If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: 2020 was a difficult and challenging year for all of us. Whether we were sheltering at home to keep ourselves, our families, and our loved ones safe; trying to keep a business open and running while the rest of the world navigated the pandemic; or simply trying to get our kids to sit down and do their classwork on Zoom, there is no question that 2020 pushed us all to our limits both personally and professionally. Yet it wasn’t all bad. These are the six lessons I’m taking into 2021 and how I’m integrating them into my professional and personal life going forward, without any regrets.
Authenticity Is Everything
This past year, the line between work and home blurred. We came to Zoom meetings with sweatpants on. We may have used those “soft” filters to make ourselves look a little less haggard, tired, or stressed out, but mainly we showed up as our authentic selves, even when it was difficult. Being real about the good and the bad is the reason that we successfully made it through this year—and there’s a lesson in this for all of us: Whether you’re the leader of a company or getting your kids to online school on time in order to turn around and try to get some work done, being authentic is crucial. When the chips are down, no one wants polished and perfect. They want real conversations with real human beings who are secure enough in themselves to talk about the tough stuff.
As the leader of a company, I show up in the boardroom the same way I show up at home, and the year of the pandemic has reinforced just how vital being honest, authentic, and open is. Communication reigned as king this year. The more clearly leaders communicated with their staff, the more resilient we became together. There’s no value in a facade, so one of the key lessons I’m taking into 2021 is that authenticity is everything.
Communication Is King
Even now, nearly 10 months into the pandemic here in the U.S., we are still learning about the best ways to communicate. Not all of us have the answers, but we’re all trying to figure them out together. Whether you’re trying to talk your spouse or partner into taking out the trash or letting your staff know what the long-term plan is for working remotely and ensuring your business stays open, it’s vital to hone your communication skills.
You’ve likely heard the adage “The medium is the message,” right? Today, after spending nearly a year communicating remotely with staff, clients, and even my family, it’s clear that we need to continue to work on our communication skills, methods, and means. If that means setting up a time to talk with your family over Zoom once a week or finding an internal system that might work to keep your employees better informed and connected, the medium is still the message, and we need to leverage technology to continue to ensure that we keep the lines of communication open and flowing.
Gratitude Is a Practice and a Gift
The pandemic has been brutal on everyone, yet finding ways to practice gratitude has become a way to find light in the darkness—and the truth is, sometimes it takes real work. Gratitude is like a flower you plant. If you plant it and then neglect it, it will never grow. If you nurture it, for example, by finding just one thing to be grateful for each and every day, in spite of the challenges you might face in life or in business, the benefits you can reap are tremendous.
Don’t believe me? UCLA and the University of Miami released a study that shows a gratitude practice, whether it’s writing down one thing you are grateful for or simply sitting with the feeling of gratitude, can do wonders for happiness—and ultimately, success. Why? Because gratitude helps you approach difficult challenges with a more positive mindset, which means you have more resilience for setbacks. Studies have shown that more positive people perform better at work and at home, too.
One thing that 2020 has certainly taught me is the importance of gratitude. Expressing genuine appreciation to your co-workers, family, and friends can help bolster them, too, and generally make you much happier in the long run—even when things get tough.
Resilience and Tenacity Are Vital
Resilience is a muscle that, like gratitude, we need to work to build. Life can be challenging, but sometimes, just sheer stick-to-it-iveness can get us through, and 2020 had plenty of lessons about tenacity for us.
Take the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, for example. If researchers, universities, and companies worldwide hadn’t been tenacious and resilient in the face of the astronomical challenges of the novel coronavirus, we wouldn’t be where we are today with vaccines slowly rolling out all over the world. Despite countless failed clinical trials, they continued to be resilient and have brought us to the point where our essential frontline workers are getting vaccinated against the bug. Eventually, their work will allow the entire world to be inoculated (to an extent) against this horrific virus.
As both business leaders and individuals, we can take plenty of lessons from the valuable work of the researchers, scientists, and frontline workers who are putting in the hard, on-the-ground effort to beat this illness and save people’s lives. These people face defeat and death daily, yet they keep going because of their resilience and tenacity. Without their commitment, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Facts Are Paramount to Making Sound Decisions
Without the hard work of those who have researched and developed the vaccines being distributed today, we wouldn’t be where we are. Without the logical, fact-based scientific process, the virus would be far worse. There is value in assessing everything from your next business venture to your kids’ schooling with a focus on facts.
From a business point of view, it’s easy to understand this. When businesses are flourishing and flush with cash, they invest, grow, hire people, and expand. When they are not, they have to let people go, change course, revamp their business, and rethink their plans. The facts of a situation, the real truth of it, matter profoundly and must inform our business and personal decisions. Relying on truth and facts can make you both a better decision-maker at home and a leader in the office.
Finding Value in Time Spent at Home with Family Is at the Heart of Everything
Ultimately, what this year has taught me is the value of spending time where we live and grow our family and friends. Home is absolutely where the heart is, and 2020 offered a way for us to pause, reassess what our priorities are, and truly focus on what matters. For me, that’s the ability to focus on the friendships and family ties that truly enrich my life. It has reframed my goals for 2021 and reprioritized things for both my work life and my home life. I have always held my family as the most essential part of my life, but 2020 has further underscored how vital our connections with one another are.
The Bottom Line: Learning from 2020
Every challenge offers an opportunity to learn and grow. The past year provided one long opportunity to refocus our priorities, learn deep and resounding lessons, and reconnect to what really matters most in our lives. There is no question that 2020 was a challenging and extremely difficult year on all fronts, but if we can continue to push forward and take the challenges and lessons in stride, we’re sure to come out of this pandemic in a far better position than we could ever have imagined. Difficult times make us stronger and more resilient and can even make us more successful. The lessons I learned in 2020 have made me more grateful and more focused on communication and connection—and made me value family and friends even more than I did previously. I resolve to start 2021 FRESH and with no regrets. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth and learning, and 2020 had plenty to offer.