What if…?

walker choosing a way to go in the woods

Tatiana Bachkirova invites us to look at our lives differently and to think about changes we might not have considered before the outbreak of Covid-19. ‘It is possible that life, with all its expectations and hopes, might need to be envisaged in a different way from the way you plan it now.’

The world is struggling with a huge amount of change to our usual life due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is not surprising that the prevailing desire on people’s minds is for normality to be restored. You hear everywhere, ‘When things get back to normal’.

Although the conversations we have about the state of the world often come to the realisation that life might never be the same, considerations of these potential changes often stop at the point when the crisis will be resolved. Even when the popular media brings to our attention the discussions of scientists, politicians, philosophers, and various pundits speculating about how this new life might be like after the crisis, I have noticed that these discussions often consider the crisis as significant but passing, an unusual event that is viewed as a stand-alone occurrence.

What startled me this morning, however, is a thought that these kinds of pandemics might become regular events. There is no guarantee that a new virus, also unknown to scientists, may develop even when this current crisis is resolved. It is quite possible then that new threats to lives develop, new lockdowns will be introduced, and we will face a new round of health and emotional challenge.

The purpose of this contribution is not about making things gloomier than they already are, or trying to normalise the crisis with a view to developing resilience and a positive attitude. It is not even to attract attention to various prognoses about how the world may be like in the future and what reaction we might have to it. I simply realised that contemplating the scenario of regular pandemics and similar disruptive changes on a global scale prompted me to look at my life differently and to think about some changes I would not have been considering otherwise.

I found this task sobering and meaningful. Thinking that this might be useful for others, and particularly for coaches, made me put this reflection together – with the title ‘What if…’ – as an invitation to others to simply pause and think what this scenario of our common, and your own, future would mean for your life. It is possible that life, with all its expectations and hopes, might need to be envisaged in a different way from the way you plan it now.

This is a list of questions that occurred to me:

• Would you be inclined to ‘spread’ your life safely and carefully trying to anticipate and prevent the impact of possible disruptions? Or would you try to cram in as many exciting and challenging activities as you can when you have a chance to do so?

• Would you work less or more? Would you want your children, or any other’s children, to do the same?

• Would you vote for the same government or might you consider a radical shift in your political views?

• Financially, would you save more or spend more?

• Would you live closer or further away from your loved ones?

• Where would you draw the boundaries for your responsibilities to others?

• Who and what would you rely on in good and bad times?

• Would you like to be a more self-sufficient minimalist or a well-connected social activist, or a combination of both, or something else?

• What would you like to collect: experiences, information, things, ideas, people, or something else?

It occurred to me that if you are a coach, you might be involved in conversations with your clients on the topics where some of these questions might become relevant. I am not advocating imposing any of them on your clients. At the same time, simply considering this ‘what if…’ scenario can be usefully added to any inquiry as a way of expanding our clients’ thinking on the topic of their choice and concern. It can provide not just ‘another’ angle on their situation and goals, but a very wide lens that may change their perspective dramatically.

Some might say, ‘What is the point of introducing hypothetical scenarios?’, or, ‘We can just deal with things as they come’.

I would say that what we are experiencing right now would have been thought of as a hypothetical scenario even only a month ago. I would also say that most of our learning is derived from the hypothetical. You may disagree with this statement, and it might sound a little too theoretical in relation to the issues we are facing right now. I will save that argument for another piece of writing.

Tatiana Bachkirova is Professor of Coaching Psychology and Director of the International Centre for Coaching and Mentoring Studies at Oxford Brookes University. 

Photo: Vladislav Babienko/Unsplash