Constraints and Perspective (#218)

As fear about the Coronavirus spreads, many companies are cancelling events, restricting non-essential business travel and asking employees to work from home. Similarly, individuals are cancelling or postponing personal travel as well.

The outbreak has clearly disrupted our personal and professional routines, adding a new level of constraints to our daily lives.

But operating with constraints isn’t always bad—often it leads us toward different ways of thinking that are beneficial and drive effective change. When we don’t have any restrictions on us, we tend to reflexively do what we have always done and don’t consider possible improvements.

Furthermore, there is a fair amount of data suggesting that constraints make us more creative as they tend to change our perspective on the status quo. Instead of focusing on the disruptions to our lives, we might reflect on some of our assumptions.

  • Maybe conferences aren’t as valuable as we believed?
  • Maybe we don’t need all the in-person meetings that fill our days?
  • Maybe working from home is more productive, and less stressful, for many employees?
  • Maybe we need less than we think to make us happy?

This week I read an interesting story from Zhexuan Huang, a University of Pennsylvania student who lives in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the Coronavirus crisis. Huang returned home for Winter break and is now unable to leave the city, forcing him to miss the current college semester.

During this quarantine, Huang has become an integral part of his community’s response to the virus, helping elderly people order food online and spending significant time with his family rather than worrying about them from afar. Huang shared his altered perspective, saying:

Frustration hit me hard at first. My plan for this semester was ruined. I was forced to stay at home most of the day, watching my friends at Penn carrying out their daily lives on campus through social media. It almost felt like taking a long, dull break and not knowing its end.

However, as I sat down and started contemplating, I realized the blessing in disguise: If I were to fly back to the U.S., I would be immensely worried about my family while unable to offer any meaningful help to my hometown. Now being in Wuhan, I have the opportunity to support my family and contribute to the local community during such a hard time.

In life, we don’t always control what happens to us, but we can always control our reactions.  As Huang demonstrates, even in moments of clear crisis, we can push aside fear and frustration and find a way to be grateful and help those who need us.

This is especially important to remember for those whose lives have been merely disrupted by the Coronavirus, rather than directly impacted, which is the vast majority to date.

For example, my family has several summer trips abroad that may be cancelled. While I am disappointed, I am not going to get upset. Instead, my wife and I are thinking about things we could do closer to home that we may have overlooked. This includes beginning a goal to climb 40 of the 4,000 foot mountains in the state of New Hampshire, that may ultimately prove more fulfilling.

In situations like this, perspective is crucial. The Coronavirus is genuinely dangerous and life-threatening for some, but for many others, it offers the opportunity to challenge our assumptions about what we really value in life.  As Huang shows, people who excel in times of crisis are often the ones who keep perspective and find fulfillment in helping those who have a greater need than their own.

 

Quote of The Week

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

 

–Alexander Graham Bell