Behind the Hustle
Stories worth telling.
Stories worth telling.
THE EVOLUTION OF A HUSTLE EVANGELIST
It has been the most fulfilling, challenging, and beautifully transformative year of my life.
The start of a new calendar year may be marked by January 1st, but in a world where time has stood still and moved at the speed of light, everything we thought we understood is different now. We already describe the events that shape our reality in new terms: “before COVID” and “after the pandemic started,” which has changed my personal definition of a year. For the purposes of this piece, the year begins on a day many Americans will never forget: Monday March 16th, 2020.
I woke up that morning with three jobs and not even close to enough money to pay rent that would be due in two weeks. There was anxiety in the air amidst news of the Coronavirus, but life still felt like what we would now categorize as “before.” I worked at one of my jobs that day–a small indoor cycle studio that had barely been open a year. As our beloved clients showed up for their regular classes, they looked to us for answers that we just didn’t have. At noon that day, I unknowingly taught what would be my last in-person class for months. Later the same evening I got news the studio would be closing, as would a restaurant that was my primary source of income at the time. On March 17th I woke up to a totally different reality than I had the day before, but with a new opportunity as well.
My sudden unemployment, in retrospect, was the best thing that ever happened to me because it led me to DLX. During a year when most people were stuck working from home or worse, unemployed and quarantined, I started my career. During a year when many people hardly left their neighborhood, I flew more than 30,000 miles. And during a year that was defined by pain and loss, I was still able to achieve self-growth and professional development. I say these things for two reasons: #1, to remind myself how truly blessed I have been in the grand scheme of things (shout out DLX), and #2, to recognize the fact that DLX as a company never stopped hustling throughout the pandemic. The company armed staff with branded masks, sanitizer, and safety precautions–then we set to work.
DEPLOYMENT-READY: PANDEMIC EDITION
Our team goes on missions around the world to lead hands-on training with our shelter systems. This couldn’t just stop in the face of a pandemic. After all, there were people counting on us. People on the front lines: doctors, nurses, volunteers…all putting their lives on the line to test or treat the public within the vinyl walls of our product. When I was asked if I would be interested in participating in one of these missions, I was just as honored as I was nervous: partially because of the risk of COVID exposure, and partially because of my own self-esteem. “I’ve worked for the company for two months and they want me to help represent them?” Slightly incredulous but grateful nonetheless, I accepted the invitation. I didn’t want to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and as I look back on that trip, I acknowledge just how unique my point of view was. On May 19th, 2020 we set out for Chicago, which was close behind New York City in COVID numbers at the time. Traveling at the beginning of the pandemic was, well, eerie to say the least. Airports that were once marked by crowds now resembled ghost towns. Out of the eight deployments I was a part of throughout the last year, this one felt the most apocalyptic of them all. It was one of the few occasions I witnessed airplanes at less than half capacity, with the middle seat being reserved for social distancing. While glad to have the extra elbow room, it certainly reemphasized the severity of the situation. Landing in the Windy City only added to that. Driving past Wrigley Field and the gorgeous brick architecture of Chicago’s East Side made me understand what all the city’s hype is about, but the uninhabited streets served as a stark reminder of why we were there in the first place.
In asking one of my teammates what he remembered most about this particular mission, he quickly answered, “The urgency of the situation,” and I couldn’t agree more.
After checking into a hotel, which we may have been the only patrons of, I stripped my clothes and sealed them in a plastic bag. The shower that ensued resembled the decontamination scene from the movie Monsters INC. My Clorox wiping and repetitive sanitizing of the hotel room that came next was both comical and necessary. I never imagined myself to be the type to re-clean a perfectly tidy space, but I guess I never imagined living through a global pandemic, either.
The next day we arrived at Weiss Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago. It was an unseasonably crisp, clear morning. A team from International Medical Corps, the nonprofit organization that purchased and donated our shelters to the hospital, awaited us along with volunteers from all over the state and even other parts of the country. I chatted with a traveling nurse who had been working at various hospitals in Chicago during the weeks prior. Next, I met a couple from another part of Illinois, both EMTs in training that sought out volunteer opportunities with IMC after their schooling was put on hold due to COVID restrictions. During that mission I witnessed something miraculous happen. What had recently been an empty section of parking lot in the center of the city was transformed into a complete field hospital in just a matter of hours.
From that moment forward I began to truly comprehend the impact that DLX has on real humans and the importance of mobile shelters in the context of emergency response. On day two, a truck pulled into the parking lot and up to what I had thought to be a storage container. As it turns out it was a refrigerated mobile morgue unit, and the truck was there to pick up bodies for transport to funeral homes. Although the shelters blocked us from seeing that action take place, the curse of knowledge made me see what we were doing through a whole new lens. If I didn’t fully grasp the importance of our jobs before, I certainly did by then.
A COLLISION OF DISASTERS
To work in the emergency preparedness industry is to be in tune with catastrophe. Up until last spring I was so naive to disaster; so unaware of the sheer amount of adversity that humanity is up against and how ill-prepared we are to deal with it. Sure, I knew about natural and man-made emergencies, but I had never put much thought into what it’s like to live through one. Admittedly, Oregonians are relatively spoiled in the realm of weather-related disasters, but in 2020 we weren’t so lucky. Wildfires ravaged the state and came uncomfortably close to our home base. Many people from neighboring communities lost their homes, including a fire chief responsible for coordinating response efforts. Smoke was so thick in the air it resembled an orangey-brown fog…I had never seen anything like it in my life.
Coincidentally, I had just written a blog about how people like me could prepare themselves for emergencies and somehow, I still couldn’t wrap my mind around facing two at the same time. The fires were extinguished nearly as quickly as they came, but they left plenty of destruction in their wake. I was fortunate to escape to the East Coast for a training shortly after the fires started, but the whole time I was gone I thought about just how rarely positioned in history we are, and how unique my particular point-of-view was because of my job. I literally got to fly above the smoke and see it blanketing my entire state. More importantly, I was able to better prepare myself and my loved ones for the worst of the worst, which wouldn’t have been the case had it not been for this company. I also thought about what it would be like to lose everything amidst a pandemic, as many Oregonians did.
It still seems so unfathomable and cruel of the universe, but the communal response to the fires was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
People rallied around each other in a way I had only seen on news stories. Despite all the drudgery and loss of the last year, there was still hope and kindness sprinkled along the way.
A PLACE TO BE, A PURPOSE TO SERVE
DLX as a workplace has provided a safe haven for employees throughout the pandemic. We’ve had peace of mind thanks to reliable income and insurance but the other benefits of working here are on a less measurable, emotional level. That’s a topic for another blog post, but the bottom line is that DLX’s company culture provided a much-needed morale boost during uncertain times. Most of us cannot truly understand the frustration of failed attempts to get through to the unemployment office or the cabin fever associated with being stuck at home. On the flip side, we do know what it’s like to work long days and sometimes weekends to fulfill our duties, motivated by the knowledge that our work directly supports the people bearing the brunt of it. “Essential worker” evokes the thought of front-line medical professionals and supermarket superheroes (who deserve ALL the recognition in the world), but I’d like to take this moment to shout out to the DLX production team for their tireless efforts over the last year. While most of us worked full-time, these folks worked overtime on scheduled days, plus weekends, for the first few months of the pandemic. Through every specialty request, every equipment modification, and every new person they needed to train, they never quit graciously grinding. And they still haven’t. None of what we do would be possible without their commitment to the hustle.
I’d also like to recognize our Latin American Training Team, who probably spent more weeks on the road this last year than they did at home with their families. Whether on deployments or at headquarters, each DLX team member put themselves and their households at additional risk to perform the duties associated with their job–and we did it proudly.
Having a purpose related to the pandemic response helped our team navigate the sorrow and uncertainty of the world around us. Our work became our refuge. It saved us from the social isolation of shutdowns. It made us think of something much bigger than ourselves.
MY PASSION PROJECT
When I think about what my life would look like today without DLX it’s a big dark spot in my mind. I cannot begin to comprehend how difficult this last year has been for many, or what it would have been like for me. My time here is beginning to come full circle as vaccinations enter arms around the world. The very virus that got me here may be meeting its match, but from everything I’ve seen and encountered over the last year, I know it would be foolish to anticipate a true “end.” There will always be another emergency, it might just look different from the pandemic. So much of what I know to be true about the world can be accredited to my short time at this company.
I wish I could give a small chunk of my experience to each and every person on the planet, but unfortunately altruism doesn’t work that way. Instead, I will continue to write. This blog was my first real assignment after I joined DLX’s creative team, but it has evolved into my “baby.” This platform gives me a place to share an experience that is uniquely mine while demonstrating what DLX does and the impact we have on real people around the globe. It’s here that I can publish personal anecdotes or an embarrassing quantity of airplane selfies. It’s here that I was trusted to tell DLX’s story and that I was granted the privilege to narrate from my point of view. Although a difficult year, here at DLX we recognize how fortunate we are in the grand scheme of things. Amongst the chaos of this ever-changing world, we get to help create solutions to difficult problems (and even have some fun along the way).
I was christened the Hustle Evangelist when I started this blog, but now it’s a part of my identity. One year down, many more to come. Thanks for everything, DLX.
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