In the year 1665, when the bubonic plague struck England and the University of Cambridge had to shut down in response, a young student by the name of Isaac Newton was forced to go home and stay there for over a year. During his time spent away from the educational establishment, Newton developed the study of calculus, his theories on optics, and his discoveries around gravity and the laws of motion. This time of seclusion for Isaac Newton became known in Latin as anni mirabiles, meaning “marvelous years.”
Some people may be tempted to refer to the current COVID-19 pandemic as annus horribilis, meaning “horrible year.” I’m going to ask you to consider the possibility that the disruption caused by our current events could actually (perhaps in hindsight) be considered a marvelous time for you and your family.
Right now we’re all being encouraged to “go inside” our homes and stay there for a while. For many, this means learning to do your job remotely, or perhaps taking time off without pay, or wrangling children as the schools scramble to keep the kids learning, or even just trying to fight off boredom and loneliness for an uncertain amount of time. For most of us, it means having to change the ways in which we navigate life.
But I believe going inside is far more important and valuable than most people realize. I believe going inside means disconnecting from the rigid structures and expectations that have been placed upon us by the outside world. Going inside means reconnecting with our inner resources and creativity toward generating new possibilities for ways of being. Does all this sound rather esoteric? Let me explain.
As children, one of the most common questions we were asked was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Beautifully, it didn’t matter what we said. “I want to be an astronaut, a firefighter, a ballerina, a professional baseball player…” Our young ambitions were usually met with a response resembling, “How exciting!”
At some point the responses changed and started sounding like, “Be realistic” or “Isn’t that dangerous?” or “That’s not very responsible.” And with that our creativity began to slowly wither away as we worked to assume the roles that our families/communities/culture deemed appropriate for us. We’ve gone through our lives behaving like good girls and boys, knowing that we’re still lovable and worthy of belonging because we play by the rules and expectations of the world around us. We’ve implemented systems and routines and in return we’ve achieved a sense of safety, security, and predictability.
But we’ve paid a big price for this comfort zone. We’ve sacrificed our creativity and those aspects of ourselves that want to play and explore and experiment like we did when we were children. We’ve become rigid, relying on our autopilot to guide us through our days. And we’ve become afraid of change. Which is exactly why disruption is good.
In 2014 the London underground subway system shut down for two days due to a labor dispute and commuters were forced to find new ways of getting to work. This was a huge disturbance and tremendous inconvenience in a city of 8.5 million people. But then something unusual took place. Researchers found that when the regular subway service resumed, one in 20 commuters stuck with the alternative routes they had found. The disruption forced people to get creative and try new options that ended up working better for them than their old routines.
I believe that business and life after the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be the same… and that’s good! We now have the opportunity to go inside and leave the beaten path for a while. We have the good fortune of being able to experiment with new ways of doing work, parenting, nourishing relationships, and exploring our child-like interests.
Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. And creativity is a great source of joy. There has never been a better time filled with more resources for learning new skills while truly feeling alive!
Here are a few ideas you can try:
- build new relationships and collaborate using video conferencing
- design a new product/method/graphic/app for your business or hobby
- sign up for online courses or get new certifications for your career
- find something you’re good at and offer to teach it to your community via online event
- seek mentorship from someone you admire but were too afraid to approach
- start a blog
- research how to build something cool, then order all the parts and go to town
If you’re a parent, you can experiment with the following:
- set certain requirements for the day and then let your children go about designing new schedules for themselves. Let them try out several before they decide which one they like best
- order age-appropriate building materials and let your children unleash their creativity
- play “Freaky Friday” (based on the movies) and switch roles for the day. Have them “go to work” to produce certain results and be responsible for meals while you do homework and talk on the phone. Try to mimic each other and see the world through each other’s eyes.
The world as we’ve known it is on hold. This is a beautiful opportunity to go inside. Not just inside our homes and away from the noise of our busy lives, but also inside ourselves. This is a wonderful time to get quiet and connect with the parts of ourselves that have been silenced for a long time. Break the rules! Think outside the box. Indulge your curiosities. Honor your interests. Explore new ways of doing things. Make this time your anni mirabiles.