George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” It’s inspiring but, as we as individuals and as a society deal with the impact and uncertainty of the pandemic and look to rebuild, how do we choose the right path? How do we become “a force of nature?”

The obstacle in our way – as described in Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game – is often the opponent inside our heads made up of fear, anxiety and self-doubt. Changing our relationship with those powerful emotions is critical and is why it is so important that organisations and leaders have a clear vision and purpose.

Take a breath
In holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Victor Frankl we have an example of someone who lived through extreme horror and yet, from within, discovered a freedom which came from the observation that the people who did best were the ones who were not caught up in the immediate fear and anxiety of their situation but somehow managed to think of others by, for example, sharing their meagre food rations. Frankel’s profound observation was that the ability to act in this way resides somewhere between the stimulus (the external forces) and the individual’s response.

Unless we practise and become more conscious of how we respond, it will often be the response of the opponent – the fear, anxiety and self-doubt – and not our true selves. Taking time to pause, to take a breath between the stimulus and the response is a hugely powerful way of calming us and helping to find that space which allows us to choose who we want to be; to find our freedom and connect with our purpose.

It’s a philosophy that finds a relevance right now as the coronavirus crisis – a seemingly unstoppable external force – continues to pose a huge test for society, governments, and the organisations we work for. The leaders and their organisations that will successfully come through the pandemic and thrive in the longer term will be the ones that are able to pause and distil a powerful mission or purpose that all of their people can connect with and communicate; a purpose which will help them rise above the ordinary in the service of something greater and more meaningful.

Mission and purpose
All of us have the opportunity to make life more meaningful and, as a coach, it is my experience that leaders and organisations who are able to choose their response; to remain calm and focused when emotions like fear, anxiety and excitement threaten to overwhelm decision making; to take time to develop a compelling mission and purpose, are the ones who will win through in the most challenging times.

For each of us as individuals, do we choose to be “selfish little clods” or a “force of nature”? “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can,“ concluded Bernard Shaw. “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”