Quarantine Memories: “the sunny side” of Silviu Tolu

23 April 2020

The feedbacks of the participants of the BBS Global MBA continue to share with BBS Community how they are facing this period of quarantine.

Here is a reflection by Silviu Tolu, participant of the Global MBA in Design, Fashion and Luxury Goods who describes how he is spending his days away from Bologna, between reading philosophy, business projects and new hobbies.

“I left Bologna in a hurry with a ticket I bought a few hours before the flight, leaving all my belongings in the studio I’m renting, two suitcases worth of mostly clothing and some books. I left these behind with a peculiar feeling of concern mixed with excitement and a realistic hope (I then thought) that I will be back after our spring break, in about three weeks’ time. Little did I know…

Here I am, about a month after, happy with my decision of leaving Italy on March 1st and asking myself much less questions about how and when will all this end, reading much less articles about the pandemic, watching little, if any news. I have made peace with the uncertainty and the absurd of the situation, moreover, I have analyzed and accepted my worst-case scenarios and really, I recommend you to do the same.

We are the most advanced specimen that Nature has created and if we are to spend the rest of our days locked inside our apartments, with groceries being delivered to our door and only our laptops and books as companions, I am sure we will survive. If you think otherwise, I have a reading suggestion for you: try Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning and let’s talk after – via email only. But this, of course, is an apocalyptic scenario, only worthy of a film with Will Smith as the main character. We will get our lives back, maybe even sooner than a PRO like myself would assume (Pessimistically-Realistic-Optimist, that is, and I might have coined a new term here).

So, what has brought me this serenity that has become so prevalent in my behavior in the last few months that it has even taken me by surprise?

My readings of some Stoic philosophy seem to be paying off. I have read, in the past, a part of Seneca’s moral letters to Lucilius (where you’ll find valuable advice like this one: “There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality“), Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is The Way and The Daily Stoic and some of Michel de Montaigne’s Essays. I would have inserted another quote here but I will save this privilege for later (there’s only so many wise words you can add to an article, excluding the author’s, of course, where that’s the case).

Our patterns of thinking are so wired into our brains (I believe they’re called heuristics in psychology) that it takes quite some effort to change them. And it all starts with awareness and one’s desire to modify them. Therefore, it took me a while to stop being affected by things out of my control and in turn to focus my energy on what I can control and change.

2020 was supposed to be the best year, my year… I would have become a father – probably the best feeling in the world, I would have finished my Global MBA in Design, Fashion and Luxury Goods, something that I’ve dreamt of doing for a looong time and a new world of connections and opportunities would have opened for me.

But guess what? These things will happen anyway, pandemic or not. Yes, I might be studying online on the third term and I would’ve taken a day at Villa Guastavillani any time over this, things will be more difficult and different, but what better learning and growing opportunity than this one? What better case study than feeling change (in its most unexpected form maybe) directly as it’s happening to us? What better time to (re)define who we are and what it is we really want ourselves and our lives to become?

Now let me quickly walk you through how I have organized my life around the three most important areas for me at the moment: work/school, family and personal development.

I will start with family as it is the most sensitive. Coming from Italy, I decided to stay with my parents since my fiancée is pregnant and my mother in law is with her and we wanted to reduce risk to a minimum. Then the lockdown from the authorities came and since my parents were still going to work at that point, I stayed with them for the very same reason mentioned above… and I’m still here. It’s good to have all the comfort you find at your parents’ house (quite paradoxical since this is when I should be most mature and I feel like a spoiled kiddo), but it’s really frustrating that I can’t be next to my future wife and our baby. We FaceTime a lot though.

When it comes to school and work, I am pretty much as committed as before, the extra being that I managed to read more on the subjects I’m studying and on the field that I work in and to binge-watch a couple of MasterClasses (Howard Schultz’s and Goodby & Silvertein’s are the gems!).

I have a small business, MotaShop, a boutique manufacturer of leather bags and accessories and while we have definitely taken a hit on sales, we tried to make something good out of the situation and came up with a campaign where we are taking photos of our bags in different corners of our homes (since we can’t produce any photoshoots at this time) and we are kindly asking our clients to do the same, strengthening the idea that our products are companions not only when you’re on the road, but also at home. It’s called #HOMEwithMOTA.

Last, but not least, I have really taken time to explore some other areas of interest, I have picked up a book of philosophical essays about wine, I baked my first bread (let’s just say there is room for improvement), I made pizza – on which I got a comment from an Italian lady saying that I’ve killed the concept of pizza – with all due respect, I have a few people who can testify to how tasty my pie is (I have, indeed, exaggerated on the amount and the diversity of ingredients) and I watched Michael Pollan’s Cooked series – a pattern may be emerging here. Finally, I have started writing again, still not as much as I wanted but it feels good to get back in the groove.

The very little time I spent outside brought me even more tranquility as I’ve seen very little humans around (crowded streets do get a little annoying – I wonder how I’ve lived in New York City for a couple of years), and very few cars which made driving a pleasure.
So, in the midst of tragedy, let me propose to everyone that you should “always look for the silver lining, and try to find the sunny side of life” as per Chet Baker’s lyrics, while I will now pull my last rabbit out of my hat and conclude with the words of another stoic, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, as it follows: “Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul”.

Be well and stay safe!


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