Looking for the Bright Side in 2020

Author: John Ryan

This is a very dark, tragic, devastating time for many of us, and I think there’s a disease in American life where we’re all like: ‘look on the bright side.’ I mean, screw that. Like this is a terrible time, and we have to make a bright side happen ourselves by putting our blood, sweat and tears into it and fighting for a better vision now.”Andrew Yang

How is 2020 going for you? I mean aside from the gardening, bread baking and live stream workouts and video meetings. How is 2020 really going for you?

For me this year has been at times challenging, heartbreaking, and exhausting. Back in March the world changed. To try to put things into perspective, and assure myself that it’s not just me, I’ve been doing an informal survey. I’ve been asking my colleagues and contacts how they feel about 2020. I’ve learned that many of us consider it to be the worst year we’ve experienced since 9/11.

The chaos that characterizes 2020 is coming at us from multiple directions - the pandemic, the recession, unemployment, social unrest and a highly contentious presidential election. Then we’ve got wild fires, extreme weather, and we can’t forget the murder hornets.

Regardless of our political leanings, this is a lot of upsetting news. I’m tired of reading optimistic fluff about how we’re getting more time to finish home rehabbing projects and walk our dogs. I worry about those who have lost their jobs and their lives this year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the unemployment rate was at 10.2 in July; 25 million Americans lost their jobs since the spring. The New York Times reports that nearly 5.4 million Americans are without health insurance as a result of their job losses. Nearly 210,000 Americans have died from Covid-19; my father was one of them.

The devastation of these times hits me hard, sometimes when I’m not expecting it: when I encounter a very young child wearing a tiny mask, when I see footage of cars stretching for miles to get supplies from a food bank, or when I learn that another American has been injured or killed in the streets.

The chaos of this time is pervasive. It’s emotionally taxing. It’s distracting. We can all feel it seeding a new reality. We can sense that things will be different going forward. We don’t know yet what that new reality will look like. That depends on what kind of leaders we choose and what kind of leaders we become; it depends on what bright side we work together to create.

Here’s what I’m doing to cope.

Having honest discussions about race

America has a race problem. We’ve been trying to discuss it in the workplace and facilitate solutions for a long time; 2020 is forcing our hand. We are discussing race now-urgently, honestly, deeply, intensely. Professional athletes are leaving their jobs because they are demanding to be heard. Protestors are leaving their homes during a pandemic, because they are demanding to be heard.

America needs to have this conversation to be worthy of itself. It’s more than a conversation; it’s a reckoning. We’ve sidelined it for too long, and too many people have gotten hurt and marginalized as a result. The fact that this conversation is now unavoidable is a bright side. It’s hard. It requires taking honest stock of ourselves and owning what we need to accept in order to make ourselves better people, better allies, better Americans.

Redefining how we work

I miss seeing my colleagues. I miss our lunches and impromptu meetings. I miss the ease of our inside jokes and daily interactions. I miss celebrating our occasions together. I miss the energy of in-person discussions.

Ours is an international company, so we have been doing remote work with our international partners for years. Even though we had a good basis before we went fully remote, this experience has refined our operations. It gave us a reason to clarify, articulate and note the policies, roles and responsibilities that shape our business. Our practices are crisper, more efficient and more productive as a result.

We’ve earned meaningful payoffs: we conduct more organized meetings and they tend to be more tightly time constrained. We’ve finally figured out how to have fewer meetings. It seems clearer now when we can can resolve something via email rather than having yet another meeting.

I also recognize my own conduct in a meeting. It’s more apparent to me when I’m filibustering, or when I interrupt, and not being as inclusive as I could be. I’m more aware of when I should be inviting others’ viewpoints. In that way, it’s enhanced my communication and leadership skills. Overall, I’ve found that going fully remote has led our group to enhance and evolve our culture, which positions us to create an even better product and experience for our employees. This, too, is a bright side that we’re creating.

Changing our family dynamic

When you’re at home and your motivation is to streamline your process so that you can be present to your family, you tend to find inventive ways to do that. It’s a great incentive to streamline in favor of delivering better work.

Our family set-up has been a really thrilling dimension of this time. It’s been wonderful for our kids to exist in a household where both of their parents are at home. I have young teenage kids, and our family time used to be a somewhat fleeting event. The time that we spend now feels different. It’s like we rediscovered each other in this really authentic and natural way. I recognize that this is a privilege and a perk. I also recognize that it’s a bright side that, I’m hoping, will continue to benefit my boys. And while remote learning makes me uncomfortable at times, the bright side is that my teenagers handle using Zoom or Teams as well as I do.

Shaping our bright side

When we look back on 2020, it’s mostly going to feel like a bad memory. But I have to believe that the bright sides that we shape during this time will give us a good start in 2021. We’re shaping our next chapter, and I can’t help but feel a little bit optimistic about our ability to deal with global problems and figure out a path forward.

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