It’s been a tough year — scary, stressful, and heartbreaking at times. Thankfully, there is now light at the end of a very dark tunnel with the vaccine roll out. Along the way, we have all found unique approaches to cope and adjust to a different way of living.
In what felt like overnight, COVID-19 slowed our lives down. It made us long for the activities we could no longer do, the people we could no longer see, and many priorities were shifted.
Reflecting on the past months, Gail Golden, EMBA ’03, Principal of Gail Golden Consulting in Chicago, Ill., says that rather than referring to this time as “the new normal,” she prefers the phrase coined by one of her colleagues — “the new better.”
The management psychologist, specializing in business consulting, says “the new better” isn't about the way we are living right now, in this very moment, but what we are moving toward. It’s a combination of our way of life before COVID-19, including things we are desperately missing, but it’s also about the learnings that have come out of this hard time.
Included in those learnings is what Golden terms as a "passion deficit." We saw this in the first months of the pandemic with people baking, gardening, and taking up new hobbies. Families were together more. And things we took for granted, like gathering with those we love, were no longer an option. Golden says, “We will eventually put our lives back together in a way that is better in some aspects than what we had before the pandemic." It has caused us to reprioritize and acknowledge what is truly most important.
To get through the hardship, many are focusing on the positives in an otherwise negative situation — the silver linings. Intouch asked Ivey grads to share their personal stories:
Mark Staudenmann, EMBA ’05
Mark Staudenmann is a banking veteran, covering clients for over 30 years. For 11 years, he called Hong Kong his home and was working for UBS and Credit Suisse. It was there where he earned his EMBA at Ivey. The last 10 years he travelled from the UBS headquarters in Zurich to Asia. He left the big banks a year ago to start the Zurich branch of Pleion Wealth Partners, a distinguished boutique multi-family office where he works as Managing Director and Head of Asia.
“Until the pandemic, I would usually travel about five times a year to Asia. While with UBS, I also needed to be at the office in Zurich. It was, at times, quite crazy. Nowadays, I only go to Zurich once a week and I haven’t been able to travel to Asia for a year.”
He still works long hours, “but I save nearly three hours of commute daily,” from his home near Bern, Switzerland to the Zurich office. He uses this time to work out, sleep longer, and spend more time with his family. These changes have led to improved health, greater resilience, and increased stamina. “I have become more productive and focused, and lead a much more balanced life. I also lost 11 pounds in the process.”
Working predominantly from his home office, he spends more time with his wife and is more involved with his boys, ages 6 and 11, watching them head off to school and is home when they get back almost every day.
Another bonus is being able to pursue his passions, including golf with his eldest son, mountain biking, walking with the family, and jogging. “In the past I would have to fly 10,000 miles. Today I walk my 10,000 steps. What a difference!”
Asked if he plans to travel again after the pandemic, Staudenmann swings his camera around to reveal a picture with the breathtaking night skyline of Hong Kong from the Peak into Victoria Harbour, which covers much of his wall. "I am longing for it," he says. "I sit here in Switzerland, but my heart and mind are very often in Asia.”
Tom Robertson, MBA ’14
Tom Robertson, Legal Counsel at CIBC, and wife Priyanka Taneja met in grade one, and started dating 11 years ago.
Robertson completed his undergraduate degree in Toronto, Ont. and Taneja completed her undergraduate degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. Robertson left for London, Ont. to pursue an MBA at Ivey and a law degree at Western University, while Taneja was in London, U.K. finishing her Master of Science in speech language pathology. "And the relationship survived long distance," he jokes.
Robertson was planning a surprise marriage proposal trip to New York in March 2020, just around the time when Canadians began stocking up on food and toilet paper, he quips. Plan B: an isolated cabin in Algonquin Park, Northern Ontario — "a romantic rustic getaway" where he popped the question and, of course, she accepted.
The wedding date was set for October 24, 2020, but some things had to change due to the ongoing pandemic. "We did end up going with the original date and venue, Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ont.” However, the initial small gathering of 20-25 guests was scaled back because of the rules surrounding social gatherings and they ended up with a total of 11 guests. Despite the downsizing, there were no regrets, says Robertson who was grateful the celebration could still take place.
On Friday, when guests arrived, the temperature was warm enough for everyone to gather outside around a fire sipping champagne, maintaining distancing rules but close enough to have wonderful conversations. On Saturday, following the vows, guests attended a multi-course meal with wine paring.
Jennifer Jones-Morales, MBA ’93
Like many Ivey grads, Jennifer Jones-Morales has a busy life. The Senior Operations Officer, International Labour Organization, United Nations, Port of Spain, is focused on continued academic pursuits and volunteering on boards for several women's organizations.
On March 8, 2020, Jones-Morales arrived in London, Ont. to meet with Ivey Professor Alison Konrad to work on a post-doctoral research collaboration. By the time she flew home in mid-March, Ivey had closed its doors and Trinidad and Tobago announced they would close their borders the following week.
During lockdown, Jones-Morales started watching Cooking in Quarantine, a TV show "featuring the delicacies of my country."
After watching an episode featuring how to make doubles, an Indian delicacy, she decided she'd try her hand at replicating the recipe. How hard could it be? "I swear to you, I spent three hours in the kitchen!" she says, caught up in her own laughter at the irony. But she persevered and shared it with her neighbours. “They felt it tasted close to the real thing."
Every Thursday, Jones-Morales starts thinking about what new cuisine she'll tackle. And it's not all local either. Having travelled extensively, she's tasted food from all around the world. Soon she was planting some of her own vegetables, proudly talking about farm-to-table recipes.
Her husband of 24 years "went to the grocery store and started cooking breakfast with me," a pandemic anomaly, she chuckles. He posts photos on social media of the dining room table prepared with care from plating to stemware, highlighting the dish of the week. She invested in a camera and green screen, and started learning more about photography, sending curated pictures to family and friends.
Gail Golden agrees, "The pandemic forced us to re-curate our lives." Pre-pandemic, Golden wrote and published a book called Curating Your Life, which is still very applicable today as we choose what continues to be important in our lives and what we no longer need to be happy.