Hindsight is 2020: Top Takeaways from a Tough Year

Jan 04, 2021

They say hindsight is 2020 and never has that expression mattered more than it does now.  I’ve been reflecting on what 2020 has taught me.  Here are my biggest takeaways from a year that I won’t miss.  

Set intentions not goals.

I coached leaders in enough businesses in 2020 to watch them pivot, iterate, set new goals and scrap OKRs altogether.  There was too much uncertainty, unpredictability, and ever shifting sand to find firm footing.  The companies that I watched succeed, however, stayed true to their intentions.  They didn’t let goal setting anxieties or missing targets hold them back.  I'm following the same advice for myself.

I’ve never been much of a goal setter and, in fact, psychometric instruments (also known as personality tests) back me up on that.  Reflect on that for a moment.  I have three advanced degrees and bucket loads of “achievements” -- jobs at the best law firms in the world, an Oxford degree and associate fellowship there, been featured on top radio shows and in prime media publications, and now I'm launching my own business.  And I am not a goal setter.

When I set goals, anxiety sets in.  I can’t sleep and I spend my life measuring things.  When we first launched our online coaching program, I thought I should set goals.  How many instagram followers, email subscribers, and facebook friends do we have?  Suddenly, I couldn’t sleep without checking in on how I was doing against my goals.  When I realized that was happening, I stopped.  

I went back to my intention -- to help get as many women into leadership positions as possible.  Suddenly everything shifted.  I stopped counting followers and subscribers.  I refocused all of my attention on what the women I’m coaching need.  What can I do today to support, challenge and promote the women I reach through my work.  That is the only measure of success.  

Goal setting produces anxiety and wastes time.  Intention setting means I am living my core values every day.  And it doesn’t get in the way of achievement. 

Safety is an inside job.

Holy sh*t -- did the world feel unsafe this year or what? Once the stay-at-home orders hit California, the panic set it.  I had just finished a meeting in LA and stopped at Whole Foods on the way home.  I had no idea what was happening.  I met a distraught young woman sitting on the floor in the middle of a nearly empty aisle looking for a can of anything.  I sat down next to her.  This was before we knew about masks and social distancing.

“Are you okay?”

She said, “Everyone seems to be panicking so it makes me feel like I should be panicking too.”  

“No,” I said.  “You shouldn’t be.”

That was a profound moment for me.   We talked for awhile about how having an abundance of dried rice and beans and toilet paper wasn’t going to make either of us feel any safer.  I bought beer and left. 

What 2020 made clear was that, yes, we need to pay attention, care for and believe in ourselves and each other, practice safe social distancing and have compassion.  But safety is an inside job. There was nothing we could be certain of in 2020 and that is not going to change in 2021.  I returned to more contemplative practices in 2020.  Meditation to stay present, the poetry of Mary Oliver and the warm fur of my soft animals to keep me warm.

Feeling safe to me means being present and awake in my body.  I feel safe because I am living a life with purpose and intention and believing in myself because I’m living consistently with my values. I recognize that I am privileged to not live with food scarcity and to have a warm place to sleep every night. That is abundance.

Fix your own oxygen mask first.

We can be of no service to others when we are not okay ourselves.  This was the year that I took self care to new levels and never once considered self care to be a selfish act.  I tried out every tool in the resilience tool chest.  

I sent thank you notes to people who helped me along the way which made me feel better for a while. 

I kept a silver linings notebook.  

I meditated for 5 minutes a day, then 10, then twice a day for 20.  I practiced several different kinds of meditation over the last year.

I did yoga, then I hired a trainer, then I tried fast walking, then I did a few deadlifts with my corgi.

I binge watched Netflix, took a break from TV altogether, listened to audiobooks and podcasts, returned to hardcover and took entire media breaks.

I took hot baths and cold showers.

When asked by my coaching clients what to do to feel better, I said "whatever works."  

The most important lesson I learned was that when we are stuck in our homes for nearly a year, we may have to try different things at different times and we have to take care of ourselves first.  My entire job is to support others and if I’m in bad shape, I’m in no shape to help anyone.  

Never lose your sense of humor.

This familiar adage is one my father used to preach but I don’t think I really appreciated how important it was until this year.  He died a few years ago and mostly I remember him telling me this as a teenager.  Through tears I implored him to understand that there was nothing funny about what I was going through.

Boy was he wise.  Humor is the antidote.  In 2020, so many horrible things were made so clear that we could not look away.  Injustices, murders, inequality, brutality, hate, fear and so much death.  My pod has been very small in 2020.  Limited only to my brother and my daughter.  Thankfully, they are both pretty funny.  

Humor makes us resilient.  Humor weakens negative emotions.  Humor strengthens our immune systems.  Humor makes us feel like we belong.  Humor gives us energy.  Humor revitalizes us.  Humor makes the unbearable bearable. 

In the words of Viktor Frankl, the Austrian Holocaust survivor who wrote about what Auschwitz taught him in Man’s Search for Meaning, “I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable."


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