Passion and Optimism in the Time of Coronavirus

The covid-19 crisis is having a profound effect on almost every aspect of our lives. It feels as though the whole world is pressing the reset button. It isn’t business as usual for anyone; and it’s giving us all pause for thought.

When this is over, will we just go back to doing what we were doing before? Or will this discontinuity lead us to reassess our priorities?

A few years ago, in what seems like another world, I was invited to lunch with colleagues in the opulent dining room of the Royal Automobile Club in London. As the pudding settled in our stomachs, talk turned to the question of what makes for a long, happy and fulfilled life. 

Many ideas were floated, ranging from genes to not drinking or smoking. My own conviction was it might be having a sense of purpose. But as we talked, two factors more than any others seemed to emerge as the most important: passion and optimism.

Think of the people you know who are happy and fulfilled. I’m betting they’re passionate about what they do and optimistic in their outlook. If this is right, then perhaps, in thinking about our plans and intentions for life after coronavirus, we should focus on these two things: passion and optimism.

Passion

I read somewhere the greatest source of unhappiness in the western world is the mismatch between people’s occupation and their passion. If we don’t truly love what we do, how can we truly be happy and fulfilled? 

We’re envious of those who follow their dreams. We hear them say they’re fortunate to make a living doing what they love. But what about the rest of us? What if our job isn’t our passion? What if we don’t have a passion? How do we start living a life we can be passionate about?

These are not trivial questions. They go to the heart of who we are and what makes us tick. They call for deeper introspection than most of us are used to. Unless you already know your passion, you won’t find it just by thinking about it. You need to try things and experiment. You need to learn what turns you on and what turns you off. 

More importantly, you have to find a way of being in the world that draws you in the right direction. My wife Janet knows what she’s passionate about: culture, history and art. But, more than this, she has a way of approaching life which lends itself to developing this passion. In her own words:

“Our memories enrich our experiences over time. A combination of new places, different landscapes and alternative ways of thinking, create a diverse and fascinating tapestry to discover and explore. Experiences do not have to be positive, they can be disturbing, annoying and unsettling. However, it is really important .. that experiences provoke an emotion, an understanding, some empathy, in the heart of the visitor.  It is vital to set aside trivial concerns, to enable the individual to fully experience a new and different environment.”

Perhaps this is the way to approach life: “to seek out the disturbing, annoying and unsettling… to provoke an emotion” as a first step on the road to finding passion.

Optimism

Do you know any happy, fulfilled pessimists? 

So much has been written about the power of positive thinking, and the perils of negative thinking, that it almost goes without saying. Nonetheless, it is not always easy to be optimisticabout our chances of success or about our ability to be successful. Especially in these troubled times. 

With regard to our “chances” of success, the key is the notion that luck somehow plays a part in whether or not we will achieve our goals. It’s often said we make our own luck, or that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and I firmly believe this is true, up to a point. 

So, the first step in becoming an optimist is to recognise we can, to a very great extent, influence our chances of success by being open to opportunities and making smart decisions. 

My very wise daughter, Lucy, illustrated this beautifully in an article she wrote “Fridays are for Foraging” in which she observes that, even in these straitened circumstances, many of us have a great deal to be thankful for and we should resolve to focus on the positives. 

With regard to our “ability” to be successful, the key is largely a question of confidence. Do you really believe you can do this? The truth is we often don’t know until we try, so perhaps it’s not so much whether you believe you can do it, but whether you’re prepared to give it your best shot!

There is a wonderful example in the documentary film “Last Man on the Moon” which tells the story of Gene Cernan, whose space exploration career spanned the Gemini and Apollo programs. He piloted Gemini 9, was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 10 (descending to within eight miles of the moon’s surface) and commanded Apollo 17, the last of the Apollo missions.

I strongly commend this film to you and challenge you to be anything but humbled by his story. Gene sadly passed away shortly after making this film, which gives added poignancy to his closing words in the documentary:

“I often tell young kids and particularly my grandkids, don’t ever count yourself out. You’ll never know how good you are unless you try. Dream the impossible and go out and make it happen. I walked on the moon. What can’t you do?”

As we emerge from this current crisis, will you be ready to seek out and pursue your passion and will you approach it with a sense of optimism? 

To find out more about the film “Last Man on the Moon” please visit: http://thelastmanonthemoon.com

To read the full article by Janet Simmonds please visit:

To read the full article by Lucy Simmonds please visit:

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