The pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 were possibly the most tumultuous in modern history; they challenged the fortitude of humanity, stretched the fabric of society, and stress-tested governments and institutions worldwide. The two years are an indelible memory for everyone who experienced them. If you think things will return to pre-COVID conditions exactly the way they were, think again. The business-as-usual model of the past has been replaced with a business unusual model and that model is being developed daily.
Few times in history has humanity had a shared experience like the COVID-19 pandemic. Through seemingly endless, exhausting news cycles, the world was force-fed a daily diet of crises: a global pandemic, world economic stress, political upheaval across the globe, racial injustice, public health disparities, unemployment, homelessness, food insecurity, natural disasters, and much more. Therefore, the vitality of the future requires that we reexamine the things that impact our social, cultural, and economic well-being. If we can no longer do things the same way and improve our standard of living, then we must change and create a new standard that ensures the future will be better than past and present day. Let’s use the lessons learned from the crisis during the past two years to create a better future.
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that adaptation is not only essential for life, but also for a way of life. The pandemic became synonymous with change, and adaption follows change. When change occurs, the key to overcoming the circumstances that follow it is not a matter of chance, nor is advantage given to the strongest or the fastest, but to those who adapt quickly.
During 2020 and 2021, our resilience was tested like never before and citizens quickly realized that adaptation is more than an idea; it is a matter of survival. The years’ adaptation crash-course created a moment when things seemingly stood still. Citizens were forced to think differently about how to live. Before the pandemic, we did not give much thought to restricting family gatherings, travel, and social events; we took these things for granted. However, during the last two years we were forced to rethink nearly everything, including work. Many were able to use collaborative technology to work remotely. While the work-from-home strategy was an intriguing proposition, it was perceived as a temporary change to our home life. After a short time, the novelty of this new home, work, and family balancing act ran its course and the intrigue withered away. We all experienced mental fatigue because of the pandemic, and we did our best to manage what was most important, family.
The complexities of COVID were unimaginable and unpredictable; therefore, we had no choice but to adapt. Just when we thought the 2020 pandemic was nearly over, because of the discovery of a vaccine, 2021’s striking resemblance to 2020 brought more of the same: virus variants, world economic stress, political upheaval, and much more. So, adaptation continued. The new reality created by adaptation shattered the notion of “normal” and the changes we made have become our new way of life.
The pandemic also taught us that health impacts the economy. In 2020, the pandemic created a health crisis that evolved into an economic crisis and then an employment crisis. Businesses were closed, schools discontinued classes, and many citizens were not able to work. Consequently, businesses suffered and many were forced to close permanently resulting in the loss of employment for many citizens. The snowball effects of business closures and unemployment created an economic crisis throughout the global community – a crisis from which we are still recovering: global supply chains were disrupted, manufacturing halted, and we witnessed bankruptcy on a massive scale. Hospitals stopped performing a broad range of medical procedures to care for more COVID-19 patients. Every aspect of business was impacted by the pandemic.
The pandemic created enormous stress for citizens. It has been physically and mentally overwhelming. We realize now, perhaps better than before, that mental health is critical to our overall well-being and quality of life. The mental strain during the pandemic occurred to a degree and on a scale that is difficult to measure. We were reminded that without mental health it is impossible to function productively, so we found different methods that promoted mental and physical stability. Subsequently, the discussion about mental health has been elevated to a higher level than the pre-pandemic era and citizens are encouraged to talk about it, find needed help, and to develop a lifestyle that promotes mental and physical health and well-being. The economy and the vitality of the future depends on this. It has brought us face-to-face with the undeniable reality that health is paramount to a healthy economy.
The idea that the future is what we make of it is more than a notion, it is a daily reality. Building a prosperous future is perpetual. The future must be constructed and reconstructed by each generation to satisfy the societal needs of the time. The future is now! The vitality of the future depends on selecting higher caliber leaders, honing our individual abilities to lead, and ensuring our willingness to train those who follow.
The pandemic altered society, business, and government in a way that necessitates a recalibration and reconstruction of them to remain viable and to satisfy the needs of those they serve. Such a shift will require good leadership. Only then can our social, cultural, and economic well-being flourish. Leadership is an existential issue, one that our lives and futures depend on. Our families, communities, businesses, and governments – the pillars of society – require good leadership. It is fundamental and essential to a successful future to have a type of leadership that guides us through issues of today, tomorrow, and beyond.
As we continue to move further into this new era, returning to the past is not an option. The notion of going back to “normal” implies going in the wrong direction. Instead, we should look and move forward and realize the future is what we make of it. To a certain extent it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, dream big and imagine the impossible.
Written by Russell Richard