As a marketer, I knew early on that we are navigating uncharted waters and undoubtedly making history. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and the global response will not only forever change how we live, but it will end up in higher education curriculum in many aspects including public health planning, business continuity preparedness, manufacturing and inventory strategy, communication during and post pandemic, to name very few. For years we’ve tried to prepare as a collective whole as far as what we’d do as a nation – as a company – as an individual– as a world – if we were struck with a public health pandemic. Yet the real thing is quite a bit different no matter how many tabletop exercises were conducted prior to 2020.
I am not a doctor, nurse, respiratory therapist, healthcare administrator, public safety official, political leader, manufacturer, grocery store worker, truck or delivery driver, or any other extremely vital role in this pandemic. I don’t know first-hand what the front line feels like and how exhausting it is with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t pretend to come from the shoes of one of those groups or individuals. Not for a single second.
I am a communicator – a marketer – a leader – a mother – a daughter – that’s all I can write this from. My shoes. I am still working, albeit remotely. My three children are home from school – finishing week #7. My husband is an insurance agent who is still working outside the home. He continues to visit clients inside their homes. While this makes me nervous as to what he is exposed to and to what he may be exposing others to without his knowledge, he’s providing an essential service that people still need. I am supporting him every single day. I am telling him to keep his head up when business is slower than normal, or when someone can’t conduct the process virtually because they don’t have access to a computer or the right assistance to help them through it.
Right now, VGM’s number one goal is to be the communication hub and influence positive change for its members – thousands of home/durable medical equipment, complex rehab, women’s health, home modification and orthotics and prosthetics providers and practioners across the country, as well as its hundreds of strategic partners. The last six weeks have been the longest in my career, yet also seemed to have passed like a blur. And like I said previously, I am not even on the front line. I can read 24/7 and still come up with something new, interpret something a new way, and have dozens of new things to communicate on our dedicated website.
I run on inspiration. If I don’t have inspiration, my insides start to go numb. Personally, I’ve sought as much inspiration as I can possibly find. I’ve also sought some good, old fashioned humor. We must still allow ourselves to feel – all emotions – especially in times of great stress. Allowing yourself to feel and be real will be one of the things that gets you through COVID-19 and beyond. I am writing this to hopefully be the inspiration just one person needs. The one word that keeps circulating in my mind is adjust. We have all had to adjust in many ways lately. It is a constant. Adjusting will help us be the bridge we need before COVID-19 to after COVID-19, whenever and whatever that looks like. The truth of the matter is, it won’t be the same after. A new version of ourselves will have to emerge whether we want it to or not. Below is a little glimpse of some of the adjustments I’m making in my shoes.
The routine I am used to is gone. I lost my 20-minute commute. I love driving and listening to music. By myself. I lost climbing the stairs to the third floor at least once a day. I now work a lot harder to get my 10,000 steps in and it’s usually at night. After being on call after call, my Fitbit will sometimes remind me, “you have been active 0 out of 8 hours.” I lost a workspace that was so much better than the one I haven’t taken the time to set up at home. I lost a water cooler. I lost free coffee. I lost face to face interactions with my co-workers. I lost in-person meetings. I lost my lunch hour where I could get away and go to Target alone if I wanted to. I lost breaking out the popcorn and margarita machines in our break room on random Friday afternoons. I lost my work clothes and getting ready every day, whether I wanted to or not. At work, I could see or hear what was going on among other departments, passing conversations and other divisions within VGM. Working remotely, I miss that visibility.
I lost whatever work-life separation I had. My children are normally at school. Besides the occasional situation where I had to leave to pick one up or take one to a doctor appointment, the two worlds could operate independently during working hours. I worked from home occasionally before – a repair window of FOUR+ hours (my favorite, ha ha), feeling ill, a sick child, a snow day or just needing time without interruptions to get stuff done. But none of those times prepared me for this.
I’ve “adjusted” to a 5th, 6th and 10th grader at home essentially trying to home school themselves while I’m working. Turns out they are all very hungry and have a lot more questions and needs than I anticipated. It also turns out that I was not supposed to be a teacher. I make a check list for them every day because after one week of complete chaos, I determined there was no other way to survive. I record podcasts in my tiny laundry room, conduct conference calls in the closet if I have to, and use my lunch if I can take one to keep up on laundry (that is one perk), or clean the kitchen for the 10,000th time. However, each day I count all three blessings I’m home with, as I know the time I have with them now I will never get back.
I had two employees who worked remotely before the work from home mandate, so I am used to leading a partially remote team. Leading remotely entirely, however, is most definitely different. Am I communicating enough? Too much? Does everyone feel connected and inspired? Am I thanking them enough? Am I being annoying? Working from different locations is doable, it just takes some adjustment. I have found it’s not one size fits all. Every person is different and has different needs whether in the office or working from home.
I had to adjust to video conferencing. Well I guess you could say I still am adjusting to it. I don’t like it. I don’t know where to look and I don’t like seeing myself. I know that is not what a leader during this time should admit. But it is my truth! My kids also tell me to be quiet now when they are conducting their multiple classroom Zoom calls a week, and they’ve even had virtual doctor appointments.
Our family spending has become all about food, home improvement projects, oh, and alcohol (these are confessions, right). I’ve never cooked so many meals in my entire life. I’ve run out of ideas. Actually, I’ve basically run out of myself. You see, I pretty much had fake everything. Fake eyelashes, fake hair, fake hair color, fake nails. As of last weekend, all are gone. I am exposed and the real me is who stares back at me in the mirror…and during a video conference call! Eek. It is slowly teaching me to finally look beyond that damn mirror.
I turned 40 during this pandemic. I didn’t want this birthday. I didn’t want shenanigans from my family, a black sash, black balloons, or anything of the sort. Turns out, my St. Patrick’s Day birthday was a lot different this year. And I would’ve been really mad if there was a surprise party planned. Now I would’ve welcomed it.
My daughter was hospitalized several days for attempted suicide about two weeks before her sweet 16 birthday, which was April 27, 2020. I share this because unfortunately, too many people are suffering in silence. Especially now. That’s not right! I also believe that God doesn’t put us through anything He doesn’t give us the strength to handle, and that we are called to share these stories to help others. While sitting with her in the ER, a nurse asked me if I was ok and if she could get me anything. I smiled through my mask, said I was ok, that I didn’t need anything, and thank you very much. Right after it came out of my mouth, I realized it was a complete lie. I then looked at this scar on my daughter’s forehead that she’s had since she was two. Suddenly as she was lying there hooked up to all the monitors, I saw her cute toddler face, heard her sweet high-pitched toddler voice, and most of her life flashed in front of me to that very moment. It was a moment I could’ve never imagined I’d be in with her, now three times total in the past 18 months. Mental illness is tough. Add that to quarantine for a teenager and I know she’s not the only one struggling to live.
She needed to be in the hospital longer. However, the hospital she was at isn’t set up for long-term adolescent psychiatric care, there were no other beds free in the state, and she couldn’t have visitors which was tearing her apart. Since I am working from home, I can keep the watch over her she needs. For that, I am truly thankful. Here’s something else that’s positive. She most definitely has an opinion about the adolescent psychiatric care system in America. Let’s pray these feelings drive her to create a movement and purpose for good!
There you have it. I am continually adjusting and trying to model positive behavior for my children and co-workers. But, again, I can only write this from my shoes. I know they are very insignificant compared to all the shoes other people are wearing right now. I am deeply thankful for everyone that is serving every single person in need. My heart and prayers pour out to anyone that is grieving. To every single person that is unemployed and doesn’t know how he or she will pay their next bill. To everyone struggling to breathe. To anyone that is so tired and so stressed and doesn’t know how he or she will survive another day, or even another hour. And, lastly, I am forever grateful for our front line warriors – members of the VGM family!