It amazes me to realize that the COVID pandemic started one year ago. Sometimes it feels like it started 10 years ago, and other times it feels like it began yesterday. I want to take a few minutes to SELF REFLECT on the pandemic, and attempt to look at it in a BALANCED way, the tragedy and the benefits, the downsides and the upsides.

First of all, I hope that you and your families are safe and healthy. For those of you that have families or friends that have suffered directly or possibly even died, please know that you are in my prayers.

One thing is clear: the pandemic has caused many of us to reflect more deeply on our lives, and the lives of our families and loved ones. Students and friends have called me to discuss some of the important questions:

  • What are my values?
  • What is my purpose?
  • What really matters in my life?

When someone asks the question, “Harry, how are you doing?” rather than responding “okay,” I respond by saying, “How am I doing? Well, more than 2.7 million people have died, including more than 543,000 Americans. More than 20 million Americans are unemployed or under-employed. So, how am I doing? I am blessed, and called (like many of us) to help those less fortune than me.” If the biggest problem I have is not going to the movies or restaurants, I have no problems at all.

The pandemic has clearly been a crisis for many people around the world. It is a tragedy that has most severely impacted the less fortunate members of our global family: minorities, the poor, parents who cannot do their work remotely and have small children who are not able to attend school. It is clear that the lack of normal school classes is having a detrimental impact on many children’s development.

The impact on older people is also devastating. Being isolated in nursing homes without the ability to interact with their children and grandchildren has created significant emotional and physical harm.

Nonetheless, despite the tragic impact during the past year, I strive to be a “realistic optimist” as I look ahead. I try to remind everyone that we are not going to experience the depth of the 1918 Spanish Flu that lasted more than six years and killed more than 35 million people. We are fortunate to have discovered three remarkable vaccines in record time that will have a very positive impact on millions of people.

I use the term “realistic optimist” because it is important to keep everything in perspective. It will take time to produce all of the vaccines that are needed around the world. The virus is capable of mutating, which can impact the effectiveness of the vaccines. Many people are concerned as to whether there will be significant side effects from the vaccines and are therefore wary of taking them. While it is clearly an individual choice, the decision not to take the vaccine can slow down the ability to achieve herd immunity.

My opinion is that keeping things in perspective, and remembering the three things that doctors and medical professional have told us over and over again (wear a mask, stay 10 feet apart, and wash your hands often), we will get through the pandemic. Said another way, I do believe that the “light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.”

Okay, but let’s also look at some positive side effects of the pandemic. Many people that usually travel constantly for their work are finding the joy of spending more time with their families. One friend mentioned that they have had lunch and dinner with their families more in the past six months than in the past ten years. Many people are questioning how much of their past travel was really necessary. How many of their meetings could be conducted virtually?

I believe the pandemic has caused many of us to do more SELF REFLECTION. Since the pandemic has caused many of us to slow down and travel less, we can ask the question that I often ask my Kellogg students and executives: “When we are constantly running around, have we confused activity and productivity? We are clearly active, but how productive are we? Or are we moving so fast, we don’t know how productive we are, and so default to just keep moving?”

As a self-reflective person, I routinely ask myself: “What did I learn from the pandemic? Are there changes I should make as I prioritize the 168 hours I have each week? How should I look at my six time “buckets” (career and education, family and friends, spirituality and religion, health, enjoyment, and making a difference in the world in the short time we are on this earth)? What should I stop doing? What should I do less? What should I do more? What should I start doing?”

Best wishes to your families and friends!


Image created by Russell Tate. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives – help stop the spread of COVID-19.