Kelli Drake of DRAKEphoto takes Katie Yocum Musisi’s portrait in her studio, September 28, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought sweeping and dramatic changes to our lives, and this year’s class of 40 Leaders Under Forty is no exception. Emily Shields of OSF HealthCare found her work turned upside-down, “[from] the initial shutdown of services and immense planning and deployment of digital services… to the surge last fall, vaccinations, the Delta variant and everything in between.” It also afforded her new opportunities, which “provided tremendous learning experience as a leader.”
“I dove headfirst into reimagining our Easterseals events in a virtual space and launching an emergency campaign to fund a telehealth platform,” recalls Katie Yocum Musisi, who worked from home while juggling parenting duties. “On many occasions, I was the mom presenting in a video meeting with a toddler on her lap making funny faces on screen.”
Many believe the expanded use of video software has made them more productive. “I was able to find more innovative ways to complete tasks in a much more effective manner,” suggests Shalandra Burch. Others, like Eric Larson, got intentionally creative in how they connected with their team, including “handwritten letters… [and] thoughtful check-ins with texts or calls.”
The pandemic helped many of us create a better work/life balance. “[It] helped me shift my mentality to family-first instead of job-first,” explains Michelle Nielsen Ott. But it has also brought great sadness and tragedy. “I almost lost everything—I had to pivot and adapt my business strategy. I lost family and I got sick as well,” explains Christell Frausto. “The silver lining is … I take better care of my health.”
Rachel Berchtold and her husband used the early weeks of the pandemic to develop a mobile app for their business. Today they continue to face significant challenges, but they have chosen to focus on “the many blessings afforded to us.” The abrupt lifestyle change afforded others the time to develop new hobbies. “I picked up carpentry during 2020,” notes Bethany Thimote, who shows off her work on Instagram @peoriaprojectgirl.
Finally, the pandemic has opened our eyes to many of the issues our society has neglected, adds Chanel Hargrave-Murry. “Understanding the effects of the food deserts in our poverty-stricken zip codes. How we’ve allowed so much to slip through the cracks when it comes to the small steps of education… We have a lot of work to do.” And moving forward, there’s no doubt this class of young leaders will be the ones to do the work. —Jonathan Wright, Editor In Chief