“Do What You Can, With What You’ve Got, Where You Are” – Squire, Bill Widener
The pandemic has dramatically altered our lives in ways we could never have imagined. During the first year, activities we took for granted such as going to the gym or a restaurant, or group visits with friends or family, were curtailed. Many lost their jobs and small businesses closed, while an unstable economy diminished people’s dreams of starting a business or of early retirement. More heartbreaking is that people have lost loved ones or have been struggling with a debilitating illness or caring for a sick family member. These life altering events make day to day living even more stressful, to where we could react in anger while being stuck in traffic, or lose our patience with a family member or work colleague. However, when uncertainty and stress are running high, we can learn to respond wisely and also look for inspiration from those whose struggles are greater than ours.
Like many self-employed people working in the service industry, my health and fitness business came to a screeching halt when the pandemic closed down the health club and community centers I was affiliated with. If I wanted to continue providing fitness instruction to my community, keep my participants connected to their classmates, as well as keep my business afloat, I had to find a solution. In a relatively short period of time, I scrambled to turn my living room into a virtual studio to teach Zoom fitness classes, while my mostly tech-challenged older participants learned how to navigate the internet and adapt to a virtual classroom.
Fast forward to today. My Functional Fitness Zoom class continues to be my most popular class, although a virtual classroom has its limitations: internet connectivity can be unreliable; there’s limited fitness equipment and other resources that a gym can provide; hands-on coaching, accountability and face-to-face interaction that in-person classes provide are also lacking. However, we have accepted our situation and continue to persevere. More importantly, we’re able to stay connected and maintain our fitness. In other words, we have learned to respond by applying practical wisdom to our pandemic predicament – we did what we could, with what we had, where we were at.
In deciding how to respond to pandemic-related challenges or other difficult moments in our lives, we can also benefit from ancient wisdom to overcome anxiety and find calm. Instead of worrying about things we have no control over, Stoicism would encourage us to try to think about what we value in life and engage deeper with those values. For example, if you value friends or family, you’ll try to find time and meaningful ways to connect and be supportive in their presence. If you value your health or your community, you’ll make an effort at improving your health or volunteering time to improve the well-being of your community. These are values you have some control over, such as the amount of time and effort you practice to get better at something, or to improve the life of others. When you’re practicing a new skill or helping others, you’re no longer thinking about yourself and your problems. Instead, you’ll be finding meaning and purpose in something bigger than yourself. According to a recent Pew research survey, Americans who find meaning and practice in what they value have higher life satisfaction.
I realize that giving wellness advice can come across as being patronizing or unimportant during difficult times. When life is disrupted by an incurable disease diagnosis or the death of a loved one, you should feel hurt and grief. What I’m trying to convey is that when life takes a turn for the worse, you just do the best you can and look for inspiration around you. I’m fortunate to be reminded of this every day, working with older adults with debilitating age related conditions. One person in particular, Kathy Leiphan, truly exemplifies what it means to be resilient. For several years Kathy has endured a number of invasive surgeries and long hours of chemotherapy to treat metastatic cancer. Her always positive attitude and determination to do the best she can in light of her circumstances is very inspiring.
Another inspiring figure, baseball great Lou Gehrig, did not let his terminal illness overshadow his appreciation for life. During his farewell address at Yankee Stadium, he said, “that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for”. Even though Gehrig died at age 37 of ALS, he accepted the reality of his situation and did the best he could with the remaining years of his life.
I’ll end on a lighter note with words of wisdom from humorist Will Rogers, who used his voice during the Great Depression to encourage people to remain hopeful during hard times: “The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don’t let it get the best of you.”