By now, everyone one speaks with has their own share of Covid related stories. I do not know of anyone, from my closest circle to the further-most circle, who has not been impacted in some way or another. The world at large has reeled under the impact of this virus. Why has this happened? Who is responsible for it? When will it end? Are all relevant questions and must be answered, but to me the most important question remains: what have I done in these circumstances and how have I dealt with it? Because that’s what matters in the end. That’s what will define what will happen to my present and my future.
There is no dearth of stories of individuals who have dealt with this situation in the most amazing ways, and there are those who have come out even better than they were before March 2020, which is about the time when we in India were impacted. It is indeed incredible the kind of work, effort, sacrifice, and loss that has been borne by those on the frontlines, the medical care workers, the police, the administrators, and pretty much everyone who is/was involved in the day-to-day management of the situation. I am no one to judge whether they did right or they could have done better, to judge what is/was political and what was not, or to comment on whether optimum efforts were made or not. I put forth my views from the perspective that it is what is, and it must be dealt with.
The one thing that this period of two years has taught everyone, and I hope that the learning stays for at least some time, because it is already evident that memory is short – is that unpredictability is a new norm. This is not a new learning, but every few years personally and professionally one is reminded of this truth.
So, the real question is – what does one do about it?
For me, the last two years have been an amazing learning, an opportunity to develop an even deeper understanding of human nature and human behavior. And the one truth that seems to stand firm is that – there are things one can do and there are things that one cannot, and what matters most is how one deals with the things one cannot do.
My run in with Covid started in December 2019. I was based in Singapore at the time and China had already announced the discovery of this dreaded disease and its impact. At that time, the world felt it was a China problem and there seemed to be a ‘localized challenge’ approach to it. By February 2020, it seemed more like a regional challenge than a local one. South-East Asia was shutting down and getting impacted. Travel curbs, advisories, business levels depleting – the entire gamut of impacts was being seen, though mind you, not felt. Come March / April and suddenly it was a global phenomenon. And by May the world was reeling. Each country had its own way of dealing with the situation, as did every state, every city, every neighborhood, every family, and every individual.
I was stuck in Singapore as there were no international flights and though I was lucky to be on the first ‘Vande Bharat’ flight out of Singapore in May, I know of so many who wanted to be back but could not return because there was no certainty of when they could be back in Singapore. By then, two months of the strict lockdown had passed. The journey from the Airport to the Taj in Colaba (my quarantine hotel) was surreal – or was it really – because I had experienced this twice before – post Babri Masjid (December 1992) and during the Mumbai attack (November 2008). Both times I was out of the city but was lucky to be back as soon as possible. The sights of empty roads, police chavanis, shut shops, in the city that never sleeps are etched in memory. And yes, while the peacocks on the streets, the sightings of dolphins, and so forth are all lovely sights, I pray that we don’t need more incidents like these to get them back to the shores of Mumbai.
The first few months after being back in Mumbai and serving 15 days of isolation and 15 days home quarantine, one started to get integrated in the family’s quarantined lifestyle. There was nowhere to go, no one to meet and really not much to do.
Post the first lockdown there was some relief, people were optimistic, and some discussions began on the work front. There was significant caution, anxiety and absolutely no commitment. This was not unexpected, but needed getting used to. As an interim measure, I started to teach online, re-engaged with some young professionals who needed guidance, mentoring, and also kept the optimism high. Just as things looked to be getting better, along came the second wave and the cycle was repeated, though this time it hit closer to home. Life goes on and with every punch that gets thrown, there is impact; but it is an individual choice as to whether one wants to break a little every time or come out stronger.
We have just been through the third wave and as it ebbs, there is renewed optimism and renewed vigor. The idea is not to find sympathy or praise, the idea is to share the one point that I keep on telling myself – the only way to move forward is to challenge the challenges.
Each challenge tests you and tests your ability to deal with it – each challenge should also teach you how far you can push yourself. There will be times when you feel like you have hit rock bottom. The question is not whether it is actually rock bottom or not, the question is – does one believe that they can rise and take one more step? The question is not how far one can go; the question is, even after two steps back can we take one step forward?
This is possible and absolutely critical. Of course, there needs to be family support, and along with that there needs to be a mindset – not that one is invincible, not that one is super strong, not that nothing can touch me – because all these have been thrown out of the window so to speak, but a belief that one can and one must DEAL with it. The moment one takes this approach, life starts to take a different pace and direction. Three critical aspects to focus on:
- Acceptance of reality (ABSOLUTELY NO DENIAL),
- Creating of a NEW plan / approach (extremely critical, as in some cases like today, most plans were created keeping in mind the known), and finally
- Seek Help (because one does not know everything – but collectively we know more)
I leave you with these three thoughts; and in the future, I hope to share the various aspects of each one of these.
- The article was originally published in Career Ahead April 2022 issue.
Akshay Kulkarni is a hospitality and education professional with over 25 years of experience. He has worked across continents in hospitality-linked businesses ranging from education to operations, consulting, and technology. He also brings a strong entrepreneurial mindset, having spent the last 15+ years helping organizations build new businesses and develop new markets. He is currently pursuing a PhD and spends his time consulting, teaching, and mentoring.