In September 2007, my business-partner husband and I were in London, UK. We had just arrived from Chennai, India, after a visit to our offshore production team. We were spending a few days in the city before heading north to my aunt’s bed and breakfast in Yorkshire.
I remember sitting on the bed in our hotel room, watching news coverage of the bank run on Northern Rock. I can still picture footage of people lined up outside various bank branches, waiting to get in and withdraw their cash.
I made a mental note.
About a month later, I realized that my husband was having an affair. I was devastated. Even so, I chose not to deal with it immediately. I knew that neither I, nor the business, was prepared to deal with such a major issue given the business challenges we were managing at that time. It wasn’t that I was in denial; I just wasn’t ready to face what I anticipated would be an existential crisis for both our marriage and our business. And who knows—maybe I could win him back.
But I did make a mental note.
In January 2008, I brought in Scott, a temporary CFO. I wanted his recommendation on selling the company, winding down the company, or repositioning us to be better aligned with where we believed publishing was headed. We had a plan and a way forward; could we find the capital?
Two weeks after Scott came on board, one of my former employees met me at a Starbucks to bring my husband’s affair to my attention. He was surprised that I already knew. But when I left that meeting, it was clear. I couldn’t ignore the affair anymore. I had to deal with it. And I began doing so that day.
My husband and I took a month to decide our personal futures. The third partner in our business, along with our leadership team, took over.
And when my husband and I came back, now separated but fully intending to work together, there was the Great Recession. It only magnified our multitude of challenges.
It was about that time that I stopped making mental notes and started writing things down. I started recording what I was seeing, experiencing, learning. Amidst the pain and turmoil, I wanted to capture what was happening because I knew—to the depths of my soul—that I was not the first, nor would I be the last business owner dealing with a personal and professional life turned upside down. Surely someday what I learned would be of use to someone else.
Ten years later, I have the raw materials for a book. I have over 1 million words trapped in either Word or Scrivener files. I have 62 handwritten journals. Probably 4,000 index cards. Years’ worth of daily examens. A few book proposal drafts. And many false starts.
Yet, no book.
I tried many times over the years to finish it. And I couldn’t find the energy. These were boom times; who would want such a thing? Any time I talked about it, people would look at me with pity, thinking I was still stuck in my past.
Maybe so. Maybe not. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time. I didn’t have real people, feeling real fear, facing the prospect of real loss in real time. Now I do.
Now is the time to resurrect the project. Now is the time to bring this work forth.
I believe that this project—with a working title of Closing Shop—will be of help to someone, someday, maybe even in the next six to twelve months. It will likely take that long to sort the diamonds from the detritus. And it will take at least that long for the coronavirus to exact its full and potentially lethal effect on the businesses and families in its wake.
Like a sculptor approaching a virgin chunk of marble, it will take time and care to chisel away the parts and portions that do not form the image I see in my mind.
But people need help now. So while I’m sussing out my larger vision, I’m going to post some content here, relative to “closing shop,” leading in anxious times, managing in transition and uncertainty, and other topics.
You’ll discover that I’m a hopeful person but not a cheerleader. I’m a truth-teller. I am more likely to give it to you straight than to sugarcoat a difficult situation. I believe that you are better equipped to make thoughtful decisions when you know what you are dealing with. Who was it that said, A leader’s job is to define reality?
Some of you reading this will, in fact, lose your business in the coming years. It won’t be just because of coronavirus, most likely, but coronavirus will be a factor.
Some of you reading this will, in fact, lose your marriage in the coming years. It won’t be just because of coronavirus, most likely, but coronavirus will be a factor.
Some of you reading this will, in fact, lose your fortune in the coming years. It won’t be just because of coronavirus, most likely, but coronavirus will be a factor.
Others of you will struggle, but make it. Your struggles won’t be just because of coronavirus, most likely, but coronavirus will be a factor.
And others of you will thrive in this environment. It won’t be just because of coronavirus, most likely, but coronavirus will be a factor.
It’s possible that you will lose your business, your marriage, your fortune. All of it. And that you’ll make it. You will thrive. Believe me. It is possible. It is possible to hold all of these together, at one time.
My hope is that somehow, in some way, I may be of service to you. That my learnings and discoveries will be put to good use. That you may be strengthened and resourced as you navigate these troubling times.
Friends, colleagues, fearful ones, courageous ones—I want and hope the best for you. I pray that your life and your business will be spared. That your loved ones will be safe.
Even so, we are where we are.
Please know that even if the outcome is not ultimately what you hope for, this time is not wasted. Done well, this will be the most meaningful, most significant personal and professional growth opportunity you’ve ever experienced.
You—and those around you—are about to find out what you’re made of.
Not everyone will be happy with you. You’ll have to make difficult decisions and trade offs. You will have days of extreme fear and days of extreme exhilaration. There will be days when you feel creative, and days when your brain is dead.
On the wonderful days, notice and be thankful.
And on the difficult days, be graceful with yourself and others. And keep moving forward.
For now, take a deep breath. And hold on.
The train is leaving the station.