2020 Could Still Be Your Best Year Yet: Lessons From Champions In Crisis

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Stanford economist Paul Romer once said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And as the crisis that is 2020 drags on, I wonder if we’re running the risk of doing exactly that.

As time passes, the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) we once felt is replaced by a new and unsettling phenomenon: FOLO (Fear Of Losing Out). We’ve started to wonder if we are doing enough with our reconstituted days. Have we really re-prioritized our lives around what matters, or will we slip into our old habits once the crisis abates? Will we emerge from the crisis better than before, or will we look back on it as a squandered opportunity to reset our lives, regroup as a society, and re-emerge as a more united, equitable, and prosperous country?

Some people have made great use of the disruption and are already reaping dividends. We all have friends who regale us with tales of using the reduced travel and no commutes to cook healthy meals and work out every day. You have to give credit where it’s due to those who managed to lose the “Covid 19,” while the rest of us merrily packed it on.

US Open- Final Round GETTY IMAGES

After last weekend, I’m also betting that there’s more than one professional golfer with a dose of FOLO after the U.S. Open. I’m not much of a golf fan, but I’ll admit to being entirely captivated by the story of the new champion, Bryson DeChambeau. Just as this year has unhinged so many maxims about life and work, the world of golf is reeling in the wake of DeChambeau’s unorthodox approach to the game and his personal and physical transformation over the past year.

You don’t have to be a golf expert to appreciate that hitting more fairways was always seen as a prerequisite to success, and yet the 28-year-old hit only 23 out of 56 for the week (a mere 41% success rate). To put that in context, it’s been almost 40 years since any U.S. Open winner has hit fewer than 27 fairways, but to DeChambeau, it was all part of the strategy, science, and preparation he put into his victory.

When asked how he felt about the pandemic and what others were seeing as a lost year, his response was that he “felt the pandemic was an opportunity.” He went on to explain how he’d used the time to “change his lifestyle, get healthier and better,” and encouraged everyone to “look at free moments as an opportunity for you to make yourself better — don’t squander it.”

Consistent in many of DeChambeau’s interviews is his commitment to improving himself, rather than proving himself, as well as his curiosity and propensity for experimentation and learning. He openly admitted that right after this victory he was planning to gain more weight and experiment with new equipment in an effort to push the boundaries of his performance. “Most people are afraid of failure,” he said. “I love failure because it tells me where to go next.”

If there’s one clear takeaway from DeChambeau’s message, it’s that there is still much to play for. For anyone who wants to avoid that sinking feeling of a wasted crisis and increasing FOLO, here are three solid re-frames to help us make the best of whatever “crisis time” is left:

Rethink Resilience

Start by redefining the word “resilience.” Right now, we have a choice: Do we want 2020 to be a story about how we endured — staggering to New Year’s Eve, tired, weary, and ready to write the year off as one we’d rather forget? Or can we DeChambeau ourselves, change gears, pick up the pace, and run through the tape on December 31, already three months into a new game plan for our lives?

Ben Anderson, a high-performance executive coach and my colleague at Propel Performance Group, pushes his clients on this point all the time. He reminds them that resilience isn’t about bouncing back unchanged; it’s about accepting what’s happened, absorbing the learnings, and evolving so that you’re better fit for the future.

“Right now, I’m getting my clients to divert their energy and focus into lifting outcomes, not just enduring everything, which they’ve already done,” he said. “There’s an incredible shift that happens when people change the energy, emotions, and even the words they use to describe what they want to do. It completely reorients them — it changes everything.”

Mindset Is King, Structure Is Queen

When external factors have the potential to be distracting and depleting, reframing our mindset every day (sometimes multiple times) is powerful. Pilots wouldn’t contemplate taking off, nor would surgeons make their first incision, without going through a rigorous checklist to ensure everything is in check before they begin. And yet most of us go about our days without ensuring that our most powerful piece of equipment — our mind — is in good working order.

A recent study by health insurer Bupa Global found that nearly eight out of ten corporate executives have experienced poor mental health during the Coronavirus crisis, prompting a number of them to re-evaluate and improve their work-life balance. Earlier this month, I wrote about what managers could do to help employees who are at breaking points, but those steps also apply to how we can help ourselves. The 4Rs — recognize, replenish, re-anchor, re-engage — is a helpful framework to reset your thinking and formulate a game plan for how you’re going to respond during the rest of this stressful time.

Another thing that puts us on a better path is structure. What are the routines you can put in your day that help you be your best? Are you setting boundaries between your work and your personal time, or are they bleeding into each other? The little things in your day that help frame your mindset more positively, give you a sense of groundedness, and help you breathe are no longer a nice-to-haves — they are necessities.

Build Strength From Strength Within

No matter how much 2020 has rattled your cage, it cannot change who you fundamentally are, and it cannot detract from your personal strengths and resources. They’re still there, even if you’re not fully tapping into them.

Now is the perfect time to reexamine our assets and ask ourselves what we’ve got to work with. I often think about that scene in the movie Apollo 13 when the shuttle is in trouble and the ground team at Houston have to figure out a solution using only the materials and assets the crew have onboard. Their task was to literally put a square peg into a round hole, which seemed impossible, and yet they knew failure wasn’t an option.

Each of us has the ability to reconstitute our lives using the assets we have at our disposal. For most people, upping sticks and starting over isn’t a reality, so we must figure out how to optimize around what we already have. This was exactly what Bryson DeChambeau decided to do: build upon what he saw as a foundational strength and turn it into a true competitive advantage: “I was always a super-straight driver of the golf ball, super-great iron player…and now I’ve got an advantage with this length, and that’s all she wrote.”

A recent study found that 72% of Americans believe this is the lowest point in the country’s history that they’ve ever been alive to see. If that doesn’t sound like an opportunity to change our trajectory, I don’t know else we could be waiting for.

Of course, we don’t know whether the crisis will remain for another three months or three years, nor do we know which trends are permanent and which will prove to be only temporary adjustments. Be it on a personal, national, or global level, should we decide to re-emerge into the post-Covid world the same as before — or, heaven forbid, even worse off — that might be an even lower point in our collective history.

In 1988, during his State of the Union Address, President Ronald Reagan said, “Americans like the future and like making the most of it.” While the present is far from ideal, a better post-Covid future, that we make the most of, is one thing we should all fear losing out — and missing out — on.

Board Director, Advisor, Writer, Speaker & General Disruptor