Tayer: COVID-19 crisis — Accept the grief

In an era when information flows freely across the airwaves, one of our jobs at the Boulder Chamber is to help synthesize and prioritize that information so it’s useful to the businesses we serve and to help them make strategic decisions. The assault of COVID-19 has severely tested our capacity to know all that’s important to share and when is too much, but regardless, I hope what I offer here provides unique value. That’s because it isn’t really about your business, it’s about you . . .

A friend of mine shared a Harvard Business Review article with me the other day, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.” It sat in my marked folder for a couple of days until I finally had a spare second to give it a scan. Wow, it really hit home!

In the opening line of the article, set as an interview with the “the world’s foremost expert on grief,” David Kessler, he posits that we’re all feeling a number of different griefs as we wrestle with the impacts of COVID-19. “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different.”

Throw into the mix what Kessler describes as “anticipatory grief.” In broad terms, it’s “[t]he loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection,” let alone other personal and family impacts. Compound this with other future-looking pieces I’ve read with respect to the economic shifts that will occur in the wake of COVID-19, like “We’re not going back to normal” from the MIT Technology Review, and you recognize that there’s a whole lot of sound reason in what you might be anticipating and the source of your grief.

In the face of these emotions, there are many directions to turn. Panic and retreat are always options, as the fright-flight instincts take hold. Denial, anger, bargaining, and sadness might also take their turn as you process the grief you’re experiencing. In the end, though, these aren’t sound sources of strength for a business leader who needs to pick up the pieces in the wake of COVID-19, set a clear and compelling direction for their workforce, secure the confidence of creditors, and re-generate revenue.

So what do we do with our grief over the calamity that now envelopes us? In a word, according to Kessler: “Acceptance . . . is where the power lies.” Kessler tells us it’s through acceptance that we acknowledge our situation and can best begin to “figure out how to proceed.”

There is no clear path toward acceptance. Turning on the television or answering a phone call can expose you to those who are experiencing their own stages of grief. It’s enough to bring any of us down into a deep dark immobilizing hole. When experiencing anticipatory grief, in particular, Kessler recommends “coming into the present” and to “let go of what you can’t control.”

Finally, Kessler suggests we “find balance” in the things we’re thinking. When there’s temptation to consider what can go wrong, recognize that’s your grief talking and flip the switch. What’s the best outcome you can envision? I know, from my own experience, I find my moments of greatest clarity when I accept the circumstances in front of me and begin to take those first steps toward a brighter future vision.

We wrestled for a while about the idea of lighting the Boulder Star, but were compelled to move forward by periodic pleadings of local citizens. “We need a little light of inspiration and our star can do that,” said one friend. Now that the Boulder Star lights up each night, I invariably receive a flurry of emails in appreciation for the mere sense of “hope” its bright light is giving to our community.

It gives me chills to write this, because I know there’s a little grief in all of us these days. Yet we have a responsibility to our families, our businesses and ourselves to work our way through. Of course, we can’t do it alone. That is why the Boulder Chamber, in league with all of our business support partners, is moving mountains to support our business owners and their employees through this difficult period and to build the foundation for a strong recovery.

I said this piece was about you. That doesn’t mean you’re alone. We’re in this together, grief and all, so let’s accept it and let the Boulder Star power guide our way toward an even brighter future.

John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or john.tayer@boulderchamber.com.