Each morning, I grab the next shirt in a long row of neatly pressed light-blue button-downs in my closet, my long-maintained work uniform for my startup’s office (and a uniform that I still embrace while working from home). On a shelf also within eyesight is a stack of neatly folded scrubs—my husband’s work uniform as an emergency medicine physician. They’re also blue, a dark royal blue.
In the years we’ve been together, our professional lives seemed to be universes apart. His work with patients is hands-on and face-to-face in the most trying of human circumstances, but it’s also shift-based, so it doesn’t come home with him.
I spend my hours behind a screen or in a conference room, and my work is always an inbox tap away. But we’ve always found common ground in the spikes of extremity that color both of our workflows.
His work is, very literally, a matter of life and death; my responsibility as a founder of a high-risk company has its own decision-making pressure, as I take responsibility for the livelihood of my employees. I’m under no pretense that our professions are truly comparable, but we find common ground by working with our own versions of high stakes.
In recent weeks, the stakes have never been higher. Now, our distinct professional experiences are linked by a shared sense of gravity.
His crisis is front and center, with the virus attacking the health of our most vulnerable family members, friends, and neighbors, among millions of others. It’s highlighted the gross deficiencies of our healthcare system and heightened partisanship with the price tag of human life.
My experience revolves around how the unfolding economic crisis threatens the way of life of whole industries and communities with long-lasting consequences. It will crush the dreams of business owners, threaten the ability for many parents to provide for their children, and undermine the most fundamental economic pillars of survival.
For weeks, my husband has watched with growing anxiety as the case numbers climbed, public officials failed to act, and his patients panicked. He puts himself at risk each day amid the epicenter of the pandemic while his colleagues fall sick, operational realities hamstring care delivery, and people die.
I’m feeling the impact of the pandemic on our work lives, firsthand. My startup delivers on-demand professional coaching to people, provided by companies as a benefit. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a tremendous spike in people booking same-day coaching sessions for support managing acute stress, navigating the communication pitfalls of teams working remotely, and struggling to be productive while working from home. I also have recession-induced fears closer to home. I worry as a small business (albeit with the benefit of cash reserves from venture capital) about our ability to survive. Most corporations have frozen budgets for new programs like ours, and those budgets will undoubtedly be slashed more in the months to come.
When my husband reads the news that the curve might be flattening in New York City, he worries about premature optimism that could lead to resurgence. He openly worries about his friends and colleagues on duty that day, prattling on about how they need to wear their PPE properly, keep certain channels closed, and follow logistical protocols to keep themselves safe.
When I read the news each day and see the mounting pile of headlines about layoffs, I worry that many people will underestimate the economic downturn ahead of us. I worry about my retired parents, along with my brother and two sisters who have lost their jobs in food service and retail, but who still have to pay rent. I worry about the shops and restaurants in my neighborhood that may never reopen. Finally, I worry about our cash flow in the upcoming months.
Despite the differences, the content of our fears and coping mechanisms somehow manifest similarly in how we strive for resilience and treat each other well as a couple.
My husband’s best days are when he saves a life or receives a note of gratitude from a family member. My reality is a quieter overture. My thank-you note comes in a form of comment in our app about how coaching helped one user gain self-control and perseverance. Individually, each of us finds strength in our impact in serving others, remembering why we do the work we do.
At the end of busy days, we strive to sanitize my husband’s scrubs—not the conversations between us. Despite our differing paths and professional uniforms, we are bound by similar experiences. Our clothes may be in different shades, but we’re both wearing blue.
Toby Hervey is the CEO and cofounder of Bravely. Before founding Bravely, Toby was a member of the founding team at Pager, an on-demand healthcare app. He began his career working for a number of high-growth startups including the Gilt Groupe.