Like so many of us these days, my ‘out-of-home’ time has been spent handling the basic necessities, in addition to taking quiet walks (while, of course, practicing physical distancing). While walking my dog with my husband the other day, I overheard someone say “Don’t they know I don’t have a computer?” As we continued our walk, I overheard another woman talking about how long she thought she could pay her bills without a job, June being as long as she felt she could hold out. And of course, there’s the ever-present, eerie feeling as we walk by each other, afraid to get close and wondering if “they” have the virus. I wonder, will we ever recover from this fear?

As part of helping us all navigate these thoughts and fears, every day, in our morning Zoom check-in meetings, I ask the Jouta team how they’re feeling. I do so by asking them what colour represents where they’re currently at: green, yellow or red. As nothing is ever cut and dry (now more than ever), we’ve now added lime and orange to the mix. I can only remember one day when we were all green and that was over a week ago; yet it seems like an eternity. Every single one of us is struggling in our own way. For example, one member of our team who very rarely experiences anxiety is now having semi-regular bouts of it, and for others, unexpected tears flow. One has been denied access to her disabled son, who is in specialized care, for fear he may contract the virus. Here in our home, we quarantined my 85-year-old mother on March 15th to keep her as safe as possible. There are so many stories because each one of us is going through this at the same time. Every one of us, as unique and individual human beings, has our own story, our own fears and our own way of coping.

In addition to my own “individual human” response, as a small business owner, I am also struggling. Despite being ever the optimist – a cup half-full kind of person – in these unprecedented times, it’s hard to stay positive as a human, but for me personally, most especially as a business owner. My heart breaks as I see the impact of all the tough decisions business owners and leaders have to make right now, as they struggle with both being human and also dealing with their fears and the reality of the circumstances related to their businesses.

As thousands of people are being laid off/terminated, it’s important that we all know that no business owner or leader wants to have to make these decisions. But sadly, they have to. They have to take care of the whole picture, some of which employees (including many managers) can’t see (or are being protected from seeing). Everyone is doing the best they can right now. As a matter of fact, over the last few weeks, I’ve seen more kindness, patience and compassion towards one another than ever before.  For myself, when I tell people to be healthy and safe, or ask how they are, I do so from a place of genuine care and concern. I care about them, their well-being and their stories. Despite evolving circumstances and so much uncertainty, this kindness, patience and compassion is the one constant I see, feel and hear on a daily basis.

At no other time has it been more important to give yourself oxygen first. Prior to take-off, when flight attendants are doing their safety briefing, they tell us that in case of emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself first, so you’re able to then help others. This also applies for business; as business owners/leaders, we are currently being forced to make extraordinarily tough decisions, decisions that are affecting the livelihood of our employees – who are also human beings, first and foremost. We have to make these tough decisions to give our businesses a fighting chance. In other words, we have to give the business oxygen so that, hopefully, it’s there to support us and our employees in the long term.  Sadly, during this time, for many businesses, no matter how much oxygen is pumped into them, they won’t survive. But without making the tough decisions now (i.e. the ones that are never popular or easy), they wouldn’t even stand a chance.

We each have to do our part right now, and give ourselves our own oxygen. We all have to make the tough decisions necessary to weather this storm. The only way through this is together. And the only way we can get through this together is by doing what we can to be individually strong. In turn, we are much, much stronger collectively.

In closing, I not only encourage, but strongly urge you to take care of YOU first, so that you can do more to take care of others.