“How do we not repeat 2020 in 2021?”
This was a question posed to me during an online speaking event several weeks ago (think about that for a moment — an online speaking event). My response was likely a bit unexpected, as I shared a very creative exchange between God and Gabriel explaining 2020, which I’ll share with you here in a bit.
The Very Real Impacts of COVID-19
There are few people who have not been impacted by the events of 2020. Most do not want to repeat 2020. Many of us, during these unparalleled times, have experienced traumatizing, almost paralyzing feelings. Especially in the early months, many people we know felt stuck. Frozen. It’s now common to hear “routines are no longer routine.”
Our neighbor met us in the street, in tears. She’s a strong woman from Texas, her husband from England, both highly educated, smart, God-fearing and masters at raising four young children.
She shared how she “just couldn’t do it anymore.” Trying to get three of the four kids to pay attention to their Zoom classes and manage the little one while working from home was beginning to break her.
She is not alone. The Washington State Department of Health issued a statement a few months back suggesting those of us who work on the mental health side of things be prepared for 2 million to 3 million Washingtonians to have acute mental health issues originating from this COVID response.
So, months back, I began a journey to discover how to combat this overwhelm, this overload of uncertainty, chaos, confusion and negativity. Since I run an organization dedicated to military families, I sought to find the key that could help everyday families not just persevere but prosper mentally, physically and financially during crisis.
What was fascinating is that my search led me back to the military and to a little-known military term, born in the fog of war, called VUCA.
The VUCA Principle
VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
For three decades, VUCA has been the key to how the military not only deals with an uncertain, irrational, fast-changing world, but turns challenges and crisis into opportunities and success.
VUCA is a key known to only 1 percent of the world.
The VUCA acronym is attributed to Army War College graduate General James D. Thurman. He based it on the ideas of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, which they cited in their book “Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge.”
VUCA perfectly presaged what is happening in the world today, a world that has become increasingly uncertain and unstable. But there is an effective strategy for combating VUCA, and that is the VUCA Principle: vision, understanding, clarity and adaptability/agility.
In my quest for answers, I sat with some of America’s top military strategists, like General George Casey, Jr., former chief of staff for the United States Army, who teaches “Living in a VUCA World” at Cornell University; Lieutenant General William Boykin, founding member of Delta Force, who spoke about courage; Major General Bob Dees, who talked about being God-centered and how to develop resilience; my friend and fellow sailor Commander Mark Divine, founder of SEALFit and Unbeatable Mind, who shared the importance of mindset and vertical learning; and Joe DuFresne and Peter Kennedy, futures strategists who shared how agencies and successful companies develop effective future planning despite an unpredictable future.
When I sat with Dr. Robin Fenn, a cognitive behavioral health clinician, she assured me that my feelings of uncertainty were normal and neuroscience expert Reut Schwartz Hebron gave me confidence that I didn’t have to stay stuck, that we can, in fact, rewire our brain to more positive thinking.
And then there was Shellie Willis. Talk about a woman committed to helping people redefine themselves. A former master sergeant and now CEO of an organization, she drove right to the point — people need to stop waiting for someone else to take responsibility. The responsibility starts with the one looking back in the mirror.
How to Start Navigating VUCA Times
As I reviewed my notes from conversations with these national leaders, it became clear that we can navigate these VUCA times with more success and confidence if we embrace the following practices:
- Become aware
The first step in any uncertain situation or feeling is to become aware. Name it.
- Review your story
What do you keep telling yourself that is holding you back?
- Develop resilience
Embrace the fact that your situation will require new thinking, which will stretch you.
- Learn to flip the script
What role will you play in your situation: victim or victor?
- Embrace courage
Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is going forward despite fear.
A Compass Where There Are No Roads
So, my response to the question, “How do we not repeat 2020 in 2021?” prompted me to share this creative exchange between God and Gabriel, that went something like this:
God: Gabriel, have you finished setting up future events for the 2020s?
Gabriel: Yes, God, I have — wait, did you say 2020s, plural? As in, the decade?
God: Of course, what else?
Gabriel: I thought you meant 2020 the year.
God: You put a decade of history into one year?
Gabriel: … yes.
God: Well … shoot.
Whether or not this year has felt like a decade of experiences packed into a year, learning how to navigate a VUCA world will be key as traditional approaches are no longer sufficient to address the volume of rapid-fire changes change we are seeing.
We will need foresight in an uncertain environment in flux. And though we have little idea what to expect tomorrow, I can assure you that the VUCA Principle gives us a compass where there are no roads.
About the Author
Mike Schindler is a United States Navy veteran, award-winning author, host of the national podcast The Military Wire/VISION2020 and an effective trainer who has been featured in USA Today, CBS Radio, Entrepreneur Radio, the Lars Larson Show, the Boston Globe, Q13 FOX, Yahoo Finance and more. Mike is the founder of Operation Military Family, a 501(c)(3) veteran service organization that provides proven pathways for veterans to discover and deploy their greatest gifts in family, work and life.
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