By Mike Richman
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: 2020 has been a real downer. Twelve months ago, most of us were expecting that the coming year would be much like any other, filled with wins and losses, opportunities and obstacles, new adventures and old entanglements. We would navigate all of these as we usually did—with graceful awkwardness. We’d muddle through.
But 2020 has proven to be all but unmuddleable. I’m not going to recite the litany of woes that have befallen all of us across the globe; we know them all too well. Suffice it to say that as many times as we talk about expecting the unexpected, and as many webinars as we’ve attended about risk management, few if any of us were prepared for this most unusual year.
With that said, if you’re reading these words right now, it means that you’re still in the game with your eyes cast upward and your feet pointing toward the horizon. The hard knocks of 2020 have provided some tough lessons that will set us up for bigger and better things in the years to come. I know that I’ve learned a lot that will serve me well in the future. Here’s a short list of the things I’m going to take away from this year:
- “Planning is essential, but plans are meaningless.” This is one of my favorite quotes yet I’m not 100-percent sure who said it (Dwight D. Eisenhower? Winston Churchill? Dilbert?). Nevertheless, it’s a valuable notion—the idea that you should go through the exercise of running through scenarios of things that could happen and how you might deal with those things, even if the odds that any of them might actually come to pass are vanishingly small. Disciplining oneself to slow down, take in fresh information, and connect it to the notions you had ahead of the fray helps make sense of ambiguity—a good thing in the COVID world. The corollary to this is a quote from the noted 20th century philosopher, thespian, and athlete Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
- You’re on your own (and you always were.) Like most of us, I’ve worked for a few different organizations in my time—some big and some small. Yet even at the smallest ones I had people to whom I could turn for support, be it technical, emotional, whatever. Still, when I cast my mind back, regardless of the project on which I was engaged, none of my colleagues cared about it as much as I did. Never forget that your career is in your hands. If you want to succeed, you must make it happen or you have to live with the consequences. Today, with so many of us remote from our friends and colleagues, that’s a critically important insight.
- Be a yes man/woman. Take note of how you respond when presented with new challenges and opportunities. Do you look for reasons to take them on or look for excuses to brush them off? Do you think of the upside or the downside? In short, do you tend toward yes or no? This is a question about more than earning power, by the way. Sure, if you say yes to more opportunities you will probably make more money, but more than that, you’ll learn more, meet more people, and have more fun. “Yes” is the most powerful word in the English language. Look for your chance to say it as often as possible.
- When in doubt, help a brother (or sister) out. When times are tough and you are feeling sad, angry, or confused, one of the surest ways to get over those feelings is to connect with somebody else and see if you can lend them some assistance. This doesn’t have to necessarily be professional in nature, although that’s a great way to get some perspective on your own work issues. Actively listening to a friend, sibling, spouse, child, or parent can help you clear out your own “stuff” and move forward with a clearer head and heart.
Hope and optimism are choices. As business professionals, we all must keep the faith, build our brand equity, and keep marching forward. Chances to learn and grow have never been so prevalent or so easy to access, and I personally know of one partner in particular who is doing some fantastic work to help you organize your career and hone your skills. Take advantage of these opportunities to keep yourself connected with colleagues and firmly on an upwardly mobile career pathway.
The year 2020 is nearly gone, but if you’ve parried the worst of it and lived to tell the tale, you are in good shape for ever higher levels of personal and professional success moving forward. So, what lessons has 2020 taught you? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
About the author
Mike Richman is the principal of Richman Business Media Consulting, a marketing and public relations company working with clients in the worlds of manufacturing, consumer products, politics, and education. Richman also hosts the web television program NorCal News Now, which focuses on social, economic, and political issues in California. He is a contributor to (and former publisher of) Quality Digest.