Quiet Professionalism and COVID-19

Andy Bardon Photo

By Rob Shaul

Like many, I’ve been knocked off balance by the COVID-19 crisis/restrictions and the cascading economic devastation.

Past mistakes have taught me when life is swirling it’s best to pause, step away, and reconnect with fundamental principles. Then step back into the fray anchored to these principles and lean on them as a guide.

This stops the spinning and leads to principle-based decisions instead of reactive ones.

The basic principles of Quiet Professionalism are the toolbox I draw from in times like these.

Strange/Scary/Tough Times

The most unsettling character of our COVID-19 experience is the dreadful feeling that two monsters are coming and there’s no escape.

First is the disease itself and it’s impressive ability to spread. I’ve got two young children at home, and my own immune system is recovering from a series of kidney infections. Stories that the virus can live for 7+ days on surfaces and the fact that on March 8, the U.S. had 402 cases, and today, April 8, we’ve just passed 400,000, are indicative of COVID’s seeming unstoppable, creeping threat.

Second is the isolation and division it is causing. In past challenges, America has come together, but the nature of the COVID crisis pushes us apart.

On an international level, we’ve closed our borders with Canada, closed our airports to Asia and Europe, and enacted a 1950’s law preventing industry from shipping PPE and ventilators to other countries.

Nationally, states compete for medical supplies, discourage visitors from neighboring states, and impose quarantines on visitors or second homeowners who arrive.

Locally, I live in Teton County, Wyoming, home to Jackson Hole – a resort community and tourist destination. The mayor and chamber of commerce have told visitors to stay away and discouraged locals from leaving the county for any non-work reason (if you do, you are subject to a 14-day quarantine upon return).

Neighboring Idaho has told us its hospitals won’t accept overflow COVID patients, and residents of a neighboring Wyoming county have posted openly hostile social media messages warning Teton County residents not to visit.

Personally, the social isolation we’re all committed to is naturally divisive and extremely awkward. The mask-wearing recommendations and requirements intensify this.

Economically, my gym is shut down, and five first-degree adult family members have either lost all income or are facing layoffs. The economic impacts are cascading rapidly and already the world is in a deepening recession. Job losses in March alone equal those of the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

At no time in history, has our economy been so dependent upon a scientific rescue in the form of an effective antiviral, mass, rapid testing solution, and eventual vaccine.

My Tool Box

(1) Mission First

Embracing this principle is key to focusing on what’s important – service.

Professionally, my most critical mission is the continued economic viability of MTI which means cutting expenses, improving programming and customer service, and intensely searching for more opportunities to serve our athletes.

Personally it means being an intellectual, emotional and financial rock for my extended family and professional colleagues. MTI is not the only gym in Jackson, the owners of three other local gyms have either interned with me, been one of my athletes or learned to program from me. We’re all working to figure out what’s next.

(2) Hard Work with a Full Heart

This means being a “happy grinder.” Every challenge brings opportunity and this no different. The challenge can force movement into a new opportunity – career, location, relationship, etc. At a minimum, the challenge gives us the opportunity to rise to it, in our conduct and intent.

(3) Experience/Wisdom and Humility

The playing field has changed.

It will be some time before we’ll all feel comfortable to take a flight on a crowded airplane, go to a crowded concert, visit a local bar, attend a group training session, sail on a naval ship, live in crowded barracks, sweat and suffer together at a military course or selection.

The economic impact is being felt in private industry most acutely now, but don’t feel safe if you work for government or military. Tax revenue is also crashing, and already in my town, local government is imposing its first round of lay offs.

All this demands humility. I could lose my company. You could lose your job. None of us is special or immune. Respond with an open mind, and agility if it comes to that. Conserve your resources, fully explore and consider options, and keep eyes forward.

(4) Focus on Hard Truths with Clear Eyes

To find the hard truths for this challenge I’d recommend following the money – which means first the economic indicators (jobs, earnings, etc.) and second, the stock market.

Public policy always follows economic impact. The economy is the first indicator of the extent and depth of change – both positive and negative.

Policy makers can spin and dodge. Economic indicators are nonpartisan.

Economic and the market can help identify the most promising scientific advances on the health side when the scientists themselves disagree.

Short term market swings are driven by emotions, not economics, but long term market trends are economically driven. Look for the trends.

(5) Professional Reading (Crisis Reading in this case…)

Here are my news sources for this crisis:

(6) Do Your Job with Dignity

Continuing to grind at work, hopefully with dignity most the time, has been a source of familiar solace for me away from the disturbing daily news.

Half of my job now, every day, is child care for my two young kids. I’m still learning here … and need much improvement, but know already we’ve become closer and see this “forced” family time as a hidden blessing in this crisis.

I’d bet many of you have experienced the same.

(7) Embrace the Suck

No time for petty resentment or useless self pity.

Others are similarly impacted and many – either on the first responder or medical front lines, or affected directly by the disease, or already laid off – have it worse.

Embrace the suck. Commit to stay in the fight and make the best of it.

(8) Gratitude

Always makes things better. Brings perspective and causes us to be in the present.

Heartfelt gratitude is a weapon against despair and inaction.

When you do succumb to whining, know that things can always get worse, and count your blessings.




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