At midnight on December 31st, millions of souls around the globe will unite to tell 2020, in no uncertain terms, to get well and truly lost. Because, as the cost of this significant year is accrued, we’ll want to believe that something better is within reach. With the promise of a successful vaccine, we can cling to a sliver of optimism for the New Year. Yet, as the Covid-19 infection figures still rage uncontrollably (the US recently declared nearly 10 million confirmed cases), our sensible selves will know that we are far from virus-free ground.
There a few novel things we’ve discovered this year - how to Unmute on Zoom, that cloth masks might look more stylish but make you sweat, and weekly clapping for the NHS is lovely but no way enough. But the biggest learning curve for many of us has been the deep dive we’ve had to undertake ourselves. In other words, good old-fashioned resilience.
It’s taught us so much. Mainly that we are stronger than we believe, and more innovative than we ever imagined. A VP at a leading bank recently admitted, “When it was announced that we would have to move the business entirely online and all our employees would be working from home, most of us said it would never happen. But it did, in an incredibly short space of time, and not only did we manage, we excelled.” We only have to consider how rapidly the scientists have produced a vaccine to believe the incredible possibilities open to us.
The pandemic forced everyone to make big decisions about everything. There were challenges after challenges, and we adapted and managed. At times we flourished. It’s so easy to focus on the many ruthless negatives that this unforgettable year has flung at us; the heartache of deaths in families, the global recession, record number of food banks, the sense for many that the four walls of their home had become a kind of Netflix-ridden prison.
Yet there were also astonishing parts to this crazy year. Parents got to spend more time with their children, rookie joggers pounded through our streets, nature became our new best friend and the appreciation of the little things brought joy to comfort-starved hearts. My sister recently visited an art gallery and claimed, “It was wonderful!”, while my husband was one of the lucky 2,000 football season ticket holders who attended a rare live match – he admitted there were tears in his eyes at kick off.
So, as we reach the end of 2020, the big question is ‘What’s next?’ The last 12 months has taught us we can’t take anything for granted and what’s next could very easily be tipped on its head and twisted inside out. The unpredictable has become our normal. Even so, as December draws to a close, it’s human nature to ponder awhile on what has gone before and what might be coming… Perhaps there is a sense of no time to waste, too much has been lost already? Maybe there are big decisions to be made - the detritus is unnecessary and has no merit in this skimmed down existence? With a New Year, there often comes the drive to think about what we want to take forward for ourselves. It becomes personal: what will life look like in six months? What changes can I make? And what is the ultimate goal?
Already, predictions for significant transformations in business are being touted around. Linkedin published an article at the beginning of December (20 Big Ideas that will Shape the World in 2021) which talked about workers using their offices ‘as spaces where people gather for leadership, personal development and culture; and as clubhouses where they come together to collaborate and congregate. Either way, we won’t be gathering in them five days each week anymore.’ The article also mentioned: ‘Female leadership coming to the fore, with the US Fortune 500 seeing more female CEOs than ever. Expect to see this trend continue, as the pandemic highlights the importance of leading with empathy and supporting diverse talent. We want to see some changes in terms of how women show up in the workplace. We are half the workforce.’
And even though it often felt we were awash in a sea of pain during 2020, there was no escaping the heroes who inspired us to be better. The crowds of Black Lives Matter protestors who gathered in cities around the world to remind us of George Floyd’s final words: ‘I can’t breathe’. Footballer, Marcus Rushford, a mere 23 years old, whose campaign for free school meals pushed the government to rethink their provision commitment. The key workers who strived to save the lives of the desperately ill and then crouched in a corridor crying at the sheer weight of their burden. Jacina Ardern, who demonstrated to other prime ministers how to effectively run a Covid-infected country. A certain CEO who held an important Zoom meeting from the ‘privacy’ of his home office as his six-year-son hit him playfully on the head with a plastic hammer (true story).
If there is one common denominator, it’s that humans can be wonderful. And they prove time and again that the tougher things get, the more rewarding the outcome. There may have been a time when we craved a shiny new car or a Michelin meal in a bougie restaurant, but today, it’s often the simple – yet important - things we most desire. The dream for me is to be in a room with my dearest friends and family, music playing, everyone dancing and singing and hugging and laughing. Rather like the New Year Eve parties of the past. I know they will come back one day. But until then, let’s focus on the good we can take forward. Because there is something extremely special that unites us all as we reach the end of this year. We have this precious life to live. And what we do with it, and the people we nurture along the way, will determine just how incredible it turn out to be.