The Silver Lining of the COVID Lockdown

A handshake. Sitting in a classroom. Going to ‘Freddy’s’ bar. So many things we have taken for granted have now changed.

It’s in human nature to be resistant to change, to miss the old status quo and to feel uncomfortable in new settings. COVID-19 hasn’t been different: from closing down schools and workplaces, limiting face-to-face social interactions and introducing stricter and stricter requirements on outings, governments have quickly changed our life as we knew it only few months back.

And although the new ‘normal’ has created numerous inconveniences and limitations to our ‘normal life’, we should not feel despair and anxiety, but focus on the silver linings which this has offered.

1. Opportunity to reconnect with friends around the globe

Given the global nature of the 21st century which has largely defined the lifestyle of us INSEADers, many of us have lived in and travelled to numerous countries, creating acquaintances and friends there.

Yet, with movement to new places, our urge for living a ‘full life here and now’ has often reduced long-distance relationships to the occasional ‘like’ on a social media post.

COVID-19 times present a great opportunity to reconnect with these people – as timezone and geographical location no longer matter, and technology has given us the opportunity to chat, hang out and play games in real-time online with people across the globe. What better time to deepen the connections and relationships with people in your network – making our OB2 professors proud ;D

I have personally used the past two weeks of lockdown in Singapore to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in months and even years.

It all started with a suggestion from a friend from my section E1 to have an online section reunion – which many of us jumped on!

Reconnecting with my Slytherins (an infamous nickname of our section) who I started this one-year adventure with – some currently in Singy, some in Fonty, some back home - was something we were unlikely to do otherwise. Further, some friends and I re-established our weekly wine nights – regular feature of our P1-P2 reality, yet this time over Zoom.

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INSEAD 20J Section E1 reunion on Zoom (#Slyther1ns)
INSEAD 20J Section E1 reunion on Zoom (#Slyther1ns)

The lockdown has been a great opportunity to also keep in touch with my friends back in my home country Bulgaria and the UK, where I’ve lived for most of the past ten years.

A few days back I had online drinks with other BCGers who are now also doing their MBAs – in Stanford and Harvard (and yes, it worked perfectly, despite my Stanford friend having a breakfast Mimosa at 8am in California, and me enjoying a G&T at 11pm here in Singapore!).

A Sunday evening Houseparty catch-up and games have become a regular with my core group of London friends. And actually, now I (selfishly) even feel more connected to them – my FOMO on what’s happening in their lives in London (during my INSEAD MBA) has disappeared, physical distance has given space to ‘online closeness’.

2. Learn a new skill

Have you always wanted to learn a new skill, but (have given the excuse that you) have not had enough time in your busy routine?

Have you always been ‘distracted’ by just jetting off somewhere for the weekend or going for a day-long picnic with friends? Has your weekend always just ‘disappeared’, and then it's Monday again? 

Well, many of us don’t feel that way now. And although we miss all these weekend ‘distractions’, we now have sufficient time to dedicate to ourselves – our learning and development! Believe me, this doesn’t need to be as formal as it sounds – from reading up on a topic you always wanted to know more about (but didn’t have the time) to sign up for an online course, from starting a blog to (even) picking up a sport! 

INSEAD has been great keeping us occupied on this front - offering online coding classes, fireside chats on niche PE/VC topics, deep-dives on the impact of COVID-19, etc.

Many of my friends have dedicated more time to sports. A few INSEADers picked up skateboarding, many go for regular runs, others learned new advanced yoga positions, and some are even pushing it to the next stage: training for a marathon!

On top of their MBAs, others have started learning for a qualification: ordering CFA books online, or signing up for free Tableau lessons. And some have even rediscovered their creative side, exploring drawing and painting! 

I, myself, found this month as the best time to deep-dive in areas I knew little about, such as insurance, China’s tech scene, blockchain, sustainability (having managed to sneak in some books from the INSEAD library on the last day of campus few weeks back); as well as deepen my understanding of industries I usually work in.

I've recently been reading an amazing book on the origins of and psychology behind fashion and luxury! Further, surprising to me and my friends, I have picked up daily jogging and am slowly (but surely) venturing into learning how to cook - something I have never done before.

Yet, many have been much more inspirational and offering others the help to learn, while improving their own leadership and mentorship skills. My fellow '20Js have done an amazing job at this - from running yoga and HIIT classes on Zoom to creating an INSEAD platform for student-led projects with companies and running webinars with entrepreneurs! 

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Weekly Yoga class
Weekly Yoga class

3. Start a business 

Sufficient free time and the evolving world around us offer opportunities for innovating and launching new businesses to satisfy changing customer needs – in times of crisis or positioning for the world after it.

Further, VCs are sitting on a lot of ‘dry powder’ raised prior to COVID-19 are looking to invest in new business opportunities which tackle pressing challenges or are expected to dominate the post-crisis reality.

An ex-BCGer whom I've known for a few years already launched a simple platform connecting customers and hairdressers who can provide 10-15 minutes real-time step-by-step guidance on how to do a haircut. INSEAD '20Ds have launched a COVID-19 innovation competition with entrepreneurs mentoring MBA teams to develop the businesses of tomorrow!

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INSEAD COVID-19 Innovation competition
INSEAD COVID-19 Innovation Competition

So if you have a business idea, now is the time to explore it. You have sufficient time, there are no established players in many pressing areas in this time of change, and low barriers of entry exist in almost any digital solution!

4. Innovate and have fun with others!

And if all of the above doesn’t sound like a great deal of fun to you (looking at all of you ‘deep’ extroverts!), why not adopt a new innovative way to socialise!

Fellow INSEAD '20Js have successfully started ‘Stay at home – Ce La Vi(rtual) party’ on Zoom every Wednesday evening (to keep Wednesday party traditions alive!).

Others have downloaded TikTok (entering in a core Gen Z’s space) and picked up new dance moves to entertain us all. Fonty '20J innovators have created the INSEAD Lockdown song, migrated INSEAD Comedy club events on Zoom and board games nights online.

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INSEAD Comedy Club Online
INSEAD Comedy Club Online

5. Self-reflect

Have you always had the feeling that you should take an LOA to just spend more time on yourself, reflect on your choices and your personal or professional path forward?!

It might sound like a scene from ‘Eat, pray, love’, and some might be sceptics, yet the crisis and changing world around us can be the best time for self-reflection and reassessment. For example, close friend of mine started writing a retrospective journal analysing her professional decisions in life and what led to these.

Do you remember these eight-page PPINs (Personal and Professional Identity Narratives) which INSEAD asked us to write before joining our MBA programme?

For many of us (including myself), it was just another paper which we left behind after the end of our P2 Leadership Development coaching sessions – yet a paper which we now have time to revisit, and use as a basis for further reflection and update on our personal and career ambitions post INSEAD!

So stop binge-watching Netflix all the time, and do something useful for yourself or others. 

Take a page out of INSEAD '20J and '20D cohorts’ book! This is your time – the time you have been wanting to have for yourself, the time to reconnect with friends, to learn a new skill, read or pick up a new sport, to explore a new business idea, to do these house projects you always postponed, or simply to self-reflect!

And yes, this time did not come in the shape and form you imagined – you’re (most likely) not under a palm tree on the beach, you’re not physically with your best friends, you are unlikely to jet off to another country tomorrow… but it’s still your time, time which you can make the most out of!