I wasn’t sure if I could, or would, or should write a post today. The stakes right now are higher than they’ve been in my lifetime. The issues are so much bigger than team dysfunction. Who the heck am I to say anything about life in a Covid-19 pandemic? And with emails in your inbox from everyone from your optometrist to the ice cream parlor you visited two years ago on vacation, do you really need another from me?
But then I thought about how important my writing is to my own mental health—it’s my routine, my outlet. Even if you delete this message, it might still be worthwhile for me to write it. And I thought that maybe for some of you, you won’t delete it. Maybe reading this will provide a few minutes away from hitting refresh on the exponential growth curve graphs. So, here I am.
Once I made the call that I would write to you, I had to figure out what to talk to you about. Certainly, there’s much to say about remote work, which the majority of us are grappling with at the moment. Then there’s conflict, which seems inevitable. I could talk about the best ways to avoid unnecessary fights in these trying times. I could borrow from my speech on managing attention and anxiety, that’s pretty key at the moment. And the list goes on. Sadly, I suspect there will be time to talk about all of these issues as the isolation orders will surely last more than a couple of weeks.
I decided that if I was going to write to you today, it had to be personal, it had to be raw, and ultimately, it had to be optimistic. So here it is. Let’s start the story eleven days ago.
It’s Thursday March 12th and Craig and I are in Costa Rica with our two daughters. On Friday, we leave the capital, San Jose, and arrive at the house we’ve rented in a remote coastal town. We connect our phones to the wifi, only to hear the Prime Minister’s announcement that Canadians should not travel internationally. Well…too late for that! (Cue second guessing, guilt, shame, yada, yada.)
On Monday the 16th, Trudeau’s message becomes more urgent, “It’s time to come home.” We get texts from friends and family saying, “Justin really wants you to come home.” It’s decision time. We have a direct flight scheduled for Saturday the 21st. The first available flights are on Thursday, but they require a layover in the US. What do we do? We decide to stick with our direct flight, agreeing that we’re safe in Costa Rica and that we only increase the risk (to us and those around us) by adding another stop on our way home. Our airline says our flight is operating as scheduled. Okay, we’re good. (Pretend to relax, go for a swim, read my novel.)
On Wednesday at lunchtime, I make another routine (more like obsessive) check of the flight status. CANCELLED—in red letters. WHAT?!?! No email, no notification, nothing. Just cancelled. Crap. Can we get another flight? I start working the airline app, hoping to change our flight, not knowing how many hours it has been since the cancellation and how many of the bumped passengers have already filled up the available seats. I find a flight out on Thursday the 19th, relief! I’m in the process of making the change, I click the button, and suddenly there are no seats available. NOooooo! Panic. Launch another search. My heart is racing. I feel like I’m on some kind of sick twisted gameshow. Ok, here’s another option, Friday 5:20am, connecting through Houston. Click. Click. Click. Confirmed. Exhale.
Now what? We’re already self-isolating, safely tucked into a private house in the jungle with lots of groceries. But my anxiety is rising. What if the Friday fight is cancelled too? What if we get sick in Costa Rica? What’s the healthcare like here? What are we going to do now that 95% of our work is postponed, how long will our rainy-day fund last? Why are our teenagers not taking this seriously?!!! I can’t keep it together any longer, I collapse into sobbing.
These are the moments when you find out if you married the right person. This is just another reminder that I did. Craig knows that I need to get moving, get outside, get some fresh air, clear my head. We decide that we can safely hike to the Montezuma Falls. We can’t convince the girls to come, but we go anyway. There are 200 steps mostly straight up. This is a good distraction. At the top, I’m finally in a state where I can think, talk, plan (once I catch my breath).
And there, at the top of the triple falls, is where I find my inflection point. Sitting in that supremely serene spot, one of my favorite quotes springs to mind. It’s a quote from the last major crisis we endured, the 2008 Financial Crisis. President Obama’s then chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel said,
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
And there it is.
I ask Craig, what would we do if we didn’t want to waste this crisis? He’s game to play along (told ya’, I chose the right man). We sit beside the waterfall and brainstorm all the things we can do differently, new ways of working, new ways of being, that didn’t seem possible even a week ago. We compile quite a list.
We’re spending too much time on our devices. If we can use this time to get a handle on that, it would be great.
We’re ordering UberEats too much. What if we cooked more meals at home?
Even when we’re cooking at home, we’re living day-to-day, going to the grocery store four times a week. What if we planned out a week of meals and only shopped once?
We do way too much retail therapy. We buy things when we’re happy. We buy things when we’re sad. What if we slowed our discretionary spending for a while to hit the reset?
What about the course we’ve been wanting to build—the one we haven’t made much progress on because we’ve been so busy facilitating? What if we got that built?
The list gets longer and longer. I start to feel so much better. I have something to grab onto. I have something positive and productive. Our family will use this crisis to our advantage.
We head back to the house and share the idea with the kids. When we get home, we’re going to make some changes.
Thursday the 19th, we start the 5-hour trek to the capital. We drive a couple of hours across cratered dirt roads to the ferry port. I am greatly relieved to see that the ferry is still running (rumor had it that it might close). After the ferry, it’s another couple of hours drive (on beautiful new paved roads) until we pull into our hotel in the capital around 2pm.
Friday, we get up at 2am and head to the airport. We find people asleep on the floor in sleeping bags. I remind myself that this is so much worse for almost everyone. European travelers aren’t sure how or when they’ll get home. People are on military lock-down in Peru with too little food. We’re good. Lucky, even. It’s a long day by the time we get to Toronto at 5pm, but we’re experienced travelers, we’re fine.
Saturday, we get up slowly. I leave the kids some space to be in their rooms and to reacclimatize. By the afternoon, we’re ready. We go outside for some fresh air. When we come back in, we sit down with a blank schedule. We let the kids choose the categories. Kira wants to use the time to organize the house and so we borrow a label from their summer camp and officially declare 10am-11am as “cabin cleanup.” We assign a different room for each day this week. I’m actually excited about cleaning out the bathroom vanity and getting the basement cupboards into shape.
We plug in our device time before 9:30am, from 1-2 during “rest hour” (another camp term), and again after 9pm. This will be good for all of us, the device challenges are just as bad for mommy and daddy as for the kids. This will be the time to wean off Facebook for me, Twitter for Craig, and TikTok for the kids.
We schedule 10 days’ worth of meals, send in our grocery delivery order, and (gasp) assign family members to do the cooking. Mac is doing our charcuterie platter meal and Taco Thursday. Kira is on for grilled cheese paninis and “breakfast for dinner.” With no dancing or after school activities, the kids can participate in meal prep…this is awesome!
Each person gets assigned to lead a daily exercise class. I’m on Thursday, so let me know if you have any good home workouts. We have some weights and some resistance bands but otherwise, we’re just working with gravity. I’m scared for the Monday workout led by Mac, she’s an abdominals freak who thinks doing 512 crunches is fun. Wish me luck!
We also have craft time, learning time, and family movie/games time. I’m slotting work in before 9:30, in rest hour, and during learning time. That gives me up to six hours a day, which is all I’ll need given the situation.
I don’t know how it’s all going to go. All I can tell you is that it feels great to think of this crisis as a gift to our family and maybe, eventually, to our business. We needed a reset on a few important things and that just didn’t seem possible a few days ago.
Our elder daughter is off to university in September (well…hopefully) and I think I had just resigned myself to the idea that I had done a few things wrong as a parent, but it was too late to change them. Our kids don’t do enough around the house, they don’t ever go without, they spend too easily, they leave banana peels lying around for the banana-peel-fairy to pick up. But all these things were my fault, I had allowed them to happen, and I was resigned to them. But this shock to the system is just what I needed to know that it’s not too late.
Who am I kidding, it’s not just the kids. I have a few things to change too. I take on too much and try to pretend I can manage a giant job and a very busy household. Inevitably, I freak out every few months. I end up feeling like I’ve been going it alone, when in truth, I haven’t let anybody help me. I need to stop that. And I don’t like to get emotional, so I hold things in too long, only making things worse when they eventually erupt. Already this week, Craig has reminded me to share the load. On Thursday, Kira asked me to share how I was feeling rather than sighing and saying, “I’m fine.” We’re using this crisis to get better.
I guess that’s what I really wanted to say to you in the midst of this madness. Is there a way that you can use this crisis to your benefit? At home? At work? For yourself? For your family? For your team? For your community?
I hope so.
And if there is, please, please share it with us. We need some positive stories right now.