Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Parenting in a Pandemic
A personal reflection on COVID-19, social distancing, and sheltering in place with kids.
“If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.“ –Shantideva
COVID-19 is sparking our two greatest human fears: the fear of being alone and the fear of death. And as parents, there’s a third fear as we contemplate our children’s future and what we’re leaving behind for them.
This reminds me of when my son was born. I was a complete and total mess. I was upside-down with emotions: fear and panic and joy. My heart was exploding and my head was spinning and I was totally worthless. My son was admitted to the NICU not long after he was born and I didn’t know what to do with myself and I just couldn’t stop crying — and my wife sent me out. She told me to go for a run because she knew that would be the only thing capable of snapping me out of it. And so I laced up in the middle of the night and I left the hospital and I went for a 6-mile run in 34º snowfall and I couldn’t tell the difference between my tears and the snow hitting my face and the sweat dripping down and I came back soaked through — and focused, prepared. And ready to be a dad because I changed my state.
It’s funny to compare the birth of my son to a pandemic, but the intensity of emotion and not knowing what would happen next, feels the same. I felt ill-equipped, but it was because I changed my state — I got a hold of my emotions — that I was able to step up and do what I needed to do.
I’m the worst catastrophizer. I play everything out to the ugliest, darkest end. But we must make a distinction between worst case scenarios and manageable ones. We have to stop catastrophizing. We have to stop living in speculation and fear-mongering and the media because it serves no one — especially our families. We need to conserve all of our energy in a calm state so we are ready for action when we need to take it. We need to follow the Stoics. We need to focus on what we’re doing versus how we’re feeling because when this is over — and that time will come — we want to know we acted well. We cannot let fear and despair change our character and who we are as parents. Please reconceive your sense of how to give in these desperate times. Be generous, be kind, have an abundance mindset.
I’ve run 10 marathons in 10 years and I know what this feels like. COVID-19 is a marathon. Marathons are slow builds requiring focus and dedication and determination. You are training for months, not weeks. You have to change how you drink, how you eat, how you sleep and how you care for yourself. You have to commit to the finish line. We must commit to seeing the end of this. It is a compounding effort. It builds on itself. Whether you cross the finish line, whether you make it to the end, depends on how you train. We have to take the long view. We are not talking about hours and days and weeks anymore. We are thinking in weeks and months and years.
We are trying to find a new normal. We have to expect that our productivity is going to be 50% or less. Our ability to parent is going to be 75% or less. You are not going to win parent of the year anytime soon and that’s okay. Our work life balance or “mush” as Craighton Berman calls it, has been totally upended. You will not establish a healthy rhythm for weeks, but you will eventually. Be forgiving of your teammates, your coworkers, your colleagues, and yourself. Your conference calls and your video chats will fail. Your kids and your pets will be heard in the background or better yet, their heads will pop into the middle of your cameras. The veil of buttoned-up professionalism has been lifted and will likely never drape back down.
Give your spouse/partner a break. They are all you have now. Their idiosyncrasies, their habits, the things that got on your nerves once in a while will definitely make you furious now, but they are hurting and they are stressed and they are scared too. You are now in close quarters and surrounded by maniac children. You must tag team this. You must partner and coordinate and collaborate. You must sync each and every night: What worked today? What didn’t? What are we going to pilot tomorrow? The situation is fluid. Nothing requires permanence right now. If you’re rigid and bracing against the fear and uncertainty, it will snap you like a twig. You must be like water. Water is strong. It wears down boulders over time and it flows around obstacles.
Find small ways to treat your spouse/partner with kindness. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Rub their shoulders, refill their water, their coffee, fix them a drink. Let them take an extra long shower, whatever they need….
And you must take care of yourself. You have to change your state if you’re orderly and disciplined, let it ride. If you’re laissez faire, try some structure in order. Make sure you sweat. Get your heart rate up for 20–30 minutes a day. Light a scented candle. Breathe deep. Get up early, stay up late. Whatever you need to do to find the new rhythm. All the things we need are made in community with others. It’s those interdependencies that will get us through this. Form a tight, daily social web with five loved ones who you value and who value you. Start a wellbeing journal. Name the feelings you have and the drivers behind them. You will look back in generations and your grandkids will read these passages to their fellow students during show and tell. Clean, organize, cook. Use your house as a tool. Treat yourself to a show, to a movie, to a video game, to a comic binge. Enjoy an indulgent treat, but don’t stress eat. Stop reading the news and Twitter and get off Facebook for a second. Do one hard, uncomfortable thing a day. It could be as simple as taking an ice cold shower. Voluntary hardship is a thing. Take stock of the little accomplishments and tasks each day. Tell your resilient friends and family that you find them so. Talk with a friend, read your child a story, take a walk, write an essay. You can tell yourself: “keep going” or you can tell yourself: “never quit” — both work and may have different effects depending on the circumstances and your present state.
Dadwell & Co. is at the intersection of creativity and fatherhood and entrepreneurship and so I know there are a lot of small business owners who are listening to this show and reading this essay. You will survive this. As creators and entrepreneurs we were built for this. We see opportunity where other people see roadblocks. We take risks, we pivot. We combine ideas and connect dots in ways people cannot envision. We make things. We drag things into being where there is nothing. We manifest concepts and ideas in beautiful and concrete ways. We make thoughts and hopes and dreams into tangible expressions. We build the fucking future. We thrive in uncertainty and ambiguity. We see things others cannot. We are the visionaries. We make moves. We will survive this.
If you’re looking for a more community and connection in this time of social distancing, please join the Dadwell Slack. There’s a growing community there of people sharing ideas for being quarantined with kids, keeping each other motivated and positive. I’d love to see you there. And if any of this was helpful or meaningful to you, please share it or shoot me a note. I want you to know that you are not alone. We have each other.
#staythefuckhome #washyourhands and take care 🖤