Writing In The Time Of Coronavirus

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Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

I am not one to panic during a crisis, but I am a bit of a hypochondriac. I do not delay the onset of pain and have myself checked right away. I spend an inordinate amount of time and money on health and wellness. I fill my body with antioxidants to insulate me from the dangers unintentionally imposed by the less health-conscious types who smoke or pollute the air in my presence.

I am obviously freaking out a little bit, now that a virus that typically originates in Asia and stays there is now wreaking havoc in Europe and the Americas.

This is serious.

The silver lining is that I have been serious too about writing and consulting from home for close to a year now. This has required forced isolation — I tend to stay home 6 days a week to work and help my clients by communicating online. My inspiration comes from books, not public workshops or conferences. I do very little in-person meetups because traffic here in Manila has been the black hole for productivity.

In short, there is no incentive for me to expose myself to the outside world to make a living. I can do that online. I can stay put, in the safety of my own home, virus-free.

I genuinely commiserate with government employees in public health facilities who are paid so little but have to contain the contagion. I pity the people who have found joy in work that requires a daily commute and frequent international travel. I sympathize with companies that do not have a flexible work contingency plan in place.

But times are changing. Problems are growing, worsening and accelerating.

“Adapt or die.” — Moneyball

Could this Coronavirus be making the case for writing and consulting as a business, remote work and other flexible working arrangements?

You bet.

I have said this before and am saying it again: many of our problems are brought on by unrestrained population growth. I won’t go into my passive support of the #BirthStrike movement, nor will I venture into controversial reproductive health issues such as abortion and birth control. These are best handled at the policy level, which takes time, so I can only keep talking about them but not really do something concrete in the short term.

What I do propose as a feasible way to counterattack economic shocks such as a deadly disease is to limit crowding and the concentration of populations at peak hours of the day. The way to do that is to spread people around and not have them populate public areas at the same time. Just take a look at deeply entrenched traditional work habits. Here in the Philippines, most companies still require their staff to start work from 9AM to 5PM. Do senior accountants who can number-crunch with a laptop computer really have to be in by 9AM or can they start work at say 11AM when the decision-makers are done with their morning meetings? How about sales people? Do they really have to time-in at the office first before doing their off-site calls or can they go straight to their meetings? Where I live, the mindset has barely moved an inch towards flexibility. Companies are still behaving like a Big Brother over their employees who are given very little trust but are hired anyway. As a result, everyone plies the same routes to and from work, waits at the same terminals at the same time, thereby worsening congestion in an already congested city.

My bigger point is, this Coronavirus nightmare is just a mere glimpse of the colossal problems awaiting us in the future. And yet we seem to be addressing existing problems such as poverty, traffic, immigration and climate change like it is business as usual. I think we can design-think our way out of this crisis because unlike the influenza pandemic of 1918, we have access to more advanced technologies today. There are precedents. There is a long history of medical milestones that have allowed mankind to surpass seemingly incurable diseases, such as AIDS.

I feel fortunate that with these strange conundrums emerging in our age, I have chosen a field — writing and consulting — that enables me to be the solution in some ways rather than the problem. Because I stay mostly at home, I cook my own nutritious food and don’t have to rely on takeaway wrapped in single-use plastic. I do not use a car or travel by plane often. I am less exposed to harmful bacteria that could make me sick. I do not risk infecting other people when I do get sick.

I saw on my LinkedIn feed a famous CEO worrying about the global economy. His investments are tied to the stock market. I am sure his worries are shared by many people, but not output-based workers like myself who may not be rich yet, but are building assets with very low overhead that could potentially generate long-term wealth. Our currency is delayed gratification, which is immune to black swans. It is quite painful to start a business this way, but I do not see any other way to insulate income generation from the volatility of the workplace such as leadership changes, and in the case of the Coronavirus, work stoppages.

So if you are a writer, freelancer and remote worker in the time of Coronavirus, pat yourself on the back. You may not have eradicated a global disease but you have certainly helped prevent its spread with your lifestyle. You are a solution to a changing world, not a problem.

Written by

Former presidential speechwriter, still a musician; writes about urban gridlocks. Will work full time for the planet. Harvard Kennedy School ‘14 🇵🇭

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