Looking Back on Our Pandemic Year: A Survey for Investigators
After a catastrophic 2020-21, we’re checking back in to find out how you’ve fared.
A year ago, we asked investigators to share how their businesses were faring in the early weeks of the pandemic. We had an incredible response to that survey, ranging from candid worries about lost income to encouraging words for the PI community about how to weather the crisis. Folks reported work slowdowns and clients cancelling contracts across many specialties. “It’s a ghost town currently,” wrote a PI from the Midwest. Atlanta investigator Scott Meyers said, “Typically a lot of domestic cases this time of year. That’s completely halted for me.”
Others shared tips for adapting, from diversifying services and working remotely to cutting expenses and building up a cash cushion for emergencies. Shafeqah Anderson from Alabama reported adding mitigation as a specialty. And DG from Albuquerque suggested this long-term strategy: “Barter. Do pro bono cases if you’re able – people remember the good will and it pays for itself many times over.”
You can find our breakdown of the 2020 replies here:
Looking back on these questions and our colleagues’ answers stirs up mixed feelings — a wry smile at my own naiveté, but also a surge of pride at the hope and camaraderie that came through in your comments. These ideas sowed the seeds of a resilience we would all need in the year that followed.
Resilience comes in many forms. Maybe your business thrived over the past year and you were able to help out your peers. Maybe new opportunities emerged in the pandemic’s wake, or an SBA loan helped you get by. Or perhaps 2020-21 has forced you outside your comfort zone, prompting you to add new skills or try new kinds of work. You may have accepted tasks you don’t enjoy, simply to survive, or left the PI field to pursue another career. Worst of all, you might have lost a loved one to COVID, or fallen ill yourself, and are now struggling to move forward through grief or recovery.
The most important thing is: you’re still here. In a year like this one, that counts as a win.
I’d venture that everyone reading this has lost something this year: Humans dear to you. Shared celebrations that had to be cancelled. An in-person school year. A beloved watering hole where you felt at home. Personal income. The business you spent years building. Or perhaps what you’ve lost is psychic in nature: a belief in rational cause-and-effect. A general sense of safety and order. Don’t be ashamed if you are mourning these losses, even if they seem small in scale. We are enduring a time of collective trauma. If you’re feeling less than safe or sane, you are not alone.
This year has taken things away from us all. But is it possible, maybe, that it has also given? Some people have reported a shift in priorities. A chance to reevaluate what we value. Does fashion matter to you now, in a world of virtual meetings? Have some friendships shone across the isolation, while others faded away?
On a scale of 1-10, how much do you care now about climbing a career ladder, after a year of forced reminders of how tenuous and fleeting all this actually is? And how many f***s do you really give at this point about whether anyone is impressed with your house, your car, your designer shoes, or your professional title?
“If work is the engine, luck is the road — or the drawbridge.”
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the notion of success. Many of my friends are creatives: writers, musicians, chefs, and entrepreneurs. I have seen so many lousy restaurants, albums, books, and products catch on while brilliant ones languished in obscurity or failed outright in economic terms, and I’ve also seen beautiful things take hold and become rightfully beloved. That has left me with a philosophical view of the role of chance in what the marketplace selects. And it’s made me wary of our powerful American faith that if you work hard, you will succeed.
The hard work part is a prerequisite, yes. But it is no guarantee. If work is the engine, luck is the road — or the drawbridge; it may be long and straight or winding and precipitous, or it may be in the up position at the moment you arrive. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve taken from 2020-21: We are not in charge. Imagine working your way through culinary school, paying your dues in sweltering kitchens, and then scraping together the money to open your first restaurant … in February of 2020? Whereas, if you bought stock in Zoom, Netflix, or Amazon a few years back, you are now set for life.
Maybe that hard-won wisdom about the capriciousness of viruses and recessions can extend past the current crisis and fuel an expansion of empathy. Because guess what? Luck and timing have always played co-starring roles in whose work gets rewarded with riches or raves. My takeaway is this: The professional achievements worth being proud of aren’t the gifts fortune bestows, but the things we choose: doing work that at least does no harm and at best, adds value to human lives; treating people with respect; and taking care of other people as we can.
All that to say that if your firm is surviving or even thriving, be happy — and grateful. But there is zero shame in fighting and foundering. I’m thinking now of the finale of a show I binged this winter and loved. It’s called “Halt and Catch Fire,” and it’s about tech whizzes at the dawn of personal computing and the internet age, all of them brilliant, none of them Steve Jobs or Sergey Brin. Does not creating Apple or Google mean that they failed? A brilliant engineer named Donna addresses this question in a speech to fellow tech entrepreneurs about a lifetime of big ideas and gutsy startups that never quite reached escape velocity: “I’ve won and I’ve lost,” she says. “But I’ve done things. That always comes with a price, but I did them.”
To put it simply, all we can do is do. That mindset turns the sense of if you work hard you will succeed upside down, by changing what we mean by “succeed.” If we mean clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, then success equals suiting up, getting in there, and leaving it all on the field. And this year, we’ve taken to the field in the middle of a hurricane, under sniper fire, all while Nickelback is blasting on the PA. We are dealing with a lot of shit.
Even better, here’s what Scott Fulmer had to say in Confessions of a Private Eye about his approach to the investigative life: “The game is afoot, and I am ready.”
I love that philosophy. Nevertheless, he persists.
I don’t know if we’re quite on the home stretch yet, but we can at least imagine the far side of this thing now. With that in mind, here’s our follow-up survey. If you like, share your lessons of our pandemic year — how you survived and adapted, the challenges you faced, and the surprise moments of insight that transformed into hard-won wisdom. We’ll close the survey at midnight on March 26, then I’ll compile and share the results in early April. Thanks to all in advance for your help!