Burlington, Vermont, USA at Church Street Marketplace.

When the Covid crisis is over, somebody should write a book and perhaps entitle it, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in the Pandemic.”

Top of the list of lessons learned, of course: “Wash your hands regularly.”

But also near the top should be this: “Not every problem has an easy solution.”

Just look at the pandemic itself. COVID-19 brought the world to its knees not only because it is a virus that is contagious and deadly but because it has no ready-made vaccine sitting on the shelf. And, according to experts, there won’t be a COVID-19 vaccine until 2021.

The pandemic has turned our comfortable beliefs upside down. Among them, the conviction that all challenges are easily remedied with a simple solution that can be employed, and work, for everyone. Before the pandemic, we would approach each regular flu season with little concern because there’d be a vaccine available at the nearest pharmacy. It’s the same for many other health care problems where the solution often comes in the form of convenient and easy-to-take medicine. If you have high blood pressure, there’s a pill. Depressed? There’s a pill for that, too. Overweight? There’s even a pill for that. All we need is a prescription from the doctor.

Likewise, our cultural mindset has become reliant on a belief that whatever the problem, it can be cured with a simple remedy. Even for something as complex and difficult as “success,” we think the answer lies in just getting the formula right. We have grown to imagine there is a prescription for success, as easy to obtain as a doctor’s prescription for health. Except that is not the case. It never has been. And the presumption, or hope, that there is a simple solution is now causing us more harm than good, especially for communities.

Even before the pandemic hit, communities were facing a multitude of challenges. Among them: population decline; economic downturn; crumbling infrastructure; vacant cores; a lack of resources. To find solutions to these problems, many communities are following a prescriptive process. They think there is a single path or formula to success.

There isn’t. To make your success a reality takes hard work, serious evaluation, identifying what makes you truly unique, and being willing to invest in time, energy and resources.

Perhaps that is why communities rarely deviate from the prescriptive process. They are reluctant to step off the path other communities are following. They are frightened to venture into unexplored territory. And like many of us who have grown comfortable and soft, they spurn hard work and self-reliance in favour of popping that pill that promises to make everything better.

But that isn’t the solution. Being the same as every other community doesn’t work. Following the same path means you can’t find the unique destination you seek. But by breaking away from the herd you can find new, unexplored opportunities. You will stand apart from everyone else. You will get noticed.

Many communities talk a good game about the time and energy they are willing to invest to make their community strong and healthy but in the end they will just keep refilling that prescription and popping that pill — and nothing will change for them.

There is no single prescription for success. No magic bullet. There is hard work, skill, imagination and courage. These are qualities that will help us succeed, whether it’s defeating Covid globally or developing our communities locally.

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