Covid-19: Lessons from a rollercoaster ride

MY favourite funfair ride, when I was a teenager, was the roller coaster.

As the roller coaster elevated into near-vertical drops and we accelerated into freefall, every atom in our existence screamed at us to close our eyes – but boys being boys, we dared each other to keep our eyes wide open.

Keeping our eyes open, while scary, was bizarrely enjoyable. It enabled us to fully experience the moment, while learning more about ourselves and those with us.

In many ways, the ups and downs I now experience personally and professionally as a result of the pandemic, is similar to that of being on that ride.

I am inspired and encouraged to take a deep breath and keep my eyes wide open, even when feeling like I am free falling in this pandemic.

When we notice how we go through the challenges of the pandemic, we will learn so much about ourselves and the people around us.

This exercise in self-awareness allows us to see courage and generosity and feel a sense of purpose and pride at being part of such a great community. It provides opportunities to be the best versions of ourselves while helping others to do the same.

Despite the multiple setbacks, we have responded well to this challenge; we have kept our schools digitally open, scientists have collaborated and developed vaccines in record time, and we are now getting ready for the post pandemic recovery.

When the train of passengers descent on the thrill ride, however ghastly the physical feeling, we know that we will emerge from the amusement ride safely. The assurance comes from the knowledge that the track we are on is strong and stable, and the harness will keep us from falling.

The track is a metaphor for our sense of purpose and the harness, our community.

We have always known the importance of leading a purposeful life. This is a prerequisite for success and happiness and for building a flourishing community.

A sense of purpose is an essential leadership quality and asset, now more so than ever, because of the challenges and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic. In every sector, leaders who are able to harness the power of the individual’s and team’s sense of purpose, are more able to navigate the labyrinths of uncertainty, while keeping themselves and their charges, safe and positive.

Communities and networks have always been a key element for human survival and progress, particularly in challenging times. The pandemic serves as a reminder that we are one big global community, and therefore we are only as strong as our weakest link.

The only way for us to go through this is together. Our families, friends, colleagues, and strangers, act as our harness when they say and do things that support us. You, too, can be the harness for others when they need one.

Together, we can stay safe, positive, productive, and connected by:

> Keeping a gratitude journal

Write down the things that inspire you or that you are grateful for. Pay attention to the little things that make you feel happy and contented. This will help you build a positive mindset.

> Starting work meetings with a chat

Everyone talks for less than a minute about something that inspires him or anything that is on his mind. The time spent can bring the team closer together and make the meetings more enjoyable and productive.

> Doing random acts of kindness

Since we are under lockdown, this can be as simple as sending an encouraging text message to an old friend, or tipping the person who is making a delivery to you.

> Writing an “impact statement”

Clearly articulate and jot down your purpose and the positive impact you want to have on the world to help you navigate life’s challenges, difficult decisions and choices you need to make.

I am not trying to portray the pandemic as an enjoyable experience – far from it! But since it is here, we can choose how we respond to it. We can use it as an opportunity to grow, learn, and connect.

On this roller coaster journey that we are all on together, let’s take a deep breath, keep our eyes open, secure ourselves with a clear sense of purpose, and be the harness for others as they are for us.


Provost and chief executive officer, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia;

Deputy Chairman,

Vice Chancellors Council for Private Universities

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