One thing is certain, the year of 2020 is highly likely to leave a mark on most of us. This has been a defining year in so many ways, and the future history books will have a lot to write about for the chapter that started in 2020.
As the year approaches a close, I figured that for my own mental health, for the desire to summarize my thinking AND for anyone else who cares to read them, it would be a good exercise to write down what this eventful year of experience has taught me.
And please make note, that these are MY lessons. You are welcome to borrow them, add to them and learn from them; just please consider that they are not for debate and you are more than welcome to share a very different point of view.
So in no particular order – here goes….
When the world CHANGES, make changes
The reaction of many when faced with significant change is to react with paralyzing fear and through shock – do nothing and let the change happen to them. When a change of any magnitude effects my world, then what I look to do is not react, but instead plan a positive response.
This year has resulted in a devastating negative turn for the events industry, a dramatic negative impact on sales people being able to interact with their clients AND huge constraints added to almost every business on the planet that effects their daily operation.
When you are in the business of helping businesses to navigate change and the changes are happening to you, your businesses, your clients’ businesses – it feels like a scene out of the Pearl Harbor attack and it’s difficult to know where to focus first.
For us, this was a situation of taking a multi-tiered response that meant first getting to a position of safety and comfort for me and the family, then jumping to the front line for the needs of my clients with a “whatever it takes” mentality and forgoing the need to agree terms or get paid, and then build a new operation that is fit to go the distance.
Over this 12-month window we have…
This was about making the necessary changes to ride the external changes and follow two very strong commitments that I take full personal responsibility for.
The results are that in a year where our life was turned upside down in March and the financial forecast saw a pipeline of over $1m in earnings dwindle to nothing in just 6 weeks, today I am writing from my comfortable home office, the sun is shining in December, I can hear my family enjoying life the other side of the door and 2020 is set to be reporting my most profitable year in business to-date.
Keep the FOCUS on what you can control
This is easily said and much harder done. Distractions are real and with so much of our time tied to devices and those same devices being some of the most highly trained attention thieves on the planet, keeping your eyes on the things within your domain is almost impossible.
The trick is to find acceptance in what you cannot influence. If something just is, then let it be. Then also remember that what you can truly influence is limited by your bandwidth. Yes, you have the power to impact on a lot in this world, yet trying to save the planet, rally for political change, rise the leaderboard at work, score a new personal best for a 5k, lose 10lb, watch The Queens Gambit and pivot your entire life around may mean that something has to give a little.
For me, this has meant not just drawing a line between what can be controlled and what cannot be controlled. But also giving consideration to what needs my focus NOW and what has the potential to receive that focus “next” or perhaps even “later”.
This ability to process efforts with the “Now, Next or Later” filter has been one of the only ways to manage my anxiety through the year to date.
PATIENCE and WAITING are not the same thing
With various periods of enforced quarantines, it has been interesting to experience and observe the reactions of restrictions. Even as I write this, I am bewildered from browsing my social media this morning to be reflected with dozens of “Bring on 2021” and “Can’t wait for this to be over” type posts.
Since as far back as I can remember, I have been acutely aware that the thing I despise the most is “Waiting”. Whether waiting for a train to arrive at the platform, waiting in a line at a theme park, waiting for a movie to start at the cinema, waiting for a friend to show up or even just waiting for the kettle to boil – the action of “Waiting” has never served me well.
Instead of waiting, this year has taught me to be patient. To accept that in each of these pauses, progress can be made. That progress can be personal progress, but more importantly that progress can be social or professional progress.
I am not waiting for this to be over. Instead I am being patient whilst people more competent than I are working on finding the best solutions.
Never UNDERESTIMATE a pat on the back
Damn I miss people. What I don’t miss as much as I thought I might are the crowds, the hustle, the standing ovations and more. Instead, the things I miss are way more subtle and hugely more impactful. I miss the transfer of trust exchanged with a reassuring handshake, I miss the subtle glimmer in the expression of another human when something “clicks”, I miss the absorption of energy from being a room of people laughing at the same time and yet still, what I miss more than any of that is really specific and perhaps kinda weird.
It’s not a hug, a high five or a fist bump. Instead, it’s a gentle tap on the shoulder. The tap that’s accompanied with a “great job today” from an audience member, or a “so good to see you” from a dear friend and even the tap that accompanies a “go get ‘em” from a respected peer or event organizer.
Realizing this makes me think of the dozens of times I could have delivered one of these pats to someone else and didn’t. I will do better at this in the future.
People really love having someone else to BLAME
It’s terrible. The incredible quantity and volume of noise created by masses of people, desperate to pass the responsibility of their circumstances towards someone or something else. This happens so much, the only conclusion I can make is that this is something that these people actually enjoy.
I remember once, when a great mentor shared with me the perspective that “Nobody knows what they are doing” and that “Everybody is just making it up” and “Trying to do their best”, how liberating that perspective felt.
Sure, I have wishes that others would act in alternate ways and I certainly have distain when their actions result in consequences that affect me and the people that I love. What I have learned though is that finger pointing is a fuel for the defense and results in nothing more useful than an argument. The thing with arguments is that they soon become fights, and the trouble with fights is they end up with losers. This is particularly problematic if you believe we are all on the same side.
All this talk about PURPOSE might not be such a good thing
With over 1.4 TRILLION pieces of content indexed in Google to help you find your purpose and much of the world struggling to find theirs, then perhaps the truth lies in the possibility that not any one of us has any given “purpose” in life.
I have witnessed depression, family feuds, self-sabotaging behaviors and more – all caused by people believing they are failing at life because they cannot fulfil their purpose.
My reframe is to think not about what my purpose is, but instead about how can I be useful to things that I care about, in ways that I enjoy that help me meet my responsibilities and commitments to others.
OK, it’s a little less sexy, a scratch more practical, and it is also a lot more attainable.
Take NOTHING for granted
My daughters’ birthday party, 11 flights a day from London to NYC on your favorite airline, the Polaris lounge, superfast Wi-Fi, last minute Christmas shopping, Mum’s Christmas dinner, grabbing a drink at the bar, Broadway and even toilet paper are never things that I have ever worried about not existing. Yet, this year has proved to me that I had no right to assume those things are as convenient and accessible as I previously had relied upon.
Historically, I have been on a relentless quest to get “there” with the “there” being an evermoving target. This year has taught me that at any given period of time, in a moment, the snapshot of your life could be something you have to find acceptance in for the foreseeable future.
It has made me think about the exposure of having a continent between me and many of my loved ones, It has made me think about the nature of a career that relies on so many external factors and it has made me consider a lot of life choices as a consequence.
People really are quite RESOURCEFUL
Relish ROOKIE Mode
Once I took the chip off my shoulder and decided to lean into the possibility of serving large groups of people from a distance, via a webcam, a plethora of magic presented itself.
I was no longer the seasoned professional, with over 2500 live events under my belt and the confidence attached to all those reps. Instead, I was fresh faced and back at a new start line, overwhelmed with all the talk of green screens, capture cards, camera specs, lighting choices and the mind-spinning tragedy of navigating the catastrophe of online broadcasting tools selected by your clients.
The struggle was (and still is) real. The journey is immensely humbling, it has helped me to refine my work, be more creative in how to deliver for clients and audiences and the best part – it has reminded me what it feels like to be a student again.
Being a rookie meant I had permission to play. It meant that I could take on dozens of events and opportunities that I would have been “too busy” for or “didn’t have my fee” and instead, I have felt like a stand up comedian, working on new material through a quantity of different clubs to learn what works and what doesn’t before taking it to the mainstage.
On reflection, this year has been really hard and also it’s been really fun. Perhaps it means that tackling hard things IS how you actually have fun.
Nothing was/is ever SUPPOSED to be
Always have a BACKUP plan – even for your backup plan
2020 has been a year of things not going to plan. Exhausting as it may be, it’s certainly been useful for work commitments, travel plans, celebratory events, meals for the family and everything in between to have alternative options pre-thought out before diving into action with blind optimism.
I believe it was the great Mike Tyson that famously quoted that “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face”. I am saying that moving forward, I am building plans for getting punched in the face, gut, ribs and even the kneecap.
I may well be overthinking, but I am prepared to deal with the consequences of that more than I am the consequences of not being prepared.
IGNORANCE is rife
Yikes, there was an awful lot I didn’t know or understand about this world and the more I look into it the more I realize just how naïve and ignorant I have been my whole life.
So little did I understand about systemic racism, so little did I understand about political motives and policies, so little did I understand about the prejudice and selfishness that pollenates our world and so little did I understand about how happily blind much of us are to what the future of our society and planet might look like.
The understanding of knowing that I know so little has fueled the quest to learn more and the more I learn the more I realize how little I still know.
I can confess that I was ignorant to so many intolerable actions and behaviors and moving forward am working to reduce that ignorance to first understand and then be a part of a positive change.
Without HEALTH there is no WEALTH
The realities of health issues have hit me harder this year than any other to date. Not for the reason that I or any of my immediate family have suffered, but more so because of the quantity of amazing people I have seen affected and imagining their (very possible) circumstances being mine has been eye-opening.
Even bypassing the devastating losses worldwide from the virus, I have also witnessed dozens of close personal friends experiencing immediate AND long lasting effects that knocked them out for weeks and continue to prevent them from living a full life as they complain of extreme fatigue and shortness of breath months after being given the all clear from their physician.
Individually, the new reality has resulted in habits that naturally make me less active, more open to poor nutrition and regularly finding comfort in another glass of Bourbon.
New Year/New You will be ever-present as each January looms, but this year for me is not just about skipping the take-out food and cutting back on the booze. Instead it’s making the necessary decisions continuously that mean I minimize the risk of me or my family contracting a life altering virus, as well as committing to new habits that ensure I have the energy and ability to outrun my kiddos for at least the next decade.
BOUNDARIES fuel creativity
There is a lot that I wish was different about this year. Yet if those wishes came true, so much of the creativity that has given birth to new successes and new opportunities would not have existed.
I enjoyed turning our once vacation home into a global communications hub for a series of live events.The challenge of thinking of an audience being sat on their own device in their own environments has made me re-think what audience engagement really means and working from home around a busy and bustling family has certainly given me a greater understanding for my wife’s challenges as well as my own.
My RELATIONSHIP with my spouse is the #1 asset
The ancient African proverb says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I think about that quote a lot and more than ever have seen the value of marriage, having a partner for life and a true team mate to accompany the journey. This year has been a Maverick and Goose series of missions with Charlotte and I flip-flopping the roles.
Going from someone who was on the road for over 100 days a year to now sharing the same air, all day, every day has been intense, challenging and meant that there has been lots to unlearn. I have lot to be grateful for this year, most of all my beautiful and brilliant wife.
OPPORTUNITY is ever present
All this talk of “The Economy” is just more proof of the ignorance of the masses. The economy dropping into a recession or depression is not a reason for the local coffee shop to go out of business. The reason businesses go out of business is because they fail to adequately provide for the ever-changing needs of their customer base.
It’s easy to let change overwhelm you. Yet within that change lies opportunity. I have loved supporting local businesses this year, but only the ones that have done the work to make it easy for me to support them and the ones that are accepting their reality and throwing their best effort at evolving for the future.
If you are looking to obtain more wealth then remember the simple fact that all the money you could ever wish to acquire is currently in the hands of other people, you just need to find a viable reason for them to give it to you.
You are what you PROVE you are
Every paying customer is looking for certainty, or as close as they can possibly get to it. People are choosing their meal deliveries based-ratings and reviews, airlines based on their safety commitments, travel plans based on their cancellation policies and places of work based on their stance on diversity and inclusion.
In changing times, people are less likely to take a chance and are looking to make safe choices over and above bold choices. This means that whatever you want people to believe about you – don’t say you are, show you are.
For me, this has been about building the evidence that means I will never get a potential client ask if I am available for virtual performances. Instead, we build a body of evidence that proves that is not only an option for them, but an option that I am highly experienced in, with a proven track record of positive results.
The lesson of the year is to not overlook this lesson and shortchange it. Instead, double down and support every given edge of my value proposition with so much evidence that it delivers certainty in an outcome as opposed to hope.
Be ready for NEXT
Reflecting on 2020 has me thinking that we have yet to have seen the worst of the impact of this pandemic. I predict that we will see continued and contrasting, confusing restrictions that affect daily life for millions of people. The desire to do business in person will exist, yet the reality will be that many people will either be restricted from doing so or just choose not to. Working from home is here to stay, digital communication is now the first choice for many, eating in is the new eating out and so many other fundamental shifts have happened.
For me, this means accepting the new reality and leaning into it, future proofing my commitment to provide for my family and support businesses in times of change.
If you are interested, you will see that already, my website is an example of being open for business in 2021, and through Q1, we are building a purpose built Online Training studio that allows me to produce world class learning experiences for clients across the globe, and to commute there is a beautiful 10 minute stroll across the countryside.
My parting message for 2020 is this…
Please don’t wish for a better future – work for it instead.