My Experience with Covid-19
A rising fever, cough, shortness of breath, body aches, sweats, congestion, chills with shaking…check, check, check.
As sick as I was, I knew I would be positive for COVID-19. And so, it was no surprise when the positive test result arrived.
Though we did not travel for the holidays, and I maintained social distancing, wore a mask, washed my hands, sanitized constantly, and disinfected everything, I found that the virus somehow invaded my space anyway. It did not listen to reason. I gave it no permission. It just came, uninvited, like some distant relatives that you’ve been warned not to let into the house. Somehow there they are, drinking your best wine and taking over the remote, and you don’t know how they even got in.
How was it?
Well, I’m envious of people who say that they barely registered a fever. For me, it was several days of battling a high fever and a myriad of symptoms. I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say that, when you are struggling with your health, you no longer have minor complaints. You don’t think about the annoying email you received; you don’t consider about how the pandemic is really cramping your style; you don’t think about a canceled concert or missed game. You just think about getting to the other side, waking up and breathing normally again.
I don’t recommend it.
Leadership Tip: Sharing personal challenges demonstrates vulnerability. Authentic vulnerability leads to higher trust.
As a corporate leader, I always try to be transparent and open in my communications. It may not completely stop the rumor mill, but I always like to close information gaps when possible. That’s why I decided immediately to share the news with my team and our organization’s employees.
When I first became a manager, I didn’t consider sharing personal stories. Personal challenges were to be left at home and business was business. During the course of my career, I learned that sharing the personal is often important. It humanizes and personalizes you as a leader. When others know who you really are and that you have the same emotions and challenges as everyone else, it helps build a bridge.
Leadership Tip: Transparent and open communication limits the rumor mill and increases trust.
I was not prepared for the flood of well wishes and positive notes I received in response to my openness. The emails and communications from employees kept coming for weeks. Not only did they care, but they shared their own stories from around the world. I learned about customers who were fighting COVID, heard from staff members who shared their own experiences and read stories about some who had lost the battle.
Many disclosed their own worries about family members. Some changed plans because of my note. People were deeply appreciative of the openness. I also personally benefited enormously from these communications. It gave me the privilege of seeing inside other people’s worlds, their challenges, their concerns, and their heartbreaks. I would never be able to have this before the pandemic in quite the same way.
Leadership Tip: Openness is the door to meaningful conversations and change.
I experienced first-hand what I already knew: that the care and concern was genuine and that these people were making a real difference in their own communities. Many shared how they had been helping neighbors, co-workers and community organizations. What a privilege it is to lead an organization with such amazing people who are so giving and caring.
It is vital to express gratefulness in times of stress and crisis. Here is part of a note I sent to our employees:
Thank you again for your kindness. And thank you for reaching out to your fellow associates, your neighbors, and all those in need during the COVID pandemic. Our world seems to be tearing itself apart with hostility and opposing camps in the news. It is encouraging to witness the opposite—kindness and overwhelming care.
Leadership Tip: What you will learn from being vulnerable will surprise you.
Though I hesitated to share my COVID diagnosis, I decided to be vulnerable. Earlier in the year, I also shared the heartbreak of losing my mom suddenly and unexpectedly. That made it an unusual year for me to share personal news. I have learned that being authentic when we are “not ok” builds trust and relationship.
Many of my colleagues were vulnerable in response. There was an interesting theme that emerged from my sharing, and it was unexpected.
There were several who had already contracted COVID who surprisingly felt an enormous amount of guilt. Let me share a few (anonymized) excerpts:
Skip, I want to thank you for sharing this communication, being transparent about your experience, and urging everyone to continue to take Covid19 seriously. I’m hoping you are feeling better and that your family is also doing well. When I saw your message, while I was of course surprised and concerned I also felt a sense of…a letting go of…shame…. There was some sense of frustration, guilt, worry…. But what I didn’t realize until I read your email to our organization, is that I also carried with me some amount of shame that we would get this virus. I’m thankful that you shared your truth and the reminder that this virus is so voracious and tricky. It made me feel like we weren’t alone, even Skip experienced this scary situation, and that I didn’t need to hide or feel shame about what we’ve experienced.
Here’s another one:
Skip, I did not realize the weight I had been carrying around on my shoulders because my family contracted this virus. We did everything we could to avoid it. I felt awful. What did we do wrong? Who gave it to us? We couldn’t even answer those questions. Just knowing what you went through made me feel better in some weird way. Thank you for doing that for all of us.
I have many journalist friends trying to do their best in unprecedented times. I wonder whether there is an underlying message that many media outlets are communicating: if you get COVID, it’s your fault for not protecting your family. You must have taken a short-cut or didn’t follow the rules. It makes people feel guilty when the reality is you can get this virus even if you try your best to follow all the rules.
There are many lessons that I learned from my battle with COVID. I am very appreciative of being able to take a deep breath. I am more understanding when someone contracts the virus. I see the value of family, friends, and a supportive team.
I am also convinced that COVID offers us important lessons in humanity. It is a powerful equalizer and a reminder that each of us is human and vulnerable. We have the same hopes and concerns. We all have families that we worry about, and we all have the opportunity to help someone else along the way.
And in a time of polarization, of political fighting, of racial injustice, and challenges ranging from natural disasters to bombs exploding in Nashville on Christmas morning, we have the opportunity to combat it all with love for our family, neighbors and co-workers.
By taking a risk and sharing my own vulnerability, I was able to connect with others in a personal way that would have been unlikely or impossible otherwise. I had the privilege of a view into other worlds as people shared their challenges and fears. In so many ways, this pandemic has driven us apart and isolated many, but my experience shows that we long for connection and hope.
I have great faith that we will emerge from this time in history with the realization that it is a privilege to live on this planet and that we are all truly in it together. May you stay healthy and safe. And may you be inspired to connect and care in new ways in 2021.
Skip Prichard is the CEO of OCLC, Inc. headquartered in Dublin, Ohio. OCLC is an information technology organization providing management systems, discovery, cataloging, resource sharing and digital services to global libraries of all types. OCLC also delivers original research, user studies and community programs for its global members.
“I am also convinced that COVID offers us important lessons in humanity. It is a powerful equalizer and a reminder that each of us is human and vulnerable.” -Skip Prichard
Image Credit: Prasesh Shiwakoti (Lomash)