Almost everyone has experienced some sort of personal crisis in life, some more cataclysmic than others. Some of us have endured divorce, job loss, death, estrangement, and broken relationships.

No one can escape a crisis of some kind because it’s the human condition. And we cope with those challenges according to our unique personalities — some healthy coping mechanisms and others not-so-healthy, like drugs and alcohol.

But recently, we have collectively undergone several public crises in health, societal fabric, trust in our institutions, and morality. And that’s shattered our complacency that life is good, life is predictable, life is fair, and life is secure.

When our normal routines are disrupted, we can feel a sense of disorder and chaos. When our sense of control is exposed as the fallacy it is, we feel overwhelmed and afraid of these external forces, and so we panic.

That panic precipitates a desire to escape the crisis quickly by a quick fix or by ignoring the crisis in the hope that it will dissipate on its own without intervention, or by denying the crisis entirely. The objective is to revert to old routines as soon as possible — to instill, once more, a sense of control and comfort.

Complacency prevents critical analysis and breeds routines that require no thought. Your life ends up simply a series of one step after another, one foot in front of the other. Is that any way to live the one life you’re given? On rote?

A crisis shatters that complacency and demands you think critically.

So, as opposed to viewing crises as something to ignore or deny, why not investigate some alternative perceptions of the benefits of a crisis?

And there are benefits:

  • It causes you to assess yourself. When an emergency strikes, there’s a run on grocery stores to buy perceived necessities because after an inventory of their homes’ cupboards, something is found lacking. A self-inventory is more critical than a cupboard inventory.
  • What are your personal strengths and weaknesses? What are your desires? What character flaws surface in a crisis that you would seek to refine? What talents have been suppressed? Have you sacrificed joy for routine and security?
  • It gives you an opportunity to evaluate what is meaningful in your life. Are you fulfilled? Are there voids in your life that you can seek to fill with some initiative?
  • This is an opportunity to reorganize and reprioritize the facets of your life: relationships, work, spiritual fulfillment. Living life by rote leaves you with a life determined by others. So, use a crisis to live your life according to your priorities, not others.
  • A crisis can set the stage for a new direction for your life. A neighbor who spent decades caring for a husband with a debilitating and ultimately fatal disease, embarked on a new life path after her husband’s death. She could have emotionally died with him, but despite being in her mid-80s, she decided to sell her home, move to another state, and create a new life of teaching music to young children. In short, this crisis allowed her to reset the direction of her life — a life of meaning for her.
  • And finally, most importantly, a crisis causes us to explore the meaning of life. The ultimate question of why am I here? What’s my place in this world? What is the point of it all? What is the legacy I choose to leave?

Honest self-appraisal is never easy and frequently painful. But a crisis can stop us in our tracks and insist that we really assess our lives for meaning and self-fulfillment. And that’s good.