I’ve spoken to a number of you over the past week. I’ve seen your expletive-filled social media posts. I’ve read your letters to the editor.
I understand your anger, frustration, and general incredulousness that some of your fellow citizens are violating stay-at-home orders to protest those very orders in numerous cities, including my home of Denver. And I know it doesn’t help that the President is encouraging these protests, many of which are thinly veiled “AstroTurf” Trump/MAGA rallies. I get it.
Therefore, I’m not writing this letter to dismiss or dispute your emotional reactions to these protests. Nor am I attempting to defend those protests.
What I AM asking you to do is to look beyond the protests, protesters, and organizers and try to focus on the message behind them. Because I’ve also spent the past few weeks talking to countless small-business owners, many of whom are diehard liberals who can’t stand the President and his supporters who attend these rallies. But they covertly and passionately agree with the protesters’ message that the government-imposed stay-at-home policies and forced business closures must end soon. Otherwise, these small-business owners are ruined…financially, psychologically, and spiritually.
To better help you understand their perspective, let me share a personal and painful story.
In 2009 I was forced to declare bankruptcy because of the Great Recession. Up until late 2008, my organizational and leadership consulting business had been fairly successful. I wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I had been able to pay my bills and make a decent living.
However, like most small-business owners and entrepreneurs, I had started my business with my own credit cards. And like many Americans at that time, I also had too much consumer debt as well. Consequently, when my incoming revenue dried up, it didn’t take long for outgoing expenses to overwhelm me.
I can’t explain to you how humiliating and painful the bankruptcy process was. I’ll spare you the details of numerous sleepless nights, feelings of complete and utter failure, the embarrassment of reaching out to my network and literally begging for work, and — yes — even suicidal thoughts. Without the love and support of my wife and close friends, I’m not sure I would have made it.
What I will say is that I experienced all of these feelings without the added pressure of having other employees to worry about. Nor did I have small children to feed, clothe, and otherwise provide for. I can’t imagine the extra pressure those things would have added.
But I come from a long line of stubborn Germans. Throw in the natural tenacity of an endurance athlete, and I not only survived — I thrived. I rebranded my business. I doubled my marketing and networking efforts. Most importantly, I instituted a disciplined and extremely conservative cash-management approach that included paying off credit cards every month and saving an aggressive amount of my income — just in case another “once-in-a-lifetime” Great Recession should occur again.
Consequently, my business is in an okay place during the current economic meltdown — even though my wife and I have lost 80–90% of our income through at least the end of June. But I’m definitely the exception, not the rule.
In just the past few days, I have spoken to a number of small-business owners who have already accepted the inevitable and decided they will not re-open when allowed to. I’ve spoken to others who will make it if, and only if, their SBA loans are approved. And I’ve spoken with still others whose loans were approved, but they’re still uncertain if that will be enough.
Many of these business owners DO (or did) have employees to worry about. Many of these business owners DO have small children they still need to feed, clothe, and otherwise provide for.
So, when you hear people expressing concerns about the tremendous effects these state-mandated policies are having on the economy, try not to think of the President, these protesters, large corporations, or Wall St. Instead, I’d ask you to consider the local mom & pop restaurant you love…the small hair-cutting or nail salon you visit regularly…the dog groomer/walker who takes such loving care of your four-legged family members…your neighbors who may not be your neighbors for long if they can’t keep their homes and businesses.
There are multiple types of death. Of course, there is the literal kind. And my heart aches for anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one during this pandemic. Also, I do not support a rapid mass opening in a rush to “get back to normal” — a rash move that would undoubtedly result in a spike in illnesses and literal deaths.
But there are other types of death and grieving. And if you’ve never personally experienced the death of your lifelong dream to own your own successful business…never felt the death of your confidence and competence as a parent responsible for the well-being of your children…never grieved over the feelings that you’ve let down your employees who now are as financially adrift as you are…then maybe you shouldn’t comment on how horrible people are for thinking of the economy at a time like this.
Because it’s really easy to change your social-media profiles to a temporary “Stay at Home…It Saves Lives” frame — or rant about the “covidiots” who want to open up the economy before you think it’s time to — when you’re still fully employed, still have health insurance, and are simply working from home full time instead of part time.
Maybe…just maybe…you could try to see the situation through the eyes of the millions of your fellow Americans who are completely and utterly lost right now. Their businesses have failed (or will). Their debts are piling up. Their stress levels and thoughts of despair are elevated to dangerous levels. Their feelings of hope for the future are at their lowest. For while you sit there and “tsk, tsk” at anyone worried about the economy right now (including the protesters you ridicule and loathe) I can tell you from personal experience that there are a lot of small-business owners dealing with the worst depression of their lives and even contemplating suicide.
“There but for the grace of God go I,” indeed…