I have been silent for a while. Pretty much since COVID hit here Mid-March and turned everything upside down. Like many business owners and entrepreneurs, I started 2020 with a plan and a trajectory for growth. By the beginning of March, all my hard work and focus were paying off exponentially. Things were good. Also like many other business owners, I wasn't really paying much attention to what was going on in the rest of the world because I was too busy building my business and reaching my goals.
As many of you know, when COVID hit, we had just announced our first live training/educational event. Seats were released with massive success and we were half-full within 24 hours! Then, live events were effectively canceled by the government. Ticket sales dried up and those that pre-registered were asking for refunds. We quickly changed direction; moving to a virtual event, waiving attendance fees, and announcing our decision to focus more on networking in a unique way. While the event itself went exceptionally well, with many attendees, afterward, it was difficult to maintain focus on my goals, and all the intended event follow-up went by the wayside.
The Unseen Effects of COVID-19
Almost overnight, the world changed. Not just my world, or yours, but the ENTIRE world, affecting people all around the globe, in every country. Businesses and schools shut down. Daycares closed. People everywhere were home. One day, we're sending our kids to school and going to work and the next, we were unemployed and homeschooling. It was a massive adjustment.
Initially, I had planned to continue business as usual. Having worked for myself for 10 years, I'd been through many ups and downs, I didn’t really expect anything to change; And at first, it didn’t. Essentially, my life and the way I did business didn't really change much at all.
I never counted on the emotional ramifications of our new world.
You see, I've always been a highly empathetic person. While in most areas of life, this trait has served me very well, but in business, it's always been a mindset hurdle to overcome. To put it bluntly, I have a REALLY hard time charging people that need my services but can't afford it. This manifests as me doing work for free and keeping me, my business, and my family from earning enough to keep us from struggling. Noble efforts aren't very profitable. Don't get me wrong, I in no way aim to be making massive moolah, but I would like to be comfortable and not have to worry about money so much.
You're probably wondering why I'm telling you this. How does this have anything to do with COVID?
I promise I have a point and I will get to it in a moment or two. I have a hard enough time managing my desire to use my skills and experience to help others during "normal" times. It’s not at all unusual for me to have 3 or 4 chats a week with businesses who need my services but genuinely can't afford them. The guilt I feel overcharging them is ridiculous!
The Restrictions of COVID 19
Then along comes COVID and all its restrictions. Businesses completely shuttered overnight. Forgetprofits; people were no longer bringing enough to keep the lights on. Every day, another business in my area was closing. Every day. another business owner was losing everything. And every day we watched it happen, wondering when the same would happen to us.
Empathy is a motivation-killer. True empathy–that which makes it so that you actually feel what others are feeling. Where their feelings are as real to you as they are to the person experiencing them. I have difficulty putting words to the extent of my empathy, but if you were standing next to me and accidentally drove a nail through your thumb, for a brief moment, I would physically feel that pain in my own thumb. It passes quickly, but for a second or two, I can actually feel the sharp, burning pain as if I, too, had just driven a nail through my own thumb. When you feel bad for someone else, that's sympathy. When you can put yourself in someone else shoes and imagine what it feels like, that’s empathy.
When you get physical manifestations of someone else's physical sensations and emotions, I don't know what that is. Empathy on steroids? I may not know what the name is for this kind of empathy but I do know that it can become disabling.
Most of us are pretty adept at dealing with our own emotions. What happens when those emotions don't really belong to you though? This isn't a new trait for me, so over the years, I’ve become quite good at managing emotions that don't originate with me. It's a skill that requires daily practice. However, with the far-reaching effects of Covid-19, it all became overwhelming and the line between what I was feeling and what I was absorbing from all around me became so blurred that it was indistinguishable. I genuinely did not know if I was constantly feeling my own sadness, or if I was allowing the sadness of others to take up residence in me.
The result was a complete shutdown of every creative molecule in my body. I couldn't focus on anything. I woke up, cried, cried some more, talked myself up, cried again, gave in, gave up.
Every day, we were all inundated with bad news in a situation that we didn't know how to handle and had no way of knowing what to expect. We collectively had no semblance of control in our lives. As a self-confessed control freak, this was the hardest part to handle.
When COVID started, I was in a great position with my business. (Weren't we all?) I had hired a great team just 6 weeks prior and had a long list of qualified leads and satisfied clients. The thing is that there was no logistic reason for me not to be working. Yes, most of my clients were event and tradeshow based, but the very definition of my business makes it pretty much anything proof. Because there is always going to be a need for marketing as long as people sell things to other people.
But most people weren’t selling anything. The trickle-up was staggering. With so many businesses deemed non-essential, many people were out of work. While the general public isn’t my target market, it is the target market of most of my clients. So if the general public wasn’t buying, my clients weren’t buying either as they couldn’t afford to pay for my services.
In 10 years of business, I’ve had some lean times, but I’ve never experienced anything like this.
I started writing many times throughout isolation, but I just couldn't get the words on the page. I didn’t know what I wanted to say. People were looking to me for advice and encouragement and for the first time in a long time, I had no words! Self-doubt crept in. The kind of self-doubt that creates existential crises.
If I couldn't market myself effectively during "these unprecedented times", what fucking business do I have selling these services to others? Content went unwritten, emails and calls went unanswered. For all intents and purposes, I ceased to publicly exist.
My brain was melting and my passion for my work was non-existent. So, if I couldn’t focus on work, (and didn't want to), what should I focus on?
I dove headfirst into home renovations. My partner wasn't so enthusiastic, but he also needed me to get my ass off the couch and get focused in a singular direction, so he supported this. I redecorated the office. Paint, new flooring, furniture. The works. My hope was, that if I turned my office into a pretty place, then I'd want to spend time in it again!
It worked! By the time I was nearing completion, my head was filled with new ideas. I had (have) an audience who wants to listen to what I have to say. I just have to say it. A huge part of my silence has been because was unsure what to say. How could I be a voice of reassurance and encouragement when I was sitting in self-doubt and discouragement?
I started by writing this – my experience. With a focus on showing that we're all dealing with the same shit and none of us are immune to handling it poorly. But then the world imploded for the second time in a short 3-month period. A power-tripping white police officer knelt on a black man's neck for 9 minutes while the world watched. Where COVID cracked the foundations of society, the senseless death of George Floyd tore it wide open so we could all see the insidious underbelly.
My new office! Isn't it pretty!?!
I have always been keenly aware of the propensity in our society to lean towards racism and I have always tried my best to be fair and not pass judgment on a person because of the colour of their skin. I will confess that I am absolutely terrified of being seen as a racist. I strongly believe in equality. I believe that everyone – every living person deserves fair treatment and to be treated as a human fucking being, regardless of their skin colour, sexual orientation, history, profession, whatever. Because it's what people deserve and it's the right thing to do.
Racism has been prevalent since humans first discovered people with skin colour that differs from theirs I'm sure. And while there have always been fighters, the fact remains that racism is still as prevalent in North America (yes, that means Canada, too!) as it was 100, 200, 300, 400 years ago Not much has changed, despite all our attempts at being “colourblind," reparations, and inclusion.
The tragic and senseless death of yet another innocent black life rendered me speechless, again.
What could I, a 40ish white woman, possibly have to say that would be of value right now?
So I watched as the world continued to change into something largely unrecognizable. I listened. I learned. Without defenses. I heard all the ways that our society devalues those without white skin. The sneaky ways that I, as a person with white skin, wasn’t even remotely aware of.
I have never been very vocal with my convictions. The truth is I am a far better writer than an orator. And I despise conflict (stereotypical people pleaser). Yet, I am watching as people with far more to lose than l, are standing up and shouting their convictions for the world to hear. Their bravery impresses me. More than impresses. It impacts me deeply. It inspires me.
Yet still, work in the traditional sense feels largely pointless. There are so many bigger problems in the world than having a functional sales funnel or an email campaign or a pretty website. Yet again, my “empathy on steroids" is captaining the ship and I’m just along for the ride.
Next stop: Existential Crisisville.
What purpose do I serve?
What is my role in this world?
Questions that only I can answer.
Conflict makes me largely uncomfortable. How can I use my voice for good if I can’t use it for change? How can I be a source of inspiration and encouragement when I am uninspired and discouraged? It comes back to what it always comes back to, Authenticity. That overly-clichéd word every marketing and business expert keeps pounding into our heads. Or, in the voice of one of my mentors, Be Your Damn Self.
This is something that I know, yet often have difficulty with. The best way to inspire people is to show that you're someone they can relate to. And you do that showing them who you really are – flaws and all. So this is me, remembering who I am and showing that to you. Showing you that I have FUCKING STRUGGLED through all of this. I’ve struggled with Covid fears. Isolation. Over-thinking. Lack of motivation. Unadulterated Craziness.
I won’t tell you that I’m back 100% yet, but I’m 100% committed to getting back to it.