Last year, after finding out someone I met with tested positive for Covid-19, I had myself tested and discovered that I was positive myself. This was a little bit of a surprise to me because I felt fine. A few days earlier, I felt very tired and weak, which I thought was from all the running, boxing, and working out I was doing, but was fine after resting for two days. A few days later, my wife, Yasmin, would also test positive but asymptomatic, and we, including our three year old son, Elijah (who was healthy the whole time), would be in quarantine for what would turn out to be longer than the required 14 days. We were fortunate to have had a very mild experience with Covid, especially since we personally know people who had it much worse and even passed away.
I was thinking about how different the impact of Covid-19 is on people. How one person may not feel it at all and how another passes away. How I recovered in two days and was working out in 3 days and others feel the effects for months after recovery. (Though I have to say I feel a noticeable greater muscle fatigue when working out.) I was thinking of how different this global pandemic has affected us so diversely. How some companies were severely weakened and some went bust. How some teams got stronger and even thrived. How some people’s mental struggles were emphasized and how some people found an inner strength they didn’t know they had. How some relationships collapsed and how some grew closer. How many workers burned out and how some were reignited.
It has really been a Tale of Two Cities, reminding me of its most famous passage:
“It was the best of by times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
This was from 1859.
Events may change but society responds the same way.
I found that inside me was my own binary response, a personal Tale of Two Cities, with Light and Darkness obviously represented. On one end, 2020, the Covid Year, was the worst: I lost the most money I ever have in a single year and didn’t have a salary for most of the year, I lost a lot of the muscle and strength I gained while during quarantine (while I didn’t feel symptoms, my body must have been fighting hard as I lost over 5kgs), my wife and I nearly split in the middle of the year, and I found myself asking a lot of foundational questions. From those questions, I came up with 4 foundational ideas to build, or in my case, rebuild, the areas of my life ravaged by Covid-19 and its aftershocks.
I’m excited for what 2021 will bring. I feel like a man released from artificial constraints. When you survive the so-called worst, when you find that the so-called steps to success are like drugs, which The Verve memorably put, “Don’t work, they just make you worse”, you either get extremely discouraged or you get extremely creative.
I hope you choose to get extremely creative.
(I’ll flesh this out throughout the week)
Underlying Conditions are Everything
Underlying Conditions are Everything. When observing the very different results of Covid-19 on people, companies, cities, and companies, I noticed how those with “healthier” conditions, meaning those better adapted, those with redundancies, with stored resources, and especially those with dynamic leadership coming into the pandemic, performed a lot better than those whose underlying conditions happened to be more vulnerable. The areas of my life that had vulnerable underlying conditions have struggled more than the parts that had better foundations. This is why in 2021, I’m making a more deliberate effort to strengthen the underlying conditions of the things under my responsibility.
It is the Outcome that Matters
It is the Outcome That Matters. One of the most important things I’ve learned is to distinguish between OUTCOMES (what was achieved) and OUTPUTS (what was done). Too many times we evaluate efforts, contributions, and importance by what has been done instead of what has been achieved. Focus on the outcomes you want for your life NOT the outputs like busyness, activities, and tasks. A common example is this fixation with reading a lot of books, particularly the recommended books. An out-put mindset would be, “Read 50 books in 2021”. An out-come mindset would be, “Learn how to code a simple simple application” or “Understand how cryptocurrency works”. An out-put mindset is “I worked 14 hours a day this week!” An out-come mindset is “I achieved only 40% of our goals this week. That’s on me. Here’s what I’m doing to improve our results for next week.” A final example, among many possible ones, is the difference between two waiters. One is happy is be able to say he did his job and the other is happy that you enjoyed a great experience. I’ve recommitted myself to being an “Outcome Person”. I canceled or reformatted certain consultancy projects in ways that better reflect this outcome orientation. In my own teams, we’re normalizing a simple question when discussing, “Is this outcome or output thinking?” And you really see the keepers from those on the fence. Those who want what’s best for the team are more concerned about their outcomes because they know that’s what affects the team. Those are that mostly for themselves are more affected (or distracted) by outputs because that’s what their perspective can grasp.
Authority Must Come with Accountability
Authority Must Come with Accountability. Too many times during the pandemic, our institutions updated us on what they were doing while we still lost our jobs, our companies still crashed, and our health didn’t improve. This isn’t too blame anyone. In fact, this is the opposite. This is a reminder that ultimately our livelihood, security, health, and happiness are our own responsibility. Why? Who is most incentivized to provide you with beautiful future outcomes? Not someone who doesn’t know you exist. It is you. So I’m taking it upon myself to determine my own destiny, not relying on old promises given but focusing on the future outcomes I’m dreaming of for the world, my family, and myself. Why give someone else so much authority over you when they cannot help you when you need help most? Why let someone tell you what God said, when that someone can’t tell you where God is during a crisis? For me, spiritually, what sustained me was a simple habit of seeking God daily in the Bible, even if it was one verse or even if it was an argument. Why let some analyst tell you what you should do with your business? They don’t know the burden you carry, the customers you serve, the mouths you feed, and the dreams you keep. But you do. So take it upon yourself to find a way. Ultimately, you are most accountable for your life’s outcomes. Take authority. Don’t wait for a recovery. Be the recovery.
The Future is What You Make It
Right now, at least in the Philippines, many are waiting and seeing for what’s going to happen. But who really knows? Is the future something to be predicted? Or is the future something to be made? Does the world progress on the opinions of analysts? Or does the world move forward on the backs of unreasonable innovators? Over and over we see that “experts” get the future wrong when they take lessons from the past, try to Institutionalize them, and extrapolate them into the future. Why? Because the future is infinite. The past can teach us a lot. But it can’t really show us the future. Just like Magellan could never have built the airplane, or Solomon could have never designed the internet, or even Herod could not recognize the Christ, it is extremely difficult for us who understand our dimensions so well that we cannot imagine the influence of other dimensions.
All of this to say: The future is what you make it. There’s so much more in front of us than behind us IF we will make it so. The future isn’t some fixed fate. It isn’t something we can really predict though many try. It is something achieved. When you look at the best “predictors” of the world, here’s a common thing about them: usually the experts disagree with them because their predictions are based on new perspectives. They’re perspective is just as disruptive as the future they believe will come.
Conclusion: Where is God in Covid? A Spiritual Foundation
My whole life, I was told I had a destiny, and if I did bad things I strayed from that destiny and if I did good things I moved closer to that destiny. As I grew older, as I saw “good people” fail and “bad people” succeed, as I saw prophecies excite then fade away, and as I learned about how life is non-linear, I realized that my shallow understanding of destiny was confusing me and discouraging me. It always felt like I was one mistake away from losing my destiny completely, and I knew I was so prone to mistakes, partly because of a natural rebelliousness, but mostly because of my willingness to try, to risk, to explore, and to challenge. Then I thought of the idea of destiny in a different way, not as a final destination for those successful enough to make it there, but as simply “where I’m meant to be”. Then I realized, destiny, where I’m supposed to be, is not a place on a map or a moment in time, not somewhere bound by the space and time continuum, but anywhere and everywhere with the ones I love and the ones who love me most. And there really is no other place I would rather be. In the Christian tradition, the person who loves me most is God and the person I love most is God. Destiny is walking in step with him. This removed my mental shackles of seeing that one right way to reach that one right end. There was no one right place. Every place could be right with the one I love and loves me most. There is no one right time. Every time could be right with the one I love and loved me most.
I remembered this as I sat in quarantine. I was looking at our family spreadsheet with so many red digits, and I was seeing my phone light up with notifications to start the day. “Every place is the right place and every time is the right time with the one I love and the one who loves me most.” The Bible talks about a peace that is beyond all understanding. I felt that peace. All my quality of life indicators had warning signs on them, but I was in complete peace. In that moment, I was where I was meant to be.
So where is God in Covid? My hope is that you will find what I found: He is in you.
And maybe if we realized that, we wouldn’t be so fearful and dismayed ourselves, and maybe if weren’t so fearful and dismayed we would go on to kill the giant problems around us, and then maybe, others will find God through the lives of his sons and daughters. And that is the topic of my next post.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. – Romans 8:19
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