8 Movers and Shakers On What The Pandemic Has Taught Them About Life | Men's Health Magazine Australia

8 Movers and Shakers On What The Pandemic Has Taught Them About Life

Leaders in their fields Dan Williams 1 / 8 The Frontman Presenting harrowing updates each morning to his Sky News audience hasn’t fazed a battle-hardened Peter Stefanovic, for whom COVID-19 has sharpened his appreciation of life’s simple pleasures “It’s been an extraordinary story to cover, particularly in the early days when developments were breathless. Before […]
Leaders in their fields Dan Williams
1 / 8

The Frontman

Presenting harrowing updates each morning to his Sky News audience hasn’t fazed a battle-hardened Peter Stefanovic, for whom COVID-19 has sharpened his appreciation of life’s simple pleasures

“It’s been an extraordinary story to cover, particularly in the early days when developments were breathless. Before the virus started taking off here you had these terrifying events unfolding overseas – hospitals overflowing with patients and authorities constructing provisional morgues. In Australia, two images will stay with me. The first is the fights that broke out in supermarkets over toilet paper. The second is the queues that formed outside Centrelink offices when thousands and thousands of people lost their jobs in an instant. Personally, I’ve been okay. I had something of a mental breakdown many years ago from a lot of war that I’d experienced in 2011 and never really talked about because I lived on my own. I had to learn how to decompress and that’s stood me in good stead whenever I’m dealing with a story that involves a high volume of death and heartbreak. I’ve always loved my work and I love it even more the older I get. You always miss the road but I did it for so long in a previous life when I didn’t have a family. Now I enjoy bunkering down and working on the studio stuff. As soon as I finish the show I come home and I’m on the phone helping to get tomorrow’s show organised. My wife Sylvia and I have been using this time to get to know our son Oscar, who was born last February. I’ve got to see all his quirks and mannerisms, and his personality coming through. I’m a pretty introverted guy so isolation hasn’t meant too much of a change for me. Having said that I do look forward to going to a pub at the end of all this and ripping in like everyone else.”

The Oracle

Social researcher Hugh Mackay has peered into the soul of a people in crisis and discovered a reservoir of compassion

“Many of us will reach a point in our lives when we start searching for what makes us unique as individuals. We remove various masks and ask, ‘Well, at my essence, who am I?’ What we find is that there is a unique layer but beneath that we are bound by a common humanity. And the essence of that humanity is our capacity for compassion. Australians’ willingness to make personal sacrifices has been remarkable, uplifting and somewhat surprising given we like to portray ourselves as larrikins and individualists. When I see the relatively deserted streets and empty railway stations I think of that as a mass act of love. Love in the sense of compassion. It is a sign of a community that understands what interconnectedness means. When it comes to the crunch we know we’re not isolated individuals.

We know it’s not all about me. We know it’s not a competition. This compassion is in the street but it’s also in the digital world. Emails and texts, often peremptory in tone, have been longer than usual and always containing messages of support. We even have conservative governments around the world, including our own, using terms like ‘the common good’. Suddenly they’ve looked at and implemented solutions that a socialist government would be proud of. The pandemic has revealed a deep truth about leadership in general: the essence of good leadership is compassion. Everything else follows from that. If you feel compassion – kindness, respect, inclusion – towards the people you’re leading or managing then all of the other leadership and management skills flow from that. But if it’s missing, that’s when people complain about working for a heartless boss or a heartless organisation.”

The Jetsetter

What happens to a travel writer when travel is banned? Ben Groundwater pines for the character-building experience of venturing abroad, tedium and all

“I saw a piece by the author Christos Tsiolkas that got me thinking. He’d been in London at a festival that was cut short by the virus and was sitting in Dubai Airport. He was looking at all these people who were fleeing back to their homelands when he had this epiphany. He turned to his partner and said: ‘All this movement, all this travel – it’s unnecessary. We don’t need to be doing this’. But this lockdown has made me feel the opposite. It’s made me believe in the absolute necessity of movement. I firmly believe travel has a good effect on the world. The world shrinks when we experience other ways of living and thinking. Without that we fall into nationalism and patriotism, which are concepts I’m not comfortable with. We become more tribal when we don’t travel. Travel is not without risk but it’s a risk that’s good for you. By facing up to it you show yourself what you’re capable of. I’d visited 90-odd countries in the past 12 years. I’m missing things I never thought I would. All the mundanity: the security queues in airports, the terrible coffee, the long-haul flights, the headphones that don’t work properly, the substandard hotels. Those things feel like privileges now. If coronavirus has done anything it’s made me long for that middle seat on the plane. And airline food would be fine by me right now. I’d taken the act of travel for granted and never thought for a second it would be taken away. It’s made me appreciate the freedom we had.”

The Voice of Calm

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has learned he can handle extreme stress and 100-hour workweeks – so long as he maintains a vigorous exercise regime

“I was at my son’s cricket on the 1st of February last year when Brendan Murphy, then Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, sent me a message saying there was now sustained human-to-human transmission in China beyond Wuhan. I jog or walk laps while I’m at the cricket. On this morning I just kept walking while making calls to various people including the PM. At the end of it, one of the dads said, ‘Oh, you had a fairly serious look on your face’. I said, ‘Yeah, it wasn’t just my ordinary walk’. We closed the borders to China that night and from then on nothing was the same. Luckily, I came into this crisis at pretty much peak fitness for me. I’ve been obsessive about my running for a long time. Over the course of a year, I average about 20,000 steps a day. When I’m in Canberra, I’ll start early by walking 4km to work. I’ll work for an hour and then run up Red Hill, which is another 6km all up. So, I’ll have a lot under my belt – with more walking to come – before the first leadership meeting at 8:30. In late January last year, I did a 5km park run in 23:30 – pretty good going for a bloke in his mid-50s. The workload has been considerable. When we were rebuilding Medicare and taking it online and rebuilding the hospital system while managing all the communication . . . that was the most intense and stressful period I hope ever to go through in my life. At various times I’ve averaged between 90-100 hours a week. But in the process I’ve confirmed something about myself. So long as I get exercise each day – if not 20,000 steps then 10,000 – and so long as I see my wife and kids, then I’m fine. If I can do those two things there’s no problem. Collectively, the Australian people have been extraordinary in the best possible sense of the word. The PM, myself and Brendan decided very early on that we would communicate in a factual way, neither underplaying nor overstating. There’s still that magnificent Australian cheeky response to government, but when it really mattered everybody understood that their actions were about protecting themselves and others. The response has built for me an even deeper respect for who we are as a people.”

The Principal

For Phillip Heath, head of Sydney’s Barker College, the pandemic has exposed his own limitations while renewing his faith in the next generation

“The common mind sees young people as essentially self-serving, entitled, full of hubris and narcissistic. And, of course, we’re all those things to some extent, aren’t we? But I have been constantly inspired by them through this. We underestimate not only the resilience and grit of young people, but their altruism, the patience, the trust, the willingness to be flexible and cooperate, the humanity and kindness. Some time ago I received a letter from the resident of an aged-care home. For a period, the occupants of these facilities were terrified – and with good reason. This person wrote a letter saying thank you to the ‘silent angel’ who’d written letters to everybody in this facility – all 50 – to check in that they were okay. He left his number and offered to do the shopping for them. This child just did this. He didn’t tell me. No one had organised it. The pandemic has challenged me to the deepest core of my being. It has been so pervasive, so hidden, so limitless in its threat and impacts. I’ve learned that my capacity for frustration is less than I thought. I found that I don’t do well with frustration, and I thought I was pretty good at this. I’ll be a different head after this because I will know and understand my limitations more. I’ll embrace my own powerlessness more. I’ll realise that I can rest at night without having to know everything or control everything. I’m restless as a personality. And that restlessness is good at times. Every leader, I think, should be about five per cent uncomfortable with their world because any kind of complacency is dangerous.”

The Guardian

The emergency response to COVID-19 has shown environmentalist Tim Flannery a blueprint for achieving action on another existential threat

“For me, the pandemic has caused a general slowing down that changes your orientation to everything, from family to food to cooking. But it’s also allowed me time to think more strategically about climate change – the nature of the problem, the messaging and all the rest of it. There are striking similarities in the response to each threat. In both cases it looks like we’re acting at the last possible moment. Back in March last year COVID-19 cases were doubling every four days before the Prime Minister stopped shaking hands with people and started listening to the scientific advice. We did catch it in time, though only just. The virus is an invisible agent that spreads in the atmosphere, and its symptoms are not always easy to detect – very much like climate change. For both threats, the imperative is to act before we feel anything like the full force of the potential consequences. To combat the virus, our country has done things that would otherwise have been unthinkable. Consequently, the argument against climate-change action – that it would destroy the economy – just no longer holds water. We’ve seen we can act. And yes, there are costs. But there are also benefits. We are right now in the very last moments of being able to act effectively on climate change. The chances are we are going to see tipping points this decade and these will be catastrophic. We have to act now and in a way that’s every bit as comprehensive as we have with COVID. I will apply the pressure and draw the parallels. For both threats, containment works up to a point but it’s not the answer. Developing a vaccine required a huge amount of research and development in the face of great uncertainty. And for the climate response the vaccine equivalent is drawdown. It’s finding a way to get the CO2 out of the air.”

The Protector

John Brogden, survivor of a suicide attempt and chairman of Lifeline, has received a jolting reminder of human vulnerability

Through my involvement in Lifeline I’ve had a view into this crisis not many people have had. It has brought home to me that people are reacting very differently. People who thought they were strong have been struggling. Calls to Lifeline reached an all-time high in our 58-year history. We’re finding a lot of loneliness and anxiety. You’re asking people to embrace loneliness to some extent, while the anxiety is about everything – money, family, jobs, health, the future. Being home with my family more has made me realise how lucky I am. Even though I’ve had depression and suicidal ideation, they’re under control and I’m managing them well and I think I’m adopting the right work practices. Managing my work, getting out of the house and exercising with the family . . . that’s been fantastic. The last time I had this kind of time at home, my wife and I had one child and another on the way. It was after my suicide attempt and I wasn’t working for a year. And despite the difficulty of those times I remember saying to friends that every father should spend six months off work to spend time with his children. Because it’s just a magic time. I’m also chairman of Furlough House, a little retirement village on Sydney’s northern beaches. Now, a 90-year-old man dies in a nursing home from coronavirus. Well, the argument goes, he could have got the flu and passed away. But the pandemic has crystallised for me that there are few more important tests than how we treat our vulnerable. Treating someone in the same way you’d hope to be treated yourself is what makes our society civilised.”

The Danger Man

For adventurist Richard Bowles, the pandemic has confirmed his view that we should all expect – and prepare for – sudden outbreaks of mayhem

“One of the few things that surprises me about what’s happened is that so many people have been surprised. The fact is something like this can always happen. We’re vulnerable creatures. You can wake up to any kind of chaos or crisis. It doesn’t have to be a global pandemic. And that’s where people have gone wrong. We’ve created a society that’s all about fake positivity. The way I live is the opposite. That may sound pessimistic but it’s simply being aware that on any given day some bad shit can go down. That’s just life and the way it works. I’m constantly prepared for any kind of crisis, small or large. I’m all about undertaking experiments that yank me out of my comfort zone. For instance, shortly before all this I threw myself into living as a rickshaw wallah on the streets of India. I lived for a week with these guys, sleeping rough and surviving on two bucks a day. Down the track I plan on going to live as a dump scavenger in the Philippines. If you haven’t liked your response to all this, you could see it as an opportunity to seek out a bit of internal order because that’s the first step to managing external chaos. Fear and anxiety are emotions. You can’t get rid of them but you can control them. And when you do you have far more clarity. And with clarity you have some confidence. And with confidence you can have some courage. You’ve got to understand that something like this will happen again. And it doesn’t matter what it is. Fear is the same whether you’re on the edge of a cliff or in the middle of a pandemic or about to have a difficult conversation with your boss. If you can work out a strategy for nipping fear in the bud before it takes over, you’re on your way to a better life.”

More From