My lessons from the 2011 Japanese Earthquake

A building made of concrete swaying like a flag in the wind, is worrying at the best of times. It is especially worrying when you are in it. As a quasi-Japanese, I am no stranger to earthquakes. I distinctly remember one evening in 2009 when I awoke to the crash of my bookshelf falling to the ground. The earthquake stopped. I went back to sleep. Books as they were. No big deal.

March 11, however, was different. On this day two years ago at 2:46 pm, darkness dropped over the ever-luminous Tokyo and the ground begun to roar with what only can be described by as a 9.0 magnitude.

Later that evening we tragically learnt that some 15,881 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters fell victim to a devastating tsunami. A tsunami with the comparable force and speed of a fighter jet, would leave 6,142 injured and 2,668 still—to this day—missing and hundreds of thousands homeless, further millions without water or electricity and the whole country now living under constant threat of nuclear radiation.

When I see video footage like this, it still feels like another time, another place, another person. Even until this day I am still digesting the lessons of March 11. Here are some:

Humanity is essentially good.
Channels for meaningful contribution remind us why we really exist. We exist to serve others. We exist for something greater than ourselves. We exist to serve a purpose above ourselves.
I believe we find ourselves in these moments of deeply meaningful service. A disaster, whether it be the March 11 earthquake or even a friend in need, gives us a connection to our better selves. A moment of connection with our true self, our better self, that self we know we were meant to be.

Never EVER wait for another earthquake to take action.
I am a passionate believer in compelling targets being the key to action. Who needs more of compelling reason for action than our life?
When reality knocks with moments of ‘do or die’, humanity overwhelming answers the call. However, our true power lies between these moments of do or die. Our true power is in what we did the day before or the day after the earthquake. I made a commitment that day to continually develop the meaning of my life as compelling as it was on this day.

Disaster is a pressure cooker for leadership.
Immediately after the 14:46 earthquake, one of our top management who is charactersied by his democratic and enlightened nature, got up from under his desk, shaking and proclaimed, “I thought we were going to die.” This is the last thing you should say immediately after a massive earthquake. Why? Earthquakes are never solitary events. Hence, during the 9,568 aftershocks, I knew what he was really thinking. However, our CEO whose extremely unpopular loose-canon-cowboy style of leadership was the definition of Zen.Perhaps our leadership seminars would be profoundly more efficient and effective, if we saved the team building role plays and simply everyone in an earthquake? The results may surprise.

You have everything you need.
Except a pair flat shoes. Always keep a pair of flat shoes.

Since March 11, I absolutely take the time to say I love you more and to say sorry.