What I Learned During COVID-19

“Here’s what I learned.” Those are the words that excited Steve Jamison when he met with Bill Walsh to discuss a book on Walsh’s leadership philosophy. They ended up writing The Score Takes Care of Itself, a highly impactful work that explains what Bill Walsh did right and wrong as he coached the San Francisco 49ers to three Superbowl wins. He took the team from one of the worst in the NFL’s history to a dynastic powerhouse for the next 20(ish) years.

If you watch, read, or listen to the news nowadays, COVID-19 and the quarantine dominates. But instead of following Walsh’s lead and asking “what did we learn?” pundits and so-called “thought leaders” are supplanting themselves as society’s secular priests, placing blame directly on “them.” “Them” is always folks on the other side of the political spectrum. In their effort to not waste a good crisis, they’ve wasted a good crisis by manufacturing problems and stirring contention.

So stop listening to them. Take a moment to find a quiet spot away from the Twitter rage, crack open that journal, and write down some thoughts, answering the question “what did I learn?”

I’ve listed below is some free advice that’s resulted from my COVID-19 experience. These are the things that I learned (or, in some cases, relearned).

Become antifragile. Nassim Taleb wrote a whole book on the concept, but in short: people, companies, governments, and systems can be either fragile, robust, or antifragile. If you’re fragile, any randomness weakens and maybe destroys you. Robust individuals or organizations weather storms without changing. But if you can be antifragile, you thrive during turbulence. You come out stronger. 

Don’t sweat barking dogs or little kids as they interrupt your coworker while you’re in a video conference. It’s the literal version of text messages stealing attention – but it’s real and actually matters, unlike trivial alerts on a smartphone.

(Speaking of dogs …) Get a dog. Get a dog that needs exercise. It’ll get you outside and being outside is always good for you, even when it’s hot, cold, raining, snowing, or perfect. No matter how great you are to your dog, you’ll never be able to pay them back for their love and companionship, but it’ll make you a better person just trying. And they’ll yell at door-to-door salesmen for you.

Appreciate people who work in service industries. Acknowledge the cashier wearing a mask at Trader Joe’s. She’s putting her health at risk to support her family.

Sure, it’s a little tricky to transfer those old family videos from VHS and 8mm tapes. But it’s worth it. You better do it soon – those tapes are rotting away as you read this.

Read books. Obviously. There are good books – fun mystery novels. There are better books with epic stories like The Lord of the Rings or important histories (my favorite is Undaunted Courage), or you can challenge yourself with some Shakespeare, Blake, or Frost. There are the best: holy texts like The Bible, Quran, the Book of Mormon and works by great thinkers like Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and CS Lewis.

Read the great books in the morning while your mind is fresh. Read the good books in the evenings when your mind is tired.

Wake up early, starting your day by reading and then exercising. It’s quiet in the morning. Most of the time those who will ask you to do something for them aren’t up before 8 am. The earlier you get up, the more time you have to read and exercise. Jocko explains it this way in Extreme Ownership: “The only way you could make time, was to get up early … Waking up early was the first example I noticed in the SEAL Teams in which discipline was really the difference between being good and being exceptional.”

That’s what I learned – or relearned. The point is, you should take time to sit and write your thoughts. And taking a moment to explain in your journal what you learned during COVID-19 will help you and maybe someone else.

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