COVID-19. Coronavirus. The pandemic. The crisis.

Whatever you call it, we can all agree that it managed to radically change some fundamental aspects of our lives. As COVID-19 cases have soared the past few months with record-breaking  289,648 cases per day, it is the topic of every conversation for the past months. It means different things for different people: a cause of desperation, a reason to bring people together, or a drive to be creative. 

Being subjected to these enormous changes caused a plethora of reactions ranging from finding joy and in solitude to people struggling to get out of bed each morning, suffering from anxiety. For tips on managing your mental health during COVID-19 click here.

We saw humans at their best and their worst. We saw them fight and we saw them come together in solidarity. Today, we are focusing on how COVID-19 changed youth around the world forever.

We spoke to 5 young people from 5 countries around the world about their experience during this pandemic. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Adapt not only the way you work, but also the way you measure success

Aleksander from Poland has been the Head of Marketing for AIESEC in Poland for the past year. When the pandemic hit, it changed everything for his team’s goals, ambitions, and working style.

Working from home, being around the same people he worked with all day, having a new job description: all of these were sudden changes that made them start from scratch, work on completely new goals for the rest of the year, laying off some members of the team to adapt to the circumstances.

Despite the hard moments of saying goodbye to some of his teammates and canceling the major events they planned, Aleksander found excitement in doing something new that no one did before him. He understood that they needed to adapt their dreams and goals as a team because the health and safety of the stakeholders was the top priority.

Adapting in the face of uncertainty is an invaluable skill to have and it applies to all aspects of one’s life, and when your situation changes, your definition of success and productivity should change with it.

2. The little things matter much more than you think

Nariman, an architect from Egypt, pointed out that in our day to day life, we tend to forget the bigger picture as we focus on the small details: that cup of coffee from your favorite cafe, getting your favorite bagel that’s baked just how you like it or even making sure you get the perfect parking spot before everyone else does.

We busy our mind with these minuscule decisions, without pausing to see the delivery man who smiled at you before going to work. Or your sibling who was waiting for a hug before you rushed out the door. Or even the fact that you are breathing and able to see the sun shining that day.

Life is more than what we think it is sometimes! And Nariman chose to appreciate the time she spent with her family and made sure to not take anything for granted.

3. The answer to your problem might just be a change of perspective

Life is going to throw curve balls all the time. The key is in how you manage to take them. Do you want to catch them and throw them back? Do you want to step aside so you won’t get hit? Maybe you want to stand idle and wait for the impact hoping it won’t be too hard?

When you can’t change your circumstances, change your perspective. This may sound like a cliché, but the pandemic showed us that it’s actually true.

Alejandra, 20,  from Peru, believes that in the face of challenges. Sometimes all you have to do is get creative and find the opportunity in the hardship.

Alejandra learned that when she had to lead her team virtually, all she needed was to get creative. She said, “There are creative ways to get the job done but we are not fully equipped for that. I discovered that virtual management and learning how to lead virtually is possible and you can develop a good bond. It is just a matter of caring and putting in the effort.”

4. In a world full of hostility, be kind

In a time where the world is collectively trying to navigate a global pandemic, having the ability to put yourselves in the shoes of others is what we need the most right now.

Dandy, a 21-year-old product design student from Indonesia pointed out that during COVID-19, a lot of people focused on what they had been missing out on. They subsequently found it hard to draw the line between work and personal life when their routines changed. Just like Malek from Tunisia who found it difficult to find the motivation to study among all the changes she was going through.

It’s in these moments that people need empathy and kindness. Having a support system and the simple notion of caring for one another has a tremendous effect on the quality of life we have. If you take that step and reach out to someone you think is doing well, you might be surprised to hear what they have to say.

5. We cannot ignore inequalities any longer

Alejandra also pointed out that a lot of the issues the world faces came to light during this period of time. The inequalities that have always existed came to light, removing the lid off the issues that were boiling underneath.

People left homeless, losing their jobs, resorting to risk their lives to be able to get food on their table each night. Such discussions are not easy to have, however, we need to acknowledge the inequalities present in our world today. Most importantly, we need to educate ourselves and the people around us and find ways to take action.

Hashim Hounkpatin, a 28-year doctor from Benin, launched a mass literacy program in French-speaking Africa and teamed up with health experts to use tweets to spread awareness on safety from COVID-19. Their hashtag #AgirContreCOVID19 reached more than 90,000 people so far. Now, they are designing an app with reliable information in local languages that allow users to interact with experts directly.

We can’t collect the voices and thoughts of every young person, but we can hear them when they choose to speak out or see them when they take action.

Aleksander, Malek, Alejandria, Nariman, and Dandy have different stories and different realities. Whether it’s a travel opportunity, an event, a project or a personal goal, each of them had something to give up during this crisis.

What they all had in common, though, was them choosing to be leaders: being solution-oriented, being self-aware, empowering others, and at the core of it, being world citizens.

#LeadershipIsAlsoAbout choosing to make the change when it’s not easy- especially when it’s not easy. So our question to you is, what is one lesson you’ll take with you forever from this pandemic?

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