My wife celebrated a birthday last weekend. This year’s edition wasn’t nearly as monumental as last year’s, which was the day after President Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency.
The day before that day, I had the whole family in tow for a speech I gave at a fundraiser for a children’s museum in Indiana. There were all kinds of whispers about this “coronavirus thing.” I was still trying to figure out if it had anything to do with that beer you drink with a lime. We were told to wash our hands more often, and a local college was rumored to temporarily close for safety reasons. I remember shaking the hand of the fellow next to me at the luncheon and immediately wondering if I’d committed some kind of unforgivable crime against humanity.
It was the last hand I’d shake for the better part of a year.
We spent part of Kim’s birthday last year making the five-hour drive home during which we talked about how to respond. We were uncertain about what was ahead and, thanks to all the doomsday scenarios we imagined, afraid for our future.
In-person events were dropping like flies. In the worst-case prediction, I figured we could be bankrupt by November. But I was hopeful this would be behind us in a few months, at the latest. I had no doubts that we’d be able to go forward with the Summit in July.
Two weeks, they said. We can do two weeks, I thought.
With our primary source of revenue up in the air for the foreseeable future, Kim and I went back to basics and asked one of the most important questions you can ask when the world as you know it begins to change. Back in the day, many of the railroad businesses went under when the world changed, in no small part because they believed they were in the railroad business. Had they realized they were in the transportation business or the shipping business, maybe they would have been willing to expand beyond trains and survived.
So Kim and I asked ourselves, “What business are we really in?” We determined we were not really in the “deliver in-person speaking presentations” business. We were in the “provide inspiration, entertainment, and encouragement” business. In short, we were in the business of providing hope, and we realized that we were about to be more in demand than ever.
Instead of figuring out how to make money, we decided to focus on how we could help. We turned my book into an ebook and gave it away. We created and offered free resources to our community and past clients. And we turned on the camera and started shooting daily live videos we called “Coffee with Kim & Jason.”
Every day, we made it a point to tinker. To try a new bit, experiment with some new software, or add a new piece of gear. Meanwhile, as the pandemic lingered beyond those two weeks, we repeatedly asked ourselves, “What does this make possible?” Me not being on the road as much allowed for more family time. We began praying a family rosary together and started going on daily walks. Those forays into nature kept my spirits up and my head on straight. And not eating out so much meant we actually lost a few pounds.
Now, that’s not to say we handled everything like a boss. The first few months were rough. Our revenue took a substantial hit. There were some sleepless nights, anxious days, and no small amount of concern about toilet paper. But, as it turned out, we didn’t go bankrupt in November. Instead, that was the month we had our offer accepted to buy our dream house on Lake Michigan. Along the way, we developed an in-demand virtual program, founded the Wonder & Whimsy Society, hosted an online art show, and ended up with our third-best year ever.
Nearly two-thirds of our revenue in 2020 came from initiatives that didn’t exist in 2019.
On Kim’s birthday last year, had I known what was really ahead (let’s throw in some riots, mask mandates, and a contentious election season while we’re at it), I would have died of fear. Or at least would have ruined a pair of pants. Conversely, had you told me the good things that would come to pass, I would have thought you were either a naive rube or a liar of the cruelest kind.
In a very real way, this is how all of life is, pandemic or no. We all face a series of terrible calamities and overwhelming challenges. But there will also be amazing blessings that blow our biggest dreams away.
Look back at your own life and see if it isn’t true. Were there tests you faced that would have scared you to death had you known about them years ahead of time? I’m guessing yes. And yet, you’re still here, aren’t you?
Aren’t there also awesome things in your life right now you never expected? Pretty cool, huh?
We often overestimate the troubles ahead and underestimate the blessings that await us.
Hopefully, I’ll never have to face another global pandemic in this lifetime, but I can’t help but look for lessons to learn for whenever we’re in the midst of great turmoil.
First of all, the ancient wisdom seems as relevant today as it ever has been: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Plan for the future, but live one day at a time. You have what it takes to make it through today, but as our midwife was fond of saying, “Don’t go looking for trouble.”
Secondly, when consumed and paralyzed with our own struggles and challenges, we should turn outward. Asking, “How can I help?” can work miracles. During times of great upheaval, ask yourself what business you’re really in. If you are not a business owner, it might look more like this: Why am I here? Who am I here to help?
Next up: Tinker. Try new things. Conduct small experiments. See where they lead. Don’t worry about the outcomes, except for what you learn in the process. Those learnings add up. You’ll be shocked at what you can accomplish in the course of a year.
Finally, take a hike. Go for a walk. Connect with nature. It boosts your endorphins, clears your head, and reminds you of your place in the universe.
These suggestions require a posture of being present-minded. They are also completely within your control no matter how out-of-control you feel.
Yep, a lot can happen in a year.
Hard, scary, exhausting things, for sure. But amazing, surprising, delightful things, too.
Don’t let worries about tomorrow steal opportunities you have today.