The COVID-19 virus came out of nowhere. Up until March 15th, I was in denial. I did not think it would affect my country or my company, and I assumed that I’d mainly have to deal with the fear that the virus had generated. Then, on March 16th, my country, Honduras, went into lockdown. From one day to the next, we had to walk away from our two ongoing construction projects and move our corporate office to remote work.
The Survival Arc
As I’m reading Amanda Ripley’s The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why (public library), I see myself mirrored in the stories she tells. In her book, she describes the survival arc we go through when we are confronted with disaster, and the first stage is denial. That is precisely where I was before March 15th. I have been wondering why I couldn’t see more of the impact the virus might have in the week or two before, but now I understand.
Although I kept up with the news, I now see I was falling into normalcy bias – this is when we tend to smooth out exceptions in favor of what ordinarily happens. Most of the time, it makes sense to think this way, but when we come across a crisis, it does not serve us. None of us were prepared for this.
The next step of the survival arc is deliberation. In this stage, we analyze what is happening and think through a way to get out of the situation. Finally, after we decide what to do, in the last step, we take action. It is also possible to cycle through all three stages more than once.
When I finally got through my denial, I moved through deliberation quickly and transitioned into action – I had no choice. At the company level, we have taken the steps we need to take and continue to act. But, more and more, I also find myself deliberating. This situation is not like being in the middle of a fire or in an accident, which requires you to take decisive action, and then it is over.
This pandemic is dragging out, and there is a significant component of simply being aware and listening. We don’t know when the virus will abate, when there will be a cure or vaccine, or how the economy will be affected. There is so much uncertainty that beyond looking for ways for our companies to get to the other side, there is not much action we can currently take. There is no “business as usual” – there are fewer opportunities for selling, we can’t buy, and we can’t build.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve had a lot of practice exploring, but this is different. This situation requires an even higher level of listening to find out how we can help, how to manage the company, and what actions to take. And so, I wait, as those who are not in the front lines do as well.
Managing the Situation
Because the virus is still having an impact, it is worthwhile to go over some of Amanda Ripley’s recommendations to boost our odds in the middle of situations, just like the one we’re currently experiencing. One way to do this is by cultivating resilience, which helps us respond well and recover quickly. Resilient people “believe they can influence what happens to them,” “find meaningful purpose in life’s turmoil,” and “are convinced they can learn from both good and bad experiences.” According to the author, this type of resilience is something we can practice and build.
Another of her suggestions is to lower our anxiety levels. We are all feeling anxiety as we navigate our current circumstances. One way to manage it that is free and available at any moment is through taking deep breaths, which reliably links our conscious mind with our unconscious state. It helps us perform better in any situation, and it helps us remain calm. If we are feeling too much anxiety, we will not be able to see what we need to understand and respond in the way we would like.
In this situation, I think the key is to listen, remain aware and calm, act when needed, and to recover quickly. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others in the best way possible.
Ripley, Amanda. The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why. First Edition. Cornerstone Digital, November 10, 2009. E-book.