Home: Personal growth during lockdown in Panama

For Juan Diego Correa, the pandemic could have been a perfect excuse to stay away from personal growth and goals, but that wasn't the case. (Submitted: Juan Diego Correa)

When a school principal died, infecting almost the entire staff and students, it was finally confirmed COVID-19 entered my country, Panama. A national emergency and full lockdown was declared. On paper, quarantine meant 40 days, but the situation was so mismanaged we had to spend seven months locked inside our homes instead.

While spending the lockdown with my family, no one left the house. We couldn’t have any contact with friends or family except via Zoom.

The lockdown stopped the economy, but thanks to our savings, we have been able to keep the house and only spend our money on food. I know people who rationed and ate twice a day to survive. I find that unacceptable.

Juan Diego Correa said he and his family grew as people during the COVID-19 lockdown in Panama because they supported each other. (Submitted: Juan Diego Correa)

According to the World Bank, Panama is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world but sixth in the inequality gap. Government aid only gave $80 per family and poorly equipped food bags that were supposed to last for a month. These bags lasted two weeks maximum. This wasn’t my case, but I had to mention this because the economic and psychological damage caused to every single family is immeasurable and it will only get worse over time.

My parents, my sister and I grew as people during the lockdown because we supported each other. We are privileged for that. Our growth wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have the chance to stop everything, think and do a lot of introspection. By learning from each other, we have made each day count.

The pandemic could have been the perfect excuse for staying away from personal growth and goals, but that wasn’t our case.

I have always played soccer, but I injured both of my feet while playing soccer for St. Thomas University in 2018. I got surgery and haven’t touched a field in two years. My doctor told me I’ll never play again without pain, but that hasn’t stopped me. The support from my family, friends, physios, former teammates and coaches from Panama kept me moving forward. There are no excuses for personal growth, not even while locked in.

On Aug. 1, I gave an online TED talk held across the United States, Latin America and Spain. I talked about my life and how to train one’s mind. Aside from that, I now host a soccer podcast with two friends and I kept my job as a columnist in Panama’s oldest newspaper, La Estrella de Panamá. I am a member of the board of directors of an NGO, The School of Citizenship, English for EDC Alberto Quiros Guardia, working to educate others on democratic values, social responsibility and most importantly, human development.

In this week’s HOME column, Juan Diego Correa explains that there are no excuses for personal growth, not even while locked in. (Submitted: Juan Diego Correa)

While I am not taking any official STU courses this year, I am doing an online specialization and other courses for STU credit. I decided to do this because last semester was a disaster and I didn’t feel I was learning anything.

Even if I am not returning to STU until fall 2021, I can say without a doubt that 2020 has been the most productive year of my life.

Not a single day has been a vacation for me. I wake up at 5:30 a.m to do my routines including soccer, running, meditation, reading and gym. Every day I work on my NGO, research and read for at least two hours.

But setting my privileges aside, my country’s situation is critical because the government has allowed places to start re-opening.

Casinos, churches and clubs have been open for a week. Things are getting out of hand as death tolls are rising. The government, alongside people who think the pandemic is already over and have stopped wearing masks, are leading the country into a failed state. Panama, which before the pandemic was in its worst economic crisis in history, now faces more recession, death and uncertainty.

Still, I must be thankful because now I can see things that I didn’t understand before due to ignorance or because I wasn’t ready to understand.

For example, we need very little in life because family, health and food on the table are the greatest blessings you’ll ever have. Happiness doesn’t depend on superfluous objects or what others think. Happiness depends only on you.

We must listen to others, be humble and respect because beliefs don’t make you better, actions do.

In the end, family is the most important thing we have. If you organize yourself and surround yourself with the right people that will have the guts to tell you what you need to do to improve on and also push you into looking inside of yourself and work hard on yourself. Then you will realize you’re right where you need to be.