Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. The planet is on lockdown. Businesses are closing daily — some for the short term, some for the rest of time. The news, regardless of its source, is a far cry from bright and cheery.
At first glance, you’d think a stay-at-home order would be no big deal. You stock up on food and snacks (and apparently toilet paper), make sure your Netflix subscription is paid up, and you curl up on the couch with the remote in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.
How bad could it be?
Turns out it’s exhausting. The unknown is a large contributor to the exhaustion and angst. When will the economy start to open? What will local, state and federal governments do? Will there be a vaccine or a cure? When will our lives return to normal? Huge questions, with no answers.
While there is a certain segment that believes the media and others are responsible for blowing this out of proportion, even the most devout conspiracy theorist cannot deny that people are getting sick. Some are dying. The worldwide economy is suffering.
At times it seems like there isn’t much hope. It’s all rather depressing.
Last week’s column
My column last week was about the insensitivity some are displaying during these trying times. Although the column focused on reactions to the news of industry layoffs, it was also a call for civility across the spectrum.
These are trying days. We’re all experiencing something like this for the first time. There are a lot of unknowns, people’s livelihoods are not just being thrown into chaos, but also, in some cases, everything is being ripped out from under us.
That column seemed to resonate with many. It received far more comments than is typical for an Inman column. The version on my blog was shared over 500 times. Many seemed to relate to it. A couple however, noted I was being overly negative — a fair assessment as it’s difficult to be positive when calling out astounding ignorance and lack of character.
The negative characterization got me thinking, wondering if there are positive aspects to this pandemic.
Huh? Can there be positive aspects to the coronavirus intrusion? What good could possibly come from all this? Wouldn’t we all be better off if none of this had ever happened?
Maybe, maybe not!
Turns out, there are some good things coming from the pandemic. Before I get into specifics, it’s important to understand that nothing written here is meant to diminish what’s going on all around us. I’m not one of those calling for the media to stop reporting grim news. I don’t want to see only positive news — that’s not realistic or safe. The bad and the ugly have to be reported alongside the good.
There is good though, and it’s important in these difficult times to reflect on the positive.
One of the first things I noticed as shelter-in-place orders began was a general shift in attitude. Yeah sure, those with nasty dispositions are, at times, going overboard with the negativity. But you know what else is happening? People are helping other people.
There are smiles and sincere greetings of “Good morning!” or “Good afternoon!” as you pass people on the street (while maintaining proper distancing, of course).
What has surfaced is a “we are all in this together” sort of attitude. It’s reminiscent of the days after 9/11. People pulling together to help each other.
In my little neighborhood group, there are almost daily offers of assistance ranging from running errands for folks stuck inside to handcrafting face masks. There are daily cheers happening in many cities to honor our medical responders.
Stories abound about personal relationships getting stronger. While there may be barriers to physical gatherings, we can — and do — communicate with others via voice, text and video.
I’ve done “Zoom happy hours” with friends I haven’t seen in ages. The corona-madness is driving us together, and that is a good thing.
From a business and economic perspective, people are starting to understand the importance of savings, of having cash reserves and robust contingency planning.
Individual contributors, how the vast majority of real estate agents are classified, are finally starting to get the respect they deserve when it comes to government stimulus packages, small business loans and unemployment insurance.
From world-class musicians to real estate consultants, many are offering free or steeply discounted services. Businesses from medical services to real estate sales are rapidly adjusting how they serve their customers. The use of video for everything from telehealth appointments to livestreaming open houses is exploding.
For many, this has become an opportunity for a fresh start. From layoffs come new careers. The ability to swiftly adapt to change is worth more than it ever was. I have friends practically redesigning their businesses and their lives, from the ground up.
If we’ve gained nothing from this ordeal, we have at least learned what makes some people tick, what drives people to act and behave the way they do.
Sometimes this newfound insight simply reinforces the notion that some things and some people, are best left out of our lives. Other times, we are enlightened and rejuvenated by what others do and how they act.
As Bob Dylan said sometime around 1965, “The times they are a-changin’.” We are living in a new age, one forced upon us. No one asked for this.
Although it might seem like the world is slowly imploding around us, what we have is an unprecedented opportunity. An opportunity to look back and reflect on the past and to look forward and make changes in our lives and business. An opportunity for a fresh slate, a new beginning.
We can seize the fear of the unknown, or we can use this opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start anew. There is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here, a chance to make good from an ugly and painful situation.
Go forth, drive change, find the good in this situation, be happy and stay healthy.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.
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