JAMES GRUBER. Managing our fears. Some practical advice.

Mar 23, 2020

Fear. It’s everywhere and palpable. Fear for the health of ourselves and our families.

Fear for the communities we live in and of the communities we will in. Fear for our jobs and businesses. Fear for our mortgages, superannuation, shares and financial well being. All of these fears are normal and understandable. And we can’t readily dismiss them. How, then, can we at least mitigate some of these fears to make the best decisions, for our health and that of our families, for our communities, for our work, our businesses and for our finances?

Everyone has stories of the past week and I’ll share mine. My wife returned from a remote part of Canada and has had to self-isolate at home. We decided our two young children would self-isolate with her. Working from home and home-schooling has just gone live. Meanwhile, I’ve moved into accommodation nearby, not self-isolating as yet, and attending to our family-owned motel in south-west Sydney.

At our motel, we have had four employees come down with illnesses. All are cleaners. One came back from a cruise two weeks ago and felt flu-like symptoms six days later. She tried to get a test three days again but was told she didn’t have the symptoms for coronavirus and a test wasn’t applicable. She’s feeling much better now but will try to test again today.

Another employee managed to get a test from a GP and was found to have rhinovirus, otherwise known as the common cold. I’ve never been so happy to hear of someone having caught a cold! The two other ill employees have fully recovered.

The motel occupancy, at 60% during normal times, is down to around 37% this week. I thought it would be much worse and I still expect it to get worse. But right now, the business is low down the priority list. The health of our employees and guests is all that matters.

With that in mind, we’ve implemented a number of measures at the motel to reduce the health risks, including closing the swimming pool, eliminating hot breakfasts, cutting opening hours and decreasing the cleaning of rooms for long-stay guests. Importantly, we are taking guests who’ve travelled from overseas and have to self-isolate at the motel, but we won’t be cleaning their rooms during their stays and there are strict rules for cleaning post their stays too.

We’ve done all of this without industry or government guidance. Like other businesses, we’re just trying to be ahead of the curve rather than playing catchup.

Back to my employees – they are understandably concerned about the situation. About their sick colleagues and about cleaning for guests who may or may not have the virus. Some were extremely fearful and in outright panic, while most were less so though still on edge.

It did get me thinking about that fear which everybody’s feeling but struggling to express. Here is this deadly, invisible virus. The fear of this is deeply primal – of something immediate but lurking in the shadows though very visible via the news and statistics.

Recently, though it seems some a long time ago now, there was fear about the bushfires. Climate change went from being a very long-term, largely invisible threat, to a more immediate, very visible threat over the summer.

Under these extreme circumstances, how do we put fear to one side and make rational decisions about the future? Can we do it?

One tool which may be useful comes from the ancient philosophy of stoicism. Stoicism has become a “sexy” subject of late and though I’m not a follower, I’ve discovered one thing which may be applicable to our current crisis. That is, try to control things which you have the power to control, and let go of those which you have no control over.

Events: we can’t control. But we can control how we respond to them. The future: we can’t control either . But we can control what we’re doing currently, right now.

How does this apply to today? Well, we have no control over coronavirus, its spread nor its impact. We don’t have much control over how it will effect our work and businesses. We don’t have much control over how it will impact our communities.

However, we can control how we respond to the current circumstances. We can control how we protect ourselves, our families and communities. We can control how we react if everyone has to self-isolate. We can control if our jobs are under threat and preparing ahead (easier said than done, I know). We can control getting our finances in shape, making sure mortgages can be paid or talking to our bankers about contingency plans, making sure our superannuation can mitigate the current damage, making sure we simply have cash reserves and other plans if the shutdown lasts many months.

Please keep safe.

James Gruber is a businessman and writer. He authors a blog on Australian business issues: Money, Mobs & Moguls.


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