It may be challenging to find the silver lining in 2020, but I have found some invaluable takeaways.  

People say, “you learn more from your failures than your successes.” If that’s the case, then 2020 made me a genius. We’ve experienced the Covid – 19 pandemic, high unemployment, social upheaval, economic downturn, national election chaos, and the upending of many social norms – such as holiday get-togethers, concerts, sporting events, going to restaurants, and vacations. 

We are stronger than before. Dazed for sure, but 2021 brings new opportunities. The lessons learned in 2020 will help us overcome the challenges of the new year. Here are my 10 takeaways from 2020:

1. Embrace change. Social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and instant everything have changed the world at rates never seen before. We may not be able to stop change, but we can determine how we respond to it. Be flexible, listen, and learn. Surround yourself with positive thinkers who can teach and empower. Be realistic but minimize any negative thoughts.

2. Honesty and trust are the bedrock of all interactions. 2020 showed me who I can trust and those who fabricate a narrative to fit their personal needs and objectives. To grow as a person, I’m trying to learn how and why they view the world differently. For me, 2020 solidified the importance of trust and honesty.

3. Your beliefs. Young people have always lived in a world where democracy, civil rights, gay rights, and women’s rights are the accepted facts. Yes, there are flaws, but 2020 reminded us that these things are not always a given. They have to be continually enhanced and refined until we can fulfill the first three words in the US Constitution: “We the people…” Keeping these rights will always take sustained effort. Always move forward.  

4. Positive personal evaluation and self-growth. Let’s face it, 2020 turned our lives upside down. It forced us to look at how we spend our time and money, where we work, and how we educate our children. Many of life’s pleasures have changed. For example: going to coffee with friends, enjoying a meal at a favorite restaurant, or putting your kids on a bus for school. We must establish new norms. In five years, I’ll look back to see what changes had a lasting effect. How did I change? Am I self-absorbed? How will I have grown as a person? As a husband? A father? How will I answer the question, “Who am I?”

5. Communication. Over the last several years, we have been losing the art of communicating, but 2020 solidified that decline. We were like prizefighters in the ring, waiting for the fight to begin. Both sides were thinking they were right, not listening and talking past each other. We have to break down these communication silos and minimize groupthink. Communication starts with listening, and I’ll be the first to admit this is not my strong point. We have to learn how to talk to each other again and not merely to listen for an opening to express our views. By the luck of birth, I live in one of the greatest countries in the world. If we want to give our children a better world, we have to communicate better than we have ever done in 2020.  

6. Free time. The pandemic gave me a crash course on time management and what retirement might be like. Suddenly, I had lots of time on my hands. No more driving to and from work. No more taking the kids to school, soccer practice, or music lessons. Gone are those time-consuming physical meetings. Zoom is my new best friend. 2020 taught me time management skills, setting boundaries, and what is important.

7. Work dynamics. I’m a people person, but I’m drama adverse. Gossip, fabricating stories, office politics, bullying, and self-important individuals are all things I can do without. There are many positive reasons to work in the office, but too often, there are wasteful interactions that affect individuals, teams, clients, and the company.

8. Importance of family and friends.  I’m embarrassed to say it, but it’s true — I took my friends and family for granted. It wasn’t just me; it was the norm for almost everyone. We were always there for each other. Dependable, caring, and we had each other’s back. Suddenly, we couldn’t see our friends or some relatives because of the pandemic. It taught me to be a better friend, father, and husband. Thank you for always being there for me. I promise to do better in 2021.

9. Climate change. We can, and we must do better. In 2020, greenhouse gases were down by 17%, and unexpectedly we saw fish in the canals of Venice. In California, the Los Angeles skyline appeared and residents breathed fresher air. Young people are leading the charge to renewable energy — for themselves and their children. This is an area where we can make a dramatic difference. From the world slowing down, we saw the possibilities of a cleaner environment. Do this for the kids!

10. Empower and encourage others. Consider 2020 as a hiccup or a touch on the breaks. To say the least, it was not a typical year. It gave all of us a chance to answer a few difficult but important questions. Was I too focused on my goals? Was I insensitive to the needs of others? Do I live in an “I” world or a “We” world? How can I empower others, encourage them, and help them succeed?  

The year 2020 is one for the history books. The world was broadsided from all sides. We are bloodied and bruised, but most of us have survived. Too many of us did not. At the time of writing, almost 1.8 million people worldwide have been lost to the pandemic. Many did not have to die. To honor their sacrifice, I vow to be different; better. I will listen more and seek to understand another’s viewpoint. I’ll replace gossip and negative self-talk with empowering words and actions. I will embrace change and help those who are struggling. Some of the people who died fought in WWII for rights we now cherish. I will work to preserve all of these rights.

2020 gave me a chance for personal review. 2021 will be my year of action.