Adjusting Back To Normal

Ed Zitron 4 min read

I had our regular weekly huddle for my firm today, and had a weird point where we were talking about going out - a trip to New York, someone taking a flight in August, and so on - that felt so weird, but kind of wonderful. It also brings genuinely bizarre feelings of anxiety to the front of my mind that I think a lot of people have, but might be hesitant to admit - that I’m slightly worried about being in the real world again, mostly because I got used to being on the computer all day.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t come out, but I am somewhat intimidated by having to operate in the real world again. Though I (and many others) have been soothsaying about what the future world we return to might be like, I am also worried about what won’t change, and whether being remote permanently (which has always been my thing) is going to hurt. Will people simply forget that we were all remote and start demanding the same in-person gatherings as before? How long will it take to do that? When everyone’s vaccinated, will there be more requests of in-person meetings because people have missed the office just that much?

I’m honestly not sure. And I think that things are stable right now (for me, at least), and that freaks me out. I’m so used to being fully-coiled and ready to deal with whatever mountain of deadlines (IE: launches) are coming up, and also clients that are running businesses and experiencing the same level of anxiety as I am, with constant flows of chaos that, well, aren’t quite as flowing as usual.

The Paranoia Index

I also think it’s because I’ve had to deal with what I am dubbing “the EZPR paranoia index,” which is a running theory that I have that EZPR’s revenues running slightly ahead of the economy. Previously it’s mostly been fairly mild - when revenues drop, a month or two later the economy and markets will tumble, with revenue drops usually being an indicator of how badly things would get, but never to the point I’ve had an “oh shit moment” until the very beginning of 2020. In January 2020, we had a black swan event where four clients left in one week (none of them due to performance), and I’d already noticed a drop in incoming business.

In February 2020, we saw our lowest monthly revenue in about five years (and our lowest MRR since 2013), and in March we recovered mostly by adjusting to more project-based work, as previous months had basically said people were scared of agreements that automatically renewed. I was somewhat grateful that January beat the shit out of me, mostly because it put me in a feral business mode where I was more flexible with new clients’ agreements, more focused on making sure that we closed business and did well for said business, understanding that this was no longer the time to be proud or stubborn.

Things improved a few months in advance of the rest of the economy, and now they’re improving again to 2018 levels, which suggests the economy is going to go nuts in Q2 and Q3. Which is wild, but also deeply weird, and unlike most years where I can say I learned something - perhaps to go after certain clients or do more or less of something - there’s very little I can glean from the last year other than “sometimes people like to do projects rather than monthly agreements,” which mostly just reminds me of 2015 back when there were 300,000 Indiegogo projects.

As a result, I can’t say whether I can return to normal or when that should be. Right now, that New York trip feels right for October, but booking it feels weird, like I’m celebrating a victory before an event has begun. I don’t know whether I’m going to be expected to go and see people in person for work, either on their request or my offering, and I don’t know whether business will require that going forward. I want to be hopeful and do things - plan things, invest in things, think about things that could grow business and such - but it’s hard to mentally move away from Feral Business Mode (TM) when you’re so used to being twitchy and anxious about every new email.

I also recognize that I’m immensely lucky to still have a business and have it survive through this, and this experience is atypical and significantly better than the vast majority of people in the last year, and I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m very grateful, which is why I remain twitchy and paranoid about things going bad - I know I’m lucky and want things to stay stable for the sake of my family and the people working for me.

But I do not know when to start doing things again. When everyone’s vaccinated? When I’m vaccinated? When will people have the expectation of seeing me, or I of them, again? All of those people I’ve told “I can’t wait to see you again!” - do I immediately do that? Do we gradually go back to seeing people? I’ve always been the weird Business Hermit, but now that everyone else has done that for a while, will they become like that too? I have no idea, and it worries me, because despite having a job that involves being out and about, I’m actually a huge shut-in.

It’s the good kind of uncertainty, I guess. Where the last year was spent dreading the future because hundreds of thousands of people were dying, now the future is potentially bright but also will require a sort of return to normal society I don’t remember how to function in. And I wonder if most people are so eager to return to how things were, and whether the geographic divides that were somewhat lowered will go back up with the assumption that people are safe and vaccinated. Will it matter I don’t live in the Bay, or will it just be understood that people can do stuff online?

Anyway, I’m kind of hoping that the paranoia index is correct and things go wild for everyone in the next few months. I’m very lucky that one of my major worries about the future is “will I have to go outside?” and recognize how much worse things could be. But it’s going to be a hot and extremely weird summer, for sure.

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