Quiet streets of Downtown Milwaukee amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just a couple weeks ago, the year 2020 seemed to hold so much promise for the City of Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Bucks appeared to be on their way to an NBA title. The city was ramping up to host the Democratic National Convention in July. The Ryder Cup would follow in September.
That was then. This is now.
Downtown Milwaukee is a ghost town. Fiserv Forum is vacant. The Milwaukee Public Market, restaurants, bars and theaters are closed. Buses are riderless. Entire office towers are empty.
This may be our new reality, but I sincerely hope it never becomes our new normal.
The chaos and bone-chilling fears generated by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have all of us searching our souls for answers and the way forward.
I’m afraid I don’t have the answers or the way forward. I’m afraid to even hold my sweet granddaughters or hug my dear mother.
My default setting when I greet an old friend or loved one has always been at least a handshake and often a hug or a kiss on the cheek. But now?
Social distancing, indeed.
For this week’s C-Level column, I’m going to share with you the most thoughtful, soulful post I’ve read on social media in a long, long time. It was written by Blair Williams, founder and president of WiRED Properties, a Milwaukee-based commercial real estate development company.
When I contacted Blair to compliment him on his amazing thesis, he thanked me and said, “When I sat down to write it, it just poured out of me. It was all in one take.”
I know that feeling. It feels like you’re just the messenger of a runaway higher calling passing through you. So, I’m going to stand out of Blair’s way. Enjoy the following heartfelt essay by Blair, shared with his permission, and may it inspire some deep reflections of your own as we attempt to navigate this unprecedented crisis – together.
In the meantime, may God bless the health care workers, the retail workers at grocery stores and pharmacies and the first responders who are keeping us alive.
TLDR (short for “Too Long; Didn’t Read): Love you. We got this.
March 17, 2020
“Normal” is always relative, and relatives are rarely normal. Truth.
“Things will never be the same again.” Absolute truth.
One year ago, today, I tore my ACL skiing in my favorite place on the planet (Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT). It felt like the world shifted below me. I’d never ski, or jump, or run, or chase my kids as if I hadn’t torn it. I’d spend a year recovering, rehabbing and re-prioritizing my life.
And, it turned out, I’d be better at the end than I was before that single moment.
Blair Williams points at the location on a Colorado ski hill where he injured his knee.
I’m a better person today than I was on March 16, 2019. That’s not to say I was a worse person then (damn logic). But I am of the mind that if we like who we are today, then we should accept every decision we’ve made in the past, for they are what made us who we are in the moment. Our next decisions are the ones that set us up for who we’ll become. Now, I know myself better. I love my family even more.
For a year, I’ve held March 17 (injury) and April 24 (surgery) as milestones in my life. I had a remarkable trip planned for 3/19 – 3/30 (for the golf nerds: Olympic Lake, Pasatiempo, Cypress Point) and an awesome family drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles from 3/23 – 3/30. It represented the culmination of my personal journey for the past year, and the kickoff to our year-long family celebration of me and Stacy celebrating each of our 50th birthdays, and 25 years of marriage. Our 125th celebration we called it.
Instead of any of that trip, I’m sequestered with my family at our house. Oh, and we’re scheduled to move on April 1st to a new house and close on the sale of our house on April 3. It’s entropy here. Boxes everywhere. Questions scattered like confetti across our lives. And I find it (perversely?) exhilarating.
I don’t believe for a moment that all change is good. But I do believe that nearly every change has a spectrum of potential outcomes that can include the good. My knee led me to re-prioritize the way I approach my personal and professional life. It made me look inward and dig deep to get healthier. Holistically. I am better because I tore up my knee and “lost” a year.
COVID-19 is not a good thing. It attacks our most vulnerable. The construct of our social networks offers dynamic vectors for infection to spread. The nature of our health care infrastructure leaves us perversely ill-equipped to deal with it. The dramatic measures required to slow its insidious path put our social and economic systems in great peril. It will take the lives of loved ones. And it will profoundly disrupt, distort and transform our socio-economic foundations.
I’d truly rather that we not go through any of this. We’re going through it. And it will get worse before it gets better.
There are only 5,000+ confirmed cases in the U.S. right now. It’s pretty unlikely any of us know someone in the .0015% of the population that has tested positive. But exponents are tricky little bastards. We will. Soon. Reagan said something like, “Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.” This recession is trading an “r” for a “d.”
Yet, I am optimistic. I have profound faith in us. Humans are resilient, adaptable, social animals. We live through hardship, adapt to those new conditions and gain strength from our community. Screw Ayn Rand. Furreal. This isn’t about me or I. This is about us. WE will be better on the other side.
We’re learning a lot about leadership. No politics intended. But consider that we’re watching with bated breath to see what our local business owners are choosing to do. What our municipality is doing about schools, or transit, or bars and restaurants and other businesses. We are seeing that all politics IS local.
Even more importantly, we’re learning about how we consider individual leadership. Are you committedly practicing social distancing? Thank you for leading by example. Are you still going out and finding rationalizations about why it’s ok for you to go out or gather? Shame on you. Be a leader.
This is not about you. It is about us. We are ALL leaders. Own it.
When we extrapolate from the individual to the group, or generalize from the group to the individual, we lose sight of what matters. WE matter. That means that you matter and I matter. We have a responsibility to each other because we are in this together.
And this is what drives my optimism. I believe that when we engage with our community and think about the individual and not our labels of them, we find our social true north. And that’s what we’ve always done as humans. We look for purpose. For the first time in a very long time, that purpose is actually communal. Our compasses will start to swing together.
I believe there will be profound ripple effects from this – in our society and in our businesses. I’m no futurist, but I have predictions. I will write about that next time. That said, I need to express these feelings first. Engagement is at my core. Most importantly, I believe that I am better to have you here.
We’ll never get “back to normal.” We shouldn’t want to. The old normal wasn’t good enough. We can do better. And we will.