Recalibrate: Shifting Expectations Amidst a Global Pandemic

Ethan kneeling with an apple on his head, with his wife and 2 sons. Pumpkins and bags of apples in the front

Going into 2020, I felt confident (and excited!) about what the year had in store for me as the founder of a start-up, a dad, and as a communications professional. I calibrated my expectations to what I believed would be a great year of building on a set of solid foundations. 

Like so many others, over the past eight months, I’ve faced an unimaginable amount of unpredictable change. And pretty much everything I once felt confident about has called for major recalibration. 

As a startup founder

As the founder of a growing start-up, the beginning of 2020 presented major challenges for my company and our team. The impact of COVID-19 shifted my focus and left me and the team disappointed about what no longer could be. Our team would no longer move to our new office as work went remote. Zoom calls replaced our in-person presentations at conferences that we’d spent so much time preparing. Worst of all, the sudden halt in the expansion of our team: we were no longer able to bring on new hires about whom we were so excited. 

My personal (and Integral’s) online presence suddenly became more important than in-person. Despite the sudden shift, we adjusted and adapted to our new reality and continue to push forward every day. Most importantly, I feel grateful that my team has not only been able to survive, but survive with dignity and even begin to thrive in these new circumstances. 

The recalibration: ‘growth’ during the pandemic takes on a new and more fundamental meaning apart from increasing revenue or adding new capabilities to Integral.

As a dad

The life of a CEO is life on the road. As a father of five- and eight-year-old sons, I found that the first two years leading Integral really bore that out. And as our growing client list called for travel to the West Coast, I soon reclaimed my spot in the upper echelon of frequent flyer programs. 

Yet as the pandemic slowed travel to a halt, I realized there’s a reverse correlation between my happiness and my frequent flyer status. I’d set my expectations around life on the road and missing time with my sons. Suddenly losing that coveted  ‘status’ led to a positive recalibration: more family time. 

My wife and I decided to lean into the change; we moved out of Brooklyn to Massachusetts for the year to take advantage of my being grounded.

The recalibration: When expectations get thrown up in the air, being grounded has an unexpected, but welcome upside.

As a Communications professional

As a communications professional and unrepentant people-person, I love conversation and meeting new folks. I love to listen to a personal story while sitting across from its teller. I enjoy the camaraderies formed at small gatherings after big conferences. And as an executive in an agency, having clients who confide in me feels like a rare and fulfilling privilege. Twenty-plus years of spontaneous moments have deeply enriched my network of relationships.

However during the pandemic, intentionality usurped serendipity; lockdowns and travel bans made it nearly impossible to spontaneously strike up a conversation after a conference. Now these conversations require extra work and may not really be possible without significant forethought. Yet with so many of my clients and colleagues working from home, simple phone conversations (occasionally overhearing someone do dishes or walk the dog talking) creates a different sense of intimacy. 

The recalibration: Forming real, valuable, meaningful and authentic connections without some of the crutches I’d come to rely upon is possible. A scheduled call may not seem spontaneous, but that doesn’t make it artifice.

Even as COVID-19 called for recalibrating these areas of my life, I feel grateful for the new adventures that have come along with it (to say nothing of the good health and immense privileges I’ve enjoyed.) Expectations change, and I’m learning that it’s best to look at obstacles as happening for me, not to me. 

Recalibration can mean accepting feelings of loss or grief for the expectations that have changed. It also means embracing new and enlarging experiences with hope for what’s to come.