Illustration by Gastón Mendieta
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In dire times, it’s natural to question the meaningfulness of your work. When your world is shaken by a massive disruption, your job may seem insignificant and even pointless. On the other hand, crises can also heighten feelings of purpose and connection — something we saw in studying the response to 9/11 in New York and to the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto. As one ICU director who lived through that outbreak told us, “I felt something important could happen at any minute and that I had to be at work.” An ICU nurse recalled: “There was a sense that if we don’t lock this down, nobody will. We were the few. A lot of people bonded in unusual ways.” Crises lead many people to find deep value in their jobs, develop professionally, and grow personally.
Today most of us don’t have frontline roles in the fight against coronavirus, of course. But we all can still discover ways to contribute through our everyday work, by taking these three steps:
1. Empower yourself with small actions.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, obsessing over the big things that you can’t influence is bad for your mental well-being. Instead, try to act on whatever aspect of the situation is still in your control, no matter how minor. That will bolster your feelings of personal effectiveness and make it easier to then move on to more-meaningful goals — to think about what else you can do to improve the situation for yourself, your colleagues, or your community.
During the 9/11 attacks, Manhattan resident Nicole Blackman was as lost as anyone in the city. She wasn’t trained to do rescue work and didn’t belong to any emergency management organizations. But she felt the need to help in any way she could — so she decided to donate some sandwiches to the rescue workers at Ground Zero. From there things quickly escalated: After delivering the sandwiches, she stayed around for a while at the volunteer drop-off point. When the person in charge of operations left fo