Legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, once said, “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
Not many would suggest that the last month or so consisted of “perfect days.” And yet, as I reflect on the selfless sacrifices of medical caregivers, the continuous efforts of those who provide essential goods and services, and the simple gestures of kind folks who just want to help—well, I guess Coach Wooden would say we’ve recently seen some incredibly perfect days.
Undoubtedly, it’s a universal sentiment that we want COVID-19 cured and eradicated. We want the “new normal” to return to a semblance of the “old normal.” We should, of course, temper our impatience for these outcomes with gratitude for those who are working tirelessly for the development of vaccines and effective treatments to conquer the virus. We have the assurance they will not stop until successful.
In the meantime—however long that is—most of us have two extraordinary gifts to savor, if we choose to. The first of these is the gift of additional time. While we would prefer to use our time in customary pursuits, social distancing has forced many of us to stay at home. We have found that we have “time on our hands.”
There’s certainly room for enjoying time with family and watching television, but if we’re not careful, we will ignore the second great gift: the gift of agency, the right to choose what we will do. In normal times, much of our agency is essentially pre-programmed. We get up at the same time each morning, go through the same pre-work routines, head out to work where the use of our time is highly defined, return home, then rest and repeat!
With the unexpected gift of time in the new normal, many of us have the rare opportunity to use our gift of agency. We can consider new possibilities in our work—and in our lives.
We might consider how we can more fully serve others, both in the current situation and in the future. Now is a great time to review how well we provide real value to our families, neighbors, customers, and others with whom we associate. How might we improve our actions and behaviors to create more value—and more perfect days? As we consider our answers to these questions, we might then ask, “What if I did _______?” (Fill in the blank with possible actions you might take.)
Your answer might be as impactful as a cure for the coronavirus, or it might be as simple as writing a sincere thank-you note to a valued employee. It really doesn’t matter whether your answer is what author Jim Collins has called a BHAG (big hairy ambitious goal) or a simple act of kindness. In fact, often the value of such simple acts has the greatest impact on those who are grinding through the struggles of life.
For me, one who provided an exceptional example of simple acts of kindness was the late Irene Webster Smith. I met her in Japan when I was eleven years old. At that time, she was already in her sixties. Known as Sensei (teacher in Japanese), she had dedicated her life to saving orphan girls in both pre-war and post-war Japan.
My parents welcomed her into our home, treating her very much as a celebrity. She had been featured in a 1960 book, Let My Heart Be Broken…with the things that break the heart of God. Dublin-born, as a young girl she volunteered to help homeless Irish children. That led her to sign on as a Christian missionary to Japan where she became an advocate for girls sold into sex slavery. In 1918, her service refocused on serving those afflicted by the global influenza epidemic. One selfless act led to the next—and ultimately a lifetime of perfect days.
As Irene conversed with my parents, she deflected all praise, simply quoting Proverbs 4:12: “As thou goest, step by step, I will open up thy way before thee.” In other words, she used her gifts of time and agency, knowing that opportunities for creating value would become clear.
Most of us will not feel called to serve our fellowman in distant countries or in such extreme circumstances. But we can use our own gifts of time and agency to enhance what we in business call our “value proposition” to those we serve. Now is a great time to do so!
Here’s hoping that we’ll each have many more perfect days!
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.