The rise of the COVID quarantine crisis

I have a friend, Alissa Heinerscheid, who works in marketing at Anheuser-Busch. It’s always been slightly hilarious, as Alissa is one of the last people I imagine when I think of “beer”. She is a former teenage harpist; in college, she was known to plan her schedule in twenty-minute increments, not in cold increments. And yet, she has excelled at managing brands like Natty Daddy, Rolling Rock and King Cobra, perhaps because she has never been too attached. By the time 2020 arrived, Alissa was living her dream life in Manhattan: she had been promoted to Head of Direct-to-Consumer Marketing, a position she had designed herself, and had hired a team of employees to work under her. orders. She and her husband, Henry, had three children – a newborn and three-year-old twins – and they lived within walking distance of Anheuser-Busch’s Chelsea office. A lot of her friends were in New York City, and she was big on the coffee shop circuit. “I felt like I was at peak flow,” she told me the other day. Then the coronavirus pandemic happened and, like many people with young children, Alissa and her husband panicked. “When they closed the parks, we thought, ‘That’s it. We have to get out of here, ”she recalled. The family packed their things and headed to an Airbnb in San Diego, where Alissa’s brother lives. Her mother moved in to help with childcare. Seventeen months later, the family is still there.

At first, Alissa was in mourning for her old life. Her world had shrunk to a tiny part of the southern California suburbs, a place she had never spent much time. Before COVID-19 years old, she said, “I would visit for five days and be like, ‘Take me back to the east coast! Everything is going too slowly! ‘ But the place grew on it. The kids were biking and visiting a neighbor’s pet rabbit, and the air was full of birdsong. Her husband had started roaming the neighborhood in a golf cart. “I feel like I’m slipping into someone else’s life,” she told me. “It’s kinda wonderful.”

She wondered what else might merit reconsideration. Like, for example, his work. She had lobbied for this post. Getting it had been a triumph. But she felt exhausted at the end of each day, like something was missing. She thought back to an earlier chapter in her life: over ten years ago, when she was twenty-five, she had stage III melanoma. She had recovered and had her three children by surrogacy to avoid the risk of cancer recurrence. It had been a lonely and excruciating process, and she had developed an informal sideline, counseling women who were considering surrogacy or IVF, or struggling with cancer, or a combination of the two. She had had about 60 such conversations over the years, and when she thought about it, she realized that they were some of the most rewarding things she had ever done. “Talking to women, helping women,” she said – that’s what she cared about the most. Over the weeks, in the quiet suburb of San Diego, she began to think of ways to do more. Was there a female-focused group she could create within Anheuser-Busch? Or a parallel concert? She wanted to help people in her own cohort: professional, success-oriented women in their mid-thirties. “I feel like I speak their language,” she said. “I think I have a certain ability to make them feel less alone, to help them get through the things they are struggling with.” But what were they fighting against? A friend advised her to do some market research and Alissa quickly got to work. She said to me: “I only have one speed, it’s the turbo.”

So began A Hundred Women in a Hundred Days. Starting last May, Alissa ended each day with a phone call to a woman. She first called friends from college and business school, who put her in touch with their friends, until she ended up talking to complete strangers. She would ask them questions like “What’s in your worry box?” »And share his own thoughts. His subjects were eager to talk – of the blockages, their families, their worries and their ruminations. The last time I spoke to Alissa she was on call at number 90. COVID and in the minds of others, ”she said.

COVID-19 hit women particularly hard. Their participation in the labor market has fallen to its lowest level since 1988. There are two main reasons for this, according to Lareina Yee, a senior partner at McKinsey and co-creator of an annual study of American companies called “Women. At work . “First, women were disproportionately represented in the frontline industries that suffered the most layoffs: retail, restaurants and hospitality. Then there was the fact that schools have become remote and most types of out-of-home childcare evaporated, forcing many mothers to quit their jobs. The second phenomenon affected people in all industries and income levels, including women in the Alissa’s Hundred Women in Hundred Days project.

Alissa’s subjects largely come from the professional or corporate world. They were marketers, doctors and entrepreneurs. For the most part, these women had avoided the worst consequences of the pandemic, such as illness and financial hardship. But their lives had changed dramatically, often because of the decisions they had made last year. Many of them had moved across the country. Many of them had quit their jobs, reduced their work or found another employer, usually to spend more time with their families. (Even women who had been stay-at-home moms before the pandemic were doing a lot more caring than usual – home-schooling young children or caring for aging parents.) But women also pursued a wide variety of practices. creative goals: study herbal medicine, found an anti-hate group, start a zero waste drinks business. A former retail executive had spent lockdown reading Shakespeare during his children’s naps; pre-COVID, she was looking for a CEO job, but now she was thinking about ways to continue her love of literature instead.

Not everyone Alissa spoke with had made a major change in their lives. But, she told me, almost everyone was considering it. “A few people have talked about this ‘collective reconsideration’,” she said. “We are reconsidering who we are, what is important to us, what we want to do with our time.” You could call this phenomenon the COVID midlife crisis.

Why is this happening? “What we’re seeing over seven years of research is that no matter how you cut the data, women have a less favorable work experience than men,” said Lareina Yee. Even beforeCOVID, female workers were much more likely to report feelings of isolation and exhaustion; this was especially true for women of color. Then the pandemic arrived and many jobs became more stressful, with employees adjusting to remote work. Family responsibilities have increased. Working mothers, in particular, reported putting in an average of 16 extra hours per week, according to the McKinsey study. “Imagine a woman who works more at her job, feeling that exhaustion and working from home, with an average of three hours of extra household chores per day,” Yee said. “It’s no surprise that hundreds of women are wondering why I am doing this? Is the return on investment (return on investment) really there?

Alissa has her own theories, based on conversations she’s had over the past few months. In his opinion, 2020 produced a set of conditions that required everyone to do some soul-searching. All the noise in our lives has been filtered out – office politics, social engagements, little children’s birthday parties. “It left a lot of time to think,” said Alissa. “And if you weren’t happy with some part of your situation, you couldn’t really avoid it.” Add to that another key ingredient in every midlife crisis: heightened awareness of one’s own mortality. As one of Alissa’s subjects told her, “It’s like we’ve all been through a collective near-death experience. The last straw: an outside world that seemed to be collapsing. I spoke to one of the subjects of Alissa, a marketing manager named Jessie, who described the thoughts running through her head as she attended Zoom meetings last summer: “The world is literally on fire. . Income inequality is out of control. Racial injustice is horrific and needs to be resolved. And I’m sitting here writing a case for big box retailers on how they can sell more products that people don’t need. (She eventually got a job at another company.)

Another subject was living in the Bay Area at the start of the pandemic. She had recently started a new job as the CEO of a startup that made autonomous vehicle technology. The first days of confinement were hellish: her job was more demanding than ever, and her two children were bouncing off the walls. She told me that she is an Indian immigrant who has always had a relentless work ethic. But, by the end of the week, she had reached a breaking point. She announced to her husband that she was quitting her job. He worked at a well-established tech company and she believed the family could afford to live off his salary for a while. Her husband was shocked, she said. “He was like, ‘What are you saying? »», She remembers. “’We are in the middle of a pandemic. Don’t make a rash decision. You are so strong and resilient. You can do it!’ I was like, ‘No. I don’t want to do this. “

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