by Rick Claggett
(Rick Claggett is the publisher of Orlando, Fla.-based Watermark. A version of this column originally appeared in Watermark and is reprinted here with permission.)
I recently celebrated 19 years of employment at Watermark. It seems surreal. When I started with Watermark, the longest consecutive time I had spent at any one job was a year and a half. I’ve also made it no secret that I took this job as a temporary fix to unemployment as I searched for something more lucrative. It’s funny how life works out, how plans change.
It wasn’t smooth sailing at Watermark in 2002. My first day was only months after 9/11. Watermark had just lost big on a comedy show scheduled for November 2001. The community wasn’t ready to gather and laugh just yet. It took a long time to recover from the following financial crisis. Just as we found our footing, another financial crisis hit when the housing market crashed. This one hurt more because we had built our company up and had further to fall. We managed to crawl through that disaster and rebuild our staff later that year. We even got to the point where we were able to put out a few more unsuccessful attempts at events.
Sometimes when you build it, they don’t come.
Nevertheless, we persisted. In 2016 I took over ownership with some pretty lofty goals. Sadly, just six months in, tragedy struck our community. Following the massacre at Pulse, Trump was elected and soon after the community grieved the loss of our former editor in chief, Billy Manes. Our resilient communities banded together and carried each other through. We were thriving again, and then… COVID.
The pandemic is like the emotional equivalent of the “Tower of Terror.” When you think you have a handle on it, the floor drops below you. You pick yourself back up and it drops again. The timing is random, the speed at which it drops is random and how many times you will fall is uncertain.
We thought we would be locked down for a month and it would get better. That didn’t happen. We held out for a vaccine. There were rollout issues. The virus is mutates and we find ourselves with more questions than answers, again.
This little trip down depressing memory lane isn’t out of a desire to be Watermark’s Debbie Downer. It’s an exercise in control, or lack thereof. For alcoholics like me, the path to recovery spends a great deal of time on this subject. Realizing you can’t control everything leads to serenity which leads to less drinking, putting it in simple terms.
At every year-end staff retreat I would say, “This is going to be our year. This year we will do all the things.” Then, something beyond my control would take over. It was years ago that I stopped measuring our success by our ability to hit the goals we set forth on that one day. I measure success on how we adapt to circumstances beyond our control, on our ability to control what we can. You must roll with the punches, so to speak. We live in the most uncertain of times in recent history. We can’t control COVID in the way we would like to. So, we have to adapt. We have to control what we can.
I recently got married. My then-fiancé (now husband) and I had a sizeable wedding planned, but due to COVID restrictions we had to alter that plan. In March of 2020, when we sent out the save-the-date cards, we didn’t anticipate having to cut the guest list in half a year later, but here we are. We could have kicked the can down the road and rescheduled, but what’s the guarantee we won’t be rescheduling and rescheduling? We decided to follow the guidelines set in place, wear masks, socially distance and celebrate with those we are able to celebrate with.
I know there are some out there who find it outrageous we would move forward at all. I had to believe that if we followed CDC guidelines, we could have a safe wedding. We decided to adapt and control what we could. We wore our masks; we kept a safe distance from one another. If the outbreak gets worse, we will adapt again. All we really needed was each other, and one brave witness.