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Hindsight 2020 - Seven Lessons 2020 Taught Us to Be Better Leaders, Parents, and Humans

Hindsight 2020 - Seven Lessons 2020 Taught Us to Be Better Leaders, Parents, and Humans

If 2020 was a movie, it would be a blockbuster and the intro would go something like this:

In the midst of fires, locusts, political wars, murder hornets, and a pandemic, humanity is pushed past its limits and required to isolate to protect each other. Many are lost and many more infected, and with space exploration for livable planets still progressing, there is no escape from the madness. The world is pushed to come together to find a cure, but will they succeed?

Find out in Hindsight 2020, coming soon to a theatre near you…

Yes. I know. It’s not funny, but it is in hindsight. We have people in 2020 who banked some serious amount of money on toilet paper and sanitizer! Who would have thought double ply would make someone a boat load of money?

All joking aside, if we are to move into 2021 with as clean of a slate as possible, it’s important to reflect on the year and take the lessons with us. Here are seven lessons to move forward with in the new year and beyond to be a better mom, woman, and leader. Share yours in the comments!

[Related: My 2021 Challenge to Women: Raise Your Hand!]

1) Embrace humor.

The seriousness of this year has been flashed across the news and amidst this maddening time of "people aren’t listening" and "numbers keep climbing," it was an overwhelming amount of serious news to process. An article by the Cleveland Clinic stated:

Humor is considered to be a very sophisticated psychological defense against tension and threat, and so, I think, doses of humor are good for us. Humor is a way to activate good brain chemistry, and actually protect ourselves with better immune function – it is really good medicine.

To say this year that our news channels were flooded with sad news is the understatement of the century. News is where we get information about what’s happening in the world, and I for one feel the focus was more on negative reporting than positive. We kept talking about the numbers going up, but never the number of recoveries.

I speak for myself in saying I was sick of it and it was amazing to see I wasn’t alone. Earlier in the summer John Krasinski started Some Good News, a web series he posted from home on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. It was refreshing and positive and that’s why it went viral overnight. He showed love for humanity by sharing what he does best: humor.

So, as we say goodbye to the TP depression era, I don’t know what the future will bring. However, many are hoping the future is better than 2020. Good, bad, or ugly, I know that humor is something I plan to embrace and share with others as we collectively start recovering from the madness of this year.

2) Be present for the things and people that matter.

Schools have struggled to appease the government and parents, and teachers are troopers in continuing to educate kids and adapt to new tools, processes, and ways of working with each other and students. Remote schooling and working from home are two volatile combinations. Frankly, we have managed well.

Initially I used to be in meetings all day long, back-to-back. My son finished his schoolwork so quickly, it was hard to manage. As the year progressed, one thing became clear: The new school year would be unlike any.

To continue to work on my nonprofit and balance time with him, I adapted a daily priority list. I scheduled meetings mostly in the morning, and afternoons were for tasks that I could do anytime before the end of the day. I used these afternoons to spend time with my son.

It is the most rewarding thing I have done for myself and him. We are closer and enjoy time with each other. It helped me discover that my son who loves sports also loves baking. I feel like I have gained nearly 20 pounds eating his goodies, but yay for at home YouTube workout videos!

Our work culture, as it was, is stressful and it’s hard to be present in the moment without a checklist of all the things we must get done for home and work to see these little things. I am grateful that being home has helped me appreciate what I have with my son and my parents. I may not be able to continue the same cadence of meetings as things start to recover, but I will try.

3) Respectfully discuss to learn.

I have found myself in many heated conversations this year, about masks, healthcare, job status, you name it. When I first started to talk to people about these issues, I used to get very upset that the other person didn’t agree with me. I almost expected them to accept what I was saying and didn’t pause to think from their point of view.

It wasn’t until a friend pointed out that I was doing the same thing I was accusing him of doing that I finally noticed. It was a moment that is now seared into my brain. I can’t speak for everyone, but from my observation of people after that conversation, I noticed many of us are intolerant to beliefs that don’t align to ours. It made me wonder, how does this help us? It only continues to increase the divide and increase the already-mandated isolation.

I leaned on a concept that has been buzzing in the corporate world and embraced a “growth mindset.” I purposely engaged in conversations with friends and family who had a differing point of view. It pushed my tolerance muscle to the max and I uncovered issues that I had no idea existed and why these individuals felt and acted the way they did.

It helped me articulate my thoughts more kindly on why I disagreed with their point of view. These conversations are the epitome of learning this year for me. I appreciate all those who extended their thoughts and were open to listening to mine. We changed our minds sometimes based on what was learned. Sometimes, we agreed to disagree and then had a beer.

In the end, we learned from each other and expanded our tolerance to discuss things that we didn’t agree with. This is a trait I apply to my teams at work now, too. Great ideas have come out because we all discuss different points of view and I love how it has brought us together.

4) Inclusion is equally important as diversity.

We are finally seeing changes to diversify our boards, leaders, and policies. I am all for diversity and feel it’s in the differences that we learn and grow. At the cost of being controversial, I also feel in the process of including diversity, we have generalized so much that we inadvertently excluded some races, cultures, and religions instead.

Let me explain. In one of my challenging conversations earlier this year I learned that when we say "Happy Holidays" to someone who is Christian, we are indirectly excluding them. The discussion started with a friend saying:

Our work culture has embraced Eid, Diwali, and so many cultural and religious holidays as a sign of inclusion. It’s amazing and I love it. So, why then do we not say Happy Kwanzaa or Merry Christmas? By saying Happy Holidays, you negated my belief and excluded me without realizing it.

I am a Jain and celebrate most Hindu festivities and religious days. So, I didn’t see anything wrong with saying Happy Holidays since there are so many religious holidays around the same time. I didn’t realize that I made him feel excluded by saying Happy Holidays, until he mentioned it and I respectfully listened to learn his point of view.

I wondered how I could change this and asked his advice. This led to me asking people I met if they celebrate a specific religious festivity during the holiday season. Based on their answer, I greeted them appropriately. To my surprise, people’s response to this was generally “Wow, no one has asked me that, thank you for asking and for the greeting.” It always ended with a giant smile on their face.

This is just one way. Asking a parent how they are truly doing could be another. We as leaders need a way to reach out empathetically and act on things purposefully. So, I think in 2021, I will try not to use generalized norms and I will seek to genuinely include where and when possible. Maybe it’s as simple as asking what makes someone feel included.

[Related: Six Lessons to Prepare Inclusive Leaders of Tomorrow]

5) Love thyself.

I was reminded by an old friend: How can you love someone else if you don’t love yourself? As I consider resolutions for 2021, this is at the forefront.

My ability to be critical of my actions aren’t kind words. I would never say them to a friend or family member, so why then do I do that to myself? This active practice in 2020 has changed my point of view on life tremendously. I don’t intend on changing that anytime soon.

Each of us has experienced 2020 differently, and some have lost way more than others. However, I choose to believe that our humanity and grit is much stronger than we give ourselves credit for.

Everywhere I go these days, "think positive" is the theme that is shared by public speakers, self-help books, coaches, executives, and shows alike. These generally have entailed that we need to rewire ourselves to look only for the light. I respectfully disagree. I read a quote that has helped me love myself with all the darkness and light:

Darkness without light is an abyss and light without darkness is blinding. –Anonymous

It is in the acceptance of this and balancing of the two that I found love for myself. This is also something that I as a leader need to embrace with my teams and peers. Kindness costs nothing and we freely give it to others, or try anyway, so how about in the coming year we give it to ourselves, too?

6) Embrace change.

In 2019, I had the fortune of finding a role with Bristol-Myers Squibb developing a new way to evaluate digital investments. It was a challenge, but one I was excited to be solving for. In order to balance work and life, my ex-husband, son, and I moved out of Jersey City and I became a first-time home buyer. I continued my work with a single moms’ support group on Facebook and felt like my life was filled with purpose and love. Exciting the year 2019 was, challenging yes, but very exciting indeed.

I started out 2020 excited and ready to make it a knockout year at work and trying new things as I turned 40. Fate had different plans. It was clear earlier in the year that with the news of coronavirus, we were in for a ride.

In April, when the stay-at-home order was widely adopted, I remembered stories of abuse from the support group which kept me up at night. How would these people request help? So, a few of us started a nonprofit in hopes of helping victims of abuse and organizations that support them.

My work continued at a slower but steady pace. In the first quarter, we finally arrived at a point that we discussed investments for digital work differently than traditional project investments. What I didn’t know was that last year when Bristol-Myers Squibb acquired Celgene, that would mean priorities shifted.

This meant my role was on the chopping block. Operations became more important than strategy. I was officially laid off later in the year. I was now 1 of the 12.6 million people unemployed in the United States.

It’s the hardest news to process for anyone at any level. The first day I was upset. I kept wondering: Is it my performance? I criticized so much about my actions internally and reminded myself that I wouldn’t say any of the things I was saying to someone else.

As a means of being kind to myself and to truly embrace the realization that I was laid off in a down economy and dealing with what was headed my way, I needed to face the music. I had to force myself to not ask “Why is this happening?” and face my fear of not being able to support my family as a single income home.

To my surprise, I was able to use fear as a fuel to start asking “How can I make it work?” I meditated and allowed my brain to do what it does best: problem solve.

I had once advised one of my team members that the phrase “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s about whether you get up” made people believe that get up meant be back on your feet. I firmly believe that getting up doesn’t just mean getting up on your feet; it is also choosing not to lay still and wait for someone to get you up. Keep moving.

It was then that I started to wonder: What if this is a nudge for me to focus on the nonprofit and to move that forward purposefully? The thought energized me so much so that I saw this as my ikigai.

Financially and career-wise, I am going into 2021 embracing change. It has helped me see life in a new way and I don’t think I want to ever change that.

7) Take responsibility.

Politics. Wear Masks. Don’t Wear Masks. Freedom. Social Justice. Equality for Women. Equality for Communities of Color.

To add to our Netflix binging days, we have all been active in many societal challenges that are causes for concern this past year. I am a firm believer in civil rights and equity for all humans and this year has challenged me in ways that I never imagined. My core values have been questioned, not because I watched the news, but because I read such differing opinions from friends on social media and in phone conversations.

At one point I quipped that we are the “Divided States of America.” The road ahead is going to be difficult, but we as Americans - whether your political alignment is far right or far left or somewhere in the middle - are responsible for reuniting our nation.

If one person could do it, we would have achieved world peace by now. It’s all of us. We have to take responsibility to be educated about policies, challenges, and the issues we all face, and not take what’s shared through word of mouth, news, or otherwise at face value.

I plan to take responsibility for reading policies from state and federal government sites to better understand what we are signing up for. In some cases, these policies increase the social injustice, so read the fine print.

It’s important for our country to progress and equally important at home. You wouldn’t sign up for a home loan without understanding the terms in detail. If you do, well...maybe it’s time to change that, because you might be losing some serious dough.

As I hinted in #3, if we can discuss and come from a place of trying to understand why someone is saying what they are, it will help us be more responsible for the words, thoughts, and actions we choose.

I try to do better and then when I know better, I do better. –Maya Angelou

I am a curious human and 2020 has made me even more so. I want to grow and be better by choosing to take the light forward and acknowledging the darkness of 2020. I would love to hear your silver linings of 2020 that you plan to carry forward, so share your experiences and additions in the comments below. As we all collectively breathe a sign of relief and say:

Goodbye 2020. Hello 2021!

[Related: Stitching Together for Mental Health - Five Reasons Millennials are Gravitating Toward Sewing]


Meghana Shah is the Founder and CEO of The Parasol Cooperative, a speaker, a mentor, and a mother. She loves creating and fixing things that help improve life, whether at home or at work. You can read more articles from her on her Medium page.

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