By now, you’ve read enough summaries of the unthinkable year that was 2020. In this, the opening week of content from The Blog for 2021, I wanted to focus on hope. And so, I share something personal and heartfelt — the 10 most poignant lessons I took from 2020. I hope my looking back helps you move forward.
Grindfulness is a combination of gratitude and mindfulness. It’s about finding joy in the daily grind of life, especially when the sources of joy aren’t obvious, which became the case for many in 2020.
Gratitude alone isn’t enough to sustain positivity because research shows we struggle to express it on a consistent basis, sometimes laboring to find things worthy of showing gratitude for, especially in years like 2020. On the other hand, just being mindful each day of what to be thankful for isn’t enough either, you have to act on your observations.
In the middle is what I call grindfulness, being present in daily life, even details that are merely part of the daily grind, and then expressing appreciation for them in the moment.
For example, noticing how the leaves shimmer on the trees during the trip to the grocery store you don’t feel like taking, or noticing how fast your new computer starts up when beginning your job for the day you don’t feel like doing, and then taking a quiet moment to marvel at and appreciate it all.
It’s not about passively journaling those moments, it’s about actively living those moments—and building a daily habit of doing so.
Grindfulness helped me get through the “shutdown” aspects of this past year and the way it became (and still is) a bit of a grind. I think you’ll find it a powerful concept too.
2. A pivot is a sign of flexibility, not failure.
I speak, write, create courses, teach, and coach all in service of my mission, to help others become better versions of themselves. But no one said I have to do it for free. I’m lucky, I guess, that I’ve been able to intertwine my purpose with how I make a living.
But guess what happens when your business model starts with giving keynotes to live audiences, then suddenly a pandemic wipes that possibility off the map?
You must pivot, or wilt.
As I’m sure many have had to do in the past year.
I quickly learned how to build a fairly high-tech virtual studio in my house so that I could give keynotes remotely. In the end, it has broadened my portfolio of offerings in a very productive way.
But I struggled with it at first, feeling like a failure and like scrambling to create a virtual studio was a sign of desperation, and that I’d “lost.” Paralyzing feelings of “it’s not fair” kept me in denial and from moving forward for a while.
Until a funny thing happened. I took that first small step, googling what kind of equipment I’d need to set up an at-home studio. That one small step led to another, and to another. Soon, I was amazed at how much I was learning; from a technology standpoint, and about myself.
I felt myself building new skills, stretching new muscles.
I was building flexibility to adapt, not admitting failure.
If you find yourself needing to pivot, I’m pleading with you to see it the same way – because it’s true.
3. The Change Choice.
This is related to the above, but worthy of its own merit. The truth is, we all have a choice to make in the face of change that’s thrust upon us. Will you see change as happening TO you, or for you? TO you to destroy you, or FOR you to help you grow stronger?
TO you means you’re stuck in “It’s not fair!” and a victim mentality. FOR you means using change as a spark to foster improvements in your life.
I was stuck at TO for a while in 2020. Once I opened my mind to FOR, I was quickly able to move forward.
So, if you can’t change the situation, change the way you see the situation.
4. The 2P Approach.
When faced with a negative situation, spend 50% of your energy on seeing the Possibilities in that outcome (the silver lining) and 50% on Pragmatism, on calmly, rationally dealing with the implications.
50 + 50 = 100 which means you spend 0% of your time spiraling downward because of that negative outcome.
5. Yes, when a door closes, a window opens. But will you see it?
Multiple doors closed on me, rudely, right in my face, in this past year. But other windows of opportunity keep opening up for me along the way, too.
It’s not blind luck. The doors and windows aren’t on an inter-connected autoloop.
It happens with a consistent foundation of hard work and optimism.
Just as important, it takes an inner stillness, keeping the turbulence all around you in your life in perspective and in context so that you can HEAR the gentle squeak of the window sliding up its casing.
The most common setback I’ve seen from coaching clients in this past year is that they are so busy scurrying without direction, so caught up in the noisy commotion of the injustices in their life, that they can’t spot opportunities as they present themselves.
The lack of stillness causes blindness.
I’m not saying be stagnant in the face of adversity. Of course, you have to take action on opportunities as they present themselves, or create your own opportunities. I’m simply saying be still long enough, with intention and clarity of purpose, with periods of reflection, so that you can define what a new opportunity looks and sounds like, so you can see it when it arrives, and so you can act on it.
6. Everything has a season.
This sentiment helped me tremendously in 2020 on both sides of the coin.
Regarding all the crappy stuff, reminding yourself that “this too shall pass” is undeniably powerful.
But I also learned that as an entrepreneur (and in general), good things come to an end too, in small batches. I had a client that kept hiring me over and over to keynote–that opportunity dried up in 2020. I had an amazing 3-year run with my column for Inc.com come to an end in 2020 when budgets forced them to lay me off.
The pain I felt reinforced something important I carry into 2021. I will enjoy the good runs with every ounce of fiber in my DNA. I won’t assume any of the “good batches” will last. I’ll work harder to plant seeds versus constantly being in harvest mode.
You can too.
7. It’s in the quiet spaces that self-confidence must grow loudest.
My confidence took a hit for a spell in 2020. Yes, even me, who teaches the opposite.
I learned that it was in those quiet moments, when I was almost forced to reflect, that I must force my self-confidence to speak up and fill the silence.
I just talked in number 5 above about the importance of stillness, quietness, and inner calm to be able to spot opportunities.
But quiet turns dangerous when it becomes an echo chamber of self-doubt.
When you’re filling the silence with negative self-talk, it has a way of reverberating and repeating.
Don’t let it. Use reflection time to remind yourself that all the positive steps you’ve taken to make progress in your life have indeed moved you so much farther forward than adversity based “missteps” have driven you backwards.
You’ve. Got. This.
8. Focus on the locus of control.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos gets asked all the time “What’s going to change in the next 10 years?”, but he wishes people would ask, “What’s NOT going to change?” He believes channeling mental energy on the steady things in your life that you can control leads to more success than worrying about what might change or happen that you can’t control.
To help, set “bother boundaries”– clear lines you draw on what you’ll worry about and what you won’t, to help keep you from getting sucked into bothersome things outside your control.
It worked for me in 2020, and I’m carrying it forward into 2021.
9. Be forward facing.
It’s OK to feel down occasionally, it’s human nature. Especially last year. But it’s vital, especially during down times, that you keep the vision of the life you want in front of you.
Keep your goals, mission, and purpose out in front of you, to steer towards, to keep you off the rocks and forward moving even when the seas around you feel rough.
Remember that you’re working ON your life, not just IN your life, and that swells of negativity will arise from time to time. It’s about whether or not you keep moving forward to progress the story of your life.
10. Forgive the human in humanity.
I must admit, I found myself saying this past year, “What the hell is wrong with people” more than I care to admit. My frustration surged at seeing irresponsible, selfish behaviors in the midst of a pandemic, at astonishingly sad acts by government officials, at shocking violations of basic social justice, at ineptitude in the face of a worsening climate crisis.
I believe that in times of adversity, our true character shines. And too many exposed the ugly truth of theirs.
But through it all, I’ve found it helpful to simply remind myself that since the dawn of humanity, we remain, above all else, human. And humans are far from perfect.
So, I choose to forgive transgressions (within reason) and count not on individual humans, but on humanity as a collective whole. We will carry us through.
What’s the alternative way for me to think about it?
I hope you find some of my pain and personal growth of value to you as you turn the page to this new year. Now go write a better narrative for the story that lies ahead.
NOTE: Check out my new “Change Leadership” course– it’s about leading in times of sudden change. The ability to lead in change is the #1 indicator of a high-potential employee. Build this vital skill for FREE by clicking this link: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/change-leadership/leading-in-sudden-change