Most of my thoughts on COVID-19 and our Great Time Out have been directed at those of us who are staying at home, or at least need to be. As we’re now under extended stay at home orders through April and no date certain on when we can return to “normal,” anxiety is growing. Answers to how and when this will end are not.
Those with the highest levels of anxiety are those that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have loved ones who are sick, followed closely by those who are in groups with high risk to either exposure or age and medical conditions that would make contracting COVID-19 a situation of life and death.
This column, however, is for those whose economic anxieties are growing. It’s for the small business owner who had a thriving business just months ago as well as the employee with a solid job but was just getting by, paycheck to paycheck. It’s for those who took investment risks based on conditions that no longer exist. It’s for those who don’t know where their next mortgage, rent, car, or credit card payment will come from.
There are two things those in this group need to hear, and they need to be heard together. Presuming you and your loved ones have your health, everything will work out OK. Also, everything being OK does not mean everything will be the same, nor that the path to being OK will be easy.
I write this not as someone out of touch in an ivory tower, but someone who has been there. I was a builder and developer prior to the crash of 2008, and was on the front end of the wave of business failure statistics.
That’s how a lot of you probably feel right now – a statistic. If you no longer have a job to report to, you’re lumped in with the “record number of Georgians seeking unemployment this week.” If you’re running a business that has been deemed non-essential, or restaurant trying to get by on a trickle of takeout orders, you’re likely shouting at the TV when you hear how many PPP loans have been approved to “rescue” small businesses.
You’ve probably already yelled at your banker who still doesn’t know what the rules are for PPP or EIDL, or what the differences are. They, in turn, have likely tried to yell at the Small Business Administration, only to find an agency that was never staffed to meet a demand as great as this crisis brings.
There are plenty of people citing the above programs or otherwise just telling you the platitude that “everything is going to be OK.” Platitudes don’t help you pay employees. Customers do.
Platitudes don’t pay your mortgage or rent payment. Paychecks do.
Understand this about friends and relatives telling you “everything is going to be OK”: They have no idea what to say to you. They know you’re stressed. They understand your problems are real. They have no idea how to fix it, but they do want to do…something.
So, they attempt words of comfort. You, lacking answers, a path forward, and watching the walls close in around you, don’t feel comforted.
You may have to ask for help. In fact, if you can quantify what help you need, that’s advisable sooner rather than later.
You need to understand that while you may think you’re asking for a life preserver, your request may look to others like you’re asking them to jump in the water to save a drowning victim. If you’ve had Red Cross training you’ll know that’s ill advised, as the person flailing about may end up creating two victims in the situation.
You may be told “No.” Don’t hold a grudge when you hear this.
As the path forward becomes clear, don’t put off decisions that are needed because you’re hoping for things to change. You don’t get on the path to being OK until you’ve dealt honestly and directly with what is not.
This may mean closing the business. This may mean finding a new job. This may mean temporary government assistance. This may mean asking creditors for repayment plans or even filing bankruptcy.
You may find that you can deal without all the stuff. You’ll find that people – and even creditors – will allow you to try again. Above all, you may have to redefine what “OK” means to you.
Setbacks are only temporary. It only becomes failure if you give up on yourself.
Get up every day and tell yourself that you will survive this day, and that one day it will be OK. The journey may be rough, but if you do this every day, you’ll get there.