed to surrender to the fact that the way I was living, and how I was seeing things, was wrong and unhelpful, and that I couldn’t see things clearly. I needed to surrender to the fact that I needed help to find perspective, and that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed to discard the idea that my thinking was right and the world was wrong.
If I look at it in hours spent to date I have invested well over 5000 hrs of time in radically shifting my perspective and in working on my defects of character, not to mention uncovering and shining up my assets. It has been a really gargantuan feat, and one which has often gone wrong and has required a willingness to start again.
I had to be brave about facing myself, and about taking accountability for my own actions, and in accepting what I needed to about what I had done, what I hadn’t done, and what I needed to do to change my situation.
Interrogating my beliefs
I needed to consider that I had some beliefs about the world and myself that were not serving me. I also needed to affirm other beliefs that I wanted to hold on to and nurture.
Consistency and commitment
I needed to work consistently and with clear commitment. In my case I was lucky, because I knew that if I didn’t truly commit for the long term, and that if I didn’t work it, I would not survive. I needed to commit to being consistent, which mean daily, weekly, and monthly activities which would become my cornerstone to dealing with life on life’s terms.
Working with others who could help
One of the hardest things was to learn how to ask for help and support. I needed to rely heavily on the help of other people, especially people who knew what I was trying to do, and I needed to come to terms with the idea that I couldn’t do this work alone. If I wasn’t able to seek help when I needed it, when I was in trouble, then I was never going to make it.
Developing a healthy worldview
This has been central to my own journey to where I am now, I needed to evolve a world view which helped me to see things more clearly, and where things were not clear, I needed to be able to accept this lack of clarity, and find ways to live within this lack of clarity. My worldview has changed completely over the last 5 years or so from what it once was.
Accepting what I cannot change, and doing everything within my power to change the things I can
I have learnt that there is much I cannot control, which means practicing acceptance alot. I have learnt that it is often in not accepting what is that made me so unwell in the first place. Great freedom comes from acceptance. Then through consistent work I clearly identified what I could control or influence, which meant that I was working on things where my impact would be clearly felt and experienced through the evidence I was getting.
I needed to be able to practice living ‘just for today’
I spent a lot of my time obsessing about the past and worrying about the future, which meant my present moment was always being hijacked by one or the other. I needed to learn to become much more present, to treat each day as a unit, and to take each day as it comes, knowing that yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and that today is a gift, because it is the present. This is hard to do but I have made immense progress in being able to enjoy today, to find value in today, even if yesterday was a disaster, or tomorrow holds a difficult decision.
Reframing the ‘why’
I needed to define why I wanted to live a certain kind of life. I used to berate myself for the things I did wrong, and I would be extraordinarily hard on myself, which became the ‘why of my life. Live life to beat myself down. I needed to reframe ‘why’ into something far more self loving and beautiful. I needed to create a solid value proposition for the kind of life I wanted to live.
I needed to accept that my attempts to change, and stay changed, would sometimes result in failure. This meant being patient with myself, not beating myself up when things went wrong, and ultimately, it meant loving myself towards my next attempt. As I have let go of self disdain and excessive punitive treatment of myself, I have become a lot more able to climb back on the horse when I fall. It is ok and normal to fall,
Finding the meaning in ‘hardship’
I needed to work out what I was learning from my struggles. I needed to find the ability to understand what this hardship was giving me, not taking away from me. It was hard to come to terms with this, but slowly, I started to see that I was finding inner strength, inner resources, and skills, that have been the core of my true self. These attributes have been born directly from challenge, and they remain arrows in my quiver for any future challenges that will come along
Challenging my expectations, and letting go of outcome
I realised that many of my expectations were unreasonable and based on a world which doesn’t exist, I needed to really look at whether or not my expectations were setting me up for resentment or disappointment, and then I needed to set expectations that were more ‘open to outcome and not attached to outcome’. This has served me extremely well and continues to serve me as we traverse the uncertain and challenging landscape of Covid.
These are some of the things I have learnt over my journey, and there are others, but perhaps this is enough to spark some thinking for you?
We can read about all this in books, we can go to workshops, and we can talk about doing these things, but none of this will make any difference. We actually need to do the work.
So why have these things helped me to find the golden thread of Covid? It is simple. I know I need to find these things and hold them up if I want to get through this period in my best form. I have learnt this already so now I am applying what has become second nature to ‘living on earth’.
Covid has brought the most incredible gifts my way, many of which have been hard to find due to the wreckage Covid has caused. However, I have learnt how to sift through any pile of rubble and find the nuggets within. This is the only way. Covid has taught me levels of love I didn’t know I had, it has given me a stronger view of myself, it has reminded me that there is much I cannot change and much I need to accept.
It has taught me that I can totally reinvent my business, it has brought my family closer than I thought it could become, it has developed patience within me, it has helped me to work out what I really don’t need anymore, and what I can go without. It has also shown me some new skills and talents I never knew I had. I write all of this while also feeling anxious and stressed about many things, but the point is, none of the angst blurs the good things I know and feel and happening at the same time.