• Cassie Roma

One Year On, Lessons In Accidentally Starting A Business During A Pandemic

It's 4:42am on a Monday morning & I am sipping a strong cup of coffee waiting for the sun to rise. It’s quiet at our house. Still-ish. My beloveds are still fast asleep & I can hear Tui in the tree just outside of our front room singing to the ocean as the tide pushes towards the shore. Saltwater whispers starting the day gently, slowly.


Each day I wake up before the rest of my house & listen to the sounds of the world as it creaks, sings, shudders, & moves back to life. Beating the rising sun up in the morning is one part meditational routine & one part lunacy. It brings me joy & simultaneously reminds me how much I love sleep & that I need more of it. Someday I'll sleep more. Just not today.


Being an early bird is a beautiful mixture of flowing circadian rhythms & deadlines begging to be met. So, like the tides, I flow.


When I left the corporate world a year ago I was stoked. Burned out. Ready to put my twenty years of big-brand experience to work by putting powerful & purposeful work out into the world. My decision to leave was met with a lot of commentary. Some to my face. Some not. Stepping out on my own & further into myself didn't seem bold or brave or courageous at the time– it seemed necessary. To survive as a creative soul in a world prioritises fuzzy metrics, professional slang, massive spreadsheets, & an old-boys-club has always been a stretch for me. Strategically I was & am sound in building businesses & brands. I can read a P&L, grow the bottomline, & also spin a good yarn as a part of the paid/earned/owned way of operating. But, I'm also not easily hoodwinked by meaningless metrics or wasted words. By injecting creativity & connectivity into the DNA of a brand the sky is quite literally the limit when you're nimble & open to evolving a product or offering. So, that's what I try to be, nimble. Evolving. Curious.

Most of us who have spent any time in the game know that the deep historical & societal implications of perpetuating old ways of doing business isn't the way forward. A look back never is. If we're working like we always have then we're not building for the future. The deeply-embedded & highly inequitable systems at play in the business world have helped me though. They helped me to move in a different direction than many others who get caught up in older ways of thinking. By thinking like an entrepreneur even within big businesses, I've come to define success on my own terms as well. Terms that exist beyond the big pay checks, the impressive titles, & the industry awards that so many covet (& that I've had many times over).


I want to make it clear here that I am grateful beyond belief for the lessons I've learned from colleagues & amazing leaders in the jobs I've worked in. I've had fun. Laughed. Loved. Learned & had access to so much knowledge that my heart could just burst with thankfulness. But, at the time, blazing my own path was the only way forward for me in early 2020.


That said, this time last year I didn't just jump before checking the depth of the ocean below me. As blue-sky as I can come across, I sure spent a lot of planning in late 2019. In fact, I planned so much that I was convinced that I'd planned for every eventuation. Such confidence, eh? Case in point – on my original 2020 planning/launch document I wrote out strategic pivots for my new brand that covered everything from a new social platform being released & dominating the media landscape, to a potential zombie apocalypse.

Yep, I planned on Zombies. What I didn’t plan on, it was a global pandemic.

Damn.


When the pandemic rolled around & obliterated my plans, I faltered.


I spent a few days bereft & alone in my own head. Within days of leaving what I’d always known & planning for everything I thought I could plan for – here I was, stopped. And, you guessed it, I didn’t plan on slowing down, let alone stopping.


Nor did I plan on working entirely from home for months on end with folks all across the world who needed my full attention, love, support, & experience to help them navigate daily changes to their industries. Beyond work & launching a new business, there was a quick learning-curve that happened naturally with my wife also working from home. Both of us became high-school teachers to our teenaged daughter who needed a lot of love, sunshine, water, & popcorn to make it through her Freshman year of high school. A Freshman year that was lived out mostly from our couch in the living room. What a wild story she will have to tell one day.


As everything happened around us (to us, for us, against us) very quickly, I realized that none of us were alone in our anxiety, grief, or fear of the unknown. We were then, & are still now, coming to grips with unlearning, evolving, rumbling with the FFTs, pivoting, & pirouetting through change. Making plans was haute couture in 2019, but being able to change, adapt, flop on the floor, dance in the kitchen, Zoom from anywhere, & accept that expecting the unexpected was now the norm became the absolute vibe of 2020.


Now we find ourselves speeding through February of 2021. I don’t know about you, but I’ve arrived to this very moment in time as a different person to who I was last year. I have this little voice in my head that tells me everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. That helps.


Other things that help in looking forward & in finding purpose in the present moment are wrapped in expectations. An untethering of self from expectations (ohhhh this is a doozy when you layer societal expectations, work expectations, familial expectations, & self-expectations) is probably the most liberating way to work & live. Being addicted to busy doesn’t exist if you’re not tethered to expectations.


It’s taken me quite a while to come to terms with the fact that the things that I expected to happen weren’t going to happen. I still struggle with not being able to go home to see my family in the USA. The thought of not being able to hug my Mom, Dad, Brother, & his family for two years breaks my heart.


But, I see a light at the end of the pandemic-tunnel. I see hope-filled people & this makes me hope-full.


We will never do work, life, or leisure in the same way again.

I promise you this. The short-cuts that we thought we could take thanks to digital wizardry & algorithmic magic do not sustain a heart or a purposeful life. No matter what you’re pursuing – love, a career, building a brand, chasing a dream – 2020 taught us to be patient.


Nothing worth having happens fast.

Overnight successes are built upon years & years of trial & error. And, when we simplify life to its core I know this much is true: busy is a distraction.

And, when you’re distracted, you sure miss out on a lot.


Simplify your life.

Simplify your workflow.

Simplify your definition of success & you will always be one.


To wrap up this article I’d like to thank all of the amazing colleagues, co-creators, partners, stakeholders, & dreamers who I’ve been hugely lucky to work alongside in the past year. It's been an honour & a privilege to tell your stories, to coach your teams, to build out your content models, to grow your businesses, to wax lyrical on your podcasts, & to spend time with you when it counted the most.

Mostly, though, to my family, thank you – you’re all legends.


Roll on year two of CR&Co, I cannot wait to see where we end up this time next year.


PS for brands & business leaders out there, here's your free hawt-tip: Invest time & resource in voice, in jingles, in memorable audio cues this year & you will not be sorry!