Thriving in COVID-19: One entrepreneur's perspective

Thriving in COVID-19: One entrepreneur's perspective


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

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Adversity introduces a person to themself. I believe this to be true.

Favourable conditions naturally lend themselves to optimism. It is effortless to be upbeat, enthused and motivated when things are going our way; both from the macro perspective of the economy and the micro, our lives, businesses, or careers.

But what happens when the opposite is true? When unrivalled economic and the resulting social optimism tied to the longest bull run in perhaps the country's history comes to a screeching halt. Where certainty of progress once stood, aloofness and fear have taken hold.

In Victor Frankl's seminal book Man's Search For Meaning he speaks of his experience in a concentration camp during World War II and the mindset and outlooks that pushed him to survive in brutal conditions. Suffering, he postulates, has meaning. It brings us closer to our purpose and forces us to see ourselves as we are, not as we imagine ourselves to be.

Our present reality is a collectively painful one filled with suffering of varied kinds. The COVID-19 virus has continued to assault our physical health (and that of our health system), psychological tranquillity, and financial stability. Depending on where you sit, you may be far removed, or like medical professionals and those in our tourism industry, you sit right in the midst of the proverbial storm. Of course, we have all been affected disproportionately. While some business owners and individuals have experienced positive financial outcomes, based on their industries, they still face the risk of physical illness, and psychological strain for themselves, their families, and their teams.

Many of us may be going through hell, but as Winston Churchill once said, if you find yourself going through hell, keep going.

In short, there is no real winner here, though I do not think we have to be losers. It is not a zero-sum game. We may all be in the same boat, but we can determine its destination to the best of our current decision-making threshold.

Personally, COVID-19 has been debilitating. While I am blessed to be holding firm with my team, renegotiating salaries as needed, I deeply empathise with all those who have lost their livelihoods, mental security, and businesses, especially those with multiple dependents. The pressure is enough to create diamonds. And that is what we must endeavour to become.

While our realities differ across the spectrum, one thing we all have in common is the same fears, doubts, hesitations, and the feelings of uncertainty that can birth severe bouts of sadness. Many normal de-stressing and happiness-inducing activities, such as a night out with friends and the occasional weekend lyme, have been deemed dangerous. How then do we cope amid this milieu and, more so than cope, is it possible to thrive? I think so. Below I detail the steps I have been and will continue to take to move forward:

Accept reality

I think we are all struggling with this one. This struggle is compounded by a reality changing so rapidly and so vastly different than the norm. Marcus Aurelius of Roman fame once said, “Everything changes, and nothing lasts forever.” This truth illustrates reality, but also opportunity. Millions of us are experiencing similar conditions but know, too, that these conditions will and must naturally end.

Being unable to move freely, see family, do business as usual, and the demands of rapid change have been personally challenging for me. But if we fight reality and our present conditions we are taking on matters outside of our control, dooming us to failure. Instead, we should look for opportunities within the current confines we are experiencing. These may not be economical, but personal. Is there some activity you've been delaying; a book you've meant to read, some research on new opportunities that could be found? Be kind, patient and compassionate with yourself. None of us has it figured out.

How are we maintaining our human connections and the essential support they provide in difficult times? Many have been switching online to have get-togethers with friends, Zooming with family members, having online parties, and shifting routines to deepen the essential connections that keep insanity at bay.

There is a need for humility, a need for gratitude, and a need for vulnerability and acceptance. Things have changed, and for us to have the same expectations on ourselves is to open yourself up to depression. Accepting our present reality as it is does not mean we do not wish for it to change, but we understand that life is unpredictable, and it is; so we who must adapt to it. In this adaptation, we can find peace.

Focus on stability, prepare for growth

My firm has received numerous requests to go digital since COVID-19 began. In a rush to pivot, strategy and cash flow are often not considered. Many are looking for quick fixes, and as we know from our roadwork locally, patches eventually give way to gaping holes.

A friend of mine said something simple but meaningful to me: “If you are surviving today, you are thriving.” All businesses and individuals should be planning for the worst, even if that worst never comes. We should direct our focus to stabilise activities and to prospect for the future. The greatest gift you can give right now is to try your best to remain open, to provide essential employment, and in cases such as the tourism industry where this may not be possible, to provide support in any form for team members.

Take a good hard look into the future and assume conditions will be the same for the next 18 months. Then ask yourself what you can do to survive that period. In a worst-case scenario, this may mean shuttering your business and pursuing other opportunities. What the contingency will look like will differ for all of us. However, it is essential not to let failure, which is not fatal, get to your heart, and to keep moving forward. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Get introspective, look within

I am one of the largest proponents of mental toughness I know. However, at this time, more than any, what we need to develop is cognitive flexibility and a healthy, loving support system. Simply put, things are hard, and even the toughest among us need support, even if it means supporting ourselves or finding a support group.

In his book, The Monk That Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma likens the mind to a garden. I suggest we try our best to keep the weeds from overpowering us and endeavour to plant good seeds (thoughts) that bear the fruits of calmness, kindness and compassion. As a species we need it most at this time. This does not mean we will not have bad days and off days, but we must, as best as possible, try to remain centred in the face of uncertainty. Remember a bad day does not have to become a bad week, month or year. You still control what you plant in your mind.

For some, this may manifest through exercise, yoga, mediation, prayer, painting, a new hobby or the like. I've personally taken up boxing. Whatever you decide on, be consistent. Don't wait till 2021; this is an excellent time to re-evaluate your life, set new goals, and see what is truly important to you.

We are all in this together. The support of loved ones is integral to maintaining a positive mental outlook. And even if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being alone in this time, don't despair, know that this too shall pass, and your strength of will, character, and mental fortitude is yours to access. The danger is always real, but fear is a choice. Trust yourself, commit to thriving, and forge onward.

Kemal Brown is the CEO of Digita Global Marketing Limited. He is a serial entrepreneur, motivational speaker, who has made many mistakes but chooses to rise above them. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

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