“There’s a crack in everything for a reason. How else can the light get in.” This last phrase from the inspiring Bank of America commercial, Commencement for America, tugged at my heart strings.

Next it tugged at my brain. It led me to recall the 1980’s research from the Center of Creative Leadership laying out the range of experiences leaders should tap to learn the important lessons of leadership. There are three types of experiences:

  • Challenging assignments (involving job transitions, creating change, high levels of responsibility, managing boundaries, and dealing with diversity).
  • Developmental relationships (including mentors, bosses, coaches, and developmental networks).
  • Hardships (such as mistakes/failures, career setbacks, personal trauma, downsizing, problem employees, and discrimination).

Smart leaders who want to develop can and should surely seek out challenging assignments and developmental relationships. The most progressive companies program these two kinds of experiences into the careers of leaders with high potential.

You can’t program hardships, nor would you or your companies wish to. But when hardships hit us unexpectantly and threaten to crack us to our very core, we can use them to let in new light. The pandemic is a big, bold unexpected hardship. The commercial’s image of a crack letting in light resonated strongly with learning from this traumatic hardship.

Here’s how to take advantage of the pandemic cracks to let in the light and profoundly impact your development—so you don’t waste this hardship.

Embrace the opportunity.

Recognize that hardships open the door to develop our inner selves—our unexamined mindsets and assumptions and those pesky habits that get in the way of our being our best selves. Do you know someone who suffered a personal loss and changed their priorities and adjusted their values? The pandemic is rife with gritty losses that put cracks in our paths. Explore the cracks to let new light inside.

Use your head.

It’s a great time for you to face the music and get serious about skills you lack. Maybe these are on your list: listening, patience, showing empathy, making decisions faster or more collaboratively. Choose one or two skills to improve so you can play a new tune.

Use your heart.

Care enough about people to ask them what you should do more of. Spend time reflecting on what they say. Inform your view with the reality of how others experience you—not just what you think they experience.

Use your courage.

Up the ante to take accountability to change your skills. It takes vulnerability to admit you need to change. Now that you have let light into the crack, let in the heat too by letting others know what you are working on and why. Enlist those who have the best seats in the house to observe your progress and give you feedback.

Just because we have new experience does not mean we will learn from it. Do these three things and you will not waste this hardship.