How I’m Navigating The Coronavirus Pandemic
Now that we're over one month into this, I think it's time to speak up. I had been trying to go on a diet of social media and message boards, but I can't help but try to shed some alternative thinking where it might be needed. As with most things, take what I have to say with a grain of salt, and at the same time I hope my message resonates with everyone.
This virus is a front kick straight to the testicles. I've lived through the financial crisis, was in high school during 9/11 and wanted to immediately run to the USMC recruiter and start sniping Al Qaeda, been at a firm that closed its doors promptly after moving to a new city where I knew no one, lived through hurricanes with weekslong power outages (SE USA remember), and so on and so on. During all prior crises, we were able to huddle together as a community (especially during natural disasters), we were able to get away from it all with a vacation that was preplanned, or even just get a brew at the local pub with your mates. Social distancing has nuked our normal coping mechanisms, and that sucks, no two ways about it. So, with a new normal with no end in sight, how should we think about this?
Respect. It's easy to get snippy during this time, particularly if you're living with roommates, have young children at home, live in a cramped apartment, this is not going to be as easy as someone who has only their spouse, a couple dogs, and a nice house. Lead with respect. We're all stressed during this time, that's not to say you're not allowed to feel stress, just that you're not alone, so treat others with respect now more than ever. What does this mean specifically? It means exercising patience in long grocery lines, it means not doing burpees during your roommates morning conference call, it means not hoarding food and supplies just because you have the money to do so. More than the golden rule, treat people the way they wish to be treated. And if you're unsure, ask. Say something like "what are some things we can do to make this time more bearable, if not fun?" You will be surprised what you hear.
I've seen a lot of political banter on this virus, presumably because Trump is disagreeing with many within the medical community and has focused his concerns on the potential economic impacts rather than solely on public health. Now is not the time for this. If you enjoy discussions among family members or friends, that's totally fine, just keep it civil. Nobody knows for sure what is going to happen. Even trained virologists' statements are just opinions based on years of experience. Models can only be so helpful, so while you should tend to lean on scientific opinions rather than those of your uncle's facebook, have some humility. You don't know much more than the next person, so if you choose to argue about this, have some humility. Also ask yourself this question, maybe in your head, maybe aloud – by continuing this argument/discussion, what do I hope to gain? Newsflash: you aren't going to change many people's minds, if any whatsoever. Are you arguing with strangers just so people upvote your post online? Because you want to "win" an argument with your superior knowledge? Reflecting on your reasons for engaging others on politics will hopefully cause you to lessen how much a part of your life this is.
I follow a lot of people on twitter of the Nassim Taleb variety, I'm sure you all have similar circles of people you follow. Mine are an odd bunch, they love putting out papers on complex systems and how shocks like CV are mayhem on systems. They use their platform to yell and scream at politicians, intellectuals, and others trying to belittle the virus or if they enact measures that do not agree with their work. They may be correct, but now is not the time for nastiness. I've seen nastiness on the part of people like them, I've seen nastiness in my own working team with people taking different attitudes to social distancing (some not leaving their homes at all and chastising others for their actions), I've seen nastiness on the part of people in favorable financial positions saying "well, you should've had an emergency fund" and the like. I am not saying you're not allowed to think those thoughts. I am not saying that you are incorrect, you may very well be correct. I ask you this: what good does that accomplish? Does someone who just got furloughed really need to hear you say they should keep 6 months of living expenses in cash? They know that, they feel shitty about it already, give them a hug (virtually), share some kindness, we can talk about personal finance later.
This isn't that bad in the US. We still have running water. We still have electricity. We have technology that allows for communicating in ways never thought possible. I remember when cell phones had limits on minutes, texting was like toll roads (you paid per text after your limit), group chats were nonexistent, and video chatting was unheard of outside of major news companies. Some people on this forum and elsewhere have lost your jobs. I am sorry for you, that sucks, no two ways about it. Companies are still hiring, so dust yourselves off and get out there. This is no the Great Depression where everyone is laying people off. Some areas are experiencing food shortages, I am sorry for you. I am lucky enough to live in the SE where we're close to our food at all times, but for those of you in SF, NYC, and more, I feel very sorry for you. That said, you are still in the USA. You are not riding this crisis out in Tehran, this is not Ebola in the Sudan, this is not MERS in Syria. Take a moment and focus on the positive things of your life, and you might just change your perspective.
5. State of mind
Even if you're an optimist like me, this period has proved challenging, particularly for extroverts. I cherish the ability to go to one of my favorite bars, chat hockey with my favorite bartender, help the girl who makes margaritas out with school/life decisions, stuff like that. I miss that, there's no sugarcoating it. Does that mean I'm entitled to be depressed? Absolutely, I am not telling you to not feel the emotions your body wants to feel. It's more harmful in my opinion to sweep everything under the rug. Does that mean I'm entitled to stay depressed? FUCK NO.
One of my favorite ideas from Viktor Frankl's book about his time in concentration camps is on state of mind. The gist is this: everything can be taken from you, money, power, possessions, food, freedom, dignity. What can never be taken is your own mind's reaction to a situation, no matter how out of control you feel, you always have that power. Use it. Focus on what you can do, not what's been taken away. Recognize that spending countless hours fretting over things you cannot change is unproductive. Focus on things you have control over, and make your peace with the rest. I can't go to the gym anymore? GOOD, I'll adapt. I can't go to bars anymore and talk to friends? GOOD, I'll set up facetime dates with my bros. I can't go on that Memorial Day vacation anymore? GOOD, I'll make up for it later and spend the time I would've spent surfing doing other things. You are in control of your state of mind, no matter what your government, employer, friends, and loved ones say. You are allowed to feel all sorts of feelings, and depression is completely natural. You must, however, maintain the realization that you are still in control of your reaction to any situation, only you can decide how you use that power.
6. Physical wellness
This pandemic is uniquely shitty on bodybuilders, powerlifters, crossfitters, and everyone living in cramped quarters who is a gymgoer. If you had a specific 6 day split, were close to hitting a new 1RM or Murph time, I feel for you. My gym just got some nice new equipment, I was hitting some good numbers after an injury, the new years resolutioners were out so back to the normal regulars, and then this happened. GOOD. I'm fortunate that I have an empty 2 car garage, but I've been in shutdowns due to natural disasters when in a sub 700sqft living space, so let me share some thoughts. Run. No US state government can prevent you from going outside and exercising as long as you maintain social distancing. Do easy runs first, where you can have a conversation comfortably, put on a podcast or your favorite playlist, it's remarkably therapeutic. I am not a runner, I ran for fitness tests back when I was a lifeguard, would occasionally run on the beach if the family vacation got stressful, but it's not a hobby of mine. I've come to love it during all this nonsense.
Next, get a kettlebell or some exercise bands. Thankfully we live in a day and age where workout ideas are plentiful, so you don't have to go far. If you're a bodybuilder/powerlifter and don't have the ability to have a home gym, tough shit. You're going to get smaller if this pandemic continues, so make peace with that (see #5). Do what you can. You can't change your situation, but you can change your attitude. I was a fan of powerlifting once. I'd lifted relatively injury free for about 15 years, and then tore a back muscle. Squat PR? Shot. Deadlift PR? Obliterated. I could've easily stopped, rehabbed, allowed that muscle to turn into fat, but that's the wrong mindset. Focus on what you can do if you can't change what you cannot do. Finally, use this time to focus on your total health. I'm not a doctor, so can't say that a six pack and getting your macros right will protect your personal wellbeing from a virus, but what I can say is that the best defense against illness is a healthy individual. Lose that body fat with this found time, get your cardio endurance up, eat healthier since obtaining food is more difficult, the choice is yours.
7. Mental wellness
Similar to #5, we need to really be taking care of our own minds now more than ever. Call a friend, ask them how they're doing. Let them vent. You may not solve any problems, but people need to share their feelings. Call your family members (maybe not the crazy uncle who thinks this is a ploy to get Trump to lose in the fall), see how they're holding up. Tell them you miss them. Even if (like me) you don't see family all that often, it still counts. Also, turn off the news, it does you no good. I realize that if your job is in journalism, market commentary, etc., you can't do this. But the vast majority of you all watch far too much news. Sure, you can be up to speed on what Trump said on his latest presser, what the market is doing in reaction, what all of the moving parts of the stimulus bill are, what various states are doing to take action, the trendline of new cases in various countries, but what does that accomplish?
Seriously, ask yourself that: "what have I gained by knowing all of this news?" I would argue it does you no to limited good. The media on both sides are designed to agitate, not calm, because they need to sell ads, and panic and stress are good for business, and to have an election year with the most controversial president ever? This is a great time for MSM, and no I'm not just talking CNN/MSNBC, they're all guilty. Turn it off. My wife & I have been on a strict 30-60 minutes of local news in the morning combined with urgent alerts on our phone. I haven't missed anything of importance, and I work in markets, have to talk to people all day long about what to do with their money, so you would think I'm a news junkie. It doesn't help. Going on a news diet will help your mental clarity, how agitated you are with various topics du jour, and save you from conversations which accomplish nothing but flaring tempers (e.g. "did you see Trump's press conference last night, I can't believe him!" "no, I was watching Tiger Man on Netflix, I'd be happy to talk about that though").
How are you spending this time? If you're a banker, in CRE, or any part of finance that's not trading/AM, you're likely seeing less work. What're you doing with that time? Are you playing video games? Fine. Are you doing nothing? Fine. Everyone needs a battery reset every once in a while, but be sure you're being intentional with this time, you may never get an opportunity like this again. Keep waking up at the same time, discipline is important. Keep a steady schedule, keep working towards your goals, treat this as normal as you can. Don't booze it up every night, don't play video games like you were in high school for hours and hours and hours on end. You are getting a gift of found time by not having a commute, to put on a tie, and so forth, use it wisely. Be intentional. Don't just let this time go to waste by fucking around. Guess what? All of those people in your network are no longer doing business travel, attending conferences, and seeing clients in person. THEY HAVE TIME, USE IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE. What about that foreign language you've been wanting to pick up? I'm sure there are plenty of people on Italki willing to coach you for a fraction of the cost given the pandemic. What about that book you've been wanting to finish? No better time than now, so get after it kiddies, you can see this as an obstacle or an opportunity, choose wisely.
I've been relatively sane during all this, despite the massive hit markets and my income have taken, so you might wonder what have I been doing? I don't have all the answers, but I'm doing a couple things which have been helpful so far, I hope they help you too.
- Yoga. Not every day, but most days. Working from home has me sitting down more than I was before (no client meetings, no breaks for team meetings, just in a chair all day), and this has proven necessary.
- Meditation. If you haven't done it, now's the time to try. Focus on your breath, and let you mind wander. You may go to some crazy places, and maybe doing 30 minutes at once is too intense, so start with 5 minutes. It will help. All of the anecdotal evidence is true.
- Exercise. I've had to switch up my routine, but am still getting it in. Military workouts are great. Lots of pushups, pullups, air squats, lunges, running, and some kettlebell work. Got a barbell en route, so will be more normal soon, but this has tided me over.
- Maintaining Boundaries. Thankfully my clientele allow me to do this, but when I shut my laptop, work is done. just because it's around the corner from the couch doesn't mean I need to do it. It will be there tomorrow, and your brain needs the rest to ensure you're effective for the next day. Work will always be there, and you won't be effective if you're overworked.
- Keeping it light. I am now the proud owner of weeks' worth of Looney Tunes material, it's a wonderful break after a day counseling people, watching markets plunge, and the twittersphere go at each other's throats. I've also been exploring new music, taking more time in preparing meals (no commute to/from work and to/from gym, easy to spend 2 hours with a meal now), watching documentaries I never would've had the time for, stuff like that.
Above all else, you must maintain this mindset: this too shall pass. It is easier to doubt the human spirit than remain optimistic. As a country, we're at each other's throats politically. You're seeing generational agitation between millennials and Gen Z who want to party while their parents and grandparents fear for their lives. You have twitter bodybuilders telling people that their morbidity is their fault because they didn't take care of themselves. You have Trump and you have Trump Derangement. You have supposed democracies showing just how draconian their legal systems are (I would've never imagined an Italy where you're not allowed to take a stroll).
You have the scientific community telling us this will only get worse. You have the prospect of 20% unemployment (even if for a short time). We are staring down the barrel of the first recession since 2008, and potentially one as bad as or worse than that. But let me ask you this: when have we, as a species, never come back? If you zoom out from the beginning of Homo Sapiens to the present day, it's been an upward sloping trend in terms of progress. We're not perfect, we could've done certain things better, and yes, crises will kick us in the dick and force us to reevaluate, maybe even take 10 steps backward before we can move forward, but we will move forward, I firmly believe that.
If I can help anyone in this forum on any of the above or if you have further questions, I'm happy to do so.
All the best,