Year 3 of COVID Times

How are you feeling as we enter Year 3 of COVID? Well, we check-in with each other to see if we have arrived at our new normal or if we are still finding our way. Join us for a deep conversation about what it’s been like for us and for leaders of mission-driven organizations.



Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Coffee Time with Masterminds. I am really interested in this topic, because I’m going to imagine many of us have been thinking the same thing.

So, 2022 is coming to an end and we are slowly getting ready for 2023. And what that means is that we are now in year 3 of COVID times and whether the scientists want to still call it a pandemic or an epidemic, the fact is that our lives have changed. And now, things are different.

But is it good? Is it stressful? Is it bad? We want to hear from you. How is it going in year 3? So join us as we have a conversation about what it’s like in year 3 during COVID times.

00:59 CTMM jingle

01:26 Cynthia Rojas

Hi, everyone, and welcome to Coffee Time with Masterminds, a 30-minute show for and about leaders of mission-based organizations. And we’ve been spending the last three years talking about what it is like to lead during complex times.

And we started the show based on the COVID pandemic. And now we are realizing that our times are still complex. So, we want to welcome our listeners in Australia, our viewers, throughout the US and all over the world. And I want to welcome my co-host, Pieta Blakely. Hi, Pieta.

02:13 Pieta Blakely


02:14 Cynthia Rojas

I love that. You know, we have these buttons that we clicked to bring people on. And sometimes we’re doing it at the same time. How are you, Pieta?

02:24 Pieta Blakely

Good, how are you?

2:25 Cynthia Rojas  

I am Good. I am good. And so, we have been inspired to do the show based on something that you said about it. It just feels so hard. And Pieta, We’re not alone. It feels very hard for me as well. But for many, many people, but it’s a different kind of hard, right.. So, we just went through a crisis,  and after the initial crisis, we have some ups and downs, we have some variants and some Omicron. And there are people who are now living with long lasting health effects because of COVID. But it’s still hard. It’s still hard. And so, I was wondering that we should talk about that. Because if we’re having this feeling that I’m sure leaders of writing based organizations are as well.

03:17 Pieta Blakely

I think you just pointed out one of the reasons that it’s so hard is that a lot of us were living through different versions of the pandemic, right. You know, I read something online that said something like, Well, you know, while you were watching Netflix and baking bread, you know, we were holding funerals, that some of us mean the pandemic, the time when we had to stay in our house.

Some of us mean the pandemic, the time when loved ones died, right. Or the pandemic, the time that we all lost our jobs and didn’t know how we were going to pay the rent. Right? These were completely different pandemics. And I think that contributes to us having a hard time talking about this experience.

03:59 Cynthia Rojas

I love that. I love that. And the tour bus are not representative of what the pandemic was like, we have our unique experience. I was very new into my business as a consultant. You were more seasoned, right? So you had a different perspective. I panicked, I panicked. I came on and thought what am I going to do? So, that’s one thing, but what’s it like now? What does it feel like Now?

04:35 Pieta Blakeley

You know, I think it’s just so awkward. This was the first, I felt like this was the first year that we were expected to just go out and do normal things. Right.You know, events were happening again. And then networking events were happening and conferences were happening. We had to go out and you know, act normal. And our social skills are a little bit rusty.

04:58 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah. totally, totally, I went out to lunch with someone for a business lunch. And it was really weird. First of all, I never know how to greet people.

05:07 Pieta Blakeley

Yeah, right. They can’t touch their hands. Yeah,

05:13 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah! Do I hug you because I tend to be a hugger, right?

5:18 Pieta Blakely

Hang on a second. Because my dog is tearing something up. Well, we’ll edit this part out.

5:29 Cynthia Rojas

Okay, I will keep going. Pieta is going to check on her dog because the dog is tearing something up. But I found myself going to lunch with someone and just feeling like, oh my Can I touch this person? How do I greet this person? Am I sitting far away? What does this person think about in terms of COVID. And this relationship is she admitted to me Pieta. But that was her first in person lunch since the pandemic hit. So we were both feeling a little awkward. But also holidays, just parties, weddings, some of that. Some are not, some people wear masks. Some people don’t.

6:14 Pieta Blakely

Yeah, I’ve been going to the theater and things like that.

6:18 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah. So, you think.

06:21 Pieta Blakely

When I get there, I think, Oh, these are a lot of people. It feelsStrange.

06:27 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, I do think of germs a little bit more than what I used to. Yeah, So.

06:34 Pieta Blakely

I’ve had a lot of little miscues like a little conversational misfires. the kind of thing.

06:43 Cynthia Rojas

What does that mean? I think i love that

06:44 Pieta Blakely

When people say Happy birthday, you say you too. like that kind of thing? And then mulling over them a lot afterwards, like, oh, no, that was terrible. You know. And realizing like I think, I think some of it is just, we’re rusty, right? We’re not, you know, the conversations aren’t flowing as well.

And then there are some cognitive things like keeping track of the conversation over time, keeping track of conversations when you might talk to three or four people at once, for a couple of years. And it’s hard. It takes a little bit more energy than it did pre pandemic. And I I don’t think we all gave ourselves enough extra space for that. Right?

7:36 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, yeah.

07:38 Pieta Blakely 

And these are people who practiced these skills for 40,45,50 years before, right? Imagine how hard it is for people who are 5 years old, or 10 years old, or 16 years old, right. I mean, that would just be awful. Right? Yeah.

07:56 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah. And you mentioned before the show that you’ve been practicing your social skills, your whole life, right. So, that’s been a lot of years. And, now it feels like you’re starting over. And I totally, totally feel that pain. I totally feel that pain. I was, I love when you said how do we talk to three people at the same time, right?

08:21 Pieta Blakely

How do you talk to people when their name isn’t floating under their face?

08:23 Cynthia Rojas

I know, we’ve got to go back to remembering names. Can you imagine? Sp, this morning, I was preparing for an on-site retreat that I will be doing. It is really funny, because in one of the slides, instead of saying, writing that we’re going to go to groups, just to have a good time, put a picture of breakout rooms. And so I first automatically went to put a picture of a breakout room, because that’s what we do in Zoom. And then I’m going to be in person and I was like, You know what, I’m going do that. Because that’s been our life, everybody knows what it means to go into a breakout room. I love it. I do feel your pain. I have not been to a networking event. Have you?

09:18 Pieta Blakely

No, I am going to an event next. Well, actually, that’s not true. Because I went to a conference.

So, Yeah.

09:25 Cynthia Rojas

Oh, that’s right. We did a show in a conference.

09:30 Pieta Blakely

And there were, like, social events there. Yeah.

09:35 Cynthia Rojas

So I remember going to that conference with you. Seven Years ago, and the room was small. Were they small this time or did they get bigger rooms?

09:44 Pieta Blakely

I think they got bigger rooms. I do think that there was some thought about things like the volume of air relative to the number of people so, I think that the rooms were bigger relative to the number of people. Well, the facility had very high ceilings. So there was a lot of space.

The big room where they held the plenary was adjacent to a huge space where they had the area where vendors set up tables and do displays. And they did not close the wall there. So it was just too kind of contiguous. Right. And they were circulating across a huge space. And when the room got to capacity, they came and moved people. And put them in overflow rooms. So I do think that there is like a different consciousness.

10:42 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah. Yeah. And then, we will talk about pressure, feeling pressure. And so what pressures are you feeling today that may not have been so pressureful?

11:03 Pieta Blakely

Is this just a normal kind of end of year thing? I think somebody said, and this was it like, two years ago? Somebody said, we’re all so busy justifying the fact that we’re okay. I think there’s been a realization that this is just how it is. right?

There was a long time that we were waiting for things to go back to normal, right? I mean, if we’re as good as we thought we were going back to normal. Now we realize we’re never going back to normal. This is just how it is. And maybe there’s a little bit of making up for last time? That’s going on. But it feels like there’s a lot of pressure for a lot of productivity.

11:53 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, I love that. You, you you had mentioned about for some of us, we experienced the break, right. We experienced a great break from humanity, you’ve got to really look inward. Again, those of us who had that experience, I do want to honor that many people that went to work everyday.

12:18 Pieta Blakely

We all had an opposite experience.

12:20 Cynthia Rojas

Yes. For many of us, we got to take a break from life. Right. And for some the pressure was not as high, although there were different pressures that you name in the beginning of the show, but they weren’t as high.

12:37 Pieta Blakely

People were, you know, driving around and going to things all the time because the things were canceled. Right? And that yeah, created a lot of extra space for some people.

12:49 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah! And then there’s all these other after effects of, COVID. Like, it’s harder to buy a car now. Because inventory is low. It’s challenging to fix your house because the price of everything has gone up. Right. So there are still these lingering effects that make it challenging. And I heard somewhere that although, cruise ships are now fully open.

They’re more expensive than what they were. And so I was like, How dare you? How dare you raise your price? So we have that to deal with also the pressure is very different. Right now, if you’re taking a walk in the middle of the day, it might feel like you felt pre COVID Where there was guilt provoking, right. And not acceptable. Where before during COVID, we were all hiking.

13:51 Pieta Blakely

Right, all the time?

13:52 Cynthia Rojas


13:53 Pieta Rojas

I mean, is that because we’re trying to shape our pre COVID work ethic and just kind of mash it onto our post COVID working conditions?

14:02 Cynthia Rojas

Is it built?

14:04 Pieta Blakely


14:05 Cynthia Rojas

is it built?

14:06 Pieta Blakely


14:07 Cynthia Rojas

Right? And so we wonder, and I think about Pieta, I have spoken to so many leaders in these two and a half years, and many of them a couple of months ago or earlier this year, were taking a vacation for the very first time. Right? But some of them were still dealing with staff being out a lot, staff wanting to stay home, when that is no longer allowed or can be done there back to the office, dealing with the great resignation. And so it’s so much pressure. It’s different. And it just continues with our leaders of nonprofit organizations. And we have to be mindful of that. We have to be really mindful of that.

14:55 Pieta Blakely

Yeah. I mean, they work so hard and they were so isolated at the beginning of the pandemic. Yeah. And then I think we’ve seen a huge amount of turnover at that level, partly because they were just burned out.

15:08 Cynthia Rojas

Yes. And as a consultant, we get many phone calls for strategic planning. There are so many organizations who may have had a plan, right? And may have had the plan just before the pandemic, but it’s going to be three years. So most of the plans expire. But things are even different from two years ago, right. And so the need to reflect and to look at what the ecosystems look like now, is something that nonprofits are starting to recognize, and reach out to consultants on that. So it’s been tough. It’s been really, really tough. And if it was, if that was not enough, you and I moved to different states. And so what’s the aftermath of that now? Like, what is it like now a year into where you are a year and a half into your new location, I am one year into my new location.

16:11 Pieta Blakely

This is the First time that I’m starting to really feel like I have to network and connect here because at the beginning, when we moved, geography was irrelevant. Yeah. And now, it actually makes sense to network in this city and meet people in the city. Yeah.

16:30 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah. So, that’s an added pressure, right. And so for me, it feels the same way I feel this enormous amount of pressure to build my business in the state that I live in. And then I’m going back and forth to see my clients, which is great.

I’m loving to travel. But the pressure and it feels like now I have three full time jobs, right. So I run my business, and then I do the work. I’m a consultant. And now I have to build another segment of my business. And so that feels tough. I also still feel isolated. Right? Because I don’t have friends. I don’t have friends here. And I don’t have colleagues. So it feels very different and almost as isolating as it did during COVID. Do you feel the same?

17:29 Pieta Blakely

No, I don’t feel isolated. We have been very lucky about making friends here. And I think professionally, when you are a small business owner, especially one kind of one person, mostly one person shops like we are, that’s always isolating. Right? I have had this great opportunity to be in 10,000 small businesses this year. So that’s connecting me with a lot of other small business owners. And That’s really tremendous.

18:08 Cynthia Rojas

And that’s a program. And I think we’re going to do a show about that. Tell me a little bit about that program. Tell our listeners.

18:13 Pieta Blakely

Yeah, this is a growth program for small businesses. It’s completely free: free in terms of money for the business owner to participate in, because the government has paid forit. And it’s kind of like getting an MBA in one semester. walk through every aspect of your business and make a growth plan. The idea being that small businesses provide most of the employment in the United States. And if they can help them grow, they will employ more people and create more value.

18:50 Cynthia Rojas

What a great philosophy.

18:53 Pieta Blakely

Yeah. It’s a fantastic program. It takes a lot of time. It’s a big commitment. And non profits can also participate. yeah. So some people might want to look into it.

19:10 Cynthia Rojas

Wow! So we will definitely do a show about that. Because nonprofit scaling is also another pathway that many nonprofits are now really honing in on because they’ve had to learn how to adapt. And they had to grow different segments of their organization during COVID.

19:34 Pieta Blakely

Yeah. And provide their Line of services, and also their managerial area.

19:36 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, And now they are like, hey! Let’s think about this more strategically. I think we could do better here. So yes, in fact, you get nonprofits to think about growth and have a growth mindset. They too, hire an extraordinary amount or proportion of our workforce. So that’s awesome. That’s awesome. And so we’re going to have a show just on that, and because you have that network, it doesn’t feel as isolating. I’ll tell you this.

So during COVID, I ran a leadership program with a colleague, Daniel Dabs from field partners, and we did it virtually. And now I co lead another leadership program with UCON. And it’s sponsored by the Community Foundation for New Haven, and they are live or in person, we’re all alive. I keep forgetting that we all live in the world.

20:37 Pieta Blakely

I keep calling it real life.

20:39 Cynthia Rojas

I know, you keep saying it the other day

20:43 Pieta Blakely

For things that do happen over zoom

20:47 Cynthia Rojas

I know, I was like, did you just say real life? I did hear that. So it’s in person. And I have to tell you, I see such a big difference. You know, talking to people, seeing them, being able to touch them, or break breath with them, even if you don’t touch them, is so powerful. And so I got to see it. Thank God that I’ve got to see it from that length because I have forgotten.

21:23 Pieta Blakely

I remember the first time I took everything online. Everything was a lot of concern like, Could we have productive meetings? Can we do any of this over zoom? And we realized that we can, right? and it works. Now that you’re going back, is there anything about the Zoom space that you miss In real life?

21:43 Cynthia Rojas

Yes. the amount of time I spend on travel logistics. Right? Like, I don’t like to be late. So I am constantly thinking like, what time do I leave or will not leave?

22:00 Pieta Blakely

Can I say another thing that I found really rusty for me during the pandemic? never work backward from what I want to arrive to when I need to get ready to leave my house. What time, what time do I need to call the Uber to get to the airport to get on the plane to get to where I’m going?

22:17 Cynthia Rojas


22:18 Pieta Blakely

That just became really, really hard.

22:20 Cynthia Rojas

And then I think about, do I have to pay for parking. Right. things that I hadn’t considered before. And food. So when I’m out, I think about food much more because I have to plan for where I’m going to eat.

And what I’m going to eat when I’m home. You know, I don’t have to think about it so much. This morning, I prepared my lunch. So it’s already done. If I was outside, I would have to do a whole lot of things. So it is different. It is different and stressful in a different way.

22:55 Pieta Blakely

And what about like running the meeting? You know, do you think? Do you think other people are similarly fatigued and strange by just being in a room full of people?

23:07 Cynthia Rojas

I think so. I guess what we are getting are the individuals who have hectic mornings. And this adds to the hecticness. versus if you have a hectic morning, and you’re just gonna turn on your laptop. And you can have your video off. Right. So that I could see it in people’s faces. all the time. I also noticed there’s an enormous amount of apologizing. And I tell people, they don’t have to apologize.

But people constantly say sorry, I’m sorry, I’m late. I’m sorry. I’m on my phone. I’m sorry. And so I’m like, No, there’s another Grace here. Maybe that’s the awkwardness. But also remember we had to, been a long time, not for years, but a long time of been at home where we could do these things. And their lives have changed, right? So kids in schools have changed the minute somebody is sick, your kids have to come home.

24:11 Pieta Blakely

I remember, you know, five or ten years ago, I had a friend who was working from home just because her company decided to save money and not provide office space anymore. And she was so frustrated that her friends and family couldn’t understand she still had a job, right? Yes. It was like, no, like, I can’t go walk your dog. Like no, you can just drop in for coffee. Stay for two hours. I am working here. I’m still working.

And now of course everybody is home all the time and we get it. But the things that used to maintain the rigid boundaries are the things that used to maintain the illusion of rigid boundaries between our work life and our home life, disappeared. Right and that’s good, right? I mean, we all used to go to work and fake our houses and our families and our kids and our dogs who just disappeared. Right? While we were paying attention to work, I was in a meeting recently, it was a real-world meeting, most of us were there. But one of the participants resigned and got sick.

And so she was on Zoom. And during the meeting, she turned her camera off. And we’re just gotten so much so accustomed to that, right, for a little while the camera was off. that was fine. And then she came back. Well, it turned out like her camera was off, because her son had just vomited all day. And which would have, even before COVID, that would have been happening, right? And it just got to be that much harder for her. Oh, I’m just going to zoom, because my kid is sick. It is a really nice grace that we have now.

Yesterday, I logged on to a meeting. And I don’t know why I just didn’t realize my camera wasn’t on. Nobody said anything. Nobody was, you know, 15 minutes into the meeting. I was like, Oh, oops, you know, my camera, but people were very gracious about it. Nobody said anything. Like, that’s how it should be.

26:15 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, no, no, it’s, it’s we are different, for better or for worse.

26:24 Pieta Blakely

We are going to have to, kind of, bring this together. We are better, we are different. And there’s going to be a little bit of discomfort again, as we go back to pre COVID levels of productivity, whatever that means, and fit our new values and our new ways of working and invent them permanently, right? Or not work arounds, these are expectations, right?

26:55 Cynthia Rojas

Yes. And the great resignation has not helped. Right? So even if you are over producing or may end up over producing because you feel a sense of guilt or because the demand for your services has increased. We are also dealing with a reduced workforce. And so that’s putting pressure. I read an article obviously it was sensationalized? I hope it was but it was a little dramatic in that if we don’t figure out this workforce issue, our nonprofit ecosystem is going to crumble. Now, I thought that was a little bit much. Right.

27:34 Pieta Blakely

That’s a little bit dramatic

27:35 Cynthia Rojas

I know!

27:36 Pieta Blakely

That’s okay. I mean, if your workforce issue is that you got by for the last 100 years underpaying and overworking your staff, and doing what I call mission exploitation, which is where you treat your staff badly. And then tell them that they have to take it because the work they do is so important. If that’s been the model of the entire sector for a couple 100 years, and in this moment, it collapses.

I’m just going to go ahead and say I’m okay with that. It was not sustainable. And it needed to collapse. Is that really unfortunate? Because, you know, there are people who need these services. And yeah, right, that’s terrible. But I don’t think we were fully aware of all of the harm we were doing in delivering services the way we had. And if we need this crisis for the industry to turn around and do something different, I’m here for it.

28:52 Cynthia Rojas

And, you know, I see things in terms of opportunity. And we have two generations after us that are innovative, that look at life in a very different way. Right. And many times I follow their lead, I trust.

You know, they gave us Uber and Airbnb, and they gave us Google and they gave us so many things when we’re going to Google, he might be our generation. But the point is that, when something doesn’t work for them, they decide to do something about it. Right. And so if the nonprofit ecosystem is going to crumble, I believe that we have the people that are going to rebuild something better. Yeah.

29:45 Pieta Blakely

Yeah. but The crisis is an opportunity.

29:46 Cynthia Rojas

I’m sorry?

29:47 Pieta Blakely

The crisis is opportunity.

29:49 Cynthia Rojas

Yes, yes, it definitely is. All right. Well, this was a great show. Just you and I really talking, being honest and talking about what our year 3 looks like, but what we want our viewers to know is that we are looking forward to 2023 some evolving changes for coffee time. And just another year of really interesting show conversations with our leaders.

30:17 Pieta Blakely

Yeah, I can’t wait. I think each year we’ve done one of these. It’s been one more year of the pandemic shows. I cannot wait to look back over 5 or 10 of them. Right and see the story evolving.

30:34 Cynthia Rojas

Yes. And this is why, you know, At first when we talked about this theme, I was like, Oh my God, we’ve had these conversations, but it’s the documenting that I think is really interesting, and letting the world know because these videos will live forever, that we are still struggling in the third year and that we have to still honor and give grace to each other. Okay, my friends, you have a wonderful weekend. I greet everybody, and have a great weekend. Take care

Pieta Blakely

About Pieta Blakely

I help mission-based organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well. I started my nonprofit career as a teacher in workforce development and adult basic education. It was important work and I was worried that we didn’t really know if we were doing it well. In the process of trying to answer that question, I got a Masters in Education and a PhD in Social Policy, and became an evaluator.

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