Last Sunday, I was in the French Quarter in New Orleans expecting to spend a few days with my family and visit some old friends. Given the conference cancellations, combined with the St. Patrick’s Day Celebration cancellations (including the wonderful New Orleans parades), we knew the foot traffic was going to be at a minimal. We came fully prepared to sanitize our hands continuously and maintain awareness of touching surface areas. The Coronavirus Pandemic had already started to impact the normalcy of the American public, but we had no idea we would witness firsthand the direct impact on the lives of people working in the French Quarter.
While foot traffic was low on Sunday afternoon, there were still people walking the streets and eating in the restaurants. I am sure many had plans to hit Bourbon Street later in the evening. Bourbon Street is not my personal attraction to the French Quarter, but it is a favorite for many visitors, and it is usually hopping with activity any day of the week. As we entered a restaurant on Royal Street, we heard the news that all restaurants would be closing at 9 pm and bars at midnight. As we placed our order and awaited for the food to arrive, we not only heard from our waitress how this would impact her directly (by minimizing her hours and tip income), but we could also hear the side conversations of the other workers. At this point, the workers had no idea what was coming the next day. They were generally irritated and concerned, but still employed. They had no idea their job would be in jeopardy in the next 24-hours.
On Monday, the Louisiana Governor announced all restaurants would be shifting to “take-out” only effective Tuesday, and bars would be closed permanently through April 13th. Wow! As we made our way around the French Quarter Tuesday (still practicing personal sanitation and social distancing), the conversations of the workers and management had shifted to deep concern of the unknown. Management was meeting in back rooms and trying to figure out what they would tell the employees. Employees had not been provided any direction regarding their jobs or if the restaurants could make the transition to take-out only. Formal restaurants were not set up for take-out. Literally, the irritation and lower level of concern the day before had transitioned to fear and shock.
For me and my family to witness massive numbers of hourly employees in retail, restaurants and hotels losing their jobs before our eyes was not in our vacation plan. Being able to talk to them individually and hear the level of concern in their voices for their livelihood is a memory that will stick with me the rest of my life. It wasn’t that they didn’t understand why the extreme measure was being taken, because they generally did. They were in fear for their own short-term future and they truly didn’t know what they were going to do. I am always pushing my followers to “know what your why is” (For example: WHY you want to be healthy as you grow older, WHY you want to be financially secure in your future), but the why in this case did not matter in the moment. While they were not physically sick, they clearly were concerned about their survival for just the next month. Everyone went to sleep on Monday night with no idea of what Tuesday morning would bring.
On Tuesday morning it was obvious, even in the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, staff had been minimized. The bellman station was unmanned, only one staff was behind the check-in desk and the infamous Rib Room Restaurant in the hotel was closed. As we ventured out on Royal Street, few individuals were walking around. Some retailers were remaining open to take advantage of the final revenue from the ones of us left in the French Quarter, but most had decided to close their doors with just a typed paper notification hung on the door. Bourbon Street was deserted and reminded me of post-Katrina. I could only begin to imagine the loss of revenue and wonder how many businesses would survive a full month of no customers. A few of the restaurants had acted quickly and made the conversion to take-out food with minimal staff.
The very restaurant we ate in on Sunday night (with the upset waitress concerned about her income) now had a fold-out table blocking their doorway. Customers could walk to the table to place their order, and the take-out would be brought to them without allowing them to enter the building. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the ones who were willing to get creative and figure out how to stay open until there were no more guests to serve. We would be departing on Wednesday morning, and I knew most other visitors would be as well. Then what? As the chairwoman of my city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau back home, I knew the tremendous impact this would have not only on my city, but all across the nation. The hospitality industry would be devastated, not to mention the trickle effect on all other local businesses.
So why am I sharing this story? Because as I watched this situation unfold and listened to the conversations of those workers in New Orleans, I saw an opportunity for change presenting itself. Many people are not thinking about much beyond survival at this moment. And while there will be a negative impact to millions, we will most certainly come out of this short-term set back. It may take years to fully recover, but we will recover - no doubt about it! I am always talking about the freedom that comes from being disciplined and having a life strategy plan. Unfortunately, not everyone gets it, or they choose not to get it because they prefer “living in the moment”. But what happens when “living in the moment” is put on pause indefinitely? What is Plan B? Is there even a plan at all?
As I witnessed these lives changed in just a 3-day period, I knew most of those individuals wished they had a plan to fall back on, but many did not. There is no need to look back and wish you had done things differently, but there is a tremendous opportunity coming out of this pandemic to make a change for your future. Not only determining your “why”, but strategically implementing a plan to make sure you are not caught off guard again, no matter what life brings. Life is not always predictable and sometimes it kicks us off our feet, but having a strategy gives you an immediate fallback position. Just over the last 20 years, we have had several national events that through our country for a loop: 9/11; Katrina and the mortgage crisis to name the top three. In my books, podcasts and videos, I constantly talk about “discipline leads to freedom”. I can’t begin to tell you the peace of mind that comes from sacrificing a bit on the front end to be able to not only weather the storm when it comes, but ultimately achieve your life dreams despite the many bumps in the road.
Take advantage of this time to think strategically about your life plan and goals. Ask yourself if you are utilizing your income and talents to maximize your life. If not, why not? When life resumes and normalcy is reestablished, what can you do differently to be better prepared for the unexpected?
1) Analyze your income: are you trained adequately for job security; could you cross- train to be positioned when cuts are made; can you shift easily to another position if your industry is negatively impacted?
2) Pull your bank statements: where does your money go; are you maximizing your savings; are you strategically investing in your future goals and dreams?
3) Define your WHY: why do you want to do the things you say you want to do: What is it that drives you and motivates you; does your job adequately fund your life dreams; what is your ultimate life goal(s)?
4) Determine what you can change: how do you position yourself to better control your circumstances; how much money can you save; where do you want to be in 5- years?
As difficult as it may be, don’t spend weeks focused on how you could have done things differently leading up to this crisis. Instead, focus on what you can do differently moving forward. Choose to see this short-term crisis as an opportunity to embrace permanent change that could impact your life over the next several decades. Being as prepared as possible for the unexpected is the greatest level of freedom. You are resilient and you will bounce back from any negative impact, even if it takes some time. Intentionally come out on the other side of this crisis positioned to skyrocket with a life strategy!
I am sending prayers for all impacted families from the illness and the unintended consequences of the pandemic to our great nation and the world. Stay healthy and positive. We will come back stronger than ever---we always do!
Remember, YOU ARE THE CEO OF YOUR OWN LIFE!