Throughout the multiple challenges of 2020, many people have talked negatively about what the year has meant for them. There has been widespread disruption: the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, political divisions, tough economic times, and on and on. As the year draws to a close and 2021 begins, many people say they are simply ready for things to get back to normal.
But others have a different viewpoint on 2020. They say this has been a fantastic year: a time of change and reflection, a time to learn new things, a period of new beginnings.
In some respects, the changes that came in 2020 can be seen through both lenses. In my mind, there is always a silver lining to times like these, and 2020 was no exception. From that perspective, here are three lessons I learned from 2020.
Change is Good
We could look at the things that happened in 2020 as being all bad, as they disrupted many of our norms. But on the other hand, a lot of good things happened.
- We learned to conduct business in ways that we wouldn’t have pursued a year ago.
- People opened up dialogues around long-standing social issues that might not have been initiated without some of the events that occurred.
- We’ve seen tremendous stories of humanitarianism and courage around the actions that people have taken during or because of the pandemic.
As a general rule, change can be good. Even in the organizations where we do our work, many people may look at the changes we help introduce as being challenging because they sometimes mean changes in roles, shifts in influence, and new priorities. The same can be said for this year’s social unrest or pandemic. The reality is that, even with changes that might seem difficult, there are silver linings. I’ve learned to see what silver linings exist and find ways to take advantage of them.
Change Presents Opportunities to Learn Quickly
The changes that were forced on us by the rapid, largely unexpected spread of COVID came quickly. I saw businesses everywhere making rapid changes that, in many respects, altered those organizations for the better.
Restaurants were initially decimated by the pandemic, but many got creative rather quickly. They came up with more convenient delivery choices and expanded takeout options. Once we began returning to restaurants, they gave us ways to download menus so we did not have to touch anything. Look at what we learned from that alone: we don’t need physical menus after all. Imagine how much paper and expense would be saved if every restaurant decided to only give us virtual menus not only now, but also in the future.
Another example is digital payments, which have been growing steadily in recent years. Today, contactless payments have become almost universal — driven by the fact that both customers and employees no longer want to handle cash.
There are many other aspects of our businesses where we have learned to pivot away from long-standing practices, converting what had been face-to-face interactions into virtual ones. If the challenges of 2020 had not occurred, some of the changes we made over the past several months might have taken five or seven years to implement if the normal patterns of life had continued.
Focus on What Matters Most
We have witnessed many people dealing with difficult situations, such as losing loved ones, not having jobs, and being treated poorly within society. As you watch people deal with these obstacles, you start to realize that the most important things in life are how we treat people and our relationships with the people that are closest to us.
Look at all the things we do in our organizations, everything we do to make money, all the activities we pursue to keep the world normal — the way we thought of “normal” before 2020. All those actions needed to be grounded in what we value and care about most. That may be a relationship, our faith, a cause, or a purpose. We all have something that gives our lives meaning.
One of the greatest lessons we can take from 2020 is to focus all the things we do and all the time we spend on what matters most to each of us.