The Critical Points: The upsides of quarantine

Each week in his column “The Critical Points,” TPG Loyalty and Engagement Editor Richard Kerr presents his opinion on a loyalty program, card product or recent news that he believes is overlooked, unsung or the result of groupthink taking mass opinion in a direction with which he doesn’t agree. His goal is not necessarily to convince you to agree with his position but rather to induce critical thought for each of the topics and positions he covers.

In the last four weeks, I’ve left my house in a car three times — each for short, pick-up orders. Besides that, my wife, two kids (ages 3 and 5) and I have been inside our house, in our yard or on occasional walks and bike rides on neighborhood sidewalks. I went from heavy travel over the last six months to putting on the proverbial parking break and throwing the keys in the back of the junk drawer. Travel is no more for many — and likely won’t resume for several months yet.

The downsides to the quick shift in our lives are discussed hourly in the news cycle. The economy is declining, jobs continue to be lost, human connection is craved and anxiety over becoming sick is ever-present. Unfortunately, home may be the last place some people want or need to be. I think the mental health effects from COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders will last for years, even though it has yet to even enter our regular discussions.

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That said, there are upsides to the last month that I’ve begun to recognize. Today, let’s reflect on the positive side of these times and recognize where we are, what we have and what we’ve learned.
Critiques and operational pauses
As many of you know, I spent nine years in the Navy as a logistics officer on a variety of platforms around the world. Any time something bad, unplanned or unexpected happens in the Navy, we like do a couple of things.

First, in the nuclear navy we hold a ‘critique’. This is a time to bring in all major stakeholders into a room, and for a period of 4-8 (very excruciating) hours, you recount the given incident in painstaking detail. The goal is to understand the root causes and to identify what corrective actions can be taken to ensure it never happens again. I once had the pleasure of holding a critique as the logistics officer when our entire submarine’s mattresses were left on the pier overnight — in the rain.

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Second, the navy likes to take operational pauses. In an unbelievably-packed schedule, this allows valuable time for ships and commands to conduct trainings and learn from specific incidents. These directives usually come in the form of a message or letter from the higher-ups at squadron headquarters or from admirals in our nation’s capitol.

Over the last month, I’ve thought over and over again that quarantine is like combining a critique and operational pause. The bigwigs in Washington, D.C. — and in my case, Atlanta — came down with a directive to stay home. Many of us finally have the time to take a deep breath and re-evaluate our surroundings, our relationships and our roles in our professional lives. In the past, the only time I typically had for reflection was below 10,000 feet when WiFi wasn’t working. Now, I have that time daily.

What can we study and learn now that we previously didn’t make time for? What corrective actions can we institute to better our lives?
In a time where you see only your family or roommate(s), it’s been surprisingly easy to work on relationships with friends and colleagues located far away.

Starting with family though, it has been very good to spend a lot of time with my two young kids. I’ve always been very involved with them (as anyone who follows my Instagram stories sees), but it’s been great to have time that isn’t interrupted by yet another trip to the airport. My son and I built a play set in our backyard together. I take my daughter on bike rides, where she tells me all about why worms are her favorite — and then shares what mommy said about me that morning.

Of course, we’ve had plenty of tough hours where they’re a bit stir-crazy as typical 3- and 5-year-old kids (and there will be many more). However, we are teaching them new things in daily school lessons, and I wouldn’t have had the time to enjoy these moments without quarantine.

My wife and I continue to support each other and manage the new life as a team, with one picking up the slack when we see the other needs a break — though we started learning chess this week, and in true form to my competitive spirit, I will show her no mercy on the board.

In quarantine, you notice friends, family and colleagues that check in. You pay attention to the people who really want to know how you’re doing. You try and be a better friend and family member by reaching out and being proactive. You reflect on your previous shortcomings and have a chance to correct them. You also see a few people’s true colors come out on social media, which is always fun.

There’s a surprising amount you can learn about relationships when physically separated.
There’s been plenty of time to gain perspective in a lot of arenas. Five weeks ago, I had the perspective that this was an over-hyped contagion that wouldn’t last. That opinion was certainly a swing and a miss, but it isn’t the only one I’ve re-evaluated as the situation has developed.

On a professional level, the entire TPG team has taken stock of what’s really important. On day one, leaders recognized that the environment was going to create a long, hard road, and they challenged each of us to adapt our approach and focus on what was mission-critical in our own roles. I’d previously spent an inordinate amount of time planning events, seminars and conferences to engage readership offline. With that gone and with travel not occurring, we’ve now spent all our time trying to gain perspective on what is important to you — our readers — and how we can help in a virtual world.

On a more macro level, I’ve certainly watched how different organizations, companies, civic groups and government entities have responded — including those in the travel industry. I’ve read about how other countries are handling the same problems the U.S. is facing, and I’ve tried to hit the reset button on a lot of my assumptions and biases. Without going into some of my new conclusions, I’ll say my perspectives have, at a high level, begun to shift.
Course corrections
While I can’t do much at a personal level to prevent the next pandemic, it’s important to take the good things we can contemplate in quarantine and recognize a few corrective actions we might need to take. I’ve decided to take the following steps in both my personal and professional life:
Lower our family’s fixed monthly expenses. Have you evaluated how many monthly subscriptions you have? It can be surprising when you list them all out. Sure, streaming services are important during quarantine, but really consider which are essential. Refinance our mortgage thanks to lower rates. There’s good progress here, as I locked in a 1% reduction in our interest rate with no closing costs (thanks USAA). Practice patience. I am inherently a very impatient person, and that serves less of a purpose now than ever. Balance work and rest. Work is a part of life, so I don’t believe in a work/life balance. Instead, I view the need for a work/rest balance, though I’m generally awful at it. I’m taking this time to truly enforce these boundaries and pace my daily work. Gain perspective. Through it all, I’m continually focusing on my own situation versus others and deciphering ways to help. Bottom line
Quarantine is hard, regardless of your situation. I recognize I am very fortunate in that I have my job, my family and a stable household, but this new reality creates challenges across the board. This will likely continue for weeks — or months — to come, so we should focus on the positive as much as we can.

Having no flights and no hotels booked is strange, and I will certainly hit the road hard when travel returns. For now, however, I’ll enjoy my life holed up in Georgia, including some more backyard camping and continued appreciation for how good we have it.

If you’re currently struggling mentally or physically, there are resources and avenues of help available. Don’t supress these feelings — please reach out to a friend or family member. If you don’t feel like there’s anyone to help you, I have personally used and found wonderful, licensed professionals there who can help. We all need to lean on each other during these uncertain times, so take the opportunity to explore what this means for you and your loved ones.
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