To survive this pandemic, we need to build new resiliency

By Michael J Aumock   April 27, 2020 | 11:30 pm PT
The Covid 19 pandemic has introduced the world to a new set of challenges that is both unfamiliar and daunting.
Michael J Aumock

Michael J Aumock

With businesses closing, unemployment rapidly rising around the globe, people terrified to leave their homes, and a general sense of discomfort about what the future holds for anyone, the uncertainty is almost tangible as it hangs in the air and punctuates every conversation.

And while we won’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for weeks or even months, I want to share a few things that I have learned up to this point, about humanity, resiliency and how to deal with extended discomfort in our lives, and living with fewer freedoms than we are accustomed to.

The global financial crisis in 2008 nearly destroyed me. It certainly did financially, it cost me every penny I had in the bank and nearly my soul.

I've written about it several times and discussed mostly the tangible things I experienced going from "rich to poor".

I also learned a great deal about myself, about the way the world works, and about how sometimes, people who you never expected to come through for you can save your life and your sanity.

I want to share my thoughts and experiences so that you might be able to get emotionally ahead of what's coming, and mentally prepare yourselves for some of the ups and downs you might experience due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. Some will lose a little. Some will lose a great deal. Some will think they’ve lost everything.

I don't mean to sound like I'm pontificating. I’m not.

However, I happen to be in the unique position to be both willing and able to share what I have learned.

It's not actually losing everything, but it sure feels like it. You get separated from friends because you can't afford to socialize in that financial circle any more. Maybe you lose a car or two or your ski-house or your beach house.

Or all of the above.

Its painful, and confusing and frustrating. It’s terribly embarrassing.

You were rich, and now you’re not?

And for a lot of people, it’s happening again, but unlike 12 years ago, there are people who went through it and remember what it was like. Don’t be afraid. You will survive, but it will be easier if you prepare yourself mentally for whatever sacrifices you have to make.

A woman sits in front of a store shut down due to Covid-19 in Hanoi, March 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

A woman sits in front of a fashion store shut down due to Covid-19 in Hanoi, March 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

One of the biggest things that I struggled with was my confidence. I used to be one of those guys who turned heads when I walked into the room. My self-confidence was palpable. Three years after Lehman Bros went belly-up, I was working in a car wash. My self-confidence, self-image, and comfort with the unknown was destroyed.

If I can give you one piece of advice, it's don't let the events in the coming months define you as a person. If you are successful today, then you can get there again. So don't panic.

First, you are not a failure.

You might have gotten your butt kicked by the market, by the government or by timing and even by your bad decisions... but if you pick yourself up, you haven't failed. Even if you lose all your material possessions, your home and your car(s), your artwork and your designer furniture. If you get up and take even half a step forward, you are not a failure. That's when resiliency begins.

But how? How the hell are you supposed to find the strength to do that when everything that you worked for your whole life up until now is disintegrating before your very eyes? (And quite likely taking a cherished relationship or two with it.)

It's simple, but not easy.

Second, develop resiliency.

How do you develop resiliency? Decide to get up. Understand that it will hurt, but you can take the pain. You MUST take the pain. Convince yourself though any mental means you can summon that it must be done. Tell yourself that the pain of not doing it will be far worse than any discomfort you might experience by taking action.

If you fail again, get up again. Learn from your previous efforts. Look at yourself with honesty and see your own truths. Develop little games with yourself where you force yourself to do things that you don't want to, or are afraid to do, but are the right things to do.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Because I think we are all going to be uncomfortable for a long time. But...

Third, don't blame yourself.

I did.

I lost a lot of money, not all of it was mine. My family tried not to blame me, but the damage was done. I started down a dark road of self-loathing, self-doubt, and depression. And SHAME... I was ashamed of my situation. I was trying to take responsibility, but the fix was in, and it really wasn’t my fault. A lot of people a lot smarter than me lost a lot more money than I did.

It wasn't until I saw the film "The Big Short" in 2015 that I began to see exactly how out of my control my personal crash and burn was. I was sick to my stomach the first time I watched it. Even accounting for poetic license, it felt real. But it also gave me the space in my head that I needed to forgive myself for what happened.

This Covid-19 is just like that. Only not man-made.

This is a hydra with as many heads as there are smartphones, and it's out of your control.

I'm pretty sure that life will never again be like it was in the fall of 2019. Too many businesses will have failed. Too many millennials will experience real hardship for the first time and bury themselves in their headphones and hoodies for comfort. But they shouldn't beat themselves up.

None of us should.

Those of us who saw this coming and have been shouted down time and again for trying to sound the alarm- maybe we should have tried harder, but we didn't fail mankind. And mankind didn't fail us... Human nature was simply being true to itself.

But as humans, we want to blame someone, and if there's nobody to realistically point a finger at, we begin to question ourselves. We start to let self-doubt creep into our conversations and replay bad things over and over in our heads, as if we had something to do with them. Whether it’s loss of a job or a loved one, even if they caught Covid-19 from you, you can't blame yourself.

The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 is going to be the worst thing most of us ever experience, and it’s not your fault.

Forgive yourself and move forward.

So we find ourselves again, at the brink of something bad. It's out of my hands and it's out of your hands. Don't blame yourself (or anyone else, for that matter). It does no good. You are responsible for you, and the resilient among us not only accept that, they revel in that responsibility. Once again, I'm poised to lose "everything" only this time in a country that doesn't speak English, and doesn't have safety net. But, I am unafraid.

I will turn and face it. And then I will square my shoulders and walk forward. I hope you will too.

*Michael J Aumock is a businessman operating in Vietnam and some other Southeast Asian markets. The opinions expressed are his own.

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