As we ended 2020, I had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) with ten friends from my professional circle. It was a diverse group, and everyone brought a very distinct 2020 experience to the table. I had asked everyone to come prepared to share one lesson they learned over the past year that they will carry into 2021. Here’s the conversation we shared as we went around our virtual circle…

I kicked us off… “For me, it’s been a reminder that we each bring different experiences to the table, not just in 2020, but all the time. We don’t always know what someone else’s experience has been. For some, 2020 was an awesome year, and for others, a trainwreck. Understanding that, we need to approach people with empathy and compassion, listen and let them be heard, learning to appreciate and understand other people’s experiences. It’s not all solutions and fixes. Some people just need an ear, to be listened to, to have someone to talk with.”

“OK, I guess I’ll go next! For me, it’s been a year of extremes. From emotional meltdowns and “I don’t know what’s coming in the future” experiences to “this is wonderful, and I appreciate this time with my family” moments. Through all that, I learned that I need to control where I focus. It’s so easy to focus on what we’re giving up. Not being able to go out, losing my business… focusing on that puts me in a deep dark hole. But why am I focusing on everything I am giving up? There’s more to life than that. I feel like in conversations, I am supposed to tell people how much 2020 sucked – but right now, I get to have distance-learning with my kids, and I’m enjoying it. I feel like I’m not supposed to say that. I’m letting go of all those things I am “supposed” to be focused on – what I’m giving up – and shifting my perspective.”

“I have something… My family has always been important to me. I realize that now more than ever. I’ve had more quality time with them, and going forward, I don’t want to give that up. Maintaining the importance of family and my health has been key. Finding ways to keep in shape has been a challenge, but I’m doing it! Costco stopped selling my smoothie mix. I learned from that to always have a backup plan… a good lesson for many things in 2020!”

“Here’s mine. Before COVID hit, I was building a speaking business and booked out through the end of the year. 2020 brought no more speaking gigs, no more workshops, no more coaching – my focus turned to firefighting. I grieved it, then decided to reinvent and go the opposite direction. The power of reinvention is key. I had to embrace the reality of where we are and ask myself, what if this goes go on longer than we expect? I stepped back and realized I didn’t even really like what I was doing! Now, I write down every day what I’m thankful for and “no travel” makes that list. I didn’t know how much I didn’t like it because it was the status quo. Today, I’ve asked myself, what do I really want? What gets me excited to jump out of bed in the morning? You have to get super honest with yourself. You gotta give up to go up.”

“I discovered the gift of time. I used to travel a lot – a lot of time away from home and family. It was part of my job. I enjoyed it. When the travel stopped, I got 30-40% of my time back on the calendar. I did the math, and it added 15 weeks back to my year to do what I want to do. Spend time with family, read, do nothing, connect with folks. Then I learned about spending that time wisely. When things slow down, you gain a very different perspective. I want to keep that.”

“For me, it’s been a reminder that 2020 is just a blip in time. The wildfires in Australia, trouble in Iran, COVID, etc. We are resilient, and we’ll get through it. We get to choose our thoughts. Many people are angry and focused on all that’s wrong… the governor, the president, and the world. Let it be and soak up every moment when you can. Someday we’ll look back at this and see it for what it was, through a different lens.”

“I got to take the time and reconnect with my son. I got to share phone calls with friends. Rushing from one thing to the next stopped, and I got to take advantage of it. My son moved home from college, and I was able to reconnect with him because of COVID. It was a gift.”

“That’s awesome! My story is similar… I was able to reconnect with my mom. I moved home from the Bay area back to Minnesota to start my business. I needed a support system to rely on, and didn’t appreciate the value of family until I got back. I can connect with mom now as an adult – it’s awesome! 2020 has taught me patience and how to get through the ups and downs. Our support systems are something we take for granted… it’s all taken on a new look and feel in 2020.”

“It’s been a year of innovation and open time. A friend decided to write a book. Restaurants redesigned menus; musicians got back into the studio to make music. COVID was the year I got to ______. Fill in the blank! For me, I’ve learned to focus on the six things you want to do 1000 times, not the 1000 things you want to do six times. COVID has been a gift for me in that way. And, I learned a ton of new Zoom skills!”

“My turn! First, I found myself asking what I would be willing to do 100 times in a row? I get good at whatever I do over and over again. If I’m sitting around being mad and eating Cheez-Its, I get good at that. I can burn through a box super fast and be angry the whole time. Or, I can do basement yoga with Ted, the yoga dude, and I can get good at that. What have I done this year that I got really good at that I am happy about and proud of? I took all the energy and gumption and zest from a career that I haven’t been practicing since March and put it toward caring for other people. I funneled my massive firehose of energy and put it toward getting obstacles out of other people’s way. I wouldn’t have had the chance to do that had I been on the road, or if I continued being angry and shoving Cheez-Its in my yap.”

“Last but not least, it’s my turn! I’ve learned about taking a step back and appreciating the things you have and don’t have. I found myself reaching out and doing things this year that I hadn’t done before. My dad used to live in an independent living place, and there were always a couple of residents that didn’t have something on their doorstep for the holidays. I’ve always gone around and been their Secret Santa. My dad passed this year, but I still went around and did that same decorating for those residents, without him there. Continuing to do those little things that make people feel special is something I will carry with me into 2021.”

The Takeaway

2020 was filled with valuable lessons – the kind that will make us better for 2021. Take this authentic and vulnerable sharing – find one thing in here that resonates, and bring it with you into this new year!

Was this helpful to you? Want more? Subscribe here where I’ll keep sharing lessons like these that we can all take advantage of as we move through the new year! – John