My Mom always said to never wish your time away
But I can say that I am happy to be done with this past year. Phew… It has been trying at so many levels: violence, hurricanes, wildfires, political divisiveness, and of course, Covid-19. Talk about a heck of a roller-coaster ride!
No one was untouched by the pandemic. The magnitude of human hardship is overwhelming. In the words of the President-Elect, “There are empty chairs at the kitchen table” around the world. Job loss numbers and images of record lineups at foodbanks are powerful reminders that while we are all navigating the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.
It feels that 2020 is harshly extending an invitation to revisit some of our ways and beliefs. It is in our collective best interest to let this forced pause help us get back on a track that serves the greater good, one in which we care about one another and protect our planet.
If the heartbreaking video of George Floyd’s killing is not such a call, I don’t know what is. These images of a police officer kneeling on a Black man’s throat while holding him on the ground are etched in our collective soul forever.
There are many 2020 lowlights. Too many. My heart aches when I think of the grief and hardships endured by so many.
But the beginning of a new year always offers hope and a feeling of a clean slate. This is true of 2021 too, even knowing that it is going to take some work.
As I stare the new year in the eye, I am determined to figure it out, and to do so I choose to focus on the considerable number of positive things that also emerged over the past months. Be it new ways of doing things or moments of clarity. Let’s grab a hold of these to keep us grounded, to give us strength and resilience, and to fuel our agency over the coming months. What positive things could I possibly be talking about? Here are a few examples.
We are hardwired for connection
The restrictions of the past months have made crystal clear how much we need to connect with each other. Nothing will replace in-person gatherings, but being forced to take a dive into the world of virtual connections has its pluses. It opened new opportunities for many and paves the way for a new normal that includes hybrid approaches to our gatherings.
This is not only true at work. We are seeing many previously technology-adverse people dipping their toe in the online world and successfully discovering a new way to stay connected with their loved ones, without having to travel miles. One of the key 2020 phrases will probably be, “YOU HAVE TO UNMUTE YOURSELF!” That’s right, ever noticed our tendency to yell this out? Go figure.
The future of work
For many workplaces, Working from Home (WFH) arrived at the speed of light, throwing organizations for a loop. Working remotely will stay as one of the ways organizations deliver their offering. This will also impact how recruitment is approached, opening a wider talent pool, one that is not limited by geography. The unavoidable transition is highlighting how crucial trust is to the creation of an engaged workforce. Undeniably, organizations in which leaders give and receive trust simply fare much better these days. Note to self, my leading friends.
The light is also shining on empathy as a crucial contributor to an organization’s ability to find a new, if perhaps transitional, normal. Perhaps the essence of what is unfolding at work these days is best captured in this quote from Minouche Shafik, Director of London School of Economics and Political Science: “In the past, jobs were about muscles; now they’re about brains, but in future, they’ll be about the heart.” Ladies and gentlemen, the future of work has arrived.
Now on to diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, and white supremacy. These are tough ones. It is something that can no longer be ignored and yet many of us (including yours truly) are not sure how to move forward in a positive manner. There is not a three easy step approach here. I am often unsure about what to do or say, but here are a few things I am clear about:
• We can no longer pretend it is not an issue.
• Avoiding difficult and potentially messy conversations will only make things worse.
• This is not something for BIPOC to resolve; it’s the white culture’s mess to clean.
• The fact that “I didn’t do this” doesn’t change the situation that I must now address.
• Now is a good time to practice our listening skills and be willing to hear uncomfortable things, especially those we would prefer not to hear about.
Here is an interesting podcast on this topic. This conversation between Brené Brown and Aiko Bethea about inclusivity at work provides a nuanced outlook and guidance.
About social media
Another dimension of 2020 I found interesting is the evolution of social media. Many platforms are being forced to revisit their power and are challenged to create ethical guidelines. We are seeing the emergence of boundaries and the definition of what is acceptable and what is not while staying true to the belief that we all have the right to speak our minds. This is an interesting balancing act, and I am enjoying seeing the process unfold.
Vaccines in record time
A highlight of the past year is certainly the speedy development, testing, and approval of vaccines. It happened in record time. A lot of credit is being given to the unprecedented level of collaboration within the scientific community. There is also an interesting dimension to this story. A recent New York Times article by David Leonhardt explains how one of the elements that made this possible is the ability of pharmaceutical companies to leverage research that was funded over the years by governments. Looking through this lens illustrates the merits and needs of governments and the private sector. They play a different role and operate with their own systems and rules, and that is fine. It creates a balance of power and serves diverse interests.
Trying to reform one sector by replacing its systems with ones of the other is doomed to fail. Not sure what I mean? The handling of the pandemic by the Trump administration is a catastrophic illustration of thinking that one can be oblivious to its system and dynamics. In this case, we are looking at a tragic failure, one that has cost over 350,000 American lives to date.
Speaking of the private sector, 2020 was a reminder of the importance of small independent businesses. Many business owners were quick to find ways to support their community and were incredibly generous. This certainly reminded us of the importance of buying local. I’d be a hypocrite to vilify Amazon. There were days I was thankful it could get me what I needed to be delivered to my doorstep. But I also chose to be mindful of our local businesses when purchasing goods. Small businesses are needed as a community anchor, and it is up to us as consumers to adopt behaviors that will give them a chance to stay around and support community building. Why does it matter?
What truly matters
The answer to this question brings me to what the most important reminder of 2020 brought us.
As humans, we are hard-wired for social relationships. Covid-19 is shining a light on how much despair we experience when we are not able to see each other, hug, grab a coffee, volunteer, hang out, work on community projects, etc. The emotional toll is unparalleled.
In BC, Doctor Henry has been inviting us to be safe, be calm, and most importantly, in my opinion, be kind. Kindness has been the best balm to relieve the aches and pains of 2020. We have helped each other in ways we never thought possible. I hope this leaves a permanent stamp on our individual and collective souls.
As we enter 2021, eager to shed the sorrows of 2020, my invitation is that we make kindness, empathy, and love our secret weapons.”