What the Pandemic Has Taught Me

By Michael Fellin, Headmaster of Crescent School
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what I have learned from the pandemic, particularly in my role as Head of School. I don’t mean to imply that the pandemic is behind us—I have accepted that COVID-19 will be with us for some time. That said, I am optimistic that we are entering a new phase where we are learning to live with, rather than fear, the virus. Whether we are in the deep throes of case management or adjusting to an endemic state, the pandemic continues to change us in ways I hope make us better, more fully human. Here are three things the pandemic has taught me.
Resilience follows adversity. Every administrator knows that a school’s most important resource is its people—students, staff, and parents. Our community is why Crescent is such a special place to learn, work, and volunteer. I have never appreciated this more than I have over the past two years, especially in how we have struggled together. Psychologist Robyne Hanley-Dafoe says, “Being resilient means, we are okay during a setback, challenge or a crisis and we are okay on the other side of it. How we get to and stay okay varies but the practice of continuing to push forward, even when it is hard, is a choice. The only difference between those who can keep getting up after adversity and those who struggle with it is knowing how to draw on this resource in times of need.” We have all displayed ingenuity, resiliency, and unrelenting care for our boys and each other. Our strength has fueled my drive and together we have shown we can do hard things.

Joy follows gratitude. This insight has been unexpected because I previously believed that if you are joyful, you should be grateful. But I have rethought this. My daily gratitude practice has allowed me to focus on everything I have that’s good in my life instead of what the pandemic has taken from me. My family, my health, my job—these are all bright lights in my life that give me peace and stability even during challenging times. Joy has followed from deep mindfulness of this appreciation. In a culture that can lead us to worry about not having enough, it can be tempting to believe I, too, am not enough. Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast says, “The root of joy is gratefulness...It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” Who would have thought that the mere act of arriving on campus after a four-week absence could bring such joy as witnessed when the boys returned in January?

Mood follows action. The pandemic has accelerated many worries, biases, and emotions that may have been previously latent. Some of us are fed up. Others are overworked. Many are anxious about the future. However, I’ve learned that you can’t entirely think your way into or out of your ideal state of being; behaviour has to come first. The single most important practice in Stoicism is distinguishing between what you can and cannot change and focusing your energy on what you can control. Epictetus says, “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where, then, do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.” So, what are the most important things I can do right now? Focus on my mindset, act on what matters most, and accept what is outside of my control.