my hot mess: ken jacobs

In a series called My Hot Mess, inspired by the Wall Street Journal, we’ll speak to communicators around the globe about the things they’re doing right now to get through this hot mess we call life.

Today we talk to Ken Jacobs about how he’s coping during a pandemic. Check back every Friday to learn about a new victim communicator and how they’re coping during this crazy time.

I Wasn’t a Hot Mess Until…

So don’t hate me, Gini and fellow Spin Sucks Community members, but I haven’t been a hot mess.

(But there is a hot mess story coming, I promise.)

And it’s not because we haven’t been stuck indoors.

Last Thursday, I ventured into a building other than our home for the first time since March 10. You heard that right. 

But there was no cream or half and half or even milk in the house, other than Flax, Coconut, Rice, or Soy.

(Have you tried those in your morning coffee? Please don’t.)

And yes, I was not only wearing a mask, but an N95 mask.

It wasn’t enough for me to wear a mask to protect others, but I need to protect myself: I have two COVID-19 risk factors: age and Type-2 diabetes.

More important, our son has ulcerative colitis, so that, and the meds he takes to manage it, make him immune-compromised. 

But I digress. 

It’s not that I don’t have the potential to be a hot mess, it’s just that I created a five-point plan to help me get through this.

And remember, back in March, we didn’t quite know what “this” is, nor how long it will last.

Come to think of it, we still don’t know.

Strategies to Get Through Life

But what I did know is that in life, like in business, you need to have key strategies and actions to help you through uncertain times.

Here are mine.

Feel free to borrow them as you create your strategies for a continued WFH existence, a reopening to “the new normal,” (whatever that may be), or something in between: 

  1. Walk Every Day. OK, I didn’t fully execute on this, but I can honestly say that we went for robust walks for five-to-six days per week, rain or shine. Getting outside and moving, feeling the wind or the sun on your face is a great way to start your day, pandemic or not. We live “Down The Shore” in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Spring is sort of a sleepy time here and in next-door Ocean Grove. So walking at 7:30 am, there were very few people from whom we had to distance ourselves.
  2. Tap Into My Optimism. As a certified coach, I’m a firm believer in that our perceptions create our realities. So early on, I knew I had a choice: I could perceive this situation as challenging, overwhelming, stressful…instead I chose uncertain. And I know that from uncertainty we can create opportunity, if we so choose. So I chose to tap into my optimism, knowing that this will eventually subside, and that we’ll come out stronger for it. And that includes my business.
  3. Lift Others Up. I believe that we get what we give, so we should give what we want. For me, lifting others up lifts me up. So I went on a tear reaching out to current and inactive clients, friends, supporters, and associates, checking in to see how they’re doing, and offering them a free coaching session if they were struggling with how to lead their teams or themselves. I wasn’t surprised at how great it felt. What was a little surprising is how great I felt when people would out of the blue email or call me to see how I was doing.
  4. Turn Off TV News. Based on my initial viewing, I sensed that although news stations and outlets were mostly trying to be helpful, the news of bodies in refrigerator trucks waiting to be picked up by overwhelmed coroners, as well as what appeared to be recklessly dangerous behavior by my fellow Americans, had the potential to bring me down. And I could get what I needed to know from the CDC and other reliable health news sources. So no TV news sine mid-March!
  5. Meditate. I never thought about myself as a meditation guy. But for no apparent* reason, in February, before all COVID19 exploded here, I took up meditation via the Headspace app. It was more of Meditation 101. Then in March, a gifted coach trainer whom I respect tremendously invited me to something called “21 Days of Abundance”.  I knew it was about meditation and would give me assignments, but I’d no idea it was a project of Deepak Chopra’s, and he’d be leading us through the meditation. While I can’t say I ever got into a truly meditative state, it was a wonderful introduction to the benefits of meditating. At its conclusion, I was invited to “30 Days Of Hope” At that point, I was willing to sign up for all the hope I could get, so I signed on, not knowing that the series featured Dr. Chopra and Oprah. OPRAH! Let me tell you, starting each day with Oprah’s voice in your ears and her thoughts in your head is a wise choice indeed.  

*As someone who believes the Universe makes no mistakes, I’m convinced there was a definite reason that I finally was open to meditation in February, 2020!

After a few weeks I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, business is frozen, I don’t know when it will come back, I know people getting this disease…and I’m not freaking out.

(And freaking out was my go-to place for a number of years.)

So these five strategies must be working!

Veered Off-Course

And then, I veered off-course. 

On a Thursday night, for reasons I don’t understand, I watched the evening news.

It was bad. But it didn’t quite get to me at first.

Friday was actually busy, and then there was the weekend. 

And then Monday hit. It was bad. So bad, I didn’t take my daily walk that day. Or the next. And meditation? Puh-leaze!

By Tuesday, I was a mess. A hot mess. Like could not get anything done hot mess. Deep in the slump hot mess. 

And no surprise, Wednesday was worse. 

I knew that staying in that place wasn’t serving me. And if I wasn’t taking care of myself, how could I take care of my clients, prospects, or family? 

There was something else going on: I was scheduled to lead a virtual class on leadership for the Newhouse Executive Master’s Program on Wednesday night.

But how could I train them about leadership, influence, and leadership energy, when I was so down? 

Still, because I felt stuck, I didn’t go for a walk or meditate.

But I did add those two items to my to-do list, and to my Outlook calendar for Thursday and Friday, and the next week. 

And guess what? It got better. My mood not only shifted, it lifted. Just by making the right decision, and writing it down.

It was enough to get me ready to teach that class.

And then something crazy happened: the energy of the students (all of whom are mid-level PR practitioners and managers)  lifted me up!

By the end of the program, I was practically high. 

And I did walk on Thursday, and Friday, and on the weekend. 

Has it been smooth sailing ever since?

In full candor? 


For some reason, two weeks later, I got out of my daily walks and daily meditation habit.

(Though I kept up with my other actions.) 

So while I slumped downwards, this time, it wasn’t as deep or lengthy.

I sensed what was happening, and got back into walking and meditating by Wednesday.

And I can say it’s been relatively smooth sailing since then. 

Key Learnings

I learned a few things from this experience:

  1. If you want to get through uncertain times, you must have a plan.
  2. That plan must include mind-body-soul.
  3. During these times, be constantly aware of your mood and your energy level. When things don’t feel good, pay attention. And do something different (or go back to a routine that serves you.)
  4. The best way to get out of a slump is to take action. If you’re not ready to take that action, deciding to take action gets you halfway there. And writing down the action hugely increase the chance you’ll actually take it.
  5. You’re human, and you’ll fall off track. Four steps forward and one step back, as they say. Know that this will happen. When it does, give yourself a big old dose of self-forgiveness. Remember, you’re leading yourself, and others, through times for which there is no leadership playbook. You’ve got this!

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich