Houston, we (just might) have a solution

May 19, 2020
It is a famous story: An onboard explosion in an oxygen tank crippled the Apollo 13 spacecraft en route to the Moon in April 1970, only nine months after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had become the first persons to set foot on another heavenly body.

Until the explosion and crisis, the mission of Apollo 13 was basically ignored by media and general public. Men have already visited the Moon four times and walked on it twice (Apollo 11 and 12). The captain James Lovell himself had already orbited it (Apollo 8), when he became the first person to view Earth as a globe, to escape Earth’s gravitational field, to see the other side of the Moon, and to view an Earthrise. Lovell had one great wish left: to walk on the Moon’s surface.

After uttering those iconic five words to the Mission control, “Houston, we have a problem”, in the midst of unimaginable horror of running out of oxygen and burning too much electrical power, Jim Lovell became aware that his greatest dream will not come true. He will not walk on the Moon. And in that very moment, his focus shifted to the epic task of saving the lives of his crew and his own.

When Gene Kranz, Mission control director, famously declared: “Failure is not an option” Lovell made the point even clearer: “Success is the only option”.

This famous narrative was analyzed and overanalyzed in leadership theories, team management workshops, trainings about communication in crisis, etc. However, in these strange times, it sends yet another strong message: about the perseverance, resilience, and unbreakable human spirit in the face of adversity.

All the above is now put to the one of the biggest tests most of us can remember. By default, we are social creatures and this so unfortunately coined syntagma of “social distancing” is as wrong as it is unnatural. Physical distancing or “spatial distancing” is something we can understand and learn to live with, at least for some time. But, we should never “socially distance” ourselves from other people. We should help ourselves and others to overcome this challenge. And we can only do that through maintaining relationships in any type and form available. If we have to be alone, we must never allow ourselves and others to be lonely.

In difficult times, the human spirit is capable of creating beauty. We will be the ones telling our kids and kids of their kids about the Great Pandemic of 2020! We all have talents we might have never used and we should not miss this opportunity to create something meaningful: we can write, draw or express creatively about the experience. We can innovate and create new ideas and opportunities. While most of us dread at having to do something different or in a new way, it’s actually very good for us and our brains. We activate more neurons when we can’t do things in the same way we’ve always done them.

In the past months, even the most sceptical ones learned how to use virtual offices, distant learning, our parents and grandparents became masters of various communication platforms, mobile banking and online shopping… We pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones where we became safe, complacent and sometimes even lazy. This crisis threw us in the deep end and the amazing thing is that most of us are swimming. And those who can’t, have others — not to pull them out of the water, but to teach them how to swim.

Do we have a solution to this pandemic challenge? Not yet. When will we have it? We don’t know. What we know is that keeping the positive attitude, belief and hope will get us there, almost certainly quicker than sitting in the corner moaning about our ill fate.

Jim Lovell saved his crew and lived to tell about his incredible adventure in that “tin can floating in the middle of the great unknown”. And he did so by staying focused, showing courage when faced with adversity and strongly believing in the strength of human spirit, relying on his teammates and putting his trust in people from Mission control frantically working against all odds to bring them back home. In his own words:

“I could have folded myself up in a fetal position and waited for a miracle. But if I had done that, we would still be up there.”

On the contrary, he and people around him decided to create a miracle of their own. And those who were present when the Earth stood still for those endless two minutes before Apollo 13 emerged from the shadow and reestablished radio communication, confirmed that the amount of rejoicing could have moved mountains.

So can we. Our courage is in our heads and in our spirit. Positive attitude, belief and courage changed the face of this planet many times before and it will happen again.

Just remember: The darkest hour is just before dawn.

And dawn is one of the most beautiful sights on this planet we call home. Let’s choose a good spot

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