As we all know, on March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. After a frenzied few days making sense of the reality and information, the Jouta team met for a virtual check-in event on March 17th. A year later to the exact date and time, we met again to talk about where we were, how different (or similar) things were then versus now, our highlights and low-points, and what we’ve learned/wish we knew then.

We know this is a commentary on a teeny tiny fraction of the population who, in many ways, are/have been very fortunate. That said, like many, we experienced both challenges and surprising gifts, and believe our experiences will be familiar, in some ways, to our readers. While, in true Jouta-style, our meeting was organic and conversational, the outcomes of our discussion can be categorized as we’ve outlined below. In sharing this with you, our intent is to give you a snapshot of what’s been going on for your HR team, as well as potentially find some common, human ground, as we all continue to navigate the pandemic a year in.

Where were you and what were you doing when the pandemic was declared?

  • I was enroute to Seattle for a mini get-away, sitting in an airport lounge, having a drink; everything changed the next day.
  • I was packing for my climbing/mountain biking trip to Oregon, Airbnb booked, and training at the climbing gym in preparation (I cancelled the trip and the climbing gym closed soon thereafter).
  • I was on a Princess Cruise until March 7th, which was the worst vacation of my life, in part due to the fear I felt whenever people coughed. I remember forwarding the WHO email regarding the pandemic and saying to the team “buckle up”.
  • I had recently left my job and was taking some time off. My former co-workers told me how fortunate I was to not be involved with all the COVID protocol management at work.
  • I left my job in February and went to Mexico. Upon my return on March 9th, I was getting ready to start my new position with a major cruise line!

Biggest challenges, then or now

  • From a business perspective, it was the most terrifying and uncertain time ever. Jouta, like most businesses, has overcome many challenges, but this was the first time I truly didn’t know how to move forward and I expected the worst. I had to make some incredibly difficult and stressful decisions that impacted people I care deeply about. In those early days, we did the best we could with all-hands-on-deck trying to navigate the influx of information and having daily virtual check-ins where we rated how we were feeling (red, yellow, or green… because it was too overwhelming to try and describe it in words).
  • I became – and am – so tired of the media and the daily updates by Justin Trudeau.
  • As it was strongly recommended to avoid any activities that may require a SAR call, or going to the hospital, and/or being around people, I didn’t climb for months, and only went for isolated, low consequence outings. I was also presumed (via a phone call, since testing was minimal then) to have had COVID, which was strange and scary to make sense of, despite having mild symptoms. More than anything, as a person who lives alone, the biggest challenge was/is the loneliness and isolation.
  • It was really stressful with the border only being closed for a month at a time and, particularly with the former US leadership, the possibility of it opening at any point.
  • After the cruise position fell through, I gave up my apartment and sailed for four blissfully isolated months in the Gulf Islands (no TV, no Wi-Fi). But when I returned in July, I had no direction or plan and my life literally imploded.
  • I was exhausted having just come off a year+ with constant travel and wasn’t able to see my son for 3 months. The isolation was and continues to be very challenging.

Biggest surprise

  • Jouta was incredibly busy and rather than slowing down, things just kept picking up. All of us were going at Mach speed and I was immersed in the business and COVID constantly. By October, I was running on empty, at which point we brought on two new consultants who brought with them a much-needed positive energy.
  • Realizing that February 14, 2020 was the last time I attended an indoor gathering with more than six friends.
  • Having seen significant rifts between people I love and admire due to their beliefs about wearing masks and getting vaccines (or not).
  • Recalling how naïve I initially was about COVID’s impact, and – appreciating our varying experiences and perspectives – that there are people who still believe COVID to be a hoax.
  • Witnessing the “cottage industry” for masks.
  • How exhausting Zoom meetings became after such a short time.

Best gift

  • Slowing down, taking stock, realizing better what I want/need and don’t want/need.
  • Having somewhat relaxed restrictions in the Summer and Fall when I was able to take a few short, stunningly beautiful BC vacations (somewhere new each time) with close friends, see my parents (from Alberta), and have my ‘safe six’ over to celebrate my birthday. I will never again take these things for granted.
  • The cruise job fell through for obvious reasons, and as a result, I made decisions that led to having an amazing new team and a much stronger bond with my son.
  • Physically, I’m in a much better place due to not travelling all of the time, walking every day, and eating better.
  • Connecting and deepening existing friendships.
  • Becoming close friends with a neighbour – which would otherwise have been unlikely.

What advice or message would you have given yourself then, if you could have? 

  • Slow down, notice everything, take a breath, and don’t get sucked into more ‘doing.’
  • It’s okay if you’re not learning a new language, organizing all of your closets, building a new deck, meditating every day, or achieving something significant.
  • Do things differently and start doing new, different things.
  • Move forward, don’t stay stuck in the norm.
  • Don’t be afraid… you’ll find your way.
  • Don’t take what you have, including, most importantly, this moment for granted.

While we have had varying and yet many similar experiences, and we’re still in these uncertain times for some time yet, what we’re clear on is that there will be a post-pandemic era – and that we will, in many ways, be changed forever. For the Jouta team, we’re focused on what we can keep about this time (our gifts and learnings) and how we can let go and move on from the challenges, grief, and pain.