We were built for this: Lessons learned during a family crisis, and how they apply to Covid-19 Quanrantine
We were built for this.
It may sound presumptuous to say when the collective “we” are facing a global pandemic and economic crisis the likes that none of us have ever experienced–but that’s the truth.
My wife (and business partner) and I have already gone through something that taught us all the lessons we needed to learn to deal with this. Back in August 2015, our daughter was born 4 months premature. That moment changed our lives forever. And it was also the first step in preparing us for what we are all facing now.
What does having a 24-week micro-preemie have anything to do with dealing with our current reality?
1.) #WFHWK: The only difference is that “H” stood for hospital, not home. I spent 3 days-week working from the hospital. On the one hand, I was lucky that my boss at the time was very understanding and allowed me that flexibility. However, trying to find a quiet or comfortable place in a hospital to take a conference call is virtually impossible. That experience left a major impression on me, and is one of the reasons why Proofpoint is a fully remote agency, with flexible hours and a family-first culture.
2.) Social Isolation: After we brought Lana home from the hospital in February of 2016, we went into “medical isolation,” which is very similar to the current social isolation practice. Lana was severely immuno-compromised and was on continuous oxygen and also had a g-tube. It was still the middle of flu and RSV season, and her catching a respiratory bug was pretty much a guaranteed re-admission to the hospital, invasive respiratory support (ventilator) or potentially worse. So other than me going to work several days a week, Gaby didn’t really leave the house during the day, and we limited visitors to just grandparents. We became socially isolated from friends and didn’t have time to be “virtually social” as we are now. We were too busy dealing with our daughter’s medical needs and learning to juggle life with an infant hooked up to (oxygen and feeding) tubes and (pulse oximeter) wires. It’s a huge credit to my wife that Lana is thriving now because Gaby sacrificed two years of her career and put her needs on pause to care for our daughter.
3.) Economic Uncertainty: Shortly after Lana was born, Gaby lost her job (while still recovering in the hospital from her c-section, I might add). Overnight, we went from a dual-income family to a single income one. Add to that increased expenses; hospital parking, constant meals out (because who has time to cook when your child is in the hospital?), and increased medical expenses. If dealing with a medical crisis isn’t enough, we now also had to face financial worries.
4.) Dealing with Confusing Regulations: If you think dealing with the banks and the SBA is hard now, try dealing with medical insurance and the government’s medical assistance (MA) programs on little to no sleep and with little to no guidance from hospital staff–or anyone else for that matter!
I am still not exactly sure how we got through it, but we did, and here are the things we learned which helped then, and are definitely guiding us on our way now:
1.) Pivot, Hustle and Flow: When Gaby lost her job, I quickly realized that I was going to have to make up the difference because our daughter needed a full-time caregiver. Daycare wasn’t an option, and in-home nursing care is obscenely expensive. Gaby became a full-time stay-at-hospital-mom and then a full-time stay-at-home-mom. I left my job, which I really enjoyed, in favor of another one with an increase in title and pay, as well as no travel. I also started consulting on the side. Pretty soon I was in a new rhythm. Go to work, come home, have dinner, work on my consulting clients, go to sleep, do it all over again.
For many companies and business owners right now, they have to pivot and hustle to survive. Brick and mortar business are selling online, restaurants are focusing on delivery, and our business, Proofpoint Marketing is no different. We have to pivot a bit to ensure that we make it through this in as good a shape as possible:
- We are offering new payment terms to clients
- We are coming up with new services and packages to offer
- We are experimenting with different sales and marketing techniques
- We are looking outside of our ICP (B2B technology marketing)
2.) Prioritization: When you have a medically complex child at home, as well as a full-time job and a side business, you have to focus on what matters most. I believe it was Scott Adams, in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, that said you can only focus on 3 things. The examples in his book were career, family, health and friends. You can’t focus on all four. Something has to give. This was true then (sorry, friends) and it’s true now (sorry, again, friends).
Our business is our livelihood, so there is no question that is a priority. Our family is extremely important, so caring for each other at home and staying in touch with our immediate family is another priority. We need our health (both mentally and physically) to be effective both professionally and as parents. So, unfortunately, that doesn’t leave much time for friends. That doesn’t mean we aren’t staying in touch. It just means that it’s not where we’re putting our greatest effort.
3.) Routine: Dealing with a medically complex child is all about routine. There are tons of recurring appointments with multiple different doctors and therapists; medical equipment that needs to be cleaned and serviced; medical supplies that need to be ordered regularly; and mealtimes are very regimented. And, because Lana was tube-fed overnight, we had a routine for who would get up at what time to turn on and off the feeding pump.
Right now, at four and a half years old Lana is doing great! She’s been off oxygen for two years and we are no longer feeding her at night. But we are dealing with a very complex business environment, and also a precarious time in our business as we are trying to scale, which requires a ton of our attention. Our routine looks something like this:
- I wake up around 6am to work out, meditate and walk the dog usually before anyone else is even up. Sometimes I even get a little bit of work in before that happens.
- We collectively come up with Lana’s schedule for the day. She is involved so that she feels like she owns the decisions.
- Gaby takes the morning shift with Lana while I work.
- We have lunch together as a family.
- I take the afternoon shift with Lana while Gaby works.
- We have dinner and some family time.
- I put Lana to bed while Gaby sneaks a workout in the evening.
- Gaby and I both get some more work done.
- I go to bed by 10:30, to be able to get up at 6am, while Gaby usually works a bit later.
It took us a while to get to this, but now that we are 4 weeks in, it seems, dare I say, normal?
4.) Play the Long Game: Having a 24-week micro-preemie is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a long journey and one we are still traveling on. Lana still has some medical things to deal with, though you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at her.
We made the mistake very early on in trying to set goals that we had no way of controlling. For example, we once told ourselves that we would be going home in December because that was when Lana was supposed to be born. We were very disappointed initially and didn’t go home until February.
Very early on during this quarantine, when people started talking about “the economy opening up by XX date” or “things going back to normal after XX date,” we said to ourselves and our team that we shouldn’t be planning on things getting better after any particular interval because nobody really knows.
Here is how we are playing the long game at Proofpoint:
Focus on cash flow. This is by far our top priority, as it will ensure that we make it through this. Here are the steps that we have taken as a business.
Servicing existing clients. Our existing clients are why we are here today, and our job is to help them through this situation and help them make the best decisions. For example, we just launched a B2B Marketers mastermind group for both current and past clients.
Taking care of our employees. This one’s a no-brainer.
Creating value and helping those in our network, and beyond. We have really stepped up our educational content generation efforts and are going to be sharing many of our strategy and process document templates for free in the near future.
Working our existing network to build new relationships. Now is a great time to connect with new people because everyone is isolated and most people are open to making new connections. We aren’t selling, we are simply having conversations and trying to provide value. It’s all about building relationships for the future.
Launching our new brand. We had originally planned to launch our new brand in March. While it has clearly been delayed, we have decided that now is as good a time as any. Our business has evolved, and our clients, employees, and prospects should know that. We are moving forward, and we want to help other businesses do the same.
Grit. The preemie parent journey is tough, especially in those early NICU days. Lana’s condition was critical for the first several months of her life, and anytime the phone would ring while we weren’t at the hospital, we prepared for the worst. Being in that state for several months definitely took its toll. Early on, we decided we would focus on simply taking it one day at a time. When we had a good day, we celebrated. When we had a bad day, we toughed it out knowing that tomorrow was a new day.
The situation right now is similar. While our lives aren’t on the line, it is still very much a day-to-day situation. Isolation is hard and does take its toll. Any day, a client could call to tell us that they are pulling back on marketing activity, and several already have. However, as long as we stay focused, take our lumps on the bad days, and get up the next day with a positive attitude and the plan to play the long game, that’s all we can really do.
5.) It’s OK to ask for help: I am leaving the best for last, and I am hoping that everyone reads through (or at least scans through) to the end. This one is key, and we wouldn’t have gotten through our 6-month hospital stay and another year of isolation without it. This was a lesson especially hard for me to learn because I was always independent, self-reliant, and afraid to ask for help because I thought it indicated vulnerability and weakness. I was wrong.
- First, we set up a CaringBridge site. It allowed us to talk about our feelings in a safe environment with the people who cared about us.
- A friend had set up a Meal Train for us. That helped us get through the first few months at home and were invaluable. We were exhausted and had no time to grocery shop or cook.
- Neighbors mowed our lawn and cleared our driveway from snow.
- Current and former co-workers sent food delivery gift cards.
The list goes on. At first, I felt very uncomfortable with all of it, but as the months went on, I realized that people enjoy helping and that I couldn’t manage without the help anyway.
The same is true now. There is no shame in applying for the PPP. While we have done a good job managing our business and cash flow, we have been impacted and this provides an extra safety net and allows us to keep moving our business forward. There is no shame in joining Mastermind groups and attending educational seminars to learn how to better manage through this.
It’s ok to ask for help from experts. Many of them will be willing to at least have a conversation with you free of charge. Take advantage of that, and also be willing to provide your expertise to those in need.
So while I wouldn’t have wanted my daughter to be born prematurely, I am grateful for all the lessons we learned navigating that experience. Gaby and I wouldn’t be where we are today had we not gone through that, and the parallels between that and our business experience are endless. We are looking forward to moving forward, and to use the lessons we have learned to help our clients, partners and prospects do the same.