What COVID-19 Gave Me (Part I): My Life

I started Monday Morning Meditations because good questions often matter more than good answers … and I know the best questions we can ask take a lot longer than five minutes to think through and answer. It’s true at work, it’s true at home, and it’s true when looking inward at ourselves. Each week I try to ask you something that requires you to dig deeper and really interrogate your approach, your perspective, how you show up in the world. Yet after last week’s question on leadership “philosophy,” I was afraid the series was growing stale.

Like anyone who’s experienced tragedy, I’m often conflicted with how much “good news” I should share that comes from crisis. We’ve all been effected by the 2020-2021 pandemic, especially those who’ve lost loved ones or who know someone still battling side effects and aftermath of the virus. Yet I also believe we too often fail to acknowledge the good that comes from crises like this. We never take the time to survey the damage and consider what we’ve learned, what we can do better, and what we must do in the future when a similar (or worse) disaster strikes again. I am but one man in a sea of billions working to get past this crisis, but I for one must also be open and honest about all I’m grateful for in the past year. And so in place of a Monday Meditation, for at least the next few weeks, I’ll be asking the same question–of myself, and of you. What Did COVID-19 Give You?

The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) swept the world from late 2019 to early 2020, reaching the Pacific coast in Washington State and quickly growing into a national and international problem necessitating well-coordinated, practiced responses. Whatever you think about how the U.S. responded, our system is designed to be decentralized and slow in favor of the smallest political unit. And so governors, county commissioners, and mayors took matters in their own hands and did what they could to protect public health and answer to citizens’ concerns about the inevitable impact to our economy and well-being. Our response to the pandemic in the U.S., and Ohio in my case, brought my Maggie and me back home to share a small office with our two dogs. For a while, my mother-in-law lived with us to watch our sons home from a shuttered daycare. Even after daycare reopened and our boys’ lives regained some normalcy, Maggie and I toiled every day at our jobs, time-sharing the office for Zoom meetings and conference calls, all while I worked at transitioning from the active duty Air Force and redefining who I was as a professional, not to mention a husband, father, and citizen. It was a much more mentally and emotionally taxing experience than I was ready for. And that would’ve been true without COVID. Adding a pandemic into the mix meant we experienced additional stressors, conversations with family we’d never planned or prepared for, anxieties about what was ahead and what would be ‘allowed’ that we never expected to have. And through the summer of 2020, I remained convinced of only one thing: I was an absolute failure at everything I tried to do and everything I could try to do in the future.

I was a nuclear weapons operator and Air Force officer who’s time had come to “hang up” the uniform, yet I had no idea what to do next. Reminders of how valuable my military time was and how much “leadership experience” I had were nice but unhelpful. I reached a low point in July where I was convinced I wouldn’t amount to much as a post-military man.

Fast-forward almost one year, my outlook is quite different and there’s so much on the horizon I have to be excited about and grateful for. It’s impossible to know for sure and I’ll never know for sure, but I have to believe our response to COVID quite literally saved me. I explain why in this week’s podcast episode and challenge you, amidst the tragedy and all of the negative aftermath we’ll endure because of COVID-19 and what we did to mitigate it, to ask yourself the same question. What Did COVID-19 Give You?

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