What I have to say will not apply to everyone. We all have different aptitudes, we all respond to a crisis differently (more on that in a moment), and we’re all in different stages of business. Some of us are sole proprietors, and some are responsible for many. But I’m confident that this will be of value to some. Also important to note that there are many people right now who are sick and suffering, and there are those of us who are putting their lives on the line to care for those people. Some of us are busy trying to keep essential services running. And many of us are doing our part by simply staying out of the way. In this blog, I’m addressing the latter group, specifically those who own and run a business that has come to a grinding halt in the wake of COVID-19.
We all deal with crises according to our aptitudes and personality. Some people panic. Some stop completely. Sometimes we shift from one to the other. In “normal” times, we take so many cues on how to cope with the vicissitudes of life by considering the multitudinous input from the world. The problem right now is the rest of the world doesn’t know much better than you in how to deal with this. While this can be scary for many, I think it’s a great opportunity to learn about ourselves and how it affects us as business people. This is uncharted territory for us, both on a personal and professional level. It’s a great opportunity to observe, reflect, adapt, and perhaps most importantly, to remember. If your strategy has been to simply wait this out, you may be missing some important things.
Over the years, I’ve criticized certain industries for being outdated. You hear complaints about how people aren’t using (insert anachronistic business). The response is usually because people don’t need it anymore. Now I find myself (at least temporarily) in a similar position. Granted most of our businesses are not outdated, but you’re in business to solve problems using products and services, and for the moment, most of those problems you would normally solve are not a priority.
COVID-19 has been the ultimate equalizer. It forces us all to drop any pretense we may have. We all like to talk about how great business is going, and often it is, but whether it was truth or hyperbole before, it’s all out in the open now. Work is slow or non-existent for so many of us, and that’s OK. Instead of pretending to have all the answers, we’re forced to drop any hint of pretense and say ‘I don’t know’. And there’s tremendous power in those three words. The mind is most useful when it’s empty. Not knowing is where knowledge and wisdom begin.
For all intents and purposes, business has been brought back to zero, and that can be very scary. But there are two ways you can look at zero. You can see it as the bottom, or you can see it as the beginning – a new beginning perhaps, or even a renaissance of sorts. And beginnings can be exciting. For many of us, trying to get back to “normal” would be impossible and futile. Normal can’t be the goal, at least not right now.
It’s also important to remember that you’re not completely at zero. No matter what you’ve done professionally, and no matter your level of success prior to the current pandemic, you’ve undoubtedly gained clients, contacts, equipment, and most important of all, experience.
So if you’re at zero maybe there’s an opportunity to try new things. Maybe you can take those skills you already have, and apply them to existing problems. There have been many comparisons between COVID-19 and the Second World War. The validity of some of these comparisons is certainly debatable, but one thing we can take from the war is the application of industry. Necessity is the mother of invention. Perhaps there are new problems that can be solved by your existing skills and resources. Perhaps there’s something you can do that can make a bigger contribution than what you did before.
And when the whole world is faced with the same challenge, one of the things that will pull us out of it is a sense of community. Maybe we have an opportunity to reshape our focus in business. Maybe it’s time to move our mindset from one of profit to one of service. Maybe there’s an opportunity to find new meaning in our work. Remember back to when you were originally at zero – when you were just starting out, or even before you had any notions of going into business. You were doing the work because you loved it. It was only later that you found ways to make money from it. Maybe it’s time to go back to the beginning. To get back to what it is you love, and how you can use it to make life better for those around you.
As I said before, our reactions often seem to lead to one of two extremes: panic or apathy. But perhaps there’s a more healthy third option: introspection.
Take a day or even a just few hours. Put the phone away. Step away from the reports, the melodrama, and the uncertainty, and get back to yourself and back to the beginning. No one knows what’s going to happen over the coming months any more than you do. Have faith in yourself, and rediscover and reexamine the fervor and the instincts that started you on this journey. Get back to a place where you can find independence from the outside influences and be authentically you. Again, no one has all the answers right now, and the answers we seek won’t come quickly, but they certainly won’t come if you’re panicking and second-guessing yourself. And if you are able to fully unplug, you may be surprised what you find. You may find new ways to apply your skills, you may even find you’re in the wrong business, or you may simply find the tools and the clarity to come out of this crisis stronger than before it started.
Zero can be very frightening, or it can be a great gift. If business is currently at zero, bring yourself back to zero, and start rebuilding.