When I graduated from college, I moved to Washington, D.C. I had no job and very little money, but a lot of ambition. A friend shared a one-bedroom apartment with me to keep costs low. We both took temp jobs to pay the bills while we looked for the perfect post-college job. Times were tough. I was not sure from week to week if I would have enough money for food, transportation and nightlife (let’s face it, nightlife was very important back then!). In fact, nothing was certain. I moved to D.C. on a wing and a prayer. Frankly, I look back now and am amazed that I took such a leap of faith.
My job situation was uncertain. With temp jobs it’s possible to not have work on any given day. My financial situation was precarious—I had no balance in my bank account, just enough to get by each day. I will never forget the day I arrived at the subway station to travel from Arlington into D.C. for work. I pulled out my wallet and realized I did not have enough money to pay for my subway ticket. There I was, a recent college grad, asking businessmen for money—essentially panhandling at the subway station. That was a new low for me—very humbling.
As uncertain as the times were, I knew there was great opportunity on the other side. I had great hope that the path forward would open—and I was not willing to give up on my dream of working in the nation’s capital.
Of course, here I am years later and still remember the lowest moment of my life. It truly did help build character. I do not believe I would be where I am today without having lived through those first six months in D.C., living paycheck to paycheck and pursuing a job in my field. It made me stronger, more resilient and—believe it or not—more optimistic. I am not sure how I stayed positive, but I knew that having traveled the road from a rural Pennsylvania town, to a small liberal arts college and then on to D.C., that there was no way I was going anywhere but up.
Throughout the past five months, each of us has experienced the deep uncertainty of living through the pandemic. Closing the country? Impossible. Everyone working from home? Unthinkable. The economy chugging along despite it all? Preposterous! Yet, here we are.
We are still in an incredibly uncertain time. In times like these, there is both opportunity and possibility. Maybe you have experienced the opportunity to slow down—a less frantic pace with less frequent business travel, less commute time, or less late nights. Maybe you have had more opportunities to connect with coworkers or network with contacts that you would typically only see at in-person gatherings, due to the increased use of video chat in recent months. You might be taking advantage of this time to focus on your health and exercise more. Maybe you have experienced the adage that crisis is the mother of invention—or innovation. Have you figured out new and better ways to accomplish work simply because you have had to? I know I have had to adapt.
The other possibility we have seen is that of human kindness and connection. We have seen the magical music making from balconies, support for our frontline workers (the true heroes!) and the flexing of student choral groups with virtual songs. Within CREW, our connections to one another and the support and value of our network has been more certain and steadfast than ever. All give us hope and a sense of connection during this isolating and uncertain time. And yes, we have seen a great deal of loss. The devastation of the pandemic on human life cannot be minimized. I know it has touched many of you.
While life remains uncertain—of this I am certain: If you embrace the possibilities and the opportunities of this time, you will build resilience, character and fortitude. If you stay connected to your CREW, you will continue to build your network and find new opportunities. You will bounce back from this uncertainty, as I did in my youth, and be a stronger leader, colleague and human. Your newly gained wisdom and fresh eyes will bring you new opportunities and growth. I cannot wait to watch you flourish!
Wendy Mann is the chief executive officer of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network and president of the CREW Network Foundation.
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