A colleague recently asked me what I hoped to accomplish professionally through the COVID Pandemic. After a brief panic, followed by a little pondering, I provided him with my answer. An answer which was genuine, but not particularly profound. In fact, it was downright cliché. I pretty much knew my answer was on the lame side of the lame-o-meter as soon as it left my mouth. I had felt compelled to say something, and “I dunno,” did not seem like an option.

Yet, the question lingered. Was it gnawing at me because I wanted perhaps to redeem myself with a better response, or that I felt like an idiot for not having considered that question beforehand? I mean come on, if I am going to properly lead this Chamber, I probably should have contemplated that question already and been ready with a crack response, but no. Still after some arduous rumination, I still could not emerge with a contemplative response. I so badly wanted to conjure an answer that gave me complete control of my destiny, guiding a vision toward a successful outcome. Yet, there I sat, on the edge of Mount Sinai, waiting for the divine intervention that never came. I was stuck, and I do not do well with stuck.

For the moment, feeling stuck seems to be a common sentiment for all of us. Witnessing the staggering job losses, the barrage of bankruptcy filings, social unrest, and constant infighting about public protocols, compounded by an inability to move about freely has taken its toll on our psyche. Sages and gurus profess not to let a good crisis go to waste, and as I look around, I see the adaptivity of our local businesses making changes to continue to stay open and draw customers to their doors. Many creative solutions are emerging from this pandemic. Even here at the Chamber we have cast aside the playbook and are attempting new approaches to continue to provide value and assistance to our members. Yet, there are times when you cannot help but feel like it may not be enough.

What if this is not a crisis? What if it is something completely different? Hurricane Harvey was a crisis, and from that we saw mankind at its best. Harvey united us. COVID has largely succeeded in accomplishing the opposite. Instead, we should be in rally mode to overcome whatever this is that has stymied us. Perhaps, there within lies the problem. Like my little conundrum, we do not have a clear vision on the proper path forward. With Harvey we had the benefit of experience on how to handle that type of situation. With COVID, all we seem to get are contradictory statements from the pundits, supported by differing interpretations of haphazard data. One cannot help but feel rudderless. So, here we find ourselves adrift in the COVID doldrums doing the best we can in partial isolation. We just keep stewing about trying to figure it out with no real evidence if any of this is working or when it will end.

Through all my years of my professional development, it has been hammered into me, the key to success is to have a plan. Develop that road map to success. Perhaps in this instance, that is the not the correct mindset, and that is why I struggled so much with my colleague’s question. What if instead, we recognize we are currently not in control. We are John Wesley Powell deep in the bowels of the Grand Canyon charging down the rapids of the uncharted Colorado River. In this instance the river owns us, and our immediate job is to keep the raft from overturning, to stay focused right in front of us, making slight adjustments with our oars. What if the best approach right now is to just observe, react and take notes; observe, react, and take notes, over and over for as long as the river has control of our boat. When we are finally released into calmer waters, we then can reference our notes with the wisdom gained from the experience, and use that information to successfully complete the voyage. Perhaps we are in a situation better benefited by hindsight and not foresight. 

Circling back to the vexing question posed to me by my colleague. After a night of restless sleep, a few laps around the dining room table, and a long gaze out the windows to the backyard, I had a moment of clarity and capitulation. I called him back to change my answer. I have no clear objectives or explanation on how to move forward. Instead, I told him, all I want to take away from this pandemic is the t-shirt.