• Tom Marshall

How COVID-19 has awakened us to what matters

We were all sleepwalking through life. Marching to work each morning, filling our free time with the same activities, never stopping to think. 

Now everything’s changed. We are no longer behaving like robots, following a pre-programmed pattern. We are awake.

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn so that we see ourselves as we really are.” - Arthur Golden

When everything runs smoothly, we do not question our behaviour. We are habitual creatures that have evolved to simply survive, not thrive. When adversity strikes, it strips away our social norms, routines and assumptions. Perhaps it is coming out of a relationship, getting fired from our job, or losing someone we care about. Perhaps it is a global pandemic. These crises force us to see what really matters. I’ve observed three key aspects that others and I have become more conscious of these days:


Connecting with the people who matter

In times of crisis, we bind together. We feel the natural human need to support and be supported. When social-distance measures came into force, I instantly started thinking of the people in my life who are most affected – students whose exams are cancelled, grandparents who are alone, doctors who have to work long shifts. Instead of just sending a message, I called them - to feel a real sense of connection. When we stop “doing” routine activities, we focus more on “being”, with the people we want part of our life journey. Living through this crisis with my girlfriend has shown how precious our relationship is. Having daily touchpoints while working from home is both strengthening our relationship and enhancing our productivity. The situation brings out an intensity of emotion that only deep bonds can handle. And why would you only see the most important person in your life during evenings and weekends? Admittedly, though, I do have a separate home office; so I still have the privacy that others might be craving right now!

Caring for our well-being When we see others suffering, it opens our eyes to the fragility of life. We become more conscious of our mortality and the importance of looking after our well-being. My father often tells me that the early passing of my grandfather from poor health led him to take up running.


In these troubling times, I’ve become particularly conscious about the need to support my mental well-being. Rather than rushing straight to work each morning, my girlfriend and I try to start the day with an online group meditation. It’s helped us attain clarity of mind for the day and reduced the risk of frequent distraction by the latest COVID-19 news.


Now that our usual evening activities are cancelled, my partner and I have also started taking late-night walks (maintaining a 1.5-metre distance of course). And as I’ve written about before, I find walking is both incredible for your health and quality of conversation.


People are also realising how a long commute affected their health. I video-called with friends who used to spend one hour and 30 minutes in the car each day -  they look noticeably more vibrant and relaxed now. Doing meaningful work

I’m in a privileged position to feel some benefits from this crisis. While many of us are reconnecting with loved ones and caring for our well-being, some people don’t have that luxury. The heroes in the medical profession are busy saving people’s lives. Grocery store workers are ensuring we still get food on the table. People who no longer have a job are concerned for their futures.

But this contrast between our working lives and the videos we see from hospitals, makes us question how meaningful our work is.

The state is literally telling most of us that our work is “non-essential”. To what extent was this reality also present before COVID-19? When I worked as a Big Four consultant, at the end of the day people would often say: “Ah well, no one will die if we don’t finish this before tomorrow.” Now I see the truth in that.


Let’s use this consciousness while we are still awake. By reflecting on what we’re learning during this crisis, we can retain it for when this is over.


Spend five minutes before you go to bed tonight to write down your answers to these three questions:


  • What am I grateful for today?

  • What did I learn about myself today?

  • What activities gave me energy today?

“Know yourself better than anything else”. That is the second principle of my 12 principles for an extraordinary life. Understanding what matters to you means you can take back control when change is forced upon you. Our current situation may bring us a lot of pain, but within the adversity it has hidden the gift of consciousness. Let’s use it to our advantage.