Nobody could’ve anticipated COVID and just how much it was going to change everything in our lives. But maybe it’s not about imagining the unimaginable.


By Mindy Henderson, Photo by Vanessa Todd

I was talking to my husband a while back about COVID and how much it had shaken our worlds. As we chatted, I questioned how we (our community and our businesses) could have anticipated something like COVID. How could we all have been more prepared?

The problem, I said, was that COVID was unimaginable. No one, short of the CDC or an epidemiologist, maybe, could have dreamt it up. So, as an individual, a business owner, a parent, spouse or teammate, how do you begin to imagine (never mind prepare for) the unimaginable? Seemed impossible when I first asked the question.

Then it hit me.

Maybe it wasn’t that we needed to imagine a specific unimaginable event that may or may not happen in our lifetimes. The biggest problem with COVID was that it hit at the core of every basic need a human being has.

I started reaching back in my memory to Psychology 101 in college when we learned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. That was the answer I needed. Mind you, I am not a psychologist. I just play one on the phone with my friends and family. But the more I read and thought, the more it began to make sense.

Since then, it’s become an idea I’m a little obsessed with. A “backdoor” solution in my mind. What do I mean by that? Instead of asking my mind to conjure ideas of possible yet unimaginable events to prepare for, I pulled out a chart of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The solution isn’t imagining the unimaginable. It is about protecting and strengthening those basic human needs that can be broken by the unimaginable.

Maslow’s famous chart shows a triangle with five layers beginning at the bottom and moving up. The layers at the bottom are the widest, thus setting the foundation of the most important human needs. The foundation supports each subsequent layer above.

Layer 1: Physiological Needs

Things like air, water, food, shelter, clothing. Check. Remember when there was no bottled water to be found? The whole supply chain feeding our grocery stores and other food sources got hit. Don’t get me started on toilet paper. That’s more than a need. It’s a basic human right!

Layer 2: Safety Needs

This was hit big. Personal security, employment, resources, health. Check, check, holy check, Batman and check. People lost their jobs; businesses closed. Obviously, public health was the primary vulnerability.

Layer 3: Love and Belonging

This encompasses our friendships, family, sense of connection. We were in quarantine, for crying out loud. Unable to see friends and family. Unable to go to restaurants or other places for social gatherings. No coffee dates or girl’s nights. No hugs or handshakes. Our kids couldn’t go to school or have playdates. Big-time check!

Layer 4: Esteem

This layer encompasses our respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength and freedom. The strength of these things depends on the strength of their foundational layers. When we are cut off from human connections, personal touch and on top of it, financial and medical security, depression and anxiety creep in. Self-esteem, freedom, strength were all compromised.

Layer 5: Self-Actualization

This is the realization of a person’s potential and self-fulfillment. Again, when those more foundational layers fracture, reaching or maintaining a self-actualized state is unreasonable to expect.

Here’s the way I see it.

Let’s all take a look at the pieces of our lives that these five layers represent and rehab the heck out of them. I’m still figuring out the “how” of it all for me. But I sure won’t be without several gallons of water in my pantry again. (Not suggesting we hoard, but instead have a reserve.)

I’m looking at ways to make my financial life stronger, my professional life, my health and immunity. Looking at my mental health and self-care to make my emotional health stronger.

Give it a try. Think about Maslow, your basic needs, the areas of your life that are vulnerable, and get proactive. I know that nothing and no one is indestructible. But look for creative strategies and new ways of keeping each area of your life strong and healthy. Maybe when the unimaginable happens again, it will hurt a little less. Who’s with me!


Mindy Henderson lives in Austin with her husband of 17 years. They have a daughter at Texas State University, a puggle named Mr. PapaGeorgio and a cat named Birdie. Mindy currently works as a speaker, writer, coach, host of The Truth About Things That Suck podcast and is a guest contributor to We Are Austin. This column is a tool she is excited to use regularly to help us all uncover those sucky but surprisingly beautiful circumstances. Connect with Mindy on Instagram at @mindyhendersonspeaks, or on LinkedIn.


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