A few weeks ago, I logged off, set my out of office, geared up, and joined my adult children and a friend to kayak Devil’s River, 4 hours due west of Austin. It’s an intimidating river, not for the faint of heart - the rapids are serious, the rattlers even more so - but one of the cleanest and clearest rivers in Texas.
But you must pack in everything you need and pack out everything you use, even your own sh*t - so we had everything we’d need for a 17 mile trip, nothing more, nothing less.
It hadn’t even been 24 hours when my shoes - the wrong shoes, clearly - began to fall apart. Did you know duct tape makes decent water shoes? I certainly couldn’t Amazon Prime myself new ones - there was no cell service, and I don’t think their drones get out to the Devil’s River.
I slept on dirt and stared at stars. I watched endless fish play underneath my kayak in the aquarium-clear waters. My heartbeat slowed. There are only 10 people a day allowed on the river; we saw just two others. It was the ultimate social distancing, not just from people, but from everything.
Slow it down
I launched Dare Capital this January. Our letterhead was barely dry before the pandemic lockdowns began. Since then, I’ve spent all my waking hours doing whatever I can to help business owners keep their employees, pivot to new opportunities, and sometimes, just listening & telling them not to panic.
The whiplash was the hardest. Many business owners - me included! - went from chugging and hustling to an initial disorientation. “When will this be over?” we asked ourselves, asked the news, asked our friends. We were all wrong. And eventually, we would embrace uncertainty as much as possible.
But it’s hard - we aren’t built for uncertainty, and it stresses us out. Social media, too, has been a boon - love these quarantine concerts! - and a stressful curse. “Doomscrolling” became something we didn’t want to do but couldn’t resist. As always, social media keeps us hooked on conflict and dopamine, chaos and dire predictions.
But quarantine has given us opportunities, too. Those of you who are parents know this - you may hope your kids go back to school this fall, but this time has allowed many parents to connect with their kids in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in another summer. Parks have become a refuge. Even walking around my neighborhood, you feel the slowdown - more people strumming guitars on porches, kids playing in yards, families walking together at a safe distance.
Nature has proven benefits. We know that just walking in a forest can lower your cortisol - a stress hormone. Stress is an underlying cause of many other ailments; just lowering stress levels can mitigate headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, arthritis, and many other ailments.
We have evolved technologically, but our emotional intelligence hasn’t kept up. We aren’t built for news alerts and social media notifications every 15 minutes. Our coping mechanisms aren’t built for doomscrolling.
I remember the first time I saw the California redwoods, some of them over 2,000 years old. Looking up at those ancient giants, you feel your insignificance. Humans have been here 7 billion years; pandemic may feel new to us, but it’s not new to our existence. And we are making progress, so much progress - even though it might not feel that way on social media.
From panic to pivot
Last week, I led a conversation on manufacturing with two friends, an investor & the CEO of a repurposed shipping container company. The CEO talked about the initial weeks of the pandemic, when panic was the top emotion. “I panicked,” he admits. “My first reaction was to shut things down.”
But then he slowed down. He asked his sales team to go back to all their existing customers, and just call them up and listen, really listen. How were they feeling? Where were their needs? How could his business help?
So he reset, and pivoted. One grocery store chain noted how much of their business was curbside these days - and they started getting them container structures to expand their curbside business.
“If you build your business up & really focus on the customer, continue questioning your assumptions, continue deep listening to your customer, you’ll find opportunities,” the investor, Robert Conley, says.
Let yourself slow down and listen. In business, but even more importantly, in your life. Grow something. Camp somewhere. And please, give yourself the gift of turning off your phone.
The “fintouch” mindset
Technology is great, but it needs to be demoted. It’s our servant, not our master. I’ve talked before about how fintech has trained some customers to think in terms of fast cash and easy money; and how different the outcomes are when you have the opportunity to listen to your customers and build a long-term relationship with them.
The only rule, the only thing that matters now, is the golden rule. Let’s all “dare to give.” And let’s commit to using this time to reset our priorities, reset our relationship with our phones, reset our relationship with our family, reset our experience with nature.
I’m going to be posting weekly on my “quarantine reset” time for the week. It might just be yoga; for my wife, it’s gardening; for you, it might be a nightly walk, or learning a new skill. Will you join me?
Cole Harmonson is the CEO & co-founder of Dare Capital.