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4 stories of pandemic success that show possibility in adversity

These individuals found a way to build something new.

4 stories of pandemic success that show possibility in adversity
An artist works on an art installation in Union Square as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States on March 20, 2020 [Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images]

The pandemic and its resulting wave of isolation and economic uncertainty have taken their toll. Some people have found their mental health has suffered. Some have coped by engaging in unhealthy activities like substance abuse or working too much. Many of us are fearful about what comes next and how to protect themselves and their families.

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It’s important to note that much of the world is in the throes of a crisis now and simply continuing to exist and function during the pandemic is an accomplishment. So, if you haven’t launched a new business, written a novel, or baked a dozen loaves of bread, that’s okay. But hearing about how others have thrived in the midst of chaos can sometimes offer hope and inspiration. Here are four such stories of people who found a way to build something new.

Helping others find better-paying jobs

Last year, résumé writer Andrea Gerson took on a role where she taught 50 job counselors about résumé-writing strategies. The nonprofit with which she worked specialized in helping low-income people and those with barriers to employment find better-paying jobs. Gerson estimates that she has written roughly 7,500 résumés over her decade-long career. She had begun developing a software tool to help job counselors create customized, tailored résumés for various industries. But, without coding skills, she wasn’t sure how to finish it.

After the pandemic hit, Gerson looked into stimulus loan options provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and was able to secure a loan. With the added financial stability, the funds provided, she was able to hire a website developer and finish developing the tool, called RS Works. So far, six nonprofit job-assistance organizations have subscribed to the tool. Between the beta users and paid subscribers, her platform has helped roughly 200 people develop résumés. The tool covers roughly 50 industries and asks them specific questions highlighting sought-after skills in that sector. Gerson says that the preliminary feedback from users is that, even during the pandemic, those who are landing jobs are earning roughly 35% more.

Focusing on what’s possible

When California’s shelter-in-place order was announced in mid-March, leadership coach Suzanne Sibilla remembers “feeling stuck, overwhelmed, frightened, and anxious about the future.” Her husband had recently retired. Her business was suddenly “frozen.” And her son was struggling with the isolation and challenges of online schooling. In addition, their rental property tenant wanted his rent reduced by 40%.

Sibilla was scrolling through her Facebook feed and found the Rise Up Challenge group, which includes inspirational speakers and content. Hearing the well-known speakers discuss strategies for coping and ways to shift her mindset inspired her and gave her ideas to try. She worked with her son’s teachers to develop ways to help him adapt to online learning. She and her husband renegotiated a 20% rent reduction and longer-term lease with their tenant. On the professional front, she worked to line up new clients and even wrote an ebook,  Pivot YOU! 6 Powerful Steps to Thriving in Uncertain Times, that became a bestseller on Amazon.

By taking incremental steps to address the challenges that seemed insurmountable as a whole, she has been able to turn the pandemic into a period of growth. “I was able to shift my mindset from fear, anxiety, uncertainty to courage, strength, and abundance. It’s made all the difference,” she says.

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Making something beautiful a business

Living in hard-hit New York City, Patrick and Laura Connelly rarely left their apartment during the early days of the pandemic. Laura, a freelance artist, wanted to do something to give back. She put her freelance business on hold and gave away custom pet illustrations in exchange for donations to her local animal shelter. She raised $12,000 for the shelter and spiked interest in her business, as well. So, she and Patrick launched Stellar Villa to offer art commissions.

The timing was perfect, Patrick says. People were spending so much time at home, they were also investing in making their surroundings more comfortable and beautiful. Stellar Villa has a limited number of commission spots that it opens on the last day of the month. Each of the past five months have sold out within hours of opening. “We’ve actually had to turn people down and ask them to try again for a spot the next month,” Patrick says. In addition, Laura has continued working with the animal shelter, doing a weekly illustration of a pet that’s up for adoption. She features the pet on her Instagram page to help get the word out to potential adopters. “Our business has expanded to include much more than just pet related artwork, but we want to continue our efforts with this cause,” Patrick says.

Recovering with commitment to the greater good

After recovering from COVID-19, executive coach Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, emerged “with a new sense of purpose and a plan,” he says. His goal was to focus on three areas: Getting his career coaching expertise to a broader audience to help them find jobs, volunteering with his community in meaningful ways, and changing the logistics of how he worked with clients.

To accomplish the latter, he gave up his New York City office—a point of pride that he felt “legitimized” his business—since so many people were working remotely. “It just seemed kind of like a contradiction, almost a quaint, quaint notion to have an office when it really was not necessarily all that practical,” he says. Now, he channels “every dollar of his rent savings into the local pet shelter, food pantry, political candidates, disaster relief, the museum, and various other organizations in need,” he says. He also began to serve on the board of the South Fork Bakery, a nonprofit that provides training, development and employment for young adults with disabilities.

In addition to working virtually with clients, Cohen is doing webcasts and looking for new opportunities to share career advice with a broader audience. “You set a goal and it may feel impossible,” he says. “But, if you work hard enough at it, you can make it happen,” he says.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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