Grief and the Modern Entrepreneur
Like many Mindbody users, I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to connect with industry peers at the BOLD Conference this year. While the tone of the conference was uplifting and positive, when I started reflecting on the conversations I had at BOLD, one thing stood out to me—everyone I spoke with was dealing with some form of heaviness. What was causing this? Well, it was a mixture of multiple things—attendees were mourning lost clients, dealing with "business breakups" between teams, experiencing staff leaving for other jobs, even the absence of a normally packed house at the convention center was affecting them.
Shortly after BOLD, I had a conversation with Melissa Douaire who helped me see those conversations as they were—individuals working through grief. Through her company, Whole Person Conversations, Melissa consults with and presents to college faculty, Employee Assistance Programs, small businesses, and large corporations focusing on collective and individual grief. She values one-on-one conversations as a privilege and is sought out by those who have heard her speak.
While the word “grief” tends to bring to mind the death of a loved one, Melissa explained to me that grief can be experienced through a variety of life events, including losses of relationships, health, moves, and even successful milestones like graduations and retirements. It was a fresh perspective for me, and I wanted to share this knowledge with anyone grieving a loss of normalcy, especially the entrepreneurs in the fitness and wellness industry.
Needless to say, I was thrilled when Melissa agreed to speak with me about the impact of grief and the modern entrepreneur in the time of Covid.
Chris Beer: Adam Grant wrote an article about the languishing, which he calls the “dominant emotion of 2021.” In my work with studio owners, I see it every day. After a year and a half of dealing with hurdles in delivering their services, retaining their clients, and staffing their businesses, entrepreneurs in the fitness and wellness industry are tired. Even more than simply tired, I’m hearing people say that they’re having trouble making decisions, aimless in their direction, and frustrated with the uncertainty in what was once a pretty routine job. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Melissa Douaire: Yes! We are all collectively grieving the old normal, the pre-pandemic days, and the lives we were leading. There is no going back to normal, only forging a new normal, and that feels like an exhausting journey. Grief is not a single emotion, rather a state of mind for processing loss. Often when we are grieving or being bereaved—which means to be robbed—we are exhausted, indecisive, lack clarity, creativity is diminished, and problem-solving is overwhelming.
I like to change the word grief to bereavement, or being robbed, because it speaks to the injustice of loss, particularly in these pandemic days. Many of us have lost family members and were robbed of goodbyes or rituals of closure related to death. As business owners, we too were robbed of goodbyes with our clients that seem like family and robbed of revenue due to no fault of our own. Those losses have impacted our emotional, social, and spiritual well beings, our mind-body connections.
CB: I’ve heard you say that grief in the time of Covid is unlike anything else we have experienced but parallels the experiences we’ve had with death. Tell me about that.
MD: Through the pandemic, we’ve all experienced loss of some sort—let’s start with normalcy. None of us live exactly the same way, but whatever ways we live have been altered—that is collective grief. Much like 9/11, we all felt the loss of life and security, but it was much worse for those of us directly impacted by the deaths of friends and family. Those of us who lost our normalcy, revenue, community, and experienced the grasp of death in families have cumulative grief—an accumulation of losses. Many of us are experiencing anticipatory grief as well, which is the fear of what else might be lost.
CB: What are some common feelings and behaviors that are a response to grief?
MD: Given all the losses our mind is trying to process, sleep disturbances are common, as well as changes in appetite (like eating too little or increased emotional eating), irritability, relationship strain, and lethargy. Whatever issues that you were suppressing before grief arrived will burst through the surface. Your tolerance and patience are likely scarce.
CB: Entrepreneurs feel unique internal and external pressures that can prevent them from taking time for traditional self-care. What happens over time when you don't properly grieve losses in your life?
MD: Self-care has become a platitude without much thought to what it is. It is not self-indulgence but rather I believe it to be self-awareness. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you deny the emotions of loss, and leave them unnamed and shove them under the rug, your issues around the loss will grow. Unresolved grief leads to substance abuse, sabotaged relationships, poor life choices, and spirals into a life you no longer recognize.
Under distress we need to get back to the basics of life, so slow down! Remember to nourish yourself with sleep, healthy food, and hydration—food and water are fuel. Give yourself grace for not being at the top of your game, grief is a reset, and you will be a different person from it.
CB: How can business owners invest in the wellness of their employees, and their families who are grieving?
MD: Make a safe space for naming the losses before attempting to rebuild. Set time aside to share. Everyone needs their pain and loss witnessed, validated, and affirmed before real healing happens. It’s appropriate to be sad, angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Too often we move through these uncomfortable feelings because of positive platitudes. While I agree that gratitude, grace, and abundance are a better place to live, we must honor the full spectrum of emotions if we’re going to heal.
Losses are a significant part of life. How we acknowledge and normalize our behaviors around them is what heals and builds resilience. People invested in the wellness and fitness industry know this and believe this, however, it can be hard to see the casualty in our own behaviors when we are in the throes of grief. We offer you the lens of grief, or bereavement, as a validation of all that has changed in these last 18 months. As entrepreneurs and advocates of wellness, you will make a new beginning. It will not be easy, but naming and honoring your losses is the beginning of healthy healing.