Keep thriving!

About a month into the pandemic last year, I wrote an essay on why we all needed to thrive. It was based on the picture below about my daughter. Looking back it was my first time writing about what mattered to me during the pandemic. Not wanting to feel stressed out or overwhelmed with homeschooling, I escaped into the world of thriving thanks to my daughters IXL certificate for Math achievement. I remember sharing the essay with a few friends and then tucking it away with the many random things I often write about. In looking through old pictures recently, I came across the certificate again and remembered the paper it sparked. I am keeping it here, below the picture because the message then, which was critical, is just as significant for today. Keep thriving.

We should all choose to thrive during and after the coronavirus outbreak.

Just today, my 7-year-old daughter received a certificate from IXL, a website for learning, indicating that she had answered 6,500 math questions. I shared the certificate with family and friends without verifying when she completed the questions, over how long, or what types of math questions she completed. I was simply elated that she was passionate about math to the point of answering 6,500 questions. On further investigation, it turns out, that my daughter did 2 things really well, to earn her certificate. First, she was quite simply passionate about math and went above and beyond her regular math assignments, and second, she pursued opportunities, that allowed her to continually develop her enthusiasm for math. Her passion for math, and seeing improvements in her abilities over time, worked in concert. The end result was rewarding, not just because she successful completed 6,500 questions and received the certificate, but that she continues to do more math questions, beyond her grade level.

However, for the past 1-2 months, children like my daughter, families, communities, and countries are facing a new reality. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented event in modern history, resulting in people responding rapidly to turbulent changes caused by the outbreak. Lockdown orders, social distancing and facemask rules imposed by governments to flatten the curve, have moved people further away from their daily routines of livelihood. As the global pandemic unfolds, 1.5 billion children and youth like my daughter are out of school, resulting in a crisis that can further deteriorate their learning. The quest for normalcy has spawned a remarkable number of strategies focused on understanding how to co-exisit with the virus. While a myriad of factors can affect how people respond to the outbreak in the short run, the key to not only overcoming, but prospering in the medium and long-run, is to choose to thrive. But what do we mean when we say “thrive”?

It is a critical question because our response to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic will be shaped by the possibilities for or the demise of our society vis-à-vis our decision-making with thriving. The question of the society we all collectively want following this pandemic is at the heart of all governments and informs their policies, but raises complex questions on how to prioritize and protect our physical health and overall well-being. A focus on what, how, and why we should all choose to thrive is vital. To choose to thrive, I believe, is about growing, developing, and feeling passionate about living. To choose to thrive is different from surviving, and has nothing to do with merely getting by or remaining stagnant. To choose to thrive, allows, no demands, that we create conditions whereby we feel alive as we participate in opportunities for fulfilment whether while lockdown at home or through our work, play, music, socializing, learning, creating, pursing hobbies, or making meaningful contributions to our community and society. The on-going COVID-19 pandemic promises to disrupt our daily lives. Yet we should all choose to thrive in spite of the pandemic, not because of it.

Author and researcher Gretchen Spreitzer described two components of thriving that many may find useful as they make sense of the outbreak: 1) vitality or the sense of being alive or living life fully despite the virus; and 2) learning, or growth that comes from gaining new sense of self, knowledge or skills. Vitality during covid-19 includes positive experience of feeling energized, enthusiastic, and alive. People with a sense of vitality are much less likely to feel worried, depressed, or upset and more likely to be mentally healthy. In addition to vitality, learning refers to the sense that one is achieving desired personal, family, or professional goals as continually develop or actively seek out opportunities that foster growth. A sense of learning contributes to positive physical health and mental-wellbeing. Spreitzer suggest that the joint experience of both vitality and learning are necessary for thriving and in turn, optimal health and well-being.

I foresee that the decision to choose to thrive will come in stages. Some will readily embrace this essay and find ways to live and learn during this pandemic. Others will feel helpless given the acute lack of growth, immobility and stagnation caused by the virus. Whether or not we choose to thrive, it is worth trying. With my daughter and as with many little girls, I know that something dramatic happens in early adolescence, where their love for math and all things science-related begins to wane. Maintaining her passion and findings ways for her to develop her math skills now and into the future is essential. The COVID-19 pandemic enjoins us all to think deeply about the society we want now and post the outbreak. It is essential. Essential, because if we do not choose to thrive, the virus will win, and the manner of its victory is as diverse as it is vicious, across all nations, whether with this first wave or the projected second waves to comes.

We are not helpless. This is the time to engage in dialogues, to listen, imagine, and envision what it would be like to choose to thrive in spite of the pandemic.

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