Dispatch from Seattle v4: On working to acceptance of the “new normal”

Dealing with the COVID crisis definitely has a process. It’s not unlike the five stages of grief, to be honest.

Unless you’re in NYC, if you’re outside of Seattle, we’re still about 2-4 weeks ahead of you. So, you may not have worked through these stages yet. Or, you may be moving through them but your head is spinning given all of the emotions.

Let me offer a glimpse into what this is like in Seattle as area folks work through their own process of coming to terms with COVID.

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First, there is denial.

You’ve definitely heard this one, and you very likely have been in this stage to some degree.

This is the stage that says “This isn’t any worse than the flu.” Or, “This is for people who are going to die anyway. I’m young so I don’t have to worry.”

My 75 year old father-in -aw continues to go to the store almost every day because “It’s safe to go there,” he tells me.

That’s denial, for sure.

Then comes the stage of anger, but which might manifest in mourning.

This is an emotional response that tries to use the old logical frames that often fit the old world with the new logic of the COVID world.

“What was I thinking buying those clothes for spring?! Who was I to think I could afford those when clearly now I can’t?”

Or, “We got too big for our britches, thinking we could do these things forever. Why were we so dumb?” Or, “Why weren’t we ready for this new work-from-home approach? It’s not like we don’t have the means or the technology. What we were thinking?”

There is quite a bit of that. But, it can be short-lived.

Then, one moves into the bargaining phase.

“This won’t be too long, right? We can still go on our vacation to Disneyland this summer, can’t we?”

No, I’m sorry. It doesn’t look like you can. And, no amount of breath-holding and finger-crossing will help.

Then, the depression hits, step four.  And this is the tough one.

It’s tough because this is a sad moment, one regularly reinforced by the news and data and anecdotes from the crisis all around us.

What’s worse is that we don’t yet know the full scope of the problem ahead of us. The “not knowing” is a big challenge. It is like waiting for a diagnosis from the doctor. “You might need a liver transplant, or it could be indigestion. We’ll see.”

That’s not great to live with, and definitely can push you into a state of mental crisis.

Finally, however, as we come to terms with this new normal, we hit a zone of acceptance.

It feels good in that zone of acceptance. It feels like a place where you can start to make sense of things, maybe plan for small but meaningful interactions, and grow in ways you couldn’t in the old normal.

It’s a sense of order in an otherwise non-sensical time, when everything you thought was going to come to pass now will not.

Unfortunately, one doesn’t stay in the zone of acceptance for too long. Things are moving too quickly and things change every day – really they change multiple times throughout the day.

Not everyone in the community is at the same place in this process.

Seattle is a tech town.  And, folks in tech are still very much at the outset of this process. They are just entering denial, but they don’t yet know they are trapped in its.  It’s like they’ve crossed the event horizon, and can no longer avoid the black hole that is pulling them in.

People in the small business community at large are moving into anger. These are folks that have worked their whole lives, scrimping and saving, and now no one comes to their restaurant. No one goes to the dry cleaner. Folks are canceling house cleaning service since they’re working from home.

These folks didn’t do anything wrong. But the economy just vanished out from under them, and they are angry about it.

In the finance sector, people there in the bargaining phase of the process. They are looking at costs and benefits, trade-offs that might be made in interest rates here or maybe a little more collateral there. It’ll soon seem like deck chairs on the Titanic.

Depression is where the folks at the front edge of this collapse sit, those in the event and conference space, for example. I know – because I sit there myself! Our entire enterprise of State of Reform is supported by the revenue of our conferences and the stakeholders that support them. We’re guessing a hit of about 90% over the next three quarters.


Finally, there is the world of acceptance.

I’ve been there. It’s a glorious place. I feel about it the way Crash Davis feels about the major leagues, “The Show,” in Bull Durham.

I was in The Show for 21 days once, the 21 greatest days of my life.

You know you handle your luggage in The Show? Someone else carries your bags. It’s great. You hit white balls for batting practice and the ball parks are like cathedrals.

Anyway, you get the idea. Acceptance comes and goes.

So, as you find yourself working through the five stages of COVID, give yourself a little space to accept that you’re in this process, moving from one step to the other.

And that it’s not always a straightforward shot. You’ll move back and forth through it, and your progress will be different from others in your community. Above all, appreciate how hard this is.

Find the good in things. And, since you have time, watch some old movies that are worth re-visiting.