I may be Pollyanna searching for silver linings in a Covid cloud but I am noticing reinventions by default. Indeed, if you or your business have not been impacted by coronavirus, you are either delusional or extremely privileged. For most of us, there has been some impact, forcing a different way of working at the least. But aside from essential workers in supermarkets and the like actually being appreciated, I am observing a few people, who despite being radically impacted financially, have emerged in a good space.
They are members of my own family and were in the first sector decimated – the travel industry.
We are grafters in my family, with little tolerance to negativity or whining, preferring to just get on with things. One of my sisters is particularly good at being resourceful and frugal, a trait she inherited from my father who, in his 70s, famously did Japan on $20 a day, including a beer. I have always thought she was born in the wrong era and would have thrived having to ‘make do’ in the Depression. Put it this way, she revelled in making jam through the autumn lockdown, using fruit she foraged on her daily run.
She and her husband have run a flourishing travel business for years, sending many wealthy clients on luxury holidays and taking calls 24/7 when luggage didn’t appear on carousels in remote corners of the globe. Suddenly, the whole thing unravelled. While they were initially swamped with clients seeking refunds and repatriating their adult children, business was soon reduced to a trickle. Like others, the first lockdown brought some relief with government support and good weather, but soon they had to face the music. They wasted no time responding to their circumstances. After downscaling their business premises and reluctantly reducing head count, they got on with the business of financial survival with a certain gusto.
Expert in outbound luxury holiday and high-end business travel, my brother-in-law figured that clients would still want to get out and enjoy a holiday. So he flew to Queenstown and visited tour operators who collectively were facing financial ruin. Soon he had put together package deals using as many of these local suppliers as he could. Within a few weeks, four Queenstown/Fiordland high-end fully catered tours sold out, and he’s now on to luxury bike tours. He is also running a side hustle painting baches, where he simultaneously gets to travel and enjoy the sunshine.
Meanwhile my sister, who likes to be busy and industrious, immediately signed up for training to be a Healthline worker, as did many others in the travel industry, fielding calls from worried citizens. She found the whole thing fascinating, and moved on to working for the Electoral Commisison. Below her pay grade? Who cares! She is more interested in the realisation that at 58 and after 40 years in the same industry, she does have extraordinarily transferrable skills. She has never once mentioned ageism in employment and due to her happy disposition and willingness to roll up her sleeves, she is also now working two days a week at my husband’s television production company as an assistant. The team loves having a mature person with initiative and wisdom who also has skills in logistics and operations. Because she is curious and willing to learn, a new career in production management may be calling.
When I asked her and her husband how they are feeling about being in a second act by default, they only report upsides. She has a sense of liberation – having always served her clients with 100 per cent care and loyalty, she now gets evenings and weekends to herself. He reflects on how he has been released from endless supplier meetings and the seminars that often occurred after business hours. “It turns out that most of the time I might have been chasing my own tail,” he told me. “Now I get to go to the gym at a reasonable hour and start work at 10. Whether I am working from the boot of a car or a bach I am painting, no one cares.” And they are finally getting to use a stack of free luxury weekends at lodges around New Zealand — prizes won for industry excellence that they rarely had the free time to take up. Of course, I understand the devastating impact of Covid-19. But when things are taken out of your control, it is good to remember that the only thing you have mastery over is the way you handle a situation. And there can be a renewed sense of optimism to be found within that.
This article originally appeared in the Nov 2020 issue of The Hobson Magazine