20 Apr After COVID-19, we’re all authors and writers
Before the novel coronavirus was unleashed on the world, you may have been an accountant. Or a math teacher. Or a musician. Or a beautician. But today, we are all writers. The pandemic has made it so by erasing our pages and demanding that we fill them anew with a fresh narrative of our futures.
We suddenly share a lot in common. These past weeks and months, we have all distanced ourselves at home, reduced our outings, reduced our working hours (except for healthcare and other essential workers, of course) and watched a whole lot more TV than ever before, searching for answers to it all. As a small business owner, I will tell you these were certainly the “worst of times” that this small-but-mighty company has had to endure. What took 14 years to build seemed washed away in a matter of weeks due to something entirely out of my control.
2020 from the crest of a mountain.
We started the year with the two best months of our history, gaining the trust of companies small and large like never before. By March, some of those companies were forced one by one to pull their work, each blow stinging worse than the one before. As I mustered every ounce of my being to lead my family through drastic and sudden change, I also had to reach deep for courage and fortitude to lead my small company through all of this.
My college freshman moved home, adjusting to online classes that attempted to teach chemistry with no lab access (he had just received his lab coat not long before this and was so proud of it!). My high school junior also had to adjust to online classes and figure out how he will decide where to apply to college, since the tours we had planned over spring break were canceled. My husband, who never worked a day at home before this, had to figure out how to get online and work in the kitchen of a now chaotic household (with two hungry teens who make frequent visits to the kitchen, nonetheless!).
My nights were filled with helping everyone settle into new routines, listening to disappointments and calming them with encouraging words that came from a place inside me that felt so empty that I’m not even sure the words worked. In the mornings, I would plod down to my new home office in the basement, a small, L-shaped desk that had been in my boys’ second-floor study area prior to all this. I’d brought home my favorite office chair and a monitor and pieced together something that at least looked like my old office setup, minus the window to see outside. And the heat.
An exhausting reality.
I know so many people can relate.
I would review our cash flow statements every few days, checking on how long we could last without our current book of business, and patch into calls the next minute trying to give our staff a chance to express their concerns and feelings of uncertainty. I’d muster that same courage and fortitude to tell them everything would be okay, that we were strong, that we’d find a way through this. Together, we brainstormed ways to navigate the tumult over the next few stormy weeks of COVID-19, mostly to help us all feel a sense of control. But we were still too deep in the work of helping our clients get out their coronavirus-related emergency communications to do much with our own ideas.
By the time the dust settled in late March, many clients had pulled work due to orders from higher-ups slashing all marketing work. We (contractors, as we’re referred to) are the first to go when budgets are cut. And so, from the crest of the mountain we fell. Navigating to this point was already overwhelming. Review financials, news reports, predictions, plans, repeat. At a certain point, I knew that we had to idle the engine in the storm for a while in order to have any juice left to carry our tiny ship back to safety when it is finally all over.
And so, we throttled down on April 1 with furloughs and reduced hours and held off on a new hire. It’s something I can honestly say I never, ever thought I would have to do. All the indicators were showing gains, growth, a thriving business. And then.
So here we are in this new world of apparent unreality.
We’ve settled in to a new normal, and it doesn’t feel good at all. But at a certain point in my struggles to lead, I realized that nothing has ever stood in my way before. Nothing was ever too much or too hard. My husband reminded me often: “I’ve seen you here before and you always come back.” While it wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time (mostly because I didn’t have a plan for the “come back” part just yet), he was right. He is right. And at that point I realized there are things we can do even now to start digging out, even when the waves seem insurmountable. We can do what we’ve always reliably done, starting with doing our very best work for the clients who are still in the boat with us. We can help out some nonprofits in our down time who need communications now more than ever. And we can lean into that extra family time we have right now, because we may never have this much work-life balance again in our lives.
I’m already focused on writing the next chapter of the story of Writing by Design. I see success and prosperity on the horizon. We may be through the worst of it by now, and no matter what, it’s just a matter of time before we get to calmer waters. The next chapter for us is filled with joy and a renewed gratitude for the work and the clients and the projects we have the privilege of working on every single day. It’s filled with a sense of resiliency…for making it back up after reaching a low I didn’t know existed inside me. It’s filled me with a new appreciation for every single person in my community, knowing they went through a storm of their own and yet, we’re still all here.
Today, we’re all writers—authors of our own future.
No doubt these futures will be filled with stories that start with, “Remember when,” that will feel more like fairy tales than real life. We all have a story to tell—one that will change our lives for a very long time. COVID-19 is the villain in the story, and we all have a chance to be the hero who overcomes it. I know that my next chapter isn’t necessarily going to include, “and they all lived happily ever after,” but I do think it may have something to do with a queen who figures out how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again (after all, all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t do it!). How will you write your next chapter? Like any good writer, I’m sure you’ve already begun writing your first draft.
Patti Purcell brings 25+ years of journalism and marketing skills together to provide national and international companies with outstanding concept writing and marketing communications services via the company she founded in 2006, Writing by Design LLC. She and her growing team, based in Wisconsin, tie strategic thinking, efficient processes and CrystalClear℠ thought and execution into all projects supporting clients large and small.