Finding hidden opportunities in difficult times
In China, the word for ‘crisis’ translates as two different concepts: danger and opportunity.
2020 has been difficult, that’s for sure: it’s been intense – a year of massive transition and reset, a year where it feels as though the ground underfoot is crumbling, but also a year with many blessings in disguise.
On the downside, collectively, we’ve been dealing with devastating climate change, political chaos and conflict around the world, freedom of speech under threat, misogyny and racism, health threats, species on the brink – and more.
And on a personal level, of course, we have loneliness and rising suicide rates, hunger and poverty, grief for broken dreams and loss.
A seedbed for positive growth
There have been times in my own life when all the tough stuff has been so overwhelming that I couldn’t see my way through another day. But those times have also been the richest in terms of what I’ve learned about myself, my life and the world. They’ve been the seedbeds for new things – positive things I could never otherwise have imagined and may otherwise never have explored.
It’s a cliché, but we’re all on a journey through this life, constantly learning, adjusting course, discovering what lights us up or extinguishes our spark. Life is unpredictable. It’s just how it is.
Right now things may feel heavy, and many of us feel tired. We’re continuously having to make new and different kinds of decisions, and second-guessing what life will look like tomorrow out in the world.
We can’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone next year, but deep challenges can bring unexpected opportunities too.
During the absolute worst time I can remember in my own life, I was staring out of the window one day when suddenly a tiny bird hopped onto my windowsill. I stared at it, and the longer it stayed the more enraptured I was. I gazed at the minute detail of its feathers – the colours, the iridescence, the absolute perfection of its design. The magnificent detail of its creation and its form could not have been in sharper contrast to how I was feeling at that time, and noticing that was like balm for a wounded heart.
That tiny bird touched me in a way I will never forget.
It sparked my interest in close-up photography, capturing the tiniest details of flowers and insects, feathers and leaves, and it gave me a renewed sense of awe and wonder about this world – even through that time. It reminded me of the influence and impact we each have on each other and on the world, through whatever we do or say in any moment – for good or for bad.
Hearing the birds singing this year, while the world has been quiet during lockdown, has reminded me of that once again.
Unleashing creativity through chaos
My musician partner, Tim, and the rest of the band he plays with have – against all the odds – been able to travel across borders and all meet together in a recording studio this year to record their new album. It’s possibly the most beautiful music they’ve ever made – and all because of the impact of 2020. It’s something beautiful for the world. Others too have been able to create extraordinary things.
Sometimes we need to allow ideas to percolate and gently show us our next step. We need to pause, listen, learn – and maybe even take a few steps back to recalibrate before we move forward again. We can at times feel precariously balanced on a knife-edge, not knowing which way we might fall. However, adversity, risk – and not being able to see ahead – are all part of living a full life and of becoming all we can be, no matter what times we live in.
So let’s hold on to the good things we’ve seen in many places in 2020, such as stronger communities, cleaner air, a greater awareness of those who need our help, living with less and, in many cases, growing our own food. Beautiful things can emerge from chaos, and those things are precious.
New year, new start
For me, 2020 has been the first time since 1985(!) that I’ve been in one place for longer than two or three months at a time – so it’s been interesting, to say the least. I’ve started painting, I’ve renewed friendships, I’ve got to know my neighbours. So many good things.
Outwardist was originally a travel website, but that came to an end when the world (and I) stopped travelling. So this year Outwardist has been sharing ideas for a better kind of future – whether it’s to do with the planet, politics, how we live or imagining the world we’d like to live in. Maybe the current turbulence in the world might actually give birth to those things, in time.
We’re all learning new steps in this thing called life and, as the Chinese say, this time of crisis can give rise to extraordinary opportunity too.
In January 2021 I’ll be expanding Outwardist by introducing some practical strategies to help in difficult times.
In the meantime, what have been your biggest delights in 2020? What will you take forward into 2021? And what will you let go of?