Finding the Heartbeat
March 12. Nobody is sleeping.
Everyone is refreshing the browsers on their phones every 60 seconds.
“We must stop the contagion,” says everyone.
“Yes, but how?” we ask meekly into the void.
We take out extra cash. We invest in new resources. We panic call everyone we know, looking for answers.
It’s not long before the blaming starts on social media. Someone circulates a petition.
“Are you affected?” everyone wants to know.
“No, thank god,” we whisper in response.
But we’re scared. Because we know not everyone is so lucky.
I write in my journal: “Every morning I wake up and the headlines look a little bit more like a post-apocalyptic novel.”
No, I’m not talking about the meltdown of SVB. I’m talking about when we all found out that Tom Hanks and his wife had COVID. March 12, 2020. The day the reality set in that we were entering into a global pandemic.
Eerie, isn’t it…
…to witness the meltdown of the most prolific financial institution of your industry exactly three years to the date from when we first learned that Tom Hanks had COVID-19?
Over the past few years, we’ve had more than a few at-bats with crisis management.There’s something to be said for the familiar pattern of crisis behaviors that set in.
- First, there’s shock: I can’t believe that just happened.
- Then, a peer-validated confirmation: Check Twitter. Call your friend. Text your CFO.
- Once it’s confirmed as a crisis by at least one other trusted source is when panic sets in. Cue: “We’re all gonna die” mode.
As we’ve seen in crises past, that’s when things tend to go off the rails. We panic buy toilet paper, take out wads of cash and shove it under our mattresses. We queue in line at Trader Joe’s for hours and stockpile canned beans and Clorox Wipes.
We continue to check with our peers, but mostly just to learn about the next impulse move we haven’t made yet.
“Did you wipe down all your groceries in the bathtub with a disinfectant wipe?”
“No! But I will now!”
We learn there are long lists of things to get done when no one has any clue what to do. Because something is always better than nothing…right? Even if, in my case, that something meant standing in line at Trader Joe’s with the best of them. Stocking up on so many groceries that you can’t even manage to carry them all home without calling on a neighbor to help.
These are the decisions we make when we lose our metronome. When the heartbeat of our days and our weeks is thrown into utter disarray. Typically, we need other people to bring us back.
The importance of the hyper-local community stands out more to me with every new crisis.
When things get bad “out there,” we look to those closest to us for comfort. In our trusted circle, for locals only.
The most obvious iteration of this phenomenon was in 2020, when we contained ourselves to our own homes for months on end. Suddenly the people who lived on our block were the only ones we had left to share advice from the outside world, divvy up a box of masks, or share which Duane Reade had toilet paper in stock. When we went outside to cheer on our essential workers, we snuck in a few smiles and waves with our newfound acquaintance — our neighbors — maybe for the first time.
Many moved home to be with those closest in their trusted circle. Those who didn’t found ways to forge immediate connection with those around them. My street, like many other hyper-local networks, created a now-vibrant WhatsApp group that is still in regular use today. Suddenly, creating block associations became more important than ever.
Why? Belonging is a basic human need. Nesting, that classic I’m-about-to-have-a-baby behavior, makes a comeback when we feel afraid. We find safety in what’s certain. We look for the heartbeat of who’s still keeping time, what’s still moving, who’s still blogging.
That we seek comfort in times of crisis isn’t new.
But each new crisis does mean that the heartbeat of what’s still there gets a bit harder to find.
I’ve heard a lot of people comparing what’s happening now to what happened in 2008. While I hadn’t yet graduated from college then (and therefore have no working memory of what the reverberations must have felt like in the job market), I do know what it felt like to enter an economy in 2009 and be unable to find a job.
To have a college degree in an industry that doesn’t have any vacancies. To apply to hundreds of jobs and hear back from none. I watched the alternative choices people made around me — to attach themselves to a larger corporate entity, to move to a smaller market and work their way up, to go back to school and wait it out, or to just take whatever job came your way. I know what it feels like to make trade-offs and to learn how to play the whole board vs. just the cards you’ve been dealt. I know it feels scary to make a decision you hadn’t planned on.
Since my dad worked in the automotive industry at the time, I also saw what it was like for an entire industry to reshuffle around you. I watched the change happen all at once, then slowly for years. I noticed how some people pivoted and how some did not.
And I suspect that some of this will happen again.
Maybe it’ll get a little bit scarier to work in tech. Maybe you’ll need to stomach more uncertainty, and grow a gut for pivoting. But scary in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, when things get weird, people get creative. When things break down, new ideas break through. We very well may be on the cusp of system-wide change for the better.
The only question is: Where do you want to be when it happens?
“Is the world really more unstable now than ever before?”
I asked my husband this weekend. “Or, is this just what it feels like to grow up?”
We’re driving in a Zipcar, heading out of the city, much like we used to do on pandemic-contained weekends in early 2020. Except this time we’ve got two additional heartbeats thumping away in carseats in the back seat. While the daily drumbeat of my life used to be going to school or going to work, the reality is, for me, right now — the thing that keeps me grounded is bedtime by 7 p.m. and a toddler jumping in our bed at 6:45 a.m. the next morning.
The constraints of consistency helps when things get weird. Maybe you’ve already found your heartbeat in a person, an organization, or another entity. Maybe you keep time for yourself, or with your family. But I think the sooner you can rediscover what that heartbeat feels like for you, the easier it’ll be to rebound and start the rebuild.