Everything is a decision.
What I do as an entrepreneur and business leader is to make decisions. How to invest. What to prioritize. Where to go.
What I do to live is also to make decisions. With whom I spend my time. Where to focus my energy. How I choose to feel.
Some decisions feel more difficult than others. The past few weeks have been filled with many difficult decisions for each of us and for our world. The next few weeks will be filled with countless more difficult decisions.
I have started to reflect on what makes a decision difficult. My hope is that we can all be a little better equipped to navigate through what is likely to come for each of us and for all of us.
The Shine Has Worn Off
The decision to self isolate on a moment’s notice may not have been easy for most but necessary. Now a few weeks into this new reality, I found myself this past week trading stories with friends about how the shine has worn off for each of us. The novelty and newness of a change in environment, a change in routine and a change in the people we are with, or not with, has passed. The self-isolation honeymoon is now over for many of us.
Over the past 15 years, whenever I would come home to see my parents, it would be for a short time after a long time. An outpouring of kindness, focused attention and a jovial energy is what I had become accustomed to. Three weeks into my homestay, we have evolved from me visiting home to now living at home. What this means in practical terms is that the “it’s so nice to see you” and “I’m so glad that you chose to come home” has evolved to “what are you cooking for dinner” and “when are you cleaning this and fixing that”.
Every new day together at home is an opportunity for me to explore the depths of our relationship and recalibrate our connection as adults.
Prior conditioning had me believe that for peace to be had, we must agree on everything. What I have now started to discover is that peace can exist when we choose to understand each other.
The difficult decision is to choose to understand, even if we do not agree.
To Retreat Or Not To Retreat
Over the past few weeks, I have pondered pivoting this physical retreat into a mental retreat as well. One where I spend more time with practices like meditation, yoga, journaling and kirtan. I could dive into the 100+ list of books I have on my list to read or begin to work on writing a book. Maybe two.
I have had many experiences in isolation and disconnecting from technology. It has become a common practice for me on weeknights, weekends and on vacations over the past decade. I find it easy to put my devices away, disconnect from the endless external stimuli and go inwards to work on the internal stimuli. It feels familiar.
In the face of a global health pandemic, an economic crisis and a tsunami of social crises unfolding, I find myself drawn to step into the world versus to step away from the world.
The past few weeks have felt even more active than my typical New York lifestyle, as I start to discover how to best be of service and of use to the world in this time of need. Leading daily live meditations, volunteering and fundraising for several causes, calling friends every day and continuing to share reflections like this one are where I have started.
The difficult decision is to leave behind the familiar and to step into the unknown.
The Wake Of A Decision
A close friend shared this past week his fiance and him made the difficult decision to postpone their wedding celebration. He had mentioned a few weeks ago that they had started to reflect on whether or not to continue planning. Although I stayed quiet at the time, I knew that their wedding would not go on as they had planned. Intellectually, it was clear to me.
What was less clear to me a few weeks ago and is now evident after we spoke yesterday, was that I had underestimated how the emotional weight of a decision impacts the decision itself.
The sometimes useful, sometimes inconvenient ability we have to project and predict how we may feel after a decision hinders our ability to make the decision.
The wake of the decision is what can make the decision difficult.
The difficult decision involves facing undesirable implications of the decision.
Influence Without Authority
The Olympics are not only a major sporting event, they are a major, if not the largest, advertising event globally. This is why advertisers and broadcasters have been anxiously standing on the sidelines, more than curious, to see what the decision was going to be about the Olympics. I wrote an industry column titled Advertising In The Age Of Coronavirus one month ago predicting that the Olympics would be postponed. It was clear to me given what was beginning to unfold globally, as nations awakened to the global pandemic. GWI Research surveyed 10,000 people in dozens of countries a few weeks ago. Only 5% of people globally believed that the Olympics should go on as planned, and in Japan, that number was only 7%.
Despite it being overwhelmingly clear to many of us that the Olympics would not go on this year, for some reason, the Prime Minister of Japan continued to say that they would go on, as did the IOC. While the decision to host and organize the Olympics was perhaps easy, the decision to postpone the games was difficult for those at the helm.
Canada then announced that we were not going to the Olympics. And Australia soon followed. And only then did Japan and the IOC have the conviction to make the decision that was so obvious.
Where Canada is not an Olympics heavyweight like the US, Germany, U.K or France may be, we are also not a lightweight like Albania, Nauru or Somalia. This is why it is easier for Canada, over say the U.S. or Japan, to pull out of the Olympics, and for it to still have an impact. We cannot imagine the Olympics without countries like Canada and Australia.
When the stakes are high, leaders with the authority can freeze exactly when we expect them to do the opposite.
This is when those without authority but with enough influence need to make a difficult decision. That can be part of the process for the collective to make difficult decisions together.
The difficult decision can be made by those without authority but with influence.
The Lack Of Choice
Upon learning that both India and South Africa had made the decision to lock down their entire populations for 21 days, I was pleasantly surprised. I did not expect these countries to make the decisions that the countries I live in have not yet made.
India and South Africa are far more vulnerable to the impacts of a health pandemic than countries like the U.S., U.K., and Canada. India and South Africa also have far more to lose economically than Western countries. The impact of pausing the economy will be disproportionately felt by the majority in these countries, many of whom have already been living on the brink of survival. This did not stop them.
At the same time, countries like Russia and Brazil have not made the decisions that they need to make, in line with India and South Africa. The wait-and-see attitude by government leaders is literally going to kill their own people. It is disheartening and disappointing.
It is humbling to think that being unprepared for a challenge can be the fuel to act with more conviction in the face of that same challenge.
There is no other choice for countries like India, South Africa and many more but to take bold action immediately in the face of this health pandemic.
The difficult decision can be made more easily when you know you have no other choice.
The Price Is Right
In the game show The Price Is Right, contestants win prizes when they bid closest to the value of the prize without going over. I do not understand why governments are playing a game of The Price Is Right with the economy right now.
In the second week of March, the Canadian government announced $1 billion in additional funding for provincial health care systems and $10 billion in federal loans for small businesses. The next week, an additional $27 billion package was announced as income support. A few days later, $50 billion in tax deferrals. The following week, the income support package grew to $105 billion and tax deferrals to $85 billion. The Canadian government is not alone in this snowflake-to-snowball approach to economic stimulus packages.
What I believe makes it difficult for leaders here is that there is little history to rely upon and no playbook for how to navigate through this amount of economic uncertainty. I know that these are ‘unprecedented times’ however citing that these are ‘unprecedented times’ does little for the present moment but to provide a justification or excuse for the decisions, or lack thereof.
Leadership requires the ability to navigate and steer the ship in stormy and turbulent waters.
The captain should underestimate how ready the ship and crew are to face the storm and overestimate the magnitude of the storm. This is the playbook to navigate uncertainty.
The difficult decision is to underestimate oneself, not overestimate, in the face of uncertainty.
Pay Attention To What You Pay Attention To
I have come to believe that we are not capable of making a bad decision. In the moment we make a decision, we make the best decision that we can, based on the information available to us in that moment and based on the experiences that we have been influenced by. In hindsight, we may reflect on a decision and judge it to be good or bad. There are many times that I’ve reflected on past decisions and say to myself, ‘knowing what I know now, I would have made a different decision’. However, in that moment when I made those decisions, I made what I believed to be a good decision.
With this understanding, we have to pay attention to what we pay attention to.
What we consume influences how we see the world, and shapes our beliefs, which ultimately guide our decisions.
The difficult decision is influenced and inspired by our conditioning and beliefs.
Now that the self-isolation honeymoon is over and we enter week four of this new lifestyle and routine, it is important that we all continue to make the decision to physically distance. As a family member recently shared with me, ‘there is nothing to feel proud of by not following rules and thus introducing even more risk to one another’.
The warriors in this pandemic are the front-line health care professionals and their families. They continue to lead the battle to keep us safe and we are indebted with gratitude for their tireless hard work, commitment and compassion.
Here are a few lines from songwriter Paul Williams that capture beautifully why we continue to self-isolate, despite any desires that may tempt us to do otherwise.
When you go out and see the empty streets, the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms, don’t say to yourself, “It looks like the end of the world.”
What you’re seeing is love in action.
What you’re seeing, in that negative space, is how much we do care for each other, for our grandparents, for our immuno-compromised brothers and sisters, for people we will never meet.
People will lose jobs over this. Some will lose their businesses. And some will lose their lives. All the more reason to take a moment, when you’re out on your walk, or on your way to the shop, or just watching the news, to look into the emptiness and marvel at all of that love.
Let it fill you and sustain you.
This isn’t the end of the world. It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness in our lifetimes.
Framing why we do what we do changes how we feel about what we do.
I love the framing that our choice to continue to self-isolate is ‘love in action’. I can get behind that.
The difficult decision can be a great source of inspiration.
Decisions are not always difficult. The difficulties that we may experience ourselves and observe in others are a reflection of the fears, anxieties and insecurities associated with what we have known to believe. Some are founded, most are unfounded.
Once we learn to see reality as it is, in this moment, and not as we had once wished it to be, we can let go of the fear that has clouded our ability to connect with what we now believe to be true.
The difficult decision is to listen to and trust our heart.