A CEO’s Long, Dark Nights of the Soul

So, here we are. In the most bizarre, unnerving, unsettling, frightening situation that most of us have ever experienced.

The kind of situation we’ve seen or heard in movies (Contagion) or TV (The Walking Dead) or radio (War of the Worlds) or streaming (Black Mirror), where the entire planet – nearly every single living human being — simultaneously faces the exact same mortal threat at the exact same moment.

Where entire countries, grappling with the inexorable spread of the coronavirus, grind to a halt, their residents virtually imprisoned, their economies frozen, their governments scrambling, their public services overwhelmed to the point of near-collapse.

Yes, it feels like fiction. Or science fiction. And every morning when I wake up, for a split-second I hope it was just a nightmare.

Of course, we’ve all suffered setbacks, personal tragedies, failures, loss and natural disasters from time to time. But most of us never struggled through wars or profound and massive economic depression.

We’ve never seen anything remotely of this scale, with uncertainty ahead of us as to the depth and duration, that we approach either with pessimism and despair, or optimism and hope.

Like a ping-pong ball

My confession: I bounce from one extreme to the other, often many times over the course of a day. Alone in my home office, wrestling with the issues that come with running a business under increasing pressure — like millions around the world — I find myself fighting the temptation to despair.

Even as a small company, people depend on me, and us, for their livelihoods. Dozens of our journalists give the best of themselves every day to create content of value to our clients in the private and public sectors.

Our core team, some with us since we started nine years ago, some more recent, have placed their faith and confidence in me to see the company through to continued success. Our small group of investors — and Luxembourg’s Economy Ministry — backed this unusual venture in the seed stage purely as a show of faith in the concept and in my ability to make it work.

All that keeps me awake at night. Those long, dark nights of the soul. I’m sure many of you have them yourselves — especially readers who are entrepreneurs. Those nights come with all new-business territory, even when their founders aren’t obsessively consumed by every coronavirus update.

I always tell young entrepreneurs they’ll need stomach of iron and nerves of steel. Never have I needed them myself more than now. But the nights…well, nights are long and dark.

Then there are the mornings, with the optimism and hope that comes first with opening the blinds to spectacularly and blessedly sunny days of late. It accelerates as I open my email to our various products and services — the daily, weekly and monthly intelligence briefings we produce for our clients to help keep them informed, and thought leadership stories to help our clients guide their own customers. and audiences. 

Several years ago, we changed our tag line from “the cure for information overload” to “content you can trust.” Both ideas have never been more important than now; both infuse everything we produce. I’ve never consumed what our team creates with more pride and faith that what we do has value and meaning, makes a small contribution to our subscribers and readers drowning in too much information, and too much of little value, meaning, reliability and accuracy.

Morning’s light

That nighttime despair dissipates still more starting at 10am, with our first team call of the day. When I hear our staff – most, happily, far younger – brimming with ideas, enthusiasm and, yes, optimism for what we can do next, how we can help our clients through the storm with crisis-related content and tools.

As they talk of the sacrifices they’re making in their personal and professional lives — as are our journalists around the world — to help keep our business afloat and on track…well, the strength and optimism I draw from that is immeasurable.

The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman recently reported an interview he had with Harvard political philosopher and author Michael Sandel, who has delivered lectures on justice to millions of students globally. I found one of his comments to reflect the potential for how we survive and overcome the current challenge we all face:

“The common good is about how we live together in community. It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, the sacrifices we make for one another. It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life.”

From that thought, I draw some of the optimism and hope I and we must rely on now to get us through these long, dark nights of uncertainty. I gather still more inspiration as I see so many other businesses, organisations and individuals stepping up with offers to help their clients, communities and entire countries with whatever it is they do best, from free products to volunteering. In that vein, next week we’ll launch a free daily Covid-19 Business Update with our curated summaries of top business and finance stories from Luxembourg, Europe and worldwide.

I invite you to subscribe here, and to follow us on our LinkedIn company page.

Meanwhile, stay home, healthy and safe…and sleep well.