We Just Skipped 10 Years

At the start of lockdown, we called it “The Great Pause.”

We hit the off switch and the economy went into hibernation. We hunkered down, turning our attention to essentials such as food, health, shelter, and toilet paper. The first few weeks gave us a chance for deep reflection – questioning everything from our political system, healthcare, sources of income, our workplaces, and especially our daily routines.

Meanwhile, brands were anxiously ramping up their efforts to make sure we return to a “new normal” once this is over (hint, it still involves buying their stuff). After all, a pause is just a short rest before we return to the task at hand, right? Well, that was almost two months ago and things have changed A LOT. 

As the pause became longer… and longer… we’ve started calling it a Recession with a capital R. It’s to the point where some economists are speculating the economic damage could rival the Great Depression. Yes, we’re heading for a major downturn, but I believe the short-to-medium-term economic impact is only one small part of the bigger picture. That’s why I’m no longer talking about The Great Pause or The Great Recession. Instead, I’m calling this period The Great Accelerant*. 

Just look around you. In the last two months of lockdown, we’ve skipped forward 10 years. Wherever we were heading, we’re about to get there sooner. The seeds we planted are either turning into a fortress of weeds or trees.

People who were previously healthy are now moving their bodies with renewed intensity and cleaning up their diets even more, while a lot of us are overeating and sedating ourselves to avoid processing this shit show. Some of us are consuming an exorbitant amount of news and social media, while others take the outlook that, “If it’s important, I’ll hear about it.” Some families, friends, and couples are finding new depths of kindness and love for one another, while others are ending in estrangement, separation, divorce – and, in a tragic number of instances, domestic violence and death. Sadly, many people who got on top of addictions have relapsed because their support networks have broken down. Mental illness and suicide rates are at an all-time high. 

We don’t know all the facts yet – and of course, these generalities are not true for everyone. There are extenuating cases across the board. I’m also aware that I’m coming from a place of immense privilege. I’m a middle class, white male, business owner, living in a democracy. I no doubt have other privileges too. Even with my own experience of lockdown, I’ve had to practice gratitude on a daily basis. In the great scheme of things, there’s a lot for me to feel grateful for. With help from my wife and business partner (thanks Ali!), Parisleaf has been able to keep its doors open. I also have a safe home, a loving family, no children to balance work and homeschooling, easy access to outdoor space, and a great support network.

As a friend of mine said, “I feel like I’ve been training for this for years.” Even though I’m in a good place emotionally and physically, all COVID things considered, the present situation has accelerated internal conflicts that have remained dormant for me. For example, pivoting back to a more entrepreneurial CEO, “figure it out” kind of role at Parisleaf has caused a flare-up of self-doubt. I remind myself too often to be careful. To avoid criticism. Not to put myself out there in case someone I don’t even know calls me an idiot on Twitter or my opinion inadvertently offends.

These feelings go all the way back to my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. B–. No hard feelings Mrs. B, but I can still hear your voice calling me a misfit and saying that I can’t go to Jekyll Island on a field trip because I’ll cause trouble. Later, kids from my high school reinforced this perception when they said I was a wash-up who wouldn’t amount to much. That was if I even made it out alive. Am I the only one with a Mrs. B? I think a lot of us have a hater/motivator that continues to taunt. The Great Accelerant brought the ghosts of my past back to my bedside.

Whenever these feelings surface, I remind myself of giants who know how to stand tall. Those who already figured out how to accelerate their lives. People like Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why; Kristen Hadeed, founder, speaker, and author of Permission to Screw Up; Seth Godin, who writes and speaks at length about marketing, amongst other topics; Brené Brown, with her groundbreaking research on vulnerability (side note: if you’re curious about vulnerability or happiness, I urge you to read everything Brené Brown has ever written, spoken about, or shared  -  I’m a total fanboy). I’ve long admired all of these people - not because they are famous, but because they’re unafraid to cast their perspectives into the spotlight.

Marianne Williamson (and others) had a few thoughts on the theme of fear and the bonds that hold us back. She famously said: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. When we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

Today, I have a coach who puts voices like Mrs. B’s into perspective. She reminds me, “You’re not going to become a success. You are a success.”

I promise you, there’s a flame burning right now in all of us. The Great Accelerant is gasoline for this flame.

We can see the change spreading like wildfire through society. We’re breathing cleaner air, making fewer unnecessary trips, falling back in love with cooking, rediscovering our bodies through exercise and meditation, reconnecting with family and friends, making space for nature to coexist with us. Ali and I saw two, two, bald eagles the other day while out in the kayak at Newnans Lake Conservation Area! If humans primarily learn from experience, then we’ve just been given one masterclass in how good things could be if we simply make the change. 

Lockdown has done the same thing to businesses. The Great Accelerant has shown CEOs what happens when employees are trusted to work from home and can swap their commute for extra time with their families. Even companies who didn’t think it was a viable option have discovered new workflows. Zoom has shown us a fascinating window into the home lives of the people we do business with – views of their kitchens, bookshelves, and pets (I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been cat-bombed on video calls). Far from removing professionalism, this has created space for us to be human and bring our whole selves to work rather than just a professional veneer. 

Speaking as a CEO who was previously skeptical about remote working, we’re now considering hybrid situations for Parisleaf, where office attendance is optional. Who cares whether we have a warm body sitting in a chair from 9–5, as long as we’re achieving our greater goals? I realize now that, if we had done this years ago, we’d have retained so much talent that outgrew our city of Gainesville but didn’t necessarily want to leave Parisleaf. 

If you run a business with a large team, consider the benefits to the wellbeing of your employees and the financial savings that come from retaining talent. If you’ve invested in workplace culture and goodwill toward clients and suppliers, now is the time when that will pay dividends. 

If you add up all of these micro-changes, we can see the potential The Great Accelerant has. 

Entire industries and pillars of society have been shaken to the core. The impact is visible in the high streets and shopping malls, but it extends way deeper behind the closed doors and walls of every boardroom in America. Unicorns that have raised record-breaking funding to fuel the sharing economy are grinding to a halt. Because sharing most things right now, unfortunately, also poses a risk of sharing the virus. 

The Great Accelerant has ripped down the Silicon curtain to reveal the truth about many of our so-called disruptive tech companies. You know what would be truly disruptive right now? Not an app that allows you to hail a taxi from your phone or hook up for a one-night stand, but wearables that can identify coronavirus symptoms and help to stop its spread or manufacturing disposable health-friendly snorkels that can protect frontline workers. 

The kind of seismic changes that humanity needs require collaboration between tech and humans. So far, we’ve had the technological capabilities but not necessarily the inclination to challenge our human habits. Right now, we have both. For perhaps the first time, the majority of the tech and science industries around the world are focused on finding solutions that can improve our health and wellbeing. And we’re seeing a dramatic, humbling, selfless change in human behavior to go with it. 

When the history books are written, there will be a chapter about what happened in the year 2020. As well as hurting our businesses and causing us to self-isolate, this surreal period has magnified our strengths, faults, hopes, and fears right down to an individual level. Your experiences today will lead to previously unthinkable changes. 

It’s time to confront our despair, anger, and fear. But now, more than ever, we also need creativity, optimism, and altruism to replace the systems that have failed us.

This is the turning point. We have skipped forward 10 years in our attitudes to scientific research, banking, energy, retail, healthcare, urban planning, transport, education, and even government policy  – not just disrupting how quickly you can hail a cab or order a take-out pizza, but rebuilding the very systems that ultimately sustain our health, our society, our businesses, and the environment.

Our minds have never been more open. Let’s not write this off as a pause or another recession. Let’s use this opportunity to make up for lost time.