A Letter to the Class of COVID-19

marieThe universe certainly seems to have it in for your generation. Sandy Hook,Stoneman Douglas,  the Las Vegas shootings, impending climate disaster, widespread political dysfunction, and not one but two economic meltdowns. Now a global pandemic has robbed you of the senior spring celebration you earned and put in doubt any plan you may have made for life after graduation.

I’m not here to feed you platitudes. I will not tell you to “find the silver lining” in all this or promise that life will soon be “back to normal.” You’ve probably heard that the Chinese word for crisis also translates as opportunity. But it’s not true; the actual translation is “danger at a critical moment.”

Of course, previous generations have also faced crises that threatened or derailed the plans they had made: the Great Depression, World War II, the threat of nuclear holocaust. Like those generations, you have a right to feel cheated. But like them, your life doesn’t have to be defined by the crisis thrust upon you. You will define it by the actions you choose to take at this inflection point in history.

When I was hired at Nike, I was 35 years old with a decade of experience in crisis management in the White House and at Microsoft. It was 1998, and I was brought in to navigate the fallout from a series of allegations about working conditions in factories. In the face of this crisis, Nike could have chosen to focus on simply cleaning up the mess and moving on. Instead, we developed a different perspective. We looked beyond the immediate crisis and did some serious thinking about the long-term future of our entire business. What kind of company—what kind of people—were we? What kind of legacy did we want to leave? What would the world look like after this crisis, and what would be our place in it?

That perspective led us to make meaningful commitments, not just to improving working conditions, but to things like environmental sustainability and good governance. Those and many other reforms have made Nike a stronger company in ways we couldn’t have imagined when we made them. The mantra was to continually strive to do better—not just in moments of crisis, but every day.

Okay, you’re saying, that’s great. But what does Nikes existential crisis have to do with mine, stuck in my parents’ house watching Tiger King?

The thing about plans is that they inevitably fall apart. That’s what plans do. And it doesn’t even take something as dramatic as a global pandemic.

I once quit a job I loved, estranged myself from my mother, and moved from Seattle to Montreal for my fiancé, Francois. One day, sitting in his parents’ basement translating medical supply catalogs into French, I found out he’d been cheating on me. Whether it’s an unfaithful fiancé or a global pandemic, no matter how well you plan your route through life, the universe has a way of wrenching the steering wheel out of your hands. All you can do is be ready to shift gears and keep moving.

That’s why the most important thing you can do right now is stop worrying about where you’re going and start focusing on where you are.


Post time: May-18-2020