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The Bright Side

By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner

As the Covid pandemic works its way around the globe, our country, our local neighborhoods, and our households; as election rhetoric continues to provoke vitriolic reaction and comments between political opponents, between friends and neighbors, between relatives and even between strangers on a train; as good, hard-working, normal people try to deal with social distancing, mask-wearing, dining-out; as other restrictions limit sports and entertainment venues; as parents struggle with decisions about putting their children back in school or not; as employers struggle with how to run their businesses and maintain some semblance of profitability; as employees deal with how to do their job from home when their spouse/partner is also there trying to do the same and simultaneously help their children try to complete their remote work assignments; as long-distance relationships, whether with family or friends, are totally disrupted and relegated to Zoom and Facebook; as all of this change is happening around us, it is often difficult to think that anything good is happening.

My purpose in writing you this quarter is not to be “Pollyannish” or to convince you that amidst all of this turmoil, life isn’t so bad. Because at this moment, while something good might be going on in my life, or your neighbor’s, or another family member’s, you may not be feeling the good for yourself. Right now, life is tougher than most of us have ever experienced. Some historians will say that these are the most challenging global times since World War II. Others will argue that it is even worse than that, because World War II did not affect every corner of the globe.

So, I struggled a bit with the message I wanted to deliver to you this quarter. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles, news clips, YouTube videos, podcasts, newsletters and other forms of communication that are available to help you deal with this shock to your environment. Most of them are provided by people more knowledge and scholarly credentials than yours truly.

It is not my place nor my intent to tell you how to deal with the pandemic. But I want to offer you one simple thought that I have used and which you might consider as you deal with your own Covid frustrations. Hopefully, it will help you see some positives in your own situations and perhaps even give you a little smile.

Many of you who know me are aware that I am mostly in the “retirement” phase of my life. Of the many things I enjoy doing in this phase, one is reading. And in the spirit of trying to learn new things, I read a lot of different stuff. And, in order to make sure I don’t start re-reading a book that I read two years ago and forgot, I keep lists of the books I have read. Recently, as I looked through the lists of books I have read, I came across this one: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography” by Eric Idle. You might recognize that Eric Idle is one of the members of Monty Python. Monty Python was an off-beat comedy troupe that was very popular in the 70’s and 80’s, and for many of us baby boomers still provides fond and funny memories today. They did regular comedy shtick on their own TV show and also produced a couple of movies, one which was titled “The Life of Brian”. They ended the movie singing a song that members of their troupe (primarily Eric Idle) wrote. The song was also titled “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

It’s a simple song with a simple message. It is a message that all of us can reflect on as we go through this pandemic period together. Each of us is being challenged by this experience in one way or another. Often these challenges only focus us on the darker shades of life—the things that aren’t working the way they used to work; the changes we have to make to our lifestyle that we don’t necessarily like; the activities we must do or cannot do because of the pandemic.

For example, several of the things that my wife and I wanted to do in this retirement chapter of our lives have been interrupted by Covid. We cancelled two major vacation excursions that we may not have the opportunity to reschedule. And given our age, every day that goes by in our modified quarantine-like lives reduces the probability that we might get to do them in the future.

Forgetting major items like cruise vacations, we also have rearranged our daily lives to some degree for simpler things such as shopping excursions that we now take to focus on “senior times”. Many retail businesses have promoted such times of day to encourage seniors to continue regular shopping. But it’s just another reminder that I am getting older. We have learned how to take appointments with our various doctors over websites and Zoom calls. We continue to participate in community activities, such as volunteer work. But here also, substantially all of that is being done over the Internet. In past years, we easily dined out with friends multiple times per month. Our last such dinner date was on March 11 earlier this year.

We have watched our son and daughter-in-law make difficult lifestyle adjustments to work at home while raising their two children. And we have seen our grandchildren adapt to different learning environments as they take their school lessons from the internet while at home. Like so many dual-career parents with children, each parent has had to learn how to modify their own lives to accommodate the significant changes caused by the inability to interact with fellow workers face-to-face. They must be “present” in Zoom meetings on a regular basis. They have to assist their children more directly and frequently in their individual learning environments than if they were attending classes in school. They have to plan events and activities to allow them breaks from work and the in-home classroom. Extracurricular activities take on a whole new set of parental planning and execution challenges. In addition, they have to adapt their own social schedules to allow for the differences in available entertainment and social venues. They must also deal with the frustrations of giving up some of the regular activities they have enjoyed in the past. And that is just the parents. The children have had to learn to adjust, in many cases, to an entirely new way of learning and more self-management of their own daily activities. I am sure each of you who are reading this newsletter have similar experiences.

So, amidst all of this unexpected turmoil, I choose to look on the bright side. I have learned how to participate in physical training sessions with our personal trainer over Zoom. Similarly, I deal with my coaching clients and mentees using Facetime and Zoom. We have connected with friends with whom we would normally dine out by meeting with them over the internet. We are both reading more and watching more videos, films and TV shows—some of which are actually educational—admittedly, many are not. We are also engaging in more real conversations about real topics. A blessing in disguise is that we have had the chance to interact with our grandchildren more as we have assisted with some of their time “after school” so that their parents can focus on their workday. So, while sometimes it is hard to see, there is a bright side. With the difficulties of managing our lives under these conditions comes new challenges. Perhaps around a future family meal, you should have a “bright side” discussion and have each member reflect on something new, something positive that they have learned from living through this experience. (And, if you have any great ideas to share with your fellow alumni, pass them along to me at the email below and I will share them in the next newsletter!)

I will borrow one stanza from Monty Python (as reproduced in Wikipedia) and ask you to remember:

“If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle, that's the thing
And

Always look on the bright side of life.”

And if you wish to hear the entire version, follow this link: Python

In times like these, it might be difficult to muster these thoughts, this attitude. It sounds rather simple. But give it a try. Look on the bright side. What have you got to lose?

And, as always, I am interested in hearing what you think about what I write. Feel free to contact me at ed@thinkstraighttalkstraight.com. If you want to read more from me you can do so by searching www.amazon.com for “Think Straight. Talk Straight.”