Is COVID-19 a Prison or Did It Set You Free?

May you live in interesting times.” — A CURSE

The saying above is meant to be a curse (**scroll down for more on its origin) and yet at first, it seems so appealing to live in “interesting” times.  After all, who would ever knowingly choose to be bored?  No doubt, we are living in interesting times today though, and I imagine that most people would take a good dose of boredom in a heartbeat.  Many people claim the curse about “interesting times” to be of Asian origin.  This sort of dichotomy is common in many areas of Asian philosophy and life (yin & yang, sweet & sour).  Actually, such Newtonian “equal and opposite” forces can be found everywhere.

There is a mother of a 1-year old in my business, who was able to spend months of unexpected quality time with her baby son...which was great..until it wasn’t.  I can personally attest to her great sense of relief when we started coming back into the office.  Maybe you are excited to stop working from home, but what about that punishing daily commute through rush hour traffic?

Yes, COVID-19 has prevented you from going to some of your favorite restaurants and bars as you have been instructed to “shelter in place,” but how much money did you save by eating at home?  Did you learn some new recipes?  Perhaps you discovered your own personal “Joy of Cooking”.  Dark clouds and silver linings do seem to come hand-in-hand.

I am grateful that the investment industry was not hit as hard as many others since a great deal of what we do can be achieved remotely.  Besides a brief but severe dip in market values, our practice didn’t see much of a disruption in revenue.  What we did see, however, was an interruption in our ability to grow. In our business, the first few weeks of being “locked down” were a bit scary because we simply were not meeting new clients or opening new accounts.  The silence was deafening.

There were plenty of reasons for this.  The traditional way of starting a relationship with an investment professional had usually involved looking someone in the eye and shaking their hand.  These avenues were closed off during the age of COVID-19.  Beyond these logistical difficulties were the psychological adjustments that people were making to the unknown features of a new world.  As one person explained to me that they simply felt powerless as a small participant in such a worldwide event.  If not physically, they were mentally trapped in an invisible COVID-19 Prison.

Those early days feel like forever ago, even though it has only been a few months.  Today, it feels like we are already living in a different world in many ways.  We are building new relationships and opening new accounts again.  Out of the most recent eleven new client relationships, only two of them have met me in person.  Modern technology and the infinite ability of people to adapt to changing times have opened up new opportunities for everyone.  

Today, roughly half our business is with clients out of state, so it might not be surprising that a new client who lives over 3,000 miles away may not have chosen to come to shake hands and sit on my couch.  The exciting thing to me is the new client, who I haven’t met, that lives less than 15 miles away!  This person is working full-time in an essential profession.  He could come to see us, and we would welcome him (taking proper precautions, of course).  He just chooses not to.  He works hard for long hours and wants to spend as much time as he can at home with his family, not driving to the next town over for a meeting.

Just as so many businesses have adapted to delivering “contactless” service, many consumers have discovered that they do not “need” to physically appear in so many places, simply because that is the way things had always been.  In a strange way, COVID-19 had set them free from several self-imposed constraints.  Many of these were things that they weren’t even aware of a few short months ago.  You don’t need to walk inside your bank.  You don’t need to leave your house to get a good meal.  For some people, you might not even need to get out of your pajamas to go work!  

COVID-19 is nothing to be grateful for.  This pandemic has cost the world a great deal of pain, and we are not out of the woods yet.  We do have a choice though.  We can choose to dwell on the mental prison of COVID-19 or occasionally pause to recognize the ways in which it has set us free.  I have every faith that there will come a day when this virus is a thing of the past, but the freedoms we have discovered may serve us for the rest of our lives.

Related: The Good News We Need (Found Through Human Experimentation)