Continuing Education

Five Things I’ve Learned About Adapting

One grad shares what crisis taught her about rolling with the punches

By Lewis Kelly

Photo by John Ulan

One grad shares what crisis taught her about rolling with the punches

By Lewis Kelly

December 18, 2020 •

Karina Birch, ’99 BCom, reacted to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in an unusual way. This time, she thought, we’re ready. Co-owner and CEO of Rocky Mountain Soap Co., Birch had been caught flat-footed in 2013 when rivers across southern Alberta flooded, making access to the company’s workshop and head office in Canmore impossible. With most of the company’s important information housed in the building, she couldn’t even contact all employees and customers to let them know about the disruption. The hard lessons Birch learned from this experience came in handy when the pandemic struck. Here’s what steering her business through two crises has taught her about dealing with the unexpected.

1. The choices you make outside of a crisis matter

Birch believes how we live before emergency strikes will inform what we do and how we feel in the eye of a storm. “Resilience is a cushion you build,” she says. “How are you leading your life? Are you building healthy relationships? Are you taking care of yourself?” During the pandemic, Birch has noticed that the people who prioritized quality relationships and their mental and physical health before the crisis were better situated to cope with the challenges than those who hadn’t.

2. Have plans in place before disaster arrives

Rocky Mountain Soap Co. uses standard processes for picking, packing and shipping orders. But as the team developed more efficient processes, the documents became outdated. This became a problem post-outbreak when online orders exploded and the business needed to train new people to fill them. “The training documents weren’t relevant,” says Birch. “We had to train everybody verbally. It was chaotic; we were making mistakes.”

3. Find peace in disorder

Even before the pandemic, Birch had reached her saturation point overseeing a business with more than 150 employees and raising three children. She tried keeping a strict schedule but when that didn’t help, she turned to meditation. Meditation helps Birch accept and value both the fast pace of her life and the limits that she faces, whether during a pandemic or on a regular, blue-sky day. “I know that I can physically only do so much in a day. To try more than that is not realistic, and I have to be happy with that.”

4. Make time work for you

“There are a million decisions I make every day, both as an entrepreneur and as a mom,” says Birch. But with COVID-19, she says she’s learned the value of taking five solid minutes to think through a decision before committing to it. That means asking questions like: If we do this, will it help us get where we’re going? It also means sitting with the silence. “Often something comes up,” she says. “Someone asks a question that takes us in a new direction.”

5. Tell a different story to yourself

“What took away that sense of being overwhelmed was changing the narrative in my mind,” she says. “With three kids, with my life, it’s always going to be a fast-moving train. That’s the life I’ve chosen and I love it.”

When COVID-19 hit, Karina Birch was swift to set up an emergency response team and implement pandemic protocol in her workshop. Photo by John Ulan

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