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Finding grace in the time of COVID-19

By BENEDICT SISON, THE PHILIPPINE STAR Published Oct 13, 2020 5:00 am

Could March 15 be the darkest day of 2020? I couldn’t help but wonder about it, for it was the day when ECQ was declared in the land and the day when all my plans were put to a halt.

Gone were the pilgrimage to Fatima, the trip to Portugal, and the safari in Kenya. Gone, too, were our company’s grand plans for our 125th anniversary celebration.

Worse, I suddenly lost the liberty to move as I pleased. Eating at my favorite restaurants was not allowed. Social interactions were curtailed. Simple pleasures like talking to people in person, shaking hands with acquaintances, and hugging and kissing loved ones were also prohibited.

All these, while also navigating through difficult conversations where I’d be told, “How unfortunate you are! It must be tough being the CEO of a leading organization now that there’s a pandemic.” It was a statement that got me thinking about how the situation actually impacts me not only as a CEO, but me as Benedict.

Am I, indeed, unlucky?

MOMENTS OF REFLECTION

I found myself reflecting and adjusting. My fast-paced life became more about listening, learning, and being inspired. I now find bliss in moments of reflection where I can look ahead and prepare for the long haul.

Everyone has a different way of re-energizing. Some need solitude, while others prefer company. I used to think I was the latter, as I genuinely enjoy being around people. However, this pandemic has altered the way I re-energize myself, where I now need more quiet time. And in these moments of reflection, three words have become constant themes: gratitude, purpose, and transformation.

Gratitude. I am blessed. I am able to work comfortably from home, can order groceries online, exercise regularly, and spend more time with my wife, Candy. I’ve become more aware of my blessings as I empathize with others who are struggling with the situation. This has fueled my desire to give back.

The least I can do is abide by the health protocols and not burden our community. I also extend support by whatever means I can, like buying ube pandesal, chocolate chip cookies, and other offerings from friends striving to earn while staying at home. My wife and I also favor neighbors who advertise freshly harvested vegetables over more familiar suppliers.

As simple as these acts are, they are meaningful and fulfilling.

Purpose. The pandemic has a way of stripping things down to the basics. This has helped me see more clearly what really matters: it is neither position nor possession, nor even my hopes and dreams. Rather, it’s the good that I’ve done, contributed and sacrificed for others. It’s the lives I’ve touched in my own little way.

This realization came as isolation forced me to learn technology so I can connect with family members across the globe using these new media, where some of the conveniently familiar ways do not exist. You end up noticing the constants that remain: love, care and concern.

As I focus on the basics, I realize that I’m not just here to lead my organization in the next several years, but to lead it towards another 125 years of helping clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives. There is nothing more fulfilling than knowing you are laying down the foundation of a brighter future for the people that matter: our clients, advisors, employees and stakeholders. This purpose serves as our guidepost. It’s a great privilege, an enormous responsibility, and basically the key reason why I come to work every single day.

My dream is to futureproof our organization and make it more than just a financial services company. I want it to serve a higher purpose and contribute to nation-building by making more Filipinos financially secure. This is my purpose, and knowing this will help me live a life that matters.

Transformation. Gratitude is my natural disposition and, burning with purpose, I find myself asking, “How can I help transform the turmoil (global pandemic, deepening economic crisis, severe unemployment, family and friends suffering human and economic losses) into actionable opportunities?”

I weep as I see people face distress and uncertainty, but I strive to stand strong in the midst of challenges as I lead a premiere organization to its next level of success.

I lament not being able to gather with family and friends, but look forward to the day when we can once again share laughter in person.

I miss exercising my faith in a place of worship, but I’ve been reminded that life in this world is transient and one has to be spiritually prepared for what may come next.

This crisis has strengthened my spirituality. Faith, hope and charity have taken center stage: faith to believe that this, too, shall pass, hope that a brighter tomorrow is just around the bend, and charity to be kind to those who need help most.

MORE THAN WHAT I DESERVE

Despite the pandemic and the lockdown, life is still more than what I deserve. I am healthy, I have resources, and I am in a position to help others. Moreover, I am leading an organization committed to doing right even amid challenges. With all these, it would be wrong to fall for the narrative that I am unlucky.

On the contrary, I am blessed.

And so I focus on gratitude. Though things look tough today, I will always find something to be thankful for. I will be content and appreciate the little that I have, I will be generous to others, and I will control what I can transform today.

I continue to pray for this pandemic to be over soon. Beyond that, though, I hope that its passing will reveal a deeper humanity, a greater goodwill, and a more enlightened world. In the same way that the sun always rises after the darkest hour, may the darkest day of 2020 lead to the brightest days of our lives yet.

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The author is the CEO and country head of Sun Life Philippines.