4 Ways The Pandemic Can Grow Your Character And Career

Challenging times can help us pause and reflect.

By Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., Psychotherapist in Private Practice and Author of 40 books.Photo by Andi Rieger/ Unsplash [View Image]

Post-traumatic growth helps us build stamina and find possibilities and new opportunities during a career crisis.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”—Friedrich Nietzsche

The pandemic has created a lot of heartbreak, fear and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among the workforce. On top of our personal woes, many employees have grappled with fears of loved ones and themselves contracting Covid-19, not to mention the isolation and burnout of remote working and helping children with schoolwork. Although many of us have endured a lot of stress and mental health challenges, there’s good news on the horizon, known as post-traumatic growth (PTG)—the benefits and positive changes that occur from grappling with highly challenging life crises and adversity.

Post-Traumatic Growth

Thrive Global founder and CEO, Arianna Huffington, said of the pandemic, “Navigating the new normal isn’t just about looking out; it’s about looking in.” Many people have described their struggles with adversity, forcing them to mine their inner reserves, face threats and come out stronger on the other side in their personal and professional lives.

When referring to the motorcycle accident that paralyzed him, Sean said it changed him for the better in ways that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. “It was probably the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” he said. It caused him to look at his life in a different way and to appreciate things that made living more meaningful. And he’s not alone. Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts often report that hitting bottom is their greatest blessing because it wakes them up to a better life—one that is healthier, more productive and more satisfying. When the actor/comedian Richard Belzer was given a cancer diagnosis, he said, “Cancer is a cosmic slap in the face. You either get discouraged or ennobled by it.” And in a Barbara Walters interview, the late actress Elizabeth Taylor said she laughed when doctors told her she had a brain tumor. Walters gasped. But Taylor wisely replied, “What else are you going to do?” Oddly enough, Taylor’s and Belzer’s attitudes show that, when adversity strikes, we can all use it to our advantage.

Studies of trauma survivors show that adversity—as counter-intuitive as it sounds—can actually have certain benefits:

  • Help us see we’re stronger than we thought
  • Bring new appreciation and meaning to our lives
  • Change our priorities 
  • Take us deeper into our spirituality
  • Deepen the closeness we feel toward ourselves and others

His Holiness the Dalai Lama contrasted two life situations to show how inner peace and tranquility are determined more by our state of mind than external circumstances. The first was a woman with meteoric business success who prospered from a financial windfall that suddenly gave her lots of money, free time and retirement at a young age. After the dust settled, her life returned to normal, and the woman said she was no happier than before the windfall. The second was a young man about the same age who contracted HIV. Devastated at the news, he struggled with the shock, exploring his spirituality, appreciating the small and simple things in life, getting more out of each day and feeling happier than before the diagnosis.

Four Areas Of Benefits To The Pandemic

A new study—the first of its kind—examined the positive effects of the coronavirus and its potential for post-traumatic growth. The research surveyed 385 people in Portugal and the United Kingdom during the first wave of Covid-19. Although the respondents reported considerable adversity, 88.6% also cited four areas of PTG during the pandemic and lock down.

  1. 48% described the development of closer, more meaningful family relationships.
  2. 22% cited a greater appreciation of life, adoption of a healthier and slower lifestyle with less stress and more present-moment awareness.
  3. 16% noted spiritual growth, a greater appreciation for others and a stronger sense of community as people helped one another.
  4. 11% said they embraced new opportunities and possibilities including better work/family balance, positive changes in remote working, plus an opportunity to learn new skills.

The researchers concluded PTG can possibly mitigate some of the adverse psychological and mental health effects of the pandemic, which supports findings from published reports of other types of adversity. These findings also validate my early boots-on-the-ground report of collective selflessness and helping others during the pandemic in Asheville, North Carolina.

How To Cultivate A Career Growth Mindset

We don’t have to wait for a cosmic slap to develop an appreciation and deeper meaning in our professional or personal lives. Cultivating a growth mindset—a winning frame of mind that career and personal curve balls happen for us, not to us—empowers us to cope with hardships. Career climbers with a growth mindset welcome obstacles, setbacks and disappointments—no matter how painful, frustrating, big or small—as opportunities to grow and learn instead of as defeat. Failure is our personal trainer as we ask ourselves, “What can I learn about myself from this letdown that will help me grow?” or “What can I manage or overcome in this situation?” or “How can I turn this disappointment around to benefit my career?”

We’re as willing to embrace failure as we are success and to view them as a package deal—like a hand and glove, milk and cookies, flip sides of the same coin as twins, not enemies. We understand that avoidance of failure morphs into avoidance of success. We realize in order to attain what we want, we must be willing to accept what we don’t want. And we don’t take career highs any more seriously than career, nor lows any more seriously than the highs. Once we start to accept failure as an essential stepping-stone to success, we give ourselves permission to stick our necks out and make the mistakes necessary to get where we want to go. We get up, one more time than we fall, take the towel we want to throw in, wipe the sweat from our brow and bounce back higher than we fall.

Each of us has the power to choose how we respond to adversity. Instead of letting the situation dictate our state of mind, we can decide our perspective of the ups-and-downs, keep ourselves grounded over the long haul and stay connected to the essence of who we are. Adversity’s gift might just be the renewal of personal reflection, contemplation, meditation and prayer—all of which can help us rediscover what really matters and help us stay calm in heart and mind when everything around us seems to be falling apart.

In the same way an acorn contains within it a mighty oak, we contain deep within us tremendous roots of strength, just as plants and flowers grow through concrete. Whether we’re sheltering in place, working remotely or serving on the front lines, a seismic event like the pandemic can try to uproot us. But when we keep our feet firmly planted on the ground and nurture our growth mindset, our deep roots cannot be reached—even by a hard frost. During these challenging times, we can examine our hearts and minds, spread upward from the acorn into the giant oak we were meant to be and split the weights that hold us down.—

Published on February 19, 2021 by Thrive Global – Thriving in the New Normal

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