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Surreal Reality: Lessons and Reflections from 2020

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Reflections fom 2020
Reflections fom 2020

This past week there’s been no shortage of blog and social media posts kissing 2020 goodbye - well, more like kicking it out the door.  And much like this past year, I’ve struggled to find the right balance for my own thoughts on this post. So I decided to look back a little, reflect a little, and try to take away as much as I could because this year was complex, to say the least.

This year was hard, but I learned so much.

This year was painful, but I grew in new ways.

This year had so much loss, but I feel like I gained more than ever.

A Sad Start

For me, the year started off on a sad, sobering note. I lost a family member and a close friend’s father who was considered family to me. I remember after the loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the passengers on that plane crash where I was sitting on a flight for a meeting and just being in tears. I was just texting friends and family to tell them I love them. There was so much loss already and I was feeling it.

From Surreal to Very Real

COVID-19 news
COVID-19 news

Little did I know just weeks later the world would change with COVID-19. It seemed to go from a rumor to a twisted reality overnight. We all wondered if or how it would impact us, and we soon found out. I remember my wife telling me about grocery stores starting to empty and I didn’t believe her (or didn’t want to) and then seeing the pictures - it didn’t seem real. It was in fact, quite surreal. (Blog I wrote trying to digest what just happened: COVID-19: Why Leadership & Empathy Matter Most)

If you lead teams or run a business, COVID-19 added another part-time job for you. For others, it took away the very jobs and businesses they had. We were forced to make difficult decisions on short notice with little information and great impact while the world changed almost daily. (Blog I wrote on this: Hard Decisions Are Hard)

For the first time in my adult life, I went weeks without driving a car or going to a store. For the first time in 5+ years, I was not on a plane for months at a time. I went from 100+ nights in a hotel last year to less than 10. We not only had to quickly adapt not just how we work but also how we live. It felt like the uncertainty, pain, and fear of the great recession but all arrived overnight. And as someone responsible for my family and those of all our employees - the weight of the change hit hard and fast. (Blog I wrote about moving forward in the uncertainty: Business Distancing: Taking A Step Back So We Can Move Forward

The Adrenaline Rush

At first, I ran on adrenaline which wore off in time but was replaced by an unexpected confidence. In some ways, I felt like all the challenges I had endured, and all the mistakes I’ve made in my life had prepared me for this moment. I was conflicted by the pain and fear in the world and my own optimism and energy.

I had more time to think, be at home, and take care of myself. I was feeling better physically and mentally than I had in years. I had a flood of ideas and creativity that I had not felt in a very long time. And yet, also feel the pain of so many around me. (blog I wrote on focus: Stop Fixating on the Finish Line)

Community Coming Together


One of the early, difficult decisions was canceling our annual charity event for the Tower of Niceness. This essentially meant that we would have no fundraising for the entire year, but that certainly didn’t change the need which was growing by the day. People were reaching out asking how to help, looking to us for ideas - and we had none. Well, until the kids had a simple one - Project GrubHug.

The idea of delivering meals to healthcare workers, seniors, and families in need soon spread into one of our biggest projects ever with over 700+ meals delivered. This was one of so many great stories that began to emerge of people helping each other in a time of need. And that support continued throughout the year for all of our projects which was amazing. (blog post about Project GrubHug)

The Summer that Changed Me

Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter

The news of George Floyd’s tragic death hit me hard and stopped me in my tracks. I found myself deeply evaluating difficult topics that I had not done before - certainly not at that level. It was emotionally draining soul-searching that was way overdue. A flood of feelings that ranged from guilt to anger to hope. Like I tend to do when solving problems, I immersed myself in the pursuit to figure it all out but soon realized this was way too big and too important - not to mention it was not sustainable emotionally. And I cannot imagine what it was/is like for my black friends and colleagues.

Ultimately through many difficult conversations and small steps, I found peace in the process that I’m committed to integrating into how I live and work. So much to do but so grateful for the wake-up call.

The Exhausting Election

That led into the Fall with politics on everyone’s mind and the inevitable divisive election to come. For the first time in my life, I engaged in conversations around politics which led to good and bad outcomes. I was as inspired as I was disappointed but decided this year not to disengage from the process as I normally do. The banter and arguing was and continues to be exhausting - but it’s also important. (my blog post about the election: Responding After the Results)

Hitting the Wall in the Fall

Hiking with my daughter
Hiking with my daughter

Somewhere in late Fall, I hit my wall. My energy was gone, my mindset was all over the place, and my patience was waning. I could feel it mentally, physically, and emotionally - and I didn’t like it. It was more than anxiety, it was a cloud of depression that I couldn’t shake. It seemed to come out of nowhere but looking back it was there waiting the entire time. 

With my daughter
With my daughter

It took a few days immersed in nature to start to shake it. An amazing hike in Tahoe with my daughter, a solo day of paddling (also in Tahoe), and a hike in the mountains. Getting outside was one of the most important sources of therapy for me this year.

It was a good reminder of the importance of self-care and that the work I need to do to maintain my mindset is a life-long commitment that will never end. It was also a good lesson that even the best mindsets and attitudes wear down. And that’s OK. It’s OK to get tired, frustrated, and not have all the answers. It’s also OK to share that and ask for help.

(I wrote a blog about my experience in this post: Measuring Mindfulness: Seeing the Leaves & Lessons Along the Way)

A Simple Holiday Season

The holidays were weird this year, no doubt - but the simplicity was kind of nice. We still did our big Halloween decorations (our favorite holiday) and found a way to safely host trick-or-treaters. We stayed at home for the holidays and still found ways to have fun. With two December birthdays in our house, it’s always a busy time of year but having nowhere to go forced us to relax and enjoy each other. 

So now as we turn the calendar, it’s easy to look forward to a clean slate and a new start but the reality is that 2021 guarantees nothing. And if we don’t reflect on this tough year we may not learn from it as much as we could, but just as importantly, we may not give ourselves credit for what we overcame. So, I jotted down 20 things that 2020 taught and/or reminded me.

lessons I Learned (or was reminded of) in 2020

  1. You cannot plan for everything

  2. The importance of self-care

  3. Human connection is more critical than ever and we are connected more than ever

  4. The impact of my time away from home vs. being home more

  5. Actions speak louder than words

  6. The positive impact of consistent self-care

  7. How to make difficult decisions with little time or information

  8. The importance of transparency, communication, and empathy

  9. What it’s like to have dinner with my family every night

  10. What it’s like to not see my family and friends for an extended period of time

  11. The difference between thinking the right thing and doing the right thing when it comes to racial injustice - and where I need to improve

  12. People are more divided than I realized.

  13. Kids are more resilient than we even thought

  14. The meaning of social distancing, White Privilege, and essential workers

  15. The power of turning off social media and unplugging

  16. Real remote work changes everything

  17. The importance of nature

  18. When faced with great challenges, we can come together to solve great problems and change much faster than we thought possible

  19. There is a way to radically improve the environment

  20. Humans are capable of doing very difficult things

No doubt everyone has their own version of this crazy 2020 story, and for that matter, it’s still being written. For those who are struggling, don’t give up. You’ve likely endured more than you ever imagined you could. Your best work is yet to be done and your best stories are yet to be told. 

Take a moment to find gratitude in where you find yourself today. Take care of yourselves and each other. Take this opportunity to reset your approach to the new year - make the adjustments you need, ask for the help you need, and put yourself in a position to make progress. Don’t just welcome the new year, challenge it to bring it on!

I have no idea what the new year will bring, but if I’ve learned anything, I do know we are ready for it.


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