Mastering the Mystery – How to adapt in times of confusion — 03/12/2020

The mystery of the bat and the butterfly effect

One chance encounter between a bat and a human. That was all it took to set in motion a series of events, that would impact almost every soul on this planet in one way or another. How much of this was bad luck? How much of it could have been predicted? How much of it could have been stopped? And what really did happen in China at the end of 2019?

We can speculate all we want, but the truth is, we will never really know. Add to that the seemingly unending stream of conspiracy theories, the questions a lot of people have on the neutrality of experts and media, and the inability for anyone to project a trustworthy perspective on anything further than a few weeks ahead.

There is so much we don’t know. So much uncertainty. So much that is and will remain a mystery to us.

Transform or die

There is no area of our Lives that has not been impacted by this pandemic. Not a single one. The way we live, work, move, play, shop, sell, learn, entertain, parent, organize, produce, relax, meet, love, create, consume art, practice religion and stay safe. Everything has changed so dramatically and at lightning speed.

As someone who has guided thousands of people and many organizations through transformations, I can tell you this is uncharted territory. We all know change is hard and most of us don’t really enjoy it. If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking, learned to manage your time differently, started meditating or change careers, you were likely told to take baby steps, do one thing at a time and let repetition become your guide for progress.

And now, we have to change everything all at once. Every single one of us: transform or die! If not literally, then at least we die metaphorically. What used to be is not going to be any longer. If we don’t adapt, we might lose our job, our business, our relationship, our social network, to just name a few. Or become inadequate and obsolete vis-à-vis a fast-changing world. Or get disconnected.

It’s hard to fathom what all this even means for us as a species. Almost no one of us has gone through such a drastic and instant transformation. Actually, how much transformation can we have? We can be sure though, that it comes at a cost. How much will this transformation cost us? We don’t know! Yet another mystery.

The economic and societal costs of closed and bankrupted businesses, lay-offs, people losing their houses, having to use up all their life savings. A generation of children, teens and young adults, missing out on precious educational time, that can barely or never be gained back. The mental cost of us, profoundly social beings, having to distance ourselves from the ones we love and care for. Reducing our deep-seated, biological need for social and physical contact to (almost) zero in a high-speed digitizing world. The cost of having the very foundations of our Life, like freedom and safety, pulled out from under us. It’s enormous!

Accepting and unlearning

All we can do is try to find our way in all of this chaos, uncertainty and unpredictability. Because thanks to human creativity, our collective intelligence and our capacity to reinvent ourselves, amazing and fabulous opportunities will emerge. Obviously, that will require willpower and adapted actions.

It may seem strange, but the first step is to accept that change is necessary, and for sure even more in these times. Some people continue to cling to their old ways of doing things, even though that’s no longer possible or advisable. Which means they are either engaging in risky (and sometimes illegal) behavior, or that they are waiting, putting things off until ‘all goes back to normal’. But how long can one wait? And how does this prolonged lack of forward movement impact us on a mental and spiritual level? We can’t even be sure that things will ever ‘go back to normal’. Yes, it’s very mysterious times we’re living in!

Accepting the need for change opens us up to the next step: unlearning. We all have habits, routines, ways of doing and working, processes that are ingrained. They happen effortlessly and often automatically. In order to adapt, we’ll have to let go of these habits. Just saying this or even having the intention to won’t be enough. As I said earlier, change is hard and doesn’t come naturally. We’ll need to make a conscious effort to pull them apart and unravel all the elements, triggers, motives and steps involved. The way to go forward is through finding a balance between instant action for what needs to be done here and now, and deep soul-searching and consciousness. Just doing without trying to understand why we do it and in which perspective we put it, will exhaust us and drive us into the symbolical wall of fatigue, stress, burnout and social unfitness.

Back to basics

When we unravel our ways of acting and working – which says everything about our being –, we take away all the baggage and fluff that has built up over time. It is this essence, that we’ll need to translate into a new way of being and doing. And I believe that these Covid-times offer many of us a unique chance to explore where we have never been before!

When we connect with our true essence and we remove all non-essential baggage, for as much of course that our material and social situation allows us to, we can become agile and adapt quickly to what feels and seems the right way to go, the right action to decide and the right decision to take. Let’s turn ourselves into a sailboat rather than a cruise ship, so we can turn quickly when our course has to change. And although there is lots of confusion and unpredictability, and by that lots of mystery, we’ll be better off when being close to our true self, than by fulfilling a checklist of never-ending to-dos.

True mastery

None of this is exactly the same as how it used to be and I’m not pretending it is. There may be elements of your Life that are much harder to translate than others. But at least we are adapting and moving forward. Very likely with time, we’ll find ways to improve and build something even more beautiful, more fitting, more right for ourselves.

The most important thing we’ll get out of all of this, however, is the skill of adaptability. How to unlearn and unravel. How to build on the basics and move forward, even when everything around us remains a mystery and we have no data, best practices or fixed rules to help us plan and strategize. Think about it. If we can handle the crisis we are in today, what is left that we can’t handle if we’ve mastered the mystery?


Blog by Olivier Onghena-’t Hooft
noble purpose entrepreneur & author of ‘The Book of Noble Purpose’
Brussels, 2020 12 04