Constraints Breed Opportunity: Reflections From the Pandemic

Advice I would have given myself one year ago.

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I started 2020 very pregnant and due in the beginning of April. As my due date drew closer, so did news about COVID-19 cases rising and hospitals becoming overwhelmed. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to have the birth I had planned with my husband by my side. I worried that hospitals would be full. I worried that I would have no help and support from family once I got home from the hospital. 

Some of my worries came true. When I gave birth to a baby boy in late March, the hospital wasn’t overwhelmed but the experience was far less than ideal. It was different from my birth experience with my two prior deliveries. I wore a mask on entry, was not allowed outside visitors other than my husband, and my labor was induced to keep things as safe and predictable as possible. Overall, the atmosphere was tense as everyone was trying to figure out what the pandemic meant for labor and delivery. Despite these challenges, the most important thing ended up working out. I left the hospital with a healthy baby boy and my heart more full than I could have imagined.

Once home with my baby, I faced a new dilemma — how could I possibly take time off work as I had planned when my business was facing unprecedented challenges? Shutdowns were impacting businesses everywhere. I worried that my company Winnie, a child care marketplace, would be negatively impacted. Would people be searching for child care in a pandemic? 

Instead of taking a maternity leave, I stayed up every night with my son those early months then caught up on sleep in the morning and worked with him by my side the rest of the day. It was hard. It was never what I planned when I decided to have a third child and scale my company simultaneously. But these were unprecedented times and I had to adapt. 

With adjustments for the pandemic, my business wasn’t just fine, it was thriving. The childcare industry was essential and as a marketplace for childcare, Winnie was essential to helping millions of parents navigate new childcare challenges — everything from finding emergency care to supporting school age children with their distance learning. We quickly built new features around health and safety that turned out to be one of the most used features on the platform.

Humans are incredible at adapting and finding creative solutions. Many times with new constraints and challenges we actually are able to develop creative solutions we would not have considered otherwise. According to analysis by the Harvard Business Review, “when there are no constraints on the creative process, complacency sets in, and people follow what psychologists call the path-of-least-resistance – they go for the most intuitive idea that comes to mind rather than investing in the development of better ideas. Constraints, in contrast, provide focus and a creative challenge that motivates people to search for and connect information from different sources to generate novel ideas for new products, services, or business processes.” 

Looking back on this year, the advice I would have given myself is to see these challenges as opportunities. Although it’s difficult to think about a year of so much pain, suffering and death as an opportunity, not everything about it was terrible. The stay at home order gave me more time with my son. It allowed me to develop a new flexible model of working while recovering from birth that I never dreamed would be possible before. I learned to breastfeed on Zoom calls without missing a beat. It meant my business grew in a way I could have never anticipated. 

I spent much of my time in 2020 mourning loss. The loss of my older kids’ school. The loss of my proper maternity leave. The loss of physical closeness with my friends and family. I also lost my grandfather. There was a lot to mourn this year.

As I enter 2021, I am going in with open eyes. There will very likely be more pain and suffering ahead. There will also be continued opportunity to help and solve problems. Whether it’s as small as bringing happiness to my children or as big as bringing child care to millions more people who Winnie does not yet reach, I vow to focus on the opportunities that lie ahead. I hope you will too.

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