With the uncertain times we live in, I did the rounds over the last few days and began ringing every person in my phone. The reason for my call was to make sure each person was okay.
I didn’t expect any surprises and assumed everybody in my phone’s contact list would be at home relaxing in isolation with their families. That was until I rang a lifelong friend.
The two of us met on MySpace when I was a teenager. Without him, I would never have had a music career. He was the first person to believe in the fruits of my creative endeavours, which eventually led me to write.
Over the last ten years, he had built up a large business with many employees in the hospitality industry. He took his passions of food, entertainment, music and customer service, and fused them into an unstoppable business. The part I loved most about his journey is that he always remained humble and took care of the people he worked with like they were his own flesh and blood.
The conversation started like this:
“How are you doing?”
“I’ve had my fair share of tears this week. I lost my entire business after a 15-minute speech.”
It was a surreal moment. I didn’t expect to hear about the impacts on business so soon. The speech my friend was referring to was given by the Prime Minister of Australia. It was short and sharp and basically placed a ban on large gatherings. His words encouraged us to stay in our homes.
The key to his speech was sensible, but for the hospitality industry, it meant instant shut down. The bars, club, and restaurants had two options: 1) Try to remain open and pay rent. 2) Shut down their venues and show defeat, thus getting them out of their rental obligations with their landlord.
The majority of the hospitality industry chose option two. It meant instant business closure and helped contain the financial downside.
At the conclusion of the speech, my friend knew his fate was sealed. His phone lit up over the next hour and his inbox was overloaded. All of his clients had cancelled their contracts and walked away from their businesses. Not one of them remained open. Most of his clients were fearful and in a state of panic. By the end of the day, his business had evaporated into thin air and he had to lay off all of his staff.
This is not a sad story, though. It was what came next from this seemingly dire situation that surprised me about my friend.
When I asked him what he was doing about it, he gave me this list of strategies that might help you during this difficult time.
Going for walks each day helped him clear his mind. Sticking to the social distancing rules, he found peace and calmness in long walks.
You can live in the suburbs like my friend for over a decade and never walk around your own neighbourhood.
My friend used this opportunity to change that. He took daily walks around his neighbourhood and started noticing the little things. Which way do the ducks walk? Why does the lake have small ripples of water on one side? What does the local park look like when it’s deserted?
I was not expecting this one at all. My friend found solace in the garden. He planted new seeds in the ground hoping they would grow, as his mind recovered from what had occurred.
The garden was a place to watch life be reborn when human life had lost its shine because of a virus. Nature soothes the soul and removes the aches and pains of business.
Thinking about those doing it tough
Whenever he was feeling sorry for himself, thoughts of his workers and their struggle comforted him.
The staff who were laid off got, at best, two weeks pay. The hospitality industry doesn’t have all the same protections in Australia as other industries. You can go from doing okay and paying your student loans as a casual worker, to having no money overnight and trying to pay your electricity bill.
He was scarred from the experience but nowhere near as much as the staff who worked their butts off.
Focusing your thoughts on the struggles of others helps heal your mind from selfish thoughts and your own survival.
My friend said over and over that the key to him not losing his mind was staying calm.
This meant removing triggers from his environment that might set him off. He limited his news consumption and spent as much time as possible with his two young daughters.
It was impossible for him to be angry at life when he had two little girls to look after and their smiles to comfort him.
Leave people better than you found them
At the end of the phone call, I left my friend with a few thoughts:
- You will come back again when you’re ready.
- Take time off.
- Your network doesn’t disappear.
- People will remember how you treated them.
- The worst event can be the birth of the most innovative businesses.
We have stayed in contact over the years because I’ve been fascinated with my friend’s approach to life.
He always leaves you feeling better than he found you.
He makes you smile.
He tells you the good parts of life.
He is fearlessly loyal.
He builds human connections, not business connections.
My favourite: he calls you for no reason at all.
People love working with him and he always lives by one rule:
Doing the right thing is always the right thing.
What I love most about how my friend dealt with this pandemic and the collapse of his business is that he didn’t let it defeat him. His heart and soul were all over this situation and he wasn’t afraid to admit that he cried many tears. That is a real man right there.
You can do everything right in business and still lose the lot. That is the game of entrepreneurship.
It’s not what you lose; it’s who you become in uncertain and difficult times.