Creating Meaning Out of Adversity

Last March, life as we knew it came to a halt. Nearly every person on the earth was faced with a scary, invisible threat that we knew little about. At the time, we couldn’t imagine how devastating the COVID-19 pandemic would be to human life, our economy, the healthcare system, and our ability to be with our loved ones.

Today, 75% of employees in the U.S. are reporting serious symptoms of burnout. Our healthcare workers have been hit, especially hard.

In recent months, I’ve had the privilege of working with healthcare organizations to strengthen their resilience in such a difficult time. I ask those in attendance to focus on the sense of meaning they are finding in their day-to-day work. What is keeping them going?

Nurses, unit secretaries, respiratory therapists, leadership executives, and other frontline workers face a barrage of circumstances out of their control.

Despite emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, I am hearing the following:


  • “It is a privilege to serve my patients.”
  • “I act as a family member to my patients so that they don’t suffer alone…or die alone.”
  • “If I do my job, I know the nurses will have supplies and can focus on their task of caring for our patients.”

This blog wraps up my annual tradition of reflecting on three questions and answers the last question: What wisdom would you pass on to the next generation from a lesson you learned this year?

The life lesson I learned at a deeper level than ever before is the importance of creating meaning out of adversity to keep persevering.

Each healthcare professional that I have worked with has identified with this in their own way. It’s in creating meaning that allows them to show up each day and do the work that is quite literally saving lives.

What sense of meaning have you identified and held on to each day?

What will you tell future generations, your children, and grandchildren about what kept you going when you felt you had little to nothing left to give?

COVID is not over yet, but I invite you to make a conscious choice to create meaning in the middle of this storm.

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