It’s been a tradition for many years now for me to write a year-end blog post reflecting on what we’ve accomplished over the previous year and where we’re heading next. I am certain there will be many voices both now and in the future reflecting on what 2020 was, wasn’t, and what it set in motion—and while I have no expectation that folks are waiting for my hot take with baited breath, I’m a sucker for tradition. Plus, Suzanne assigned it to me (ha!). But I also feel like the onus is on me then to try to say something of worth.
We recently had our final quarterly meeting of the year, and I typically do a similar yearly recap and preview of what’s next. “The Business” is always at the center of that message, because of course that’s the shared context. But when I recently stopped for just a moment to consider what 2020 felt like in aggregate, it was not only overwhelming, but I couldn’t help noticing that “The Business”—although our livelihood and very, very important—was consistently taking a back seat.
I am fully in support of gallows humor to get through hard times, and I think it can be cathartic when respecting certain boundaries, especially among friends. So yes, when I started my address last week, my corresponding image in the slide deck was this:
But I pivoted from that quickly, and turned off the slide deck to just talk directly to our team, because the truth is that 2020 was (and continues to be) anything but a laughing matter. You don’t need me to recount all of the many reasons why.
Remember The Bigger Picture
What bears repeating and remembering is this: regardless of whatever our (valid) strategies are and have been for carrying on every day and just getting through it, for all of those reasons-that-shall-not-be-listed above, millions of people are suffering right now. Hundreds of thousands more are literally dying, on a daily basis, than we would see in a typical year. Our neighbors. Our friends. Our family. Us. We’re desperately trying to make things OK because that’s what humans do in times of hardship—one of our more endearing traits—but things are not OK. I still remain optimistic that “OK” is attainable in the future. We can’t get through it otherwise.
This is a blog on a website promoting a for-profit business. Those of us that have managed to hang onto our jobs, businesses, and livelihoods during this past year (especially those in non-front line, white collar jobs) need to understand that we exist in a bubble. We can and should be grateful for that, but we must remain fully aware of it. If it felt incongruent for you to be figuring out the best marketing messages to sell your products and/or services this past year and if you struggled with what to say, how to say it, and when it was appropriate to do so… we were right there with you. That doesn’t make it wrong. Trying to maintain some sense of normalcy (and again, our livelihoods) was important for all of us, but the reason it felt incongruent was because it was.
People Are The Heart of a Company
And that’s why when taking an honest and personal look back on 2020, it’s not business accomplishments that are rising to the top of mind for me. In the context of being at the helm of Think Company, it’s the faces of this incredible team of people—faces I haven’t seen in person for nine months now—that are doing that. People that, despite us facing many difficult challenges, knuckled down and pushed back hard against the entropy creeping under the door. And yes, pivoted completely into a remote context—maintaining quality of delivery and experience. They worked hard to make Think Company a place of refuge and productivity when that was sorely needed. Instead of staying quiet, they provided constructive feedback even when it was sometimes difficult or uncomfortable to deliver and receive. They kept at it even when at times we were literally in tears, worn down but still trying to do our best against wave after wave of challenge. And no, we didn’t end up where we were planning to be this time last year. But if in mid-March, amidst all of the general uncertainty around what we as a society were even dealing with, someone told me where we were going to end up, I would have had a hard time believing them. But then again, this is Think Company we’re talking about here… so maybe not. But we certainly would have all gotten much better sleep.
Yesterday I was talking with Neha and she said something that I identified with fully: “when we get back into the office, people are going to need to wear nametags that say whether they’re OK with hugs or not, because I’m gonna need to know that or else they’re getting one.” I said that I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to hold it together when that day comes… and who am I kidding, of course I won’t. But it won’t be because of the return of sorely missed personal freedoms—it’ll be because of gratitude and gratefulness for this incredible group of humans I’ve had the honor to work and navigate this past year with.
Looking to 2021
I realize this is a bit rambling, and I’m not going to go back and make any attempt to tighten it up further—the rambling is apt. Here we are, at what is ultimately perhaps another arbitrary milestone. But we’re here, and any day we can say that is a good day. I sincerely wish you peace, rest, and healing during this holiday season in whatever form that takes for you and yours. Here’s to “being more OK” in 2021… and vigilance, outspokenness, and care for one another.