The pandemic journey of this last year has yielded many Robert Frost moments inspired by his famous poem published in 1915, “The Road Not Taken” and its oft-quoted last stanza.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It is worth noting that this poem was published and promoted in the years just prior to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and that Frost faced his own existential moment when he was sickened with the virus. He wrote in early 1919 that, “We have had sickness on sickness in the family all winter till I haven’t known what I was free to undertake …. I myself went near dying, which I take as a particular compliment from the disease since it is advertised to make itself dangerous only to the young in years, looks, dress, or feeling.”
In the years after he recovered, he dove into his work and went on to win the first of four Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry.
While Frost’s well-loved poem is subject to many nuanced interpretations about whether the chosen path did, in fact, make a difference, it can serve as a call to action to carefully consider how we move forward from this moment. The world and its inhabitants have taken a pause for more than a year, living, communicating and working differently.
We cannot help but see nearly every aspect of our personal and professional lives as vastly altered. Going forward, we can dare to do things differently.
I share these lines from Frost as a message to inspire reflection on this moment as a time to rise above the daunting challenges of the pandemic. We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild our world and lives in ways that take better care of ourselves, our families, our friends and colleagues, our communities and our planet.
The entrepreneurial mindset can be our guide as we figure out how to navigate more effectively in a changing world reinventing itself with almost unimaginable velocity. In the hundreds of Zoom meetings I attended last year, I heard people describing epiphanies they experienced that will transform for the better how they approach life and work moving forward.
As we transition beyond a pandemic-ridden world to a new normal, choosing a path that achieves better life-work balance seems like the only sensible choice to make. There are important questions to ask as we undertake this reset, including how the shifts impact all members of our teams. Flexible hours, shorter work weeks, e-learning, home offices and reconsidered views on accountability are all changes many are contemplating. We need to manage the experience of change we are hoping for and engage our teams in reshaping the world we envision, elevating our sense of purpose, physical well-being and mental health in the process.
Frost would expect nothing less from all of us.
Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation