A wise man once said, “adversity introduces a man to himself.”

This wise man was also once told he was too stupid to amount to much of anything. He wasn’t valedictorian. He failed several subjects in polytechnical school. Albert Einstein.

As the world starts to disappear behind physical masks for protection, we must raise the flag that this is not an excuse for us to hide behind metaphorical masks. And many of us have been wearing these metaphorical masks for years. Masks to hide our fears: fears of failure, being an imposter, being on them proverbial hamster wheel. If we are not careful, the physical masks we now wear may make it even easier to hide – not just from other people, but from ourselves. Now is the time that we must dig deep to our authentic selves and disrobe façades. It’s not about the GPA or the bumper sticker. It’s not about getting into X school or Y; it’s about owning your place as a steward of our planet to co-create a better tomorrow.

There is no going “back to normal.” Whatever normal was. But when we get to the other side – and we will – the question is who do we want to be and how do we want to show up? This is a particularly challenging if we don’t know who we are right now.

There are observant folks that often remind us that indeed, where you go to college dictates your future. After all, look at all the Fortune 500 CEOs. And as long we continue to support the status quo, the status quo will stay. But the pandemic is forcing a new reality. Is anyone asking the person helping another human where they went to school or what their GPA is?

Yes, learning matters. Training matters. Education matters. But for what purpose and in the service of whom? Perhaps this is a time for us to consider education that celebrates and prepares our millions of young people for the many challenges ahead of us. That prepares our next generation with a diverse set of skills, knowledge, and experience. That requires them to reflect, analyze, and debate who they are, who they want to be, and how they want to show up in this New Normal.

For too long and with little fanfare, educators around the world have (and are) been finding creative ways to connect with their students and help their young brains and hearts grow and develop into empathic, compassionate, wise human beings. Let’s help our teachers on the ground to do by reconsidering the frenzy around where so-and-so got in and celebrate the different modalities and approaches of teaching and learning.

In a world where the majority of students who have the privilege of attending school (according to UNESCO, over 264 million children are denied access to education; only 45% of those 15 to 17 finish secondary school) are now learning from home, teachers, educators, and parents are struggling to explain why learning Steinbeck and obtuse angles is important. As I had mentioned previously, how might our young people benefit if they learn about the why before the what? Why reading Camus and learning about the genetics of eye color is critical to planting the seeds for the next generation to not make the mistakes we have. As Frank Bruni says, education is about giving “[the] brain a vigorous workout and [the] soul a thorough investigation, to realize how very large the world is and to contemplate [our] desired place in it.” Indeed, an education that empowers the next generation to engage with each other across the tribal divides, divides that we now are beginning to understand to be fragile and rather thinly veiled.

So they can innovate and create and anticipate. So they can integrate the disciplines that are required for real-world solutions. So they can contemplate their desired place in the world – and understand who they are. So they do not hide behind metaphorical masks of fear. So they can be fully authentic and unmasked – even in a (temporarily, hopefully) masked world. So, where to start?

  1. Listen fully

Pay attention to what is being said and not said around you. How are other people expressing the way they are navigating these extremely challenging times? What might we learn from these moments? Suspend judgment and simply be curious. Meet others where they are and remember that right now, each person is facing their own identities and morality in different ways. Great learning may come from simply listening.

  • Reflect honestly

Start a journaling practice and once a day, even for two minutes, reflect on what matters. What thoughts and emotions are coming up during these challenge moments? What truly matters? Where are the opportunities for further learning and education such that we can be more prepared to serve those around us? Consider why the pursuit of education and knowledge important to meeting the known and unknown challenges ahead?

  • Celebrate differences

Cognitively, we know that each of us have different strengths and skills, yet we seem to forget that when it comes to the race to college admissions. Let’s honor and celebrate all the different ways our strengths and skills show up, and how each one of us have a critical role to play in a better tomorrow. Let’s do this not as lip service, but truly recognizing each person’s authenticity with compassion and equanimity.

The invitation is for each of us to consider what we can do to own our place as a steward of our planet to co-create a better tomorrow.