“Nothing gives you better clarity than a near-death experience. It awakens you to the frailty of life and the importance of living with purpose and meaning.”
You might think that quote was from one of the residents of this London street in 1940, at the outset of the Blitz: lucky not be among those killed that day, but as one of the survivors surveying the randomness of the dropped (and exploded) bombs, wondering if there were any unexploded bombs, why their neighbor’s house was gone and theirs was still standing, and what would tomorrow bring?
Instead, the quote was from an article written by Jack Kelly in Forbes just last month, Read More Here and it was an insight that reinforced a hunch about the current labor market that had been nagging at me.
Nearly 40 years ago, I decided to study abroad because of my interest in events that had taken place 400 years earlier. Living in England just 40 years after WWII presented an entirely unexpected gift: eyewitness history from people who had survived the Home Front. I heard first-hand accounts of the London Blitz from people who had lived through it.
At the same time, both in Britain and traveling throughout Europe, I noticed a healthy respect for leisure time. A weekend was a weekend – no work involved. Vacation – usually double the American allotment – was to be taken and one did not check in at the office.
Eventually I connected the dots: while Americans had rationed, grown Victory Gardens, lost young men, when death happens on your doorstep, to your next door neighbor, without rhyme or reason, you realize that there is more to life than work.
Covid has been our Blitz. Those who have contracted Covid, maybe at the same gathering as others who did not fall ill, seems as random as where a Luftwaffe bomb fell. Everyone has heard a story of the perfectly healthy person who has died from Covid, not unlike the one house on the block that was flattened by a V-1, while all the neighbors’ homes remained intact. We might not have had to sleep in backyard bomb shelters or Tube Stations, but quarantining has given Americans plenty of time to pause to reflect on the meaning of life.
Is it any wonder that in the face of what seems like random death, with plenty of time to ponder, Americans are reassessing how they want to spend the rest of their lives? An article in last week’s Economist drives home this fact, “… recent research by Goldman Sachs … finds that “excess retirees” account for about a quarter of the decline in the country’s [labor] participation rate.” HR experts have been warning the C-Suite for some time now that employees are aching for meaningful work; Covid has them searching for a meaningful life.