Changing perspectives during COVID and social unrest

Steven Loeb · July 24, 2020 · Short URL:

Entrepreneurs share their journeys via "Becoming Us" a BetterHelp series 

On Thursday, Vator and BetterHelp held their second Becoming Us session, a new program to help professionals build mental resilience through these surreal times filled with an unprecedented lockdown, lost opportunity, soul-searching protests and political unrest. As we transition to a new normal, we wanted to create a judgment-free place where people could share their unique journeys - struggles, hopes, etc. And in so doing, inspire others. 

This session, hosted by Christian Lamb, licensed clinical social worker at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and owner of Inspired Online Counseling, and moderated by Vator CEO Bambi Francisco, was focused on fear and anxiety and it provided a way for to ask questions and share their personal and/or professional journeys during COVID.  

Here's how a few of them shared their journeys.

Don Stamas, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Defender Capital: 

"It's interesting: this time of COVID and social unrest has come together to form a perfect storm, at least for my world. As a former New York City guy, I was born there, who likes to go, go, go, go, go, and who brought that down to North Carolina. COVID has certainly encouraged me, in ways that maybe I hadn’t started, to slow down on my own. Then we add the social injustice piece that’s been around for, you can do the research, over 300 years, it isn’t something new. But it now has come to the forefront. And so, this perfect storm has given the world an opportunity, in this slower world that we have, to put into practice one of the greatest gifts and wisdom pieces I've ever gotten from Jesus's brother James; He says that we should all be quick to listen and slow to speak. I’ve been doing this for years but COVID has certainly helped me to be better: speak with people and do a lot more listening than speaking. By listening with a heart to understand everybody's situation, whether I agree or not is not the point. I go in with that mindset. Then I get to learn and get the perspective of another human being, and really that's what all this is about. You're talking about humanity. And we get to put this into practice then we get a chance to see people for really who they are, where they come from.

Funny, my wife mentioned the movie Crash this past weekend and I don’t know if you all have seen that one but it’s pretty interesting, where you see everybody's backstory. If we all took the time to learn everybody's backstory, we wouldn’t look at an individual and just say, ‘This is my first impression, it's the only impression I have.’ Well, that's what people say but the way we were made was not just to give off first impressions. It’s totally not who we are. First impressions, they are what they are, but that's just a piece of who we are. And COVID has really allowed us, in a nutshell, the time, the opportunity, to slow down, to seek to understand by listening, and I don't have to agree with anything that comes my way but I do need to love. To love is to consider the other person, where they're coming from.

Lastly, I had a phone call from one of our best friends in New York last week; just out of the blue, I was grocery shopping, and he called me up and I've never heard this temperament out of him. He's fairly self-controlled. I call him ‘brother from the south,’ but he was living in New York City. I just listened for about five minutes without even almost breathing because he  had to get stuff out. And he chose to call and all I had to do was listen and at the end of that we went back to a more normal conversation for us from our relationship of nearly 30 years. What I've learned is to not only slow down during COVID but really to slow down. I started before COVID, but COVID said, ‘Let me really help you slow down and be better at listening.’ And I learned a lot. I’m so grateful to everyone who’s been willing to share their story because everyone's got their own DNA, beautiful story, and I think we can define the new normal, which is what? Writhing in hate and all that? That's not a new normal. I don’t want that to be the new normal, I just want to be a person that loves people and hopefully people love me back and, if not, that's okay too."

Garrett Johnson, Co-Founder of Lincoln Network:

“My emotions over the past few months have really been all over the place. So, when COVID first set it, my sister, who's older by seven years old, in her early 40s, was diagnosed with breast cancer. And so you've got this pandemic that no one knows what to do with and people were still trying to figure out the large implications. It impacts everyone across the world at the macro level and then, on a very personal level, my sister is diagnosed. And then, on top of that, as research started to become more public, you started to hear about the implications of COVID on people of color, on Black communities and Hispanic communities. Part of me was just trying to make sure that I was taking this certain situation seriously, that my family was taking it seriously. There were some studies coming out saying that it could lead to increased blood clotting, a heightened level of blood clotting, in African Americans. I take blood thinners every day for a preexisting blood thinner coagulation issue, I have a family history in it, so it just really elevated my concern for myself and my family. We're going to Stanford tomorrow to have my children tested to see if there's any link between my medical condition and anything that they might encounter. So, just lots of questions, lots of concerns. 

Then, as Don mentioned, it’s almost a perfect storm of an economic crisis, a health crisis and now you have this social and cultural crisis that we confront. And one fear that I certainly have is the victim narrative that has gotten so much coverage. It almost seems like more and more people are feeling that they are constrained by their circumstances or constrained by history. And, in pushing that narrative and embracing that narrative, you rob people of agency, of the ability to change their circumstances, and believe that there is still opportunity and hope and redemption for themselves personally and for our larger society. I've just been concerned that we, as African Americans, we as Americans in general, can't lose sight of that idea that we are not constrained by history, we are not constrained by our circumstances, we can overcome them. And we can't get stuck and mired down in this notion that everything that happened in our past will continue to shape and dictate our future."

Chris Surdi, former Head of Enterprise Sales, West and APAC at Segment:

“Blocking out the negativity, or having the strength to do that, is also a challenge for people. It's so easy to let the outside world influence you, and, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, my wife tends to tell me that I really don't care what other people think. And, for the most part, it's kind of true. I love people's opinions and I love them to tell me what they think but I'm not gonna internalize it and let it affect me. As an entrepreneur or an angel employee, if I let that happen to myself, I probably never would have started companies or worked for startups. I would have just gone a different path.

The quick anecdote there is that my second company I started, I literally had people telling me, ‘You're just a kid, you can't do it.’ And, lo and behold, I started a company and sold it four years later, and the same people who told me I was a kid and couldn’t do it or just had their mouths shut. So, if you listen to the negativity and you absorb it and you let it affect you, then bad things can happen. There's this piece, or my position on this, anyway, is there's another strength piece that people need to focus on: having the strength to block out that negativity or put that shield on. Personally, in recent times, I’ve been reading the Bible a lot and just being in a lot of prayer, remembering verses like Ephesians 610 through 17. Just to continue to keep that shield on and know that there's bad things that happen, there's bad people, and there's a lot of stress right now but to internally be strong and to know who you are and to just stay confident in that in this time of negativity. It's a real challenge but I personally have found the more I've done that, the more calm and less stress and less anxiety and less fear that I've had."

Dave Quisumbing, Owner of Mr. Q's Food Products:

“How I'm handling this, it's more economical that I'm suffering because I started a bunch of businesses. I started a food truck last year and this year all my festivals got canceled. I opened, a couple years ago, a bunch of acai bowl stores, and a couple of them are open and they’re doing okay but three of them aren't gonna ever open again because our rent’s too high and they were built around primarily schools and gyms, and those are all closed. Last year, I bought into a bar, and we did so well during the winter but right when COVID hit it got closed and we're only open for outside dining now but that's not enough, so we don't know how much longer that's gonna last. The thing you have to do during these times is, I guess, more less appreciate that you know other things in life and be grateful for. I mean, every time I travel to a third world country or even when I used to go back to the Philippines, I always liked to say, ‘Wow, how great, I have it here in the States.’

The things people complain about are just crazy compared to how good we really have it. I just recall this one experience where I was stopped at a traffic light and then I had this four year old knocking on the window begging for food and they can't even afford clothes, they're naked. It's like, ‘Wow, you know, my little complaints compared to people who are living lives like this on a daily basis.’ It's like, 'Wow can I really complain?’

I also own a barbecue sauce company and what actually was really good was this actually gave me a chance to put it online and it's actually doing really, really, really well online. I always procrastinated. I said, ‘I want to get into supermarkets and stuff.’ That was more or less the end game, but all my trade shows got canceled, supermarkets aren’t taking on new products, so online was a small blessing that I pursued and it’s doing really well. I guess you gotta just roll with the punches. I taught myself piano again, I started doing that. During quarantine, I literally worked out 90 days straight indoors without taking a day off. You could go back to school online and study something, there's always a way to better yourself during these times and what we do have a lot more of is time. S,o you just gotta roll the punches and they always say, ‘After the greatest part of the storm is when the sun shines,’ so hopefully the sun is coming because the storm is pretty bad.”

(Image source:

Read more from our "Becoming Us by BetterHelp" series

More episodes

Related Companies, Investors, and Entrepreneurs



Joined Vator on

BetterHelp changes the way people get help to conquer life's challenges.

Facing obstacles alone can be daunting. Support and guidance from a professional counselor has been shown to make big changes. We created BetterHelp so anyone can have convenient, discreet, and affordable access to professional help.


Dave Quisumbing

Joined Vator on

Owner, Mr. Q's Food Products

Christian Lamb

Joined Vator on

Licensed Clinical Social Worker at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs & Owner of Inspired Online Counseling, LLC

Bambi Francisco Roizen

Joined Vator on

Author of "Unequally Yoked"; Co-founder Vator and Invent Health; Former Columnist/correspondent Dow Jones MarketWatch; Business anchor CBS affiliate KPIX

Chris Surdi

Joined Vator on