It's Not What's Lost, It's What's Left
In the still unfolding global pandemic of COVID-19 that has introduced phrases like "social distancing" and "self-isolation" into our collective vocabularies, we are hearing a lot about life in the "New Normal." And as far as I can tell, nobody yet knows what that is. It seems to be changing with every minute and update of the numbers of infected, the new quarantines and toilet paper shortages. So, for the next few weeks (or months), I am going to post some thoughts as we navigate some of this uncharted territory together. Full disclosure, I'm scared. The other day at the store where hundreds of us were scrambling to buy necessities I saw a little girl riding in a cart pushed by her harried mom. I smiled at the toddler and she smiled back and blew me a kiss. Honestly, I almost ducked. That's how threatening this all feels. I'm feeling anxiety just like you and everyone else and not just about my business, which--because mine is dependent upon live events--is at full stop. Here's the reality that I've been wrapping my head around since the cancellations for the next two months piled up last week. That's over for now and it's still anyone's guess when it's coming back. That's ok. There are bigger fish to fry.
Marketing experts to my industry of speakers, coaches and consultants are fond of reminding us that the best way we can succeed with and get booked for any organization is to become familiar with their pain points and "the issues that keep them up at night." I really don't have to wonder about that right now, though, and not just because they're not booking speakers. The reason I don't have to wonder is because, at this moment I already know what's keeping them up at night because it's the same thing that's keeping me up at night. It doesn't matter if you are a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or an airline pilot or a teacher or a truck driver, you're awake at night because you're worried sick about literally every single person you know. Your children, your parents, your friends and all the members of your family near and far. I know because I'm worried about my uncle who is 80 and in compromised health as a survivor of a particularly aggressive form of prostate cancer. I worry about my mother-in-law who is 85 but living alone 150 miles away and I worry if she has enough food for herself and for her little dog, Smoochie. I worry about my sisters who have both had serious respiratory ailments in the past few years. I worry about my cousin who is going through chemo for breast cancer and is staying with her daughter who is a nurse and will be on the front lines of battle in the hospital where she works. I worry about my friend, Tony, who just celebrated 10 years as a heart-lung transplant recipient and has to make regular visits to the Cleveland Clinic and daily takes handfuls of anti-rejection drugs that suppress his immune system. I worry about my son, Alex who goes out to work every day at the local CBS affiliate that can't shut down no matter how bad this gets. And I worry about my wife, Suzanna, who props me up emotionally when I feel overwhelmed and then we switch places and I do the same for her.
Certainly the sudden stop in my business is tough and not just because of the economics of mass cancellations. The truth is, I love to do what I do. There's nothing more thrilling than taking the stage and hearing the laughter and applause of an audience responding to a message I get the privilege to deliver. Since the first day I took a microphone in hand as a professional speaker more than 25 years ago, I believed I had found my passion and my calling. If you asked me as recently as last month to define how I knew it was a passion and calling, I would have told you that it I knew because it was something I would gladly do even if I didn't get paid to do it.
Well, guess what?
So let's go. I'm in. I want to help you navigate this new normal until one actually exists. I want to help you find joy in the fear, purpose in the struggle and inspiration in spite of all the sobering information. Just because we're not suppose
d to touch one another doesn't mean that we shouldn't lift one another.
We are all feeling lost in the dark and craving a little light to show us the path forward. I won't promise you that because I don't have it myself. In all likelihood I'm just as afraid as you are and no more certain about the way ahead. But here's a hand (a figurative one of course. My actual hand will remain well-washed and at an appropriate social distance). Let's hold onto each other and take a tentative step and then maybe we'll take another.
Here's the first one. We've all lost things already. Some large and some small. If nothing else, we've temporarily lost the freedom to do things that we probably took for granted just a week or two ago: going out for dinner, sitting in an audience for a movie or a concert, heck, shaking hands or giving a hug to a friend. That loss is sad and our response is a type of grief at what's gone for now. But that focus, although reasonable and understandable, only keeps us rooted to the loss. I read a book a few years ago about the nature of survivors (Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. Highly recommend
ed reading) and one of the characteristics common to those who survive shipwrecks or plane crashes or getting lost in the wilderness is this: they don't spend a lot of time thinking about what they have lost. They focus instead on what they have left and what they can do with it. For me that is family and friends and a home and all the ways I still have to connect and communicate with them and hundreds of other things that still work and are a reason to be grateful and productive.
What's left for you? I'm guessing more than you realized and, if you're like me, more than you knew to be grateful for. Let's start there. That's a first step you can take now.
And for today, that will be enough.