I was recently laid off from my job due to impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. As a senior executive responsible for growth, eliminating my role was an obvious area to preserve cash in the face of an uncertain future and I would have made the exact same decision if I were the owner of the company.
My wife is an independent residential real estate agent and her income has effectively dried up as well. While there are signs that buyers and sellers who are less impacted by the global economic downturn may begin engaging in property transactions again, our overall financial outlook is uncertain at best.
Also, unsurprisingly to many reading this, our two middle-school aged children are struggling with a combination of remote learning and social isolation while we all shelter together. Four of us at home, all working on our respective projects. Even though we are sharing a home, sometimes it feels like we are more isolated from each other than previously. And as a parent it is very difficult to see your children struggle academically and emotionally. In most cases there is very little we can do to help them other than offer our empathy for the challenges they are facing.
Yet in spite of all of these challenges, I am thankful. There are many reasons to feel a sense of optimism in the face of such an uncertain landscape. This pandemic has redefined our economy, the way we do our jobs, and the nature of our personal relationships. Much has been written about these changes, but I’ll throw my observations into the mix:
- The value of financial planning
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have savings to help us through this challenging period. My wife and I have always shared the value of long-term financial planning and keeping a cash reserve in the bank, and we are seeing the real-time benefits of that planning today. Our financial buffer allows us both to invest in our skills and reframe our career opportunities without the need to immediately take any work we can get to pay the bills. Our reserves won’t last indefinitely, but heeding the advice of our financial advisors to have 3-6 months of cash available is turning out to be one of the best financial decisions we’ve made.
- Family time
While it has been challenging with everyone at home all the time, it has also led to an opportunity to spend more quality time together. We make it a point to sit down to dinner together every night and share stories of our days, and the challenges we are all facing under the circumstances. Teenagers don’t readily share their feelings with their parents under the best of circumstances, but we have been able to forge even closer relationships with our children at a time when they are increasingly looking to establish their own identities and distance themselves from their core family relationships.
I have been part of a fathers group for the past 12 years since our youngest was born. We used to get together on the first Wednesday of the month for many years. Gradually, our monthly meetings became quarterly. Over the past few years the get togethers have dwindled to just once or twice a year. Busy professional lives and family obligations, along with older children, have led us in separate directions. But with the proliferation of video conferencing combined with social isolation, we have been reinstating our meetings and seeing much higher participation rates than in many years. I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging and connected these virtual get togethers have been. I first suspected we would spend 20 or 30 minutes just saying hello, but as we began sharing our stories and reconnecting in ways we hadn’t in a long time, the hours passed quickly. It has been invigorating to connect in new ways and be reminded of the healing power of long-term friendships.
- The environment
While the pandemic has led to widespread economic pain, I’ve been astonished by before and after images of cities, lakes, and skies around the globe. What is most amazing to me is how quickly nature regenerates when human activity subsides. While it is unrealistic to expect this to continue indefinitely, it is a stark reminder of our impact on our environment and how even modest shifts in our behavior can have profound outcomes. I’m hopeful that we don’t forget the lesson of our impact and use the opportunity of this crisis to forge new ways of working that lessens our footprint.
- Envisioning a new career trajectory
While I believe the old adage that it’s easier to find a job when you are employed, having some time to reconsider my future career has been refreshing. I find myself open to new possibilities in both role and industry. While I naturally gravitate to the professional networks I’ve built over years, I’m encouraged by the range of new possibilities that exist for the next phase of my career. Also, the people I’ve reached out to for suggestions and introductions have been responsive and generous. I have experienced a very high degree of empathy and support, and the feedback I’ve received has given me renewed confidence in my skills and experience. This outreach has also created opportunities to reconnect with former colleagues whom I haven’t spoken with in quite some time. I’m constantly reminded of the many creative, smart, and resourceful people I’ve worked with throughout my life and how much I’ve learned from many of them.
My experience of the coronavirus crisis has forced me to distill my needs, hopes, and desires to the core essentials. I’ve easily discarded services and products which don’t serve critical needs, and I’ve been reconnecting with people who provide connection, advice, empathy, and support. I’ve been able to strengthen my family relationships, learn new skills, and focus my vision on a more holistic lifestyle. I’m building a vision for my future career that will provide ongoing intellectual and financial satisfaction for myself and my family. Some days are better than others, and like most folks I find myself disoriented in the face of such uncertainty. Yet overall I remain engaged, passionate, and optimistic. I hope all of you, regardless of your individual experiences, have the opportunity to take something positive from these challenges and rediscover the essentials in your lives.
One of the best quotes I’ve seen arising from the current circumstances nicely sums up my hopes for everyone: Stay positive. Test negative.