The business of surviving the coronavirus

For many, the coronavirus covid-19 is having a brutal impact. Many will lose their jobs and the self employed will see a substantial drop in business. For some, whose jobs require face to face interaction their income will have dropped to zero. There was very little time to plan for this. The Finns call it Sisu. It’s the ability to keep going even when there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s to take the approach that whilst it feels like you will not prevail, you still hunker down and keep grafting not knowing when it’s going to end.

What I have noticed when people do give up is that there is always a reason that generally has little to do with them. The computer crashed, or, the manager let me down, or I got an injury and couldn’t carry on. It’s very rarely “I wasn’t good enough” or “I realised I didn’t have what it takes”. Being able to blame something or someone else feels a lot better than coming to terms with one’s own limitations. You cannot, however, excuse your way to success. In blaming others, there is very little opportunity for growth. Very little opportunity to develop resilience. To be resilient is to respond to a potentially traumatic event in a way that, whilst it may be very challenging and possibly result in failure, you learn and grow from the experience and become more able to cope in the future. Surviving the coronavirus is not going to be easy and a great many people will simply find it overwhelming and succumb to the financial, social and psychological pressures created by this pandemic. We should not be critical of these people. We all have varying degrees of tolerance of pressure and different appetites for risk. I accept that in extremis, the experience may be so traumatic that it becomes permanently damaging and it is not a question of Sisu, but survival. For many of us, in very demanding or difficult situations, how we choose to respond is a choice. How do you choose to decide to persevere rather than to find the excuse and give up? 

My sense is it begins with a strong connection with the goal you are trying to achieve. The more it matters to you, the more you may be willing to tolerate. Therefore ensuring you really understand why the goal is important to you and what you hope it will bring is the first step to preparing yourself to demonstrate Sisu when the time comes. Secondly, it’s useful if the goal is more than a binary “did it” or “did not do it”. By having a range, it allows you to maintain the effort for the next best outcome rather than no outcome at all. For example, when thinking about a race, a simple binary objective might be to win the race. But if halfway through it looks like you’re going to lose, do you then stop and give up? Or do you keep going? If the goal was broken down into sub goals, such as:

  1. Winning the race
  2. Being the first placed age grouper
  3. Beating a personal best time
  4. Completing the race

The equivalent for the self employed may be:

  • Creating a market leading business
  • Operating in multiple markets
  • Running a profitable business
  • Covering the costs

Now there are options such that when misfortune falls and affects what you can achieve, there are always the secondary goals to aim for. And who knows how things can pan out? Today, may require you to scale back your ambition and go into survival mode, but nothing lasts forever, it’s a question of getting through the next few months.

Another way that can help is to break things down into the smallest of steps. As the adage goes, a thousand mile journey begins with the first step. By working out the smallest steps you can take, at least you are continuing to make progress. Given the current crisis, all your work may have stopped, but it doesn’t stop you doing some networking. Another small step might be to examine your outgoings and identify costs you can cut and so keep the business going for longer. Mini goals are really useful especially when the goal can be so overwhelming and so huge as to seem impossible and as a result, we cannot get our head around the enormity of the challenge and so we give up. Instead, if we park the goal in the back of our mind and focus on the simple things we can do right now then we get to feel a sense of accomplishment that can fuel the drive to keep going.

So no matter how great the challenge, in the first instance make sure you have a goal that is something that really matters to you, give yourself gold, silver and bronze options such that there is always something to aim for. Secondly, no matter how hard it gets, think of the Finns and their national trait of Sisu and decide to keep going even though it seems impossible. Dream of that goal to help you get through the dark times. And in the deepest darkest moments, focus on the simple things you can do right now to keep things progressing. Enough small steps will add up to finding a way through this crisis, stronger, better able to cope with whatever the future brings..

© 2020 Dominic Irvine. All rights asserted.