Adam Grant is often the first to identify professional and personal phenomena. Case in point, his recent New York Times article on what he feels may be the dominant emotion of 2021: Languishing. 

As Grant writes, many people aren't burned out. They aren't depressed. They don't feel hopeless. They just feel a little melancholy. A little adrift. In short, they're languishing: Muddling through the day feeling somewhat sluggish and empty. 

All of which is true.

And was true in 2019. And in most years before.

Because no one--not even Sir Tony of Irrepressible Effervescence--has ever managed to always be totally on point, totally focused, totally productive, and unfailingly upbeat. 

Not now. Not then. Not ever.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It's the void between depression and flourishing--the absence of well-being. You don't have symptoms of mental illness, but you're not the picture of mental health either. You're not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you'll cut back on work.

Makes sense.

But how many people constantly flourish? Most of us go through phases.

Sometimes we feel like the queens and kings of our worlds; other times, we feel like pawns. Sometimes we're actually surprised by our skills; other times it feels like we can't do anything right. Sometimes we feel a genuine sense of connection and community; other times, no matter how many people we're surrounded by, we still feel somewhat alone.

Most of us spend considerable time in the "languish" zone. Like confidence, your emotional state is more situational than absolute. When good things happen, either to you or because of you, your spirits rise. When not-so-good things happen to or because of you, your spirits fall. Sometimes for weeks or months; more likely, though, for days or even hours.

Most of us have even gone, at least a few times, from flourishing to seemingly depressed to flourishing again, all within the span of a few minutes.

Which leads us to Steve Jobs.

Flourishing, to Devastation, and Back Again

In 1985, after slumping sales and a long boardroom battle, Jobs was fired by Apple. The company he co-founded...and still partly owned. As Jobs said, "What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone. And it was devastating."

Years later, though, when he looked back on that time, Jobs felt differently. "I didn't see it then," Jobs said, "but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me."

Surely he languished, at least for a while--but then he picked himself up, searched for new opportunities, and tried again. 

Jobs found possibility in the aftermath of adversity. He saw opportunity in the aftermath of failure. He found a greater sense of control in his personal and professional life even after losing control over the company he founded and built.

His life changed, and as the Stoics would say, Jobs realized that he couldn't control what had already happened--but he could control how he responded.

And so can we. 

Our lives have also changed, but at least some of those changes are, or can be, for the good. Being forced to trust your employees to work remotely, and then learning that you can trust them? That's a good thing.

Being forced to measure and manage employee performance on the basis of outcomes and deliverables rather than "butts in seats" or other irrelevant proxies for productivity? That's a good thing.

Learning to better value the employees who not only get things done, but get the right things done? That's a good thing.

Being forced to interact with and serve customers on their terms, rather than yours? That's a good thing.

Hopefully you don't want those things (and many more) to go back to "normal." Even if the process of adapting to those changes was difficult. Or dispiriting. Or painful. Even if you--quite understandably--languished for a while. Because we all languish from time to time.

You did before the pandemic. You will after the pandemic.

To languish is human. As is deciding to look for, and take advantage of, the opportunities that inevitably result from change.

Because opportunities always follow.

And when you work to seize them, the fulfillment and sense of purpose that comes from pursuing something meaningful will help you emerge from the languish zone. A bit smarter. A bit more skilled.

Aware of the fact that sometimes we all languish. 

And even more capable of dealing, both practically and emotionally, with whatever happens the next time things change.