In December of 2018, my husband and I purchased a meat-processing business, which had long been his dream, marking the start of a new journey for our family of five. Instantly, my life changed drastically as I took on managing the daily operations and navigating through the challenges that accompany a new business venture. I was working more hours than I had anticipated, putting in late nights and weekends, on top of my ongoing career as a Difficulty of Care Specialist (Shared Living Provider) working from home.
We were coming up on a year of ownership and finally securing a comfortable routine with our business duties when COVID-19 hit with vengeance. When our business as food processors was named essential, the demands placed on us and our facility were extreme. The pandemic created a huge disruption globally in our food processing systems. The food supply chain was altered greatly, and consumers were forced to look elsewhere to meet their nutritional needs. Local farmers saw an increased need for their products. This placed a significant demand on USDA Processing facilities that were already at capacity and struggling with a lack of a skilled labor force.
There has been no rest, no reprieve, just added pressure. My care specialist job changed drastically too, as the person I care for was forced to stay home with the state shutdown. They suddenly lost a critical structured daily routine, which caused a swift upheaval in their mental health and wellbeing. Our daughter missed out on her Junior Prom, National Honor Society Induction, and had to complete her Junior Year online. The very balanced and structured life we all had come to rely on had totally diminished.
We have navigated the past few months on auto pilot, like a bad dream. Everyone keeps saying “be grateful, your business is thriving in this pandemic.” I am incredibly grateful. Anyone who truly knows me, knows I am very spiritually driven – I give thanks for every blessing as well as every lesson. But maintaining, let alone expanding your business during these challenging times, requires a huge amount of energy and sacrifice.
What I want people to understand is that behind each business is a person or team, stressed and scared by this situation just like you. We are human beings, not machines, not robots. We are pulled thin and doing our best. I have been on the receiving end of calls hearing of amazing people passing suddenly and unexpectedly, people struggling to save their businesses, jobs, and homes. When farmers call crying because they are losing everything, and all you can do is offer a compassionate ear, it rips at your heart strings. When another customer demands you do more for them, yells at you, criticizes you and fights with you, because greed and stress has consumed them, you try to listen to their unjustified abuse with patience and hope that they see you deserve empathy too.
Our amazing employees have been physical warriors working countless hours and have been devoted to providing our customers with quality work. They deserve gratitude. Instead, we hear complaints – add another shift, work more, you made a mistake. I wish people understood the depth of the physical work that went on in our industry and the fact that our amazing little team does more work than a group of twenty men. If they understood how hard we have worked to maintain a safe working environment, when the biggest businesses in our industry have become COVID-19 hotspots, I feel there would be no room for demands or criticism.
I know I am not the only business owner who cares very deeply and wants to do all we can. It is an admirable trait, but it can also be a great burden. How can we meet the needs of so many, when we are depleted and we do not have the resources, space or even manpower to do so? We need to remember to take care of ourselves first and foremost. We are no good if we are not well rested, healthy, and nurturing our own souls. We all need to seek support from our peers, mentors, spirituality, or even professionals when needed.
As a female business owner, a provider, a mother, a wife, and so much more I am writing to let you know, I am not a superhero or a saint. I have my moments I feel weak, I feel hopeless, I get angry, I make mistakes. I want to hide from the world. There are times I want to lash out at people and scream profanities! It is in these moments I know I need to step back and remember compassion and empathy.
Today, as you look in the mirror, ask yourself what are you demanding of others, how are you treating others? We are all in this together. We need to stop hating on one another and remember a little compassion goes along way. I have not walked in your shoes today, nor have you in mine! Please practice kindness. Be kind to your essential workers. Be kind to yourself.
Owner of Southpaw Packing Company, Inc. Care Provider, Mother…and so much more….