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A Thanksgiving Message: The Three Gifts of Covid

Positive psychology informs us that people who have the ability to find meaning in life’s challenges frequently have more positive, fulfilling, and happier lives. With this year’s difficulties, have you reframed Covid’s impact on your professional and personal life? I have, and here’s a look at the unanticipated outcomes Covid has gifted me this year.

2020 has been quite a year.

With Covid19 plaguing our world with a health crisis not seen since 1918, and our economies and societies in calamity and disorder, I would like to take time to pause, ponder, and share a poignant and personal Thanksgiving Day message, something I call the Three Gifts of Covid.

Yes you heard correctly, the Three Gifts of Covid.

And afterwards, I’ll invite you to (i) ponder and think about your own three gifts from Covid, and (ii) intentionally make this Thanksgiving season memorable, transformational, and pivotal for you to take your own positive journey back to where you most want to be.

Where to begin?

Let’s go back to the run up to 2020. I, like so many others, decided to make the year 2020 special, and memorialize it in some way. The number 2020 itself holds dual meaning for hindsight and foresight. For me, I had thoughts of starting a new business, and as recent empty-nesters, my wife and I thought of traveling to parts of the world that we have not experienced before. I’ve heard from many others about weddings, anniversaries, and special events that they planned to make this year special. However, like so many others, none of our best laid plans played out as we had intended.

Instead, 2020 has been a difficult year for many people, and it is certainly not the year we hoped and wished for when we thought of the promise of this new year.

What happened? Covid19 happened. An exponentially growing coronavirus pandemic that continues to grow this day, now 11 months in, with surging cases, hospitalizations, foreboding greater numbers of untimely deaths. The world was thrown into a rapidly growing health crisis. The health crisis turned into an economic crisis. And, the economic crisis turned into a mental health crisis for many. And if that was not enough, it seems in this challenging environment, the mean spirits of hatred, pride, prejudice, racism, intolerance, selfishness, dishonesty, and civil disorder have abounded. It is clear to all that our world population is hurting. I need not document the many tragedies and hardships that people have suffered, as these are everywhere around us.

I would like to pose a question to you.

Can you name three ways that Covid19 has been a gift to you? Yes, that’s right, a gift to you. Life happens, we have ups and downs, hardships and heartaches. However what we do with these experiences, and how we let them define us makes the real difference. We could for example, put our head in the sand, say that none of this is happening, and let the Covid wave wash over us hoping that it passes us by; however that strategy is not likely to succeed.

Positive psychology informs us that people who have the ability to frame life’s challenges and difficulties and find meaning in them, frequently have more positive, fulfilling, and happier lives (read this book for more information). Being positive and reframing life experiences is a way for us to get unstuck if we are mired in feelings of self-pity and hopelessness. Whether things are truly good or bad are a matter of personal context. How we choose to view the world, will greatly determine our disposition and outlook.

Think back of the great hardship endured by Viktor Frankl and his fellow prison mates that endured unmentionable sufferings in the Nazi prison camps. How did Frankl survive when so many others perished?

Viktor Frankl had the ability to overcome difficult circumstances through reframing his own mindset and his constructs. He chose to view the world through a different lens, recognizing that truly there is a place between action and reaction.

Frankl wrote powerfully, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” And “Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.” “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Frankl’s words are powerful.

So let’s explore his words further. Have you ever learned or grown from a hardship? Have you ever experienced life, feelings, and learnings that would be impossible to have experienced without going through hardship or pain?

Truly, who’s to say Covid a good thing or a bad thing; it just is. Clearly the baneful effects of Covid are everywhere around us; viral infection, sickness, hospitalization, and for some death. Many have lost their jobs, some industries are still downturned, and many others suffer now with mental health challenges in confined environments that represent their own challenges.

Yet, how we choose to look at Covid and frame it in our minds, conversations, and actions will make a great difference in our personal attitude, fulfilment, and general wellbeing.

For example, ponder this question: what are three gifts Covid has given you? You may want to take time to pause and think about your own examples, and when ready, continue. I will model this same question for you, by relating three gifts of Covid in my own life.

  1. Family closeness and connectedness.

  2. Business pivot and advancement.

  3. Lifetime learning opportunities.

Let’s start with family closeness.

On March 15, 2020 much of the US started to lockdown because of Covid. Stay at home orders were in place. Covid was emergent and growing, and the goal was to tamp it down to give time for researchers and scientists to develop a vaccine for Covid.

We had been planning my mother’s 80th birthday party for over a year. She was to have her birthday on May 6th, right in the middle of the first Covid wave in the US.

At first we thought of postponing the celebration, as to get together would be too risky and none of us wanted to be the one to give our beloved mother/grandmother Covid. Then we pondered, what could we do instead, and still honor this day.

So with the gifts of creativity, ingenuity, and virtual technology of Zoom and Google Sheets, we decided to do something that was simple yet extraordinary. In the background, my siblings and I quietly put together a Google Sheet document and sent this around to all our relatives; asking all of our mother’s children and grandchildren to find a picture and write a story or two of fond experiences with their mother/grandmother.

This document grew, and grew, and when completed there were 69 entries of beautiful memories recorded therein. Then, on her birthday, we held an extended family zoom session where everyone personally shared their individual contributions to the book with our beloved mother/grandmother. When the 80th birthday celebration ended, my mother exclaimed that this was so precious, so timely, so beautiful, and heartfelt. She even expressed that “I’m not sure if we had met personally together, if I would have been able to absorb these same messages on a one-to-one basis, nor spend so much time with each one of you.” This was a special day.

As a family, we have subsequently found other ways to meet up on zoom–with regularly scheduled Sunday evening “dinners,” holiday celebrations, and even Sunday school lessons when going physically to church was not possible nor advised for health reasons. What we have all gained from this experience is a much closer relationship with our family and extended family, and these close relationships were only made evident when dealing with Covid. So truly, Covid has been a gift for our family in terms of closeness, love, and support.

Business pivot and advancement.

My own business was temporarily crushed by Covid, with rapidly falling revenue of my executive search business unit that fell by 76% within the first three weeks after March 15, 2020—the date I first noticed a significant impact of Covid in my life, when Covid and the fear of the pandemic reached the US with full onset. Perhaps no economic indicator is more correlated with my executive search business than the US Purchasers Manufacturing Index (PMI), and it was on the elevator downwards in March/April 2020. Fortunately, I had two other business units, and they were holding up, but were not of sufficient size to support the business revenue lost by frozen executive search contracts. My business needed a pivot, and it needed one soon.

So in this business covid/financial crisis, I did what I have done in other financial crises, and I conducted a quick deep dive to explore alternatives. What product or service could I sell to my existing client base or close adjacent markets, that I was not currently selling? After pondering for a few days, I decided upon three seemingly attractive market pivots, and I created three Minimally Viable Product (MVP) concepts. Not knowing what the best idea was, I decided to let the market (and sales) tell me what the best marketable idea was at that time. I swiftly created three MVP marketing pieces, representing the products (as if already built and ready for use) and I sent them out to a sampling of my clients and client prospects.

My first MVP got a sale within the first week, and then no further sales or interest observed for the next two weeks. This MVP was deemed a failure, and was jettisoned immediately.

My second MVP got a quick response from a customer, who commented, “this is awesome, and after Covid we should do this!” Obviously this MVP was a failure, and was jettisoned rapidly.

My third MVP got seven (7) sales in the first month, with revenue flowing in April 2020, and I knew that I was onto something. Sales and interest doubled in May, again in June. In July, we saw a huge acceleration in business interest and revenue, and this greatly accelerated our business. By the end of Q3 2020, we had not only recovered from the Q2 downturn, but we had exceeded 2019 annual revenue, so we are truly grateful and feel blessed to have found this pivot. Importantly, our vital revenue producing MVP was not on the menu of services prior to April 2020, and truly represented a rail split of opportunity taking our company into new areas of growth for the future.

Happily, now in November 2020, the executive search business is coming back, with multiple requests for search engagements this fall. However, if it were not for Covid, we never would have explored our winning MVP that gives us more stability and growth of our monthly recurring revenue today. Covid was a gift to us by setting up the market conditions for us to increase our curiosity, innovate, and pivot into adjacent markets that we will not abandon when Covid goes away.

Lifetime learning and growth opportunities.

When I look back and ponder my life, the times of greatest disruption have been exogenous market cycles and events like: Black Monday (1987), Nasdaq Crash (2000), 9/11 (2001), and the Great Recession (2008-2010). Each time, my life has been economically tossed to and fro, and it took some time to readjust, reset, set my feet on the ground, and grow intentionally again. Each of these downturns gave me an opportunity to learn something, to be intentional about learning and my pathway, and helped me grow in new ways.

Now in 2020, with Covid giving me the gifts of disruption and free time again, I used the time to ponder what I loved most in my career, and I found it was coaching others. So, I decided to use my additional time to sharpen my saw and improve my knowledge and education in my chosen trade as an executive coach. As a lifetime learner with an overachievers mindset, one self-improvement course would not do, so I threw myself into multiple courses, and each has given me perspective, insights, and opportunities for new growth. In this Covid downturned economy, I’ve been given the opportunity to explore more deeply Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Positive Intelligence (PQ), life coaching, organizational development coaching, and executive coaching.

When the pandemic of Covid fades away, I will be left with more knowledge, wisdom, insights, revenue, and better family relationships. So truly, put into this context, Covid has been a gift of great value to me and my family.

Now, I do not want to seem like Pollyanna, or say that there has been no hardship. Our family and business have suffered like many others. However, when we put into context the hardships we face, we can consciously choose, like Viktor Frankl, to frame our environment and our thoughts in ways that are constructive for us as we strive to lead healthier lives.

With your permission, I invite you.

I invite you this holiday season to ponder and think about your own three gifts from Covid. I challenge you to make a present intention to make this Thanksgiving season memorable, transformational, and pivotal for you to take your own positive journey back to where you most want to be. If you cannot presently think about how Covid is a gift to you, then perhaps you might find value in starting a gratitude journal. Gratitude is a powerful elixir for the soul, and can help you find meaning in life’s challenges, increasing your gratefulness for life and all that is around you.

I will close this vlog with a quote from Scott Peck, "The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers."

Ponder and name your own gifts from Covid.

I wish you and your family every happiness and health this Thanksgiving Season!

Be well,

Severin Sorensen

CEO, ePraxis


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