Living and Learning in a Time of Change an ongoing series featuring women leaders, founders, makers and executives. These interviews are focused not on those that are used to a media spotlight, but by those who can benefit by having some light shone on them to support, lift up and get through to the other side.
SE: What has changed most significantly about your daily work routine in the last few days/weeks/months?
TC: Consumer demand for travel – and its requisite gear – is effectively nonexistent during the global pandemic. Tortuga makes travel gear, so our business has taken an unprecedented hit. At first, we approached the massive drop in demand with bullish productivity. I worked harder than I’ve perhaps ever worked to reprioritize initiatives, reframe our marketing strategy, and document everything to ensure effective experimentation throughout my team. But in a time of mass uncertainty, things change quickly, and my bullish efforts shifted into a necessary furlough of all employees. We can’t fight our way out of a zero-demand situation; we have to wait it out. I’m now staring at my work-issued computer, not knowing when I might be able to continue the work that lights my soul, wondering what I do with my time or energy now that key elements of myself have been put on hold.
SE: What are the new routines you’ve integrated to ensure you still meet other personal needs (emotional, spiritual, exercise…)?
TC: If my body is idle, my mind will spiral, so I’m trying to stay active. Prior to the outbreak, I trained as an aerialist at a circus gym 5 days a week. I don’t exactly have a trapeze rig or set of aerial silks at home, so I’ve had to improvise. I’ve started going for daily bike rides, which seems to be a healthy way to get out of the house without coming close to another human. I’ve joined a couple of Sky Ting’s free yoga streaming sessions to feel a semblance of connection to the outside world. My circus friends and I are going to try running through our contortion and handstand exercises together on a video call this week. Life is neither normal nor predictable, but I’m taking it one day at a time.
SE: What’s a pleasant surprise or something you discovered because of social distancing?
TC: Yesterday evening, my partner and I sat on our postage-stamp-sized back porch and listened to birds. It’s been a long time since I simply sat outside and stared at the trees behind my home, listening to the sounds of nature. It feels like something I’d do on vacation in an exotic place, not on my own porch. We sat for quite a while as my partner compared birdsong around us to recordings on an app he’d downloaded. We delightedly identified a chipping sparrow on our neighbor’s balcony, a bird neither of us knew existed. Quarantine has, apparently, turned us into birders. That is certainly a surprise, and a pleasant one.
SE: What has been the most frustrating change?
TC: I have never coped well with a total lack of control. I cope with stress and uncertainty by project managing; I jump into action, I fix the problem, I make a plan. I did that at the first sign of hardship in the travel industry, rewriting strategy and shifting my leadership approach. It wasn’t enough; Tortuga still had to enter “hibernation” mode and furlough the entire team indefinitely. It’s a necessary measure to keep the company running, and I support our founders wholeheartedly for making such a heartbreaking decision. The financial uncertainty I face is stressful, but the feeling that I truly cannot fix this — no matter how expert I am or how well I lead — has been the most frustrating change. I feel helpless.
SE: How is this impacting your business: pros, cons, neutral?
TC: We are a viable, sustainably profitable company if there is consumer demand for travel. There, rightfully, is none during a global pandemic. We’re a small company, and despite profitability, don’t have huge reserves to stay afloat with the team intact during a period like this. Our situation is grave in the short-term, but I trust our CEO and will fight beside him as soon as demand starts coming back.
SE: Where do you need assistance or support that you have yet to ask for?
TC: Tortuga is more than my job – it’s a key part of my identity. It’s an embodiment of my philosophies around leadership and business. It’s my creative playground, my professional home. I feel as though a part of me has died, or is dying, or is maybe dying but nobody knows for sure so I can’t grieve yet and have that horrible, wonderful, torturous seed of hope. I need income, but I’m working on that by asking my network if they need freelance help within my skillset. I need to stop crying so that I might save my precious reserve of Kleenex for the incoming virus. I need comfort and kindness and space to mourn, not others trying to fix the problem for me. I don’t need “you got this” or “it’ll be okay” encouragement – I know I got this, I know it will be. That’s not helpful. I need to be allowed to not be okay, and I think it’s hard for some to get there right now.
SE: Have friends, family or co-workers changed the way they communicate with you?
My partner Austin is giving me precious silence and companionable space. After I found out our team would be furloughed indefinitely, Austin and I went for a long walk in our neighborhood. I was put one foot in front of the other in stunned silence, and he didn’t try to fill my shock with words. That’s rare for our walks; usually, we chatter away, as our best communication happens in movement. Through silence, he’s giving me permission to feel the wounds. My coworkers have taken a similar approach, simply existing together on Zoom for a sense of shared, communal grief. We’re in this together. I’ve had to take some space from most friends and family, as their communication styles in crisis are too exhausting given my current headspace.
What gives you hope?
TC: Chipping sparrows, hopping along the wooden rail of my neighbor’s balcony. My partner, singing that one Snow Patrol song that played ad nauseum in 2007, to soften my furrowed brow. My neighbors, banding together via Google Docs to care for the most vulnerable who live among us. The first glimpses of spring in daffodils and buttercups. Remembering that I can fly through the air on a trapeze, and that a year ago I had no idea I’d even want to try.
SE: Who is another woman you’d recommend everyone know about? Why?
TC: Quinne Myers, @itsquinne, Freelance Writer, Illustrator, and Lingerie Industry Consultant. My friendship with Quinne has taught me so much about how to be a well-balanced person with career as a pillar of my identity, not the only defining aspect. She is driven and her work is impeccable – and she is so much more than her output. I admire her more than she knows.