5 Keys to Personal Growth in the Great Pandemic Do-Over

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If there’s even the slightest silver lining to the pandemic, it’s clearly that it has given millions of Americans permission to make radical changes in their attitudes toward their work; in their behaviors toward their family, friends, and others; and in their philosophies going forward as to what exactly they’re hoping that life will bring them.

Ideally these will be changes for the better. Changes that will endure once the world returns to whatever the new normal may be. But nothing will improve if these folks just sit around and wait for things to happen to them as opposed to seizing the moment and making those things happen for them and their businesses. As Ayn Rand said: “The world you desired can be won.” 

While no one is entitled to a perfect life, it seems that many of us now possess once-in-a-lifetime, remarkable, and previously unavailable (or at least unimagined) levels of power and agency to alter our lives — hopefully in positive directions — and to change the ways in which we run our businesses as well. How each of us emerges from the limbo of the last two years and seizes this brief window of opportunity will set the course for our futures — both personal and business. The best entrepreneurs learn to ride and master the waves they encounter rather than letting the waves carry them away or roll right over them.  

What’s even more amazing is that the same permissions and prospects apply — in virtually identical fashions — to both our lives and our companies. While there may be many more, here are my favorite five.  

You now have permission in your personal life and your professional life as well to: 

1) Face up to things you’ve avoided or denied for years. 

“Necessary evils” are often just cheap and lazy rationalizations that we employ to keep doing things that we know are wrong, wasteful, or destructive to our mental well-being or our company’s culture and spirit. As Springsteen says: “It takes away from your soul when you do what you don’t believe in.”

The truth is that you can’t do good business with bad people. If your best salesperson is an asshole, now’s the time to bite the bullet and get rid of that person. It’s not the employees you fire who make you miserable; it’s the ones that you should fire but don’t. This goes for bad customers as well — deadbeats, people who treat your team members poorly, cheapskates focused solely on price and not value. Now’s the time.

2) Forgo commitments, obligations, and entanglements that are no longer meaningful, valuable, or important to you.  

This has been a time for considerable introspection, and we’ve all realized that, in certain parts of our lives and certainly in parts of our businesses, we’ve been going through the motions and phoning things in for quite some time. Do you really need all those club memberships and board seats when you’ve really been bored out of your mind at most of these events and meetings because you no longer have the necessary passion, interest, or commitment to actively participate and contribute? You’re just taking up space and dragging yourself to places you’d just as soon never be. It’s time to pull the plug, make room for new folks, and get out before they work up the courage to ask you to leave. You’ll be doing everyone a favor — especially yourself.  

3) Finalize all those tentative and dangling undertakings and open-ended intentions and aspirations.    

Do it or dump it. Fish or cut bait. Half-hearted efforts are distractions which suck time and energy from your forward progress and still leave you unhappy and unsatisfied. Rand called these “the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all.” Maybe now’s not the time to master a new instrument or learn some new skill. That boat has sailed, and, while it might have been a realistic dream if we knew the pandemic was going to last two years, at this moment it’s time to get back to business and more immediate concerns.

4) Focus on a few critically important objectives and do those things as well as possible.  

This shouldn’t be news to anyone. You can’t be all things to all people or spread yourself and your team a mile wide and an inch depth. In the rush to get back to business, it’s easy to get distracted and pulled in too many directions. And it’s especially hard to say “no” to long-time customers who stuck with you during the toughest of times. But you’re in it for the long run and now’s the time to make the hard choices. Focus, take small steps first, walk before you run, and stick to your guns.

5) Forgive people for their youthful indiscretions, uncontrollable passions, slights (imagined and intended), and other stupid mistakes because everyone — including you — is entitled to a chance to change. 

Everyone gets one pass and a chance to show that they’ve changed. We need (especially in politics) a virtual statute of limitations on stupidity. Not merely in terms of legal or financial accountability, but a practical bar and agreed-upon prohibition against even mentioning acts of juvenile and unthinking stupidity that took place more than a dozen years ago or when the alleged wrongdoer was in college. Frankly, the same thing goes for your own HR people, who spend way too much time looking for warts rather than focusing on the bigger, positive picture of the person in front of them. 

Yearbook investigations spanning past decades in the faint and sleazy hopes of finding an embarrassing photo or two should be regarded as the wrong-headed and hypocritical wastes of time which they have always been. The entire “gotcha” culture is both the last desperate act of a print/video industry desperate for relevance and revenues and what seems to be the entire raison d’être for the Facebook/Google ad-tech duopoly, which is algorithmically driven by manufactured clickbait controversies, cheap sensational headlines, and misleading chyron streaming banners. 

A few obvious and long-overdue changes might mean that otherwise entirely competent candidates for any number of positions in multiple industries (and especially in government) will no longer be precluded from pursuing these opportunities by virtue of the media — egged on by the culture cancelers on both sides of any topic — seizing upon and spewing overheated exaggerations and phony outrage about their youthful indiscretions.  

We all need to take a breath and give each other a break from the hate and rampant ugliness of the Trump years, when there was nothing too low and no lie too great to say about another person. As a country and as individuals, we can be better than that. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.