Noticing the Water: Seizing Opportunity from a Crisis
Posted by: Joseph Kuo | August 6, 2021
A fish lives in water 100% of the time. Water is its natural environment, and it’s all that it knows. So, would a fish even notice that it lives in water?
Similar to a fish in water, as creatures of habit we are often immersed in a set of familiar habits and living patterns, our “water”, so to speak. It’s what we know and it’s what we do every day. It’s an environment in which we are comfortable.
When we’re comfortable or “dialed in”, our living routines can be very smooth and efficient. The trade off is that when we get set into a routine, it makes it hard for us to see and consider things outside of our routine that could make our lives better.
Often it takes a major crisis to break us out of our routines and make adjustments. The key is that when such a moment comes, look at it not as not just a temporary interruption to a “norm” we must return to, but a nexus point and an opportunity to reassess our lives and consider new possibilities.
When we do so, we can take advantage of something commonly considered negative (job loss, pandemic) and turn it into at least a personal positive (new business, work that allows more time with family). Instead of wondering “when can I return to my previous life?”, consider questions such as:
- Am I happy with how things have been going?
- Is there anything else I have been thinking about trying?
- Are there other choices available now that I wouldn’t have noticed or been able to entertain because of my previous routine?
If you find yourself asking questions like this, there’s usually a good reason. Don’t ignore them or push them aside. When such a window for change opens up, don’t let it slip by. Once you return to your former routine, you will have missed an opportunity to make a change that could positively affect your life.
I had a client who worked at a large investment firm. When the pandemic hit, he had to shift from his well-ingrained daily routine of commuting to the office to now working at home. Slowly, he discovered he enjoyed the freedom and flexibility that working from home gave him. When his firm started calling people back to the office a couple of months ago, he realized that he preferred his new routine to his old routine. He first met with me to ask if it would be financially viable. After we ran the numbers, he decided that he would instead leave the firm and start his own home-based practice.
The forced change in environment caused by the pandemic made him break out of his old routine; it made him “notice the water” and let him become aware that there were other choices. It showed him another path.
However, finding another path is not always obvious. Often, the realization that there is a better way is the culmination of a thought process.
Take the story of another of my clients. This client was an engineer working at a Silicon Valley startup, making great money but putting in 80-100 hour weeks. With such an intense routine, there was only room for a singular focus on the work at hand.
It took the pandemic to finally break him out of the routine. Once he realized that he could work at home, he asked himself, do I still have to live in the same area near my company?
Which led to, if I could live elsewhere, do I need to make as much money to maintain my desired standard of living?
If I don’t need to make as much money, could I do something else and be just as happy-or even happier? Could I start my own business and work on a topic of personal interest?
After working with me to make the necessary adjustments to his finances to support such a move, my client ultimately started an at-home business in partnership with his spouse. As you can see, in this case it wasn’t necessarily a single “aha” moment, but a train of thought starting with the crisis breaking the routine. Once broken, that first change leads to follow on possibilities that open the door wider and to more possibilities.
Unlike a fish which can’t live out of water, we can- and by doing so, often improve our lives.
Major events that disrupt our habits and routines force us to break from our routines and norms. The silver lining is that they also force us out of our comfort zones and give us a window of opportunity to reassess our situations and see if there are other choices that could improve our lives. When such an opportunity comes, give it a chance- it could lead to something that makes your lives better.