Over the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with a range of business owners and seen many more on the evening news. Some are facing the most significant challenges they’ve ever experienced in their businesses. A few are on the brink, wondering how their businesses and organizations are going to survive this pandemic. When you share a conversation with an entrepreneur who’s poured their heart and soul into their business and is now facing massive losses, you hurt for them. Hearing their stories and seeing the grief in their eyes is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

My heart breaks.

But there’s another side to that coin. This is the side that I’ve wanted to write about but am fearful of bringing up. There are small business owners in America today (I’m not talking about the corporations or chains) who are not being impacted by the pandemic. For whatever reason, whether it’s merely the space they’re in, changing consumer demands, or their quick pivots, they are surviving this just fine. Some are even thriving, not because they’re taking advantage of the situation, but by being in the right place at the right time. Call it luck or don’t give it a name at all. It just is what it is.

It’s those owners and leaders who, when asked how they’re doing, start to exhibit a side-effect of their apparent success. They’re showing signs of survivor’s guilt. Imagine you’re in an airplane crash, and you’re the only one who survives, or you survive a natural disaster or a fire. You live on, but it comes with haunting questions like, “Why me?”

I’m seeing this in some of these small business owners who are surviving. Their eyes shift down, and they break eye contact when they say, “We’re going to come out of this OK.” They’re hesitant to say things are going well right now, or that they’re busier than ever, for fear they’ll be judged. It’s not because they’ve done anything wrong – they just know that they’re some of the lucky ones, and today that comes with a label. Their survival comes with a stigma and a little bit of guilt that they’re making it. 

I’m not saying we should give these leaders or their businesses any special treatment. We don’t need to. There are plenty of other people out there right now who are getting rolled in the waves and have it bad. Those are the ones who need our help and attention today. 

I am saying that we need to quit treating this like BINGO night, where when someone else yells, “BINGO!” and we groan because they won, and we didn’t. Frankly, the only way we’re going to survive this pandemic is if we cheer on the ones who are winning, AND if the ones who are winning help pick up the ones who are down on the ground.

We need each other more than ever today.

There should be no guilt associated with surviving today as a small business, the same as we would never look down on those who don’t make it. All we can do is lift one another up and keep moving forward.

The Takeaway

Support your local businesses and ask them how they’re doing. If someone tells you they’re doing OK, celebrate with them. If someone tells you they’re on the brink, find a way to help them. Our ability to step through this pandemic to a future where we all thrive depends on us being there for one another. There are no individual winners or losers… we will all win or lose together.