Tried and True Advice for Making Big Decisions During a Crisis
What difficult choices are confronting you during this crisis?
We are now going through an epic crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen in our lifetimes unless you’re a hundred years old. I’m observing with amazement the changes many of my friends and acquaintances are initiating. People are picking up and moving across the country.
They’re quitting their jobs or giving up on job searches. They’re liquidating their inventories at ridiculously low prices. Shutting stores.
Closing businesses. Furloughing employees. Selling homes. To be sure, many of these moves have been necessary, but some have not.
This matters because change is difficult and expensive, and it should not be undertaken lightly, from a place of fear, or worse, greed. It brings to mind some advice I gave my mother in the past when she was going through her own crises, at least two of them. I outline my steps below for making decisions when you are afraid and your world seems to be falling apart.
My mom’s first major crisis happened when my dad died from congestive heart failure at the young age of forty seven. I’ve already outlived him and honestly, it’s something I think about almost every day.
My dad always wanted to live on a farm. When I was ten years old, we finally moved to the place where his dream came true. Several years later, we moved to an even bigger farm with nearly 100 acres of bucolic fields and streams.
He gave it the perfect name, Misty Hill Farm because the morning fog lay heavily on our mountain.
My mom, who never really imagined living the country life, had fallen in love with the routines and rituals of it. She embraced riding horses, raising vegetables and tending fruit trees.
She looked out the front window every morning to see the sun rise over the barn, and out the back every evening to see the sun set in all its orange glory, the rays peeking through the corn stalks of summer and snow drifts of winter.
To my mom’s credit, and with my little brother’s help, she stepped up and learned about farming when my dad passed away. Soon after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I always suspected that the stress of losing her husband at the tender age of forty six contributed to her illness.
Mom recovered from her cancer and ran the farm in an exemplary way. She built it and its wealth over the years. Misty Hill Farm not only raised horses and beef cattle, but also crops of oats, corn, wheat and soybeans. The hay and alfalfa were unparalleled. Lucrative gas wells were drilled.
Timber was sold to the Amish.
An airport was declared, a plane bought and a hangar built. An indoor horse arena and stalls were constructed, each one housing purebred inhabitants with names like Famous Amos and Low Jet Adams.
Twenty years later, while visiting me in Los Angeles, my mom felt another lump while taking a shower. She was in L.A. for my surprise birthday party, and didn’t want to tell me and spoil the fun. A few weeks later she called with the awful news that it was cancer. Again.
Mom told me she decided to sell the farm. The chemotherapy made her sick and weak; she didn’t think that she would ever be strong enough to continue working. I implored her to reconsider, that it was not a good idea to make such a life-changing decision during a vulnerable time.
I suggested that she wait until the rounds of chemotherapy were over to see how she felt. I told her that she loved her farm and no one should make a big decision during a crisis.
She took my advice and waited. When my mom went into remission, she was extremely happy that she had not sold the farm, and still lives there happily to this day.
Sometimes, quick decision-making is called for in a crisis. Running businesses for many years, I have weathered some pretty difficult storms and operated and at times pivoted successfully through many crises: 9/11, the Great Recession of 2009, the current Novel Coronavirus Pandemic, the downfall of brick and mortar retail, and various other twists and turns in the economy and in my industry.
My friend and bookkeeper recently called me a financial cockroach, and it was probably one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. She said I have always survived whatever financial calamity fell upon me. And it’s true.
During some of my tumultuous times, expedient action was required. Close stores. Borrow money. Change business models. Hire consultants. Shut down divisions.
Change suppliers. But, when I was able, I always tried to wait until things settled down first, so I could make an intelligent decision from my head and not an emotional one from my heart. I followed my own advice I had given my mom all those years ago, which can be hard to do.
However, I’ve learned a couple tips to help me make sure I am not overreacting during a crisis.
Since most of us are now going through the current pandemic crisis together, I’ll share them in the hopes they may help you.
- Give yourself some time. Like I told Mom, rushing into something when you are afraid almost never works out the way you want it.
- Trust in yourself and the universe. Have faith that things will work out the way they’re supposed to. They usually do.
- Be strategic. Put together a road map that makes sense and write it down. Anticipate various outcomes based on different choices. Plan. Plan. Plan.
- Crunch the numbers. So many of life’s important decisions can be approached with a cost benefit analysis. It may sound cold, but the truth is in the numbers.
- Brainstorm and write down all the pros in one column and the cons in another. See where that leads you.
- Ask for help. My mom enlisted the help of her friends, horse boarders and family to do the day-to-day tasks that running a farm involves. Before deciding to close your store, ask your landlord for rent relief. What’s he or she going to do? Evict you and rent it out to someone else? Now? Ask for help from your bank, your credit card companies, your government. It’s hard to ask for help, but the worst that can happen is a, “No.”
- Don’t depend on others to make your decision for you. There’s a difference between delegating and abdicating. You have to make tough decisions for yourself. Gather all the information you can. Crunch the numbers. Do the pros and cons. By all means ask other people for their help and their opinion, but at the end of the day, you have to make the call. Own it.
- Research and read. Many companies and organizations have lived through crises. A great series to consult is, “Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges,” by management consultants, McKinsey & Company. I recommend an article within this series that lists and combines some of my suggestions with their own ideas: “Decision making in uncertain times.”
Take comfort by looking at my mom. She went from a young widow to a successful landowner, farmer, and entrepreneur. She’s now in her 80s and I want you to know that she’s still doing well. And she told me to tell you, “Don’t ever bet the farm.”
What difficult choices are confronting you during this crisis? Have you made any major decisions? I’d like to hear from you.
Originally published on medium.
Children's book author with Random House. Writer on Medium about entrepreneurship and economic @cynthiawylie. Believer in the power of stories. Writer for hire for children's brands, dolls and toys. www.cynthiawylie.com