The Old Normal Wasn’t So Great. Let’s Ask Better Questions.

Why would we want to go back to a time that in fact wasn’t good for most of the population? We seem to be suffering from nostalgia for something that didn’t exist because uncertainty is so darned uncomfortable.

The scary truth

Not even $400 dollars in 2018…

Almost 40% of American adults wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings or a credit-card charge that they could quickly pay off, a Federal Reserve survey finds.

About 27% of those surveyed would need to borrow the money or sell something to come up with the $400 and an additional 12% would not be able to cover it at all, according to the Federal Reserve’s 2018 report on the economic well-being of U.S. households… [Source: 40% of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for emergency expenses: Federal Reserve.]

Unfortunately, the “good times” weren’t that good for half of us.

If people weren’t able to build up a nest egg during a boom, maybe this boom didn’t match its PR.

This statistic was the first thing I thought of as we started shutting down public venues, restaurants, bars, etc. to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

So, the $1,200 stimulus check in mid-April will be helpful, but it’s roughly equivalent to putting a Band-Aid on a head wound.

The small business owners, artists, and makers

I started receiving calls from panicked solo consultants almost immediately. Many had businesses that were already struggling and had no financial reserves.

There were multiple friends who had spent all of their money on their recent cancer treatment.

And then there were the contract employees who had been working, but who had experienced gaps of time in between their contracts for marketing product launches or managing ERP projects, and therefore had very little in reserve, and were staring at companies putting all future projects on hold for some undefined period of time.

My artist and musician friends were in a truly terrible spot because most of them never made more than a subsistence living. My heart truly hurt for them.

The current state

These are unprecedented times.

U.S. daily output has dipped by about 29% compared with the first week of March, according to data from Moody’s Analytics. The economic-analysis firm analyzed every U.S. county to see how coronavirus-linked closures have impacted output — eight in 10 U.S. counties are under lockdown orders, or nearly 96% of national output. For comparison, annual output fell 26% during the Great Depression (1929 to 1933), per Commerce Department data. Moody’s chief economist does not believe the 29% drop will be sustained, and some anticipate output to pick up again this summer or fall. [Source: Monica Fike, Editor at LinkedIn and this article in The Wall Street Journal.]

Hoping things will just go back to “normal” isn’t helpful.

We need to ask new and better questions, because while the long-term effects of this shutdown will be devastating, there will also be opportunity.

The real way we were

In truth, the way we were was disengaged. I kind of giggled at Gallup’s positioning this as good news, when in fact it’s dismal:

34% of U.S. workers are engaged, tying highest in Gallup’s history
“Actively disengaged” percentage is down to 13%, a new low
[Source Employee Engagement on the Rise in the U.S.

What does this mean? It means that almost half of employees give their engagement on the job a rating of “meh.” (This is my term.)

Only one-third of workers are engaged! Let that sink in for a while.

The way we were was stressed and exhausted with skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression. (I have the soul-crushing statistics about this on my Working and Well™ service page.)

And don’t even get me started on the issue of healthcare and being able to afford it as a solo professional or gig worker. This is truly our national disgrace.

The better questions

We’ve all been put in an extended global timeout. Everyone has different challenges and will cope with it differently.

Overall, I think we would be well served to ask ourselves what we want to take forward with us – and what we want to leave behind.

  • How do we want to work?
  • How much do we want to work?
  • How much flexibility do we want and need?
  • How do we address this healthcare issue so nobody is left without coverage?
  • How do we support our artists, musicians, and makers?
  • How do we nurture our own creativity?
  • How do we achieve some sort of livable blend of work, life, and family?
  • Do we want to go back to overworking and undersleeping?
  • Do we want to rejoin the cult of crazy busy?
  • Do we still believe that entrepreneurship is good and corporate is evil? (Or vice versa?)
  • Is a service economy viable over the long term?
  • Is our culture of consumerism viable – or desirable?

These are just a few questions that immediately jump to mind.

I have lots of questions and very few answers at this point. And maybe that is the blessing of this time.

Let’s decide what type of world we want to create. We have the opportunity to build something new by asking better questions.

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