Post Covid Reflections – Michelle’s Personal take on Gratitude

As I post this blog, I realize I am taking a risk. I’m choosing to share brutal personal details of my experience over the past three years. Please don’t mistake this for a “VantagePoint” blog. It isn’t. This is raw, unedited me. I hope it resonates with those of you who take the time to read it.

I realize this may come as a surprise for many readers; however, I’m grateful for the hard-learned lessons from Covid-19. Why? Because I learned more about myself in the last three years than I had ever known before. This happened through brutal self-reflection when everything seemed to be taken away from me. What did I learn that was so important? I learned that I am not what I do. Period. What does that mean? It means that no matter how hard I work, or how many degrees I get, how many books I write, I have very little control of the world around me. I can’t make the world respond the way I prefer. Wow, who knew?! Certainly not me, not at the time.

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit with force in early 2020, my world as I knew it flipped upside down. For all practical purposes, training halted. The training we were able to conduct was quickly transitioned to a virtual platform. The vision I had set seemed to slip through my fingertips in ways I couldn’t fully comprehend. Surely, things like this don’t happen to me! Until they do.

I found myself angry and disillusioned. Mad at the world, mad at myself, mad at the universe. I was very angry for a long time. That anger burned like fire in my belly, and not the good fire. I was angry! It felt unfair. It felt wrong! As a long-term businessperson approaching what I’d hoped would be retirement, I found myself completely reevaluating my life, my choices, my hopes, and dreams, even who I was as a person. You see, I never felt like I had failed at anything that was truly important to me, particularly in my professional life.

At some point during 2021, I realized that my anger was toxic and unhelpful. Although I kept a brave face to our employees, the disappointment was crushing. Most of the things I believed about myself and my own agency in the world came into question. Was I really a successful businesswoman? Was I a good leader? Did I study the right things? Did I do the right research? Why was this happening to me, a person who worked super had, did the right things – it didn’t make sense. What hit me like a ton of bricks was the realization that I had defined myself, my life, and success in very limited ways. If I couldn’t find a way to redefine who I was and what was important to me, I was at risk of sinking into despair. I don’t do well as an angry person.

My philosophy of life has been that it is one big self-fulfilling prophecy. We create our own reality. What I learned was that the only thing I personally have control over is how I navigate the world around me as it unfolds. Some things are far, far beyond my control. What an important and valuable lesson. I had been feeling like a victim of Covid. Like a victim of something I couldn’t impact in any way. It felt debilitating. After much hand wringing, I finally got to the point that I wasn’t willing to continue to view myself as a victim, to view Covid as the big bad villain in my life. I realized that I was okay. My life had changed in significant ways. My plans for my life were permanently altered and I couldn’t just get the time back. It was gone forever, along with my timeline for major milestones. I could no longer deny the reality that was now facing me. I realized that if I were going to get back on some sort of track in my life and my business, I had to deal with the reality of what is, not what I’d hoped my life would be. That was a big pill to swallow without choking!

At this point in November of 2022, I can look at this experience differently. I can express gratitude for the lessons learned. Gratitude to our employees who stuck with us during difficult times. Gratitude for the commitment to continue our research, even when funding was slim or non-existent. Gratitude for becoming a humble, accepting, and kind person. No matter what else the universe throws at me, I’ll always be kinder, more humble, more loving, and more accepting of myself and my fellow human beings. That is something that can’t be taken away from me. Ultimately, it is who I am within myself that defines my success, my happiness, and my value to the world around me. Not my degrees or achievements. Who I am matters far more than what I do.

Some may read this blog and say, well “duh” everyone knows that. In that case I’d respond, good for you that you know that. It took my two years of utter despair to learn it. But I REALLY learned it. For good. What I learned which has been the most life changing is that the key to contentment in life is to be happy regardless of my circumstances, not because of them. Sounds like an easy concept, but for me it was the toughest lesson I’ve ever learned, and I’m still working on it.

I don’t usually put personal feelings on my blogs; however, I felt compelled to write this blog. If my experience and reflection can help just one person, it was worth it!