Five Lessons From Coronavirus In Costa Rica I’ve Learned So Far

As the coronavirus pandemic locks down Costa Rica and the world, many of us are under unimaginable stress as our lives change beyond recognition. But this can also be a time for resetting and rediscovering what’s important. Roman Venegas lists some basic lessons from coronavirus he’s learned. 

Costa Rica confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 6 and at this point, we’ve in been a state of crisis for over a month.

This pandemic has affected absolutely everything and everyone. Right now all I can think of is the famous Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

All our pre-March 6 plans are useless since the coronavirus pandemic smacked us straight in the mouth.

Since this started, we’ve all gone through the five stages of grief, some of us faster than others.

Speaking as a father, an entrepreneur, and a businessman, everything, until recently, that I took for granted has changed. Here I’d like to share five lessons I’ve learned in the short time since this crisis hit us. Some of them I think I already knew but had forgotten until the current circumstances brought them back in front of me.

1. Look the crisis straight in the eye.

If you were ever held up at gunpoint or knifepoint, you might understand what I’m saying here. Afterward, the police will ask you many questions, trying to get a description of your assailant. “What was the assailant like?” “How was he dressed?” “Did you see the car he escaped in?”… and so on.

Chances are you won’t know or remember the answers to these questions, even though you were there. This is because you were fixated on your assailant’s weapon, the object poised to do you the most harm. You lost sight of all the other details happening around you and your body and mind froze or went straight into flight or fight mode. It’s normal to paralyze in situations like this.

Well, this is the same. In the initial impact of this pandemic, many of us find ourselves immediately paralyzed by this assault, unable to move or make a decision.

My first lesson is to look at this crisis straight in the eye. Sure, acknowledge there are real risks and danger here, but then get past that and recognize your enemy, set an action plan, and avoid focusing on “the weapon.” If you leave it too long, it’ll be too late and you might find yourself lamenting what you could have done but didn’t.

2. Don’t procrastinate.

One of the main things I’ve learned in recent weeks is that this crisis has accelerated everything.

In my business, decisions that once required consensus, endless meetings, and maximum procrastination have been taken decisively in hours or even minutes.

One positive thing about the situation is that after the initial shock and first decisions, a door begins to open. You can identify opportunities you never would have seen before and maybe imagine a brand new way of doing business.

As an entrepreneur, this new world we’ve found ourselves unwittingly living in is stimulating. We have resilience embedded in our DNA and yes, if you want it, a little craziness too.

3. Employees are and will continue to be, the engine of your company.

My wife and I own the Kidoz Pediatric Clinic and I’m also a financial consultant to various companies in the Costa Rican tourism sector including the Si Como No and Villa Blanca hotels, and also the Namu Travel Group.

COVID-19 hit the child health and tourism sectors hard, but in the businesses I work with, I’ve seen the employees step up, despite the extremely stressful and adverse circumstance they might be in. Many employees have been furloughed, put on forced vacations, or had their hours cut. But even so, I’ve seen them redouble their efforts and provide solid opinions and advice.

Communication flows between management and staff have been more fluid, more even, as the crisis eliminates traditional hierarchies and puts us all on a much more even level.

Companies who value their employees and maintain good working conditions for them during the good times are seeing the benefits of this right now during the bad times. The bottom line is, it’s not enough to be just a good boss. Being a good person comes first and foremost.

4. Learning to receive help and to help others. 

Another important thing I’ve learned since this started is that people are fundamentally good. Most want to help and nowadays, solidarity is a common currency.

I’m often receiving calls from people asking how things are and if I need help with anything. Many offer suggestions and advice about things I could do. I’m seeing how much people care and it makes feel so incredibly grateful. I’m aware of how we should all feel gratitude every day.

And for my part, I’m also trying to help other people, offering my own advice and opinions. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together and we’ll all come out of this together.

On the flip side, there are people out there I should have let go in the past but didn’t. Unfortunately, some of these people are showing their true faces during this crisis. Those unprepared to help others right now during this time of need don’t deserve help later on once this is over.

5. Taking pause.

Despite all the financial, emotional, and healthy worries, this lockdown time at home hasn’t been all bad.

In fact, the situation gives me time for the important things in life. The things that the constant race of work-life made me forget until just over a month ago.

I’m enjoying lunch and dinner at home with my wife and son again. It’s been a long time since we managed to sit down daily to eat as a family.

Take the time for some self-reflection and you’ll realize the two cars and motorbike in the garage don’t matter. The clutter we’ve accumulated over the years means nothing.

I’ve learned the importance of the little things in life, of listening to the voice of a friend living abroad who tells me he’s well. Of speaking to relatives and knowing they’re in good health. These things are more important than anything.

Let’s use this time as an interlude. Let’s take a pause right now to self-improve. We can get to know each other again as real people, and start over after this fresh, with more energy, more ideas, and as better people.

Never forget that health comes first.                                                                                                                          

And although we’re not flying anymore, remember the advice they give you on planes: Stay calm and put on your mask so you can help others. Oh, and most important of all right now, #StayAtHome.

*This article was originally published in Spanish on LinkedIn on March 29, 2020. It has been rewritten in English with the permission of the author.

Roman Venegas is a Costa Rican businessman and entrepreneur who co-founded the Kidoz Pediatric Clinic with his wife. He also works as a freelance financial consultant.