How to Use a Crisis for Personal Growth
Like previous crises such as 9/11 or Sandy Hook, the current pandemic has forced people to wake up. We are experiencing the kind of collective fracture that obliges us to heal as a society. Mother Nature has put us in a global time-out so that we can take a good hard look at what we’ve done — to her and to ourselves.
But when the crisis ends, will you go back to your life as it was before?
Historically, this is often what happens when a crisis or tragedy abates. The public demonstrates its capacity to cooperate, overcome obstacles and prove its resilience. Acts of kindness and generosity are met with huge applause and circulated widely on social media. Once the crisis is averted, however, society returns to its former ways.
To make full use of this crisis for your transformation, you have to be willing to make lasting changes. Here are 7 lessons you can learn from this moment.
1. You Can Face Your Emotions.
Crises always bring up immense fears — around control, uncertainty, loss, and death — and that certainly has been the case with the coronavirus.
Take the opportunity to slow down and face your fears. Staying at home often forces you to undertake a form of shadow work; when you have nowhere to go, you realize that you can’t escape yourself. That’s when you go within.
Don’t turn away or numb the emotions you are experiencing. Do you find yourself feeling lonely, depressed, anxious, or, on the contrary, reflective, quiet, and content with solitude? All of them are valid.
Some of these emotions might be around your health and physical safety. Others might be focused on issues of money and food. Some of them might be about isolation. You might even find yourself feeling anxious or awkward about wearing a mask in public. You may be feeling uncertainty about whether you’re doing enough or too much to protect yourself.
Each of your emotions is connected to a belief or set of beliefs about yourself and the world. You might find yourself worrying about money and realize that you believe that “there’s not enough to go around.” Look for the beliefs underpinning your emotions.
Meet your emotions as guides offering you a path to a deeper understanding of what beliefs you have about yourself and others.
What emotions are you feeling and are you facing them? What beliefs about yourself are tied to those emotional patterns and can you see whether those beliefs are truly valid?
2. You Can Get Creative and Experiment.
A crisis like this one, which has massively disrupted the normal patterns of life with stay-at-home orders, makes you realize that many of the ways you have handled your life you can, in fact, do quite differently.
The first reaction might be to focus on our collective quarantine as constraint and limitation. Yes, it can be frustrating not to be able to go outside. But constraint can also be a source of creativity, because it forces you to channel your energy in new directions.
You find new ways of doing things, like having virtual dance parties or embracing having dinner via FaceTime.
You might be experimenting with activities you’ve never tried before, like meditation, or discovering that you can exercise with a trainer online.
You might be finding new ways to use social media, perhaps even creating content you wouldn’t have dared to post before.
You might be learning how to cook now that you can’t go out to dinner as often, or discovering the joys of Marie Kondo with the closets you’ve avoided for years.
You might be making masks in your living room, using sewing skills you hadn’t dusted off in years.
Embrace the shift in mindset from limitation to possibility.
Are you experiencing a quarantine only as constraint and limitation or as a space of possibility for doing things differently? What are new and creative ways you’ve changed your routine or started doing things that you hadn’t done before the pandemic?
3. You Can Discover What Matters to You.
A crisis like this one, where death and uncertainty loom large, gives you a chance to examine what truly matters to you: parts of your life that once seemed important may now seem secondary or even trivial, and other parts have become a majority focus.
These sorts of realizations can affect any area of your life. You might experience sudden insight into how you spend your time and with whom.
You might discover that certain relationships or activities are less meaningful, and others are becoming truly significant.
You might recognize that watching Netflix all day isn’t fulfilling, and some other hobby or long-lost pastime is much more rewarding. Or vice-versa.
You might find that music and reading seem more satisfying than spending all of your time staring at a computer screen scrolling through social media. Or vice-versa.
You might find you can use time more productively, or you might find that you benefit greatly by allowing yourself downtime you wouldn’t normally take, and being okay with not being “productive.”
You might wake up to the reality of the environment and look for ways to be more helpful. You might realize that you haven’t treated your body well, and you want to make your health a priority.
Your values can emerge in the crucible of a crisis, bringing a desperately sought clarity for what gives your life meaning.
What aspects of life have you started to prioritize and value that you did not before? What aspects of life did you previously make a priority and have let go of with ease? Will you maintain those newfound priorities after the crisis ends?
4. You Can See People and Society More Clearly.
A crisis always demonstrates the fragility or strength of our social networks and government.
We are all witnessing the ways that our friends, family, and neighbors are responding to the crisis. We are all watching to see how our city, state or federal governments are responding to the virus’s spread, whether you see public officials as dragging their feet and finger-pointing or taking strong measures to protect their constituents.
A crisis offers you the opportunity to see the world more clearly — and in particular, to see how people value other people.
You might have believed that friends and family members were a support system for you, only to realize that they don’t call you. Or you might find that relationships that had grown distant are now revived as friends and family repeatedly check in with each other.
You might see how federal and state officials negotiate the crisis and change your views on the role that each ought to play. You might have views about the importance of borders only to recognize that the virus doesn’t respect the boundaries of cities, states or nations.
You might come to realize that many people in our society live very fragile economic lives, like hairdressers, massage therapists, yoga teachers or those in the food industry. Not only were they living paycheck to paycheck, but the nature of their work often requires face-to-face contact, so they can’t do their job remotely the way so many others can. You might believe they deserve better wages and greater legal protection.
You might come away believing that health care is a human right and our health care system ought to guarantee that right.
A crisis like this can shake up your beliefs about friends, family, and our society and government. Take some time to evaluate whether they’re still true or valid.
What other discoveries have you made — positive and negative — about your own social networks? What other aspects of society do you now see in a different light?
5. You Can Think of Others and Be Generous.
In a crisis like the coronavirus, opportunities for generosity and compassion abound. If you see those opportunities, take them. Don’t just applaud the efforts of other good samaritans. You can satisfy your own needs and be of assistance to others.
Once you start looking, you will find such opportunities are endless.
In a crisis like this, you can pay now a hairdresser or massage therapist for their services in the future, helping to keep them afloat, until you’re able to book an appointment again.
You can take your stimulus check from the government, if you don’t need it, and give it to someone else who needs more than $1200.
You can pick up groceries and run other errands for those who cannot. You check in regularly on those who are alone or isolated.
If you live in an apartment building, you can volunteer to help keep common areas clean to alleviate the burden on your cleaning staff or super.
You can make DIY masks at home to donate to your neighbors.
You can spread the word on social media about friends’ businesses that are now online so that they can survive the economic impact.
The list goes on and on (and is part of creativity, see above #2).
Discover the joys of generosity and compassion at a moment when they are desperately needed.
As you look around you, what are small and large ways you can help support your fellow human beings as they navigate this crisis?
6. You Can Recognize Humanity’s Oneness — and Its Fragility.
With a crisis of global proportions like this one, it becomes impossible not to see that our society is fragile and interdependent.
Our food system requires a long chain of people who have grown, harvested, processed, shipped, stocked, sold, and bagged food so that you could eat. Our economy is a delicate engine in which our interaction and constant exchange of goods and services is the fuel that keeps it going — and to devastating effect once that engine has been shut down.
You are witnessing now just how dependent our health care system is on so many individuals who each contribute to the success of the others — from the producers of face masks and ventilators, to emergency responders, to nurses and doctors. You are also seeing how easily it can be overwhelmed and cease to function properly.
The lesson of the coronavirus is that we are one. You cannot experience the coronavirus pandemic and believe that that you are a fully autonomous being in complete control of your destiny.
Instead, you are dependent on the contributions of countless others — for better or for worse. Each one of us is a critical piece in an intricate and delicate ecosystem that can easily be harmed. Each one of us matters in ways we can’t fully comprehend.
But not only is our oneness fragile, but our belief in our oneness is also fragile. Once the need for collaboration ends, people often return to their old alliances, and the sense of oneness evaporates. Will those who say we are now “not Democrats, not Republicans, but Americans,” revert to partisanship? Will economic solidarity with and appreciation for vulnerable workers like those in the food industry and health care deepen by having us make structural changes, or will it dissipate?
Embrace the truth that we are one and interdependent, in a kind of sacred reliance, and let that realization deeply change your perspective on life.
When the crisis ends, will you go back to seeing yourself as separate from everyone else? Will you see those who have performed “menial” or “unskilled” work as essential to your well-being (and thus jettison those terms)?
7. You Can Learn that a Crisis Isn’t Necessary for Transformation.
This is one of the most important realizations — and critical to not falling back into the old you once the crisis has passed.
When so many other members of society start to revert their old ways of being, will you be swayed by the masses? Very often we do not want to buck the crowd, and so even with our good intentions, there’s a certain pressure to conform to what everyone else in society is doing.
But facing your emotions, identifying your values, seeing the world more clearly, and being more generous are not practices limited to a pandemic. In fact, they’re a lot easier to do when you’re not trying to locate a mask or figure out where you’re going to find groceries.
The truth is transformation is a lot less painful if you don’t wait for the pain of a crisis to force you to make changes. You can commit to the changes you’ve made now, even if the rest of the world seems content to revert to form as soon as the stay-at-home rules are lifted.
Remember that the choice to do things differently is a choice that is always available to you.
What will you do when people begin to return to old habits after the crisis has passed? Will you allow their behavior to force you into conformity or will you hold onto to your new transformative mindset?