With a global pandemic, a disrupted economy and social turmoil, the year 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride without a seatbelt. But as it comes to a close, I am realizing that for better or worse, I am exiting the year a changed person from the one I was in December 2019. Here are a few of the lessons I take with me into the new year:

Lead With Empathy

I am not an emotive leader. I like to think I am more mission than people-driven. But 2020 has made me realize the importance of leading with empathy. This pandemic has not affected everyone equally, and no two of us are struggling in exactly the same way. I have learned to listen, empathize, understand and support in ways I never have before 2020. Missions are important. People are more important.

Thoreau Knew a Thing or Two

When the pandemic began, I moved to a somewhat isolated area of Massachusetts. With two hours of commuting gone from my day, I found myself stir crazy in the mornings. My solution: I took a walk. Nine months later, walking is still an integral part of my morning routine, and is supplemented with weekend hikes. Somewhere along the way I started bringing a camera, and before I knew it, I began to appreciate the beauty of the natural world around me (IG: @joekinsella). Whether it is watching the waves crash against the beach, a blue heron flying across a saltmarsh, or the swaying of pine trees in the wind, nature has been therapeutic for me. I plan to carry this new habit into 2021. I guess it’s time to retire my age-old joke that the best sleeping pill I have ever taken is a Henry David Thoreau book on my nightstand.

I Can Do More

I’m not sure if it was seeing first hand the struggle in my community, George Floyd, the protests for social injustice, the election, or just the added time for reflection - but I have felt personal shame at how little I have done in my adult life to help others beyond my direct relationships and personal network. Somewhere along the way I got so caught up in my life that I forgot to make a difference in the broader world around me. I have no excuse, just a statement: I am, I can and I will do more.

I Can WFH, But I Don’t Want To

Do you remember when Bill Murray, playing Phil Connors in the movie Groundhog Day, awakes to the radio playing “I Got You Babe”, and realizes he is once again repeating yesterday? That’s what I feel like each morning working from home during a pandemic. Don’t get me wrong: I deeply appreciate that I have a job that can be performed remotely. I also appreciate I have an employer that has not just embraced working from home, but has promoted it. I have also never missed my 2+ hours of commuting each day. But I do miss working in an office, solving problems with colleagues at a white board, chatting over the coffee machine, and feeling the energy of people with a shared mission in a shared physical space. This year has made me realize that while I can work from home, I don’t want to.

Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving

Almost all the things I have taken for granted have been disrupted this year: family gatherings & traditions, working from an office, enjoying dinner at a restaurant, having friends over for drinks, seeing my boys at college, and so much more. The absence of these things has made me reflect on how important they are to my life. Never before have I been as acutely aware of my thankfulness for the simple things: a job, a healthy family, food on the table, and a safe place to live. For all that we want, it is often too easy to overlook what we already have.

Slow It Down

I have always prided myself on never being afraid to work hard. I also believe that all great accomplishments come from great effort. But I am also cognizant my hard work sometimes results in tunnel vision that shuts out many things around me. The pandemic forced a slow down in my life. While I didn’t work less these last 9+ months, the removal of a commute gave me the equivalent of almost three weeks back in my life. I used this time in many ways: reading, thinking, drinking wine, writing, reconnecting with old friends, drinking wine, learning new hobbies, drinking wine. When we are on the other side of this pandemic, I will continue to work hard - but will also be rearranging my life to make more time for both new and old things in my life.

It’s Time To Innovate

The development of vaccines was one of the most inspiring achievements in the last several decades. Watching the refrigerated trucks roll away with the live vaccines felt like watching the first SpaceX rocket land back on its launchpad. In spite of all of the differences, mistakes and wrongs in human history, we have the ability to do so much good in this world. We stand at a unique time in history where we will either hit a social development ceiling, or we will innovate our way beyond it. Innovation is needed in almost every field - e.g. technology, biomedicine, energy, telemedicine, education, and more. My pent up energy from 2020 will be going into a renewed commitment to innovation in 2021.

Last Words

With vaccines rolling out, we will see the gradual return to normalcy across our communities. It may take months - or maybe even years - but the end does finally seem to be in sight. Some lives have been impacted more than others. While some of us have come through this year mostly unscathed, others have lost loved ones, had their financial livelihoods disrupted, struggled with health issues, or are working through difficult family issues. As we turn the page on 2020, let’s do our best to lift each other up to make next year a much better year for everyone. But let’s also not forget our hard-earned lessons from 2020. Just as a bone that breaks can heal stronger, we too can make our communities, our businesses, our families, and our lives better in 2021.