A couple of months ago, any one of us could have started a sentence with “When this is over,” and chances are, no one except your family or close friends might have known what personal problem you were referring to. Now, everyone knows what it refers to: COVID-19. For many of us, it’s personal on some level. We’ve had a friend or family member or acquaintance who was sick with it, or died from it, or maybe you’ve personally been sick with it.
At this point, no one knows when “it” will be over…”it” meaning the effects on society. There are millions of Americans out of work due to shutdowns of “non-essential” businesses. There are shortages in grocery stores…every day on my social media, I am still seeing people who can’t find a roll of toilet paper. This is Easter Sunday, and millions of Americans who would otherwise be at church are at home watching a service on television or a streaming service on the Internet. Some churches are holding parking lot services where the congregants remain in their cars.
I’ve had a lot of private messages from massage therapists asking my opinion on when we’ll be back to work. The short answer is, I don’t know. Nobody knows. I live in NC, and the governor ordered things shut down until April 30. I personally believe it will be extended beyond that, and even if it isn’t, I will probably wait several weeks beyond the date that it is lifted to go back to work. I’m the suspicious type, as well as one who errs on the side of caution, and I fear a “back to work” decision from the government that is based on economics instead of actual safety.
We tend to think in terms of ourselves and our own occupation and our own lives. There may be no intention of being selfish or self-centered, but that’s the way things are. In reality, there are going to be a lot of businesses, of every type, that do not survive this shutdown. Your favorite restaurant, coffeehouse, or bar may be forced out of business. Your neighborhood florist, art gallery, or gym that is privately owned and not part of a big chain may be gone. While some landlords are giving rent relief, others are not. Some business owners simply cannot pay rent for several months when they don’t have money flowing into the business to cover that cost. In fairness, some landlords count on their rent money to make ends meet themselves.
For many massage therapists (and others), once the shutdown is over, this will be like starting all over at square one. While many may have faithful clients that can’t wait to come back, we have to consider that many of our self-employed clients, or those who work in businesses deemed non-essential, may be in the same boat we’re in: unemployment checks are not coming in yet, but the bills keep piling up. A lot of people may have to choose between getting a massage or trying to catch up on their bills.
For those who are self-employed, and ICs (many of whom are misclassified, but that’s another story altogether), this situation may cause you to rethink your employment circumstances. Those who are employees have had a much easier time signing up for unemployment. While the federal government has announced the intention to extend unemployment payments to self-employed and ICs, most state unemployment websites have been waiting on instructions from the feds to get that started. NC’s website states that it is expected to be in place by April 25 for self-employed and ICs to file. If you don’t have a cash cushion, that’s a big financial strain for those who are waiting.
Anytime you choose to be self-employed, you’re taking personal risks. If you’re using independent contractors in your business, they (and you, if you have them misclassified) are also taking a personal risk. Ask yourself if you could live for 6 months without money coming in. If the answer is no, rethink your decision about your work circumstances. Go over your budget and see where you can cut expenses in order to save money. Maybe that means doing without stopping for coffee on the way to work every morning or doing without eating out. Or giving up your addiction to new shoes, or carefully tracking the mindless spending most of us do. I recently saw a meme pointing out that spending 27.35 per day adds up to $10,000 in one year. Using an app like EveryDollar can help you see where your money is actually going.
Many people are just one paycheck away from total disaster. I’ve been there myself in years gone by. This isn’t meant to be negative; it’s meant to be a reality check. We don’t know how long this is going to last, but it’s already evident that many people are in big trouble. It’s a good idea, when the world returns to some semblance of normalcy, to treat this as an opportunity to start over with a plan to be better prepared, so the next emergency doesn’t knock you flat.
It’s also a fact that at the end of our lives, none of us are going to say “I wish I had worked more.” We’ll be wishing we had taken more time to stop and smell the roses, spent more time appreciating our families, had more quality time with our spouse, or learned to play the flute or paint or whatever you think you never have time for. If you have that time now, just do it. While you’re adding up your problems, don’t forget to add up your blessings.
In closing, I express my gratitude to all the medical personnel who are on the front lines, and the essential workers who are enabling us to still go to the grocery store, the gas station, and wherever else we NEED to go. I’ve found out in the past couple of months that I don’t need to go near as many places as I thought I did. Bless all who are sick and suffering and all those who have lost loved ones. Bless you all and may you remain safe and well.