In Spite of 2020, I’m Still Grateful

As an eternal optimist, even I must confess that 2020 left a lot to be desired. And now that it’s finally over, and we await all that 2021 has in store, I’m trying to capture those “2020 moments” that brought me joy. I mean the kind of pure joy that makes you smile without even realizing it. 

I know, 2020 reflection calls attention to Covid-19, racial unrest, and political divisiveness, just to name a few. Yet through it all, when it seems like joy was nowhere in sight, I’m determined to bring light to those positive moments at times buried deep within last year. You see, I believe it’s possible to acknowledge the hurt we’ve endured while also finding gratitude for the experience. Though 2020 brought many of us great heartache, there have been glimmers of hope sprinkled about that have hopefully brought a smile or two to the faces of many.  

First, I’m grateful for the countless heroes who have gone to battle with this novel coronavirus allowing us to navigate this “new normal” that 2020 brought our way. Thank you, nurses and doctors, environmental services staff,  grocery store clerks, bus drivers, restaurant servers, police, and firefighters — each of you has helped restore my belief in the goodwill of mankind. 

Optimism and Hope for 2021

I find hope in knowing that a record number of citizens voted in 2020. As a result, the country elected America’s first female vice president and woman of color in the White House: Kamala Harris. Beyond this historic feat, we’ve seen more Native Americans and women elected to Congress than ever before, as well as the most trans people elected to state legislatures. This representation will have an impact, not just in government but throughout our broader society, for years to come, and I know we’re just getting started. 

I continue to experience hope knowing that CO2 emissions fell by a record seven percent in 2020, largely due to the stay-at-home orders around the world. In addition, two million people in India planted 250 million trees in one weekend, the latest and largest in an ongoing annual planting scheme that aims to re-forest the subcontinent. 

Finally, thousands of people from diverse and varied backgrounds volunteered in clinical trials for a vaccine for COVID-19 that is being widely distributed right now. It is thanks to these volunteers and the tireless work of researchers and manufacturers who produced the fastest vaccine development, ever even when health officials cautioned the first vaccines wouldn’t be available until the middle of 2021 at the earliest. While there have been some to understandably question the safety of these vaccines, we must also take into account the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 has prioritized vaccine research and development to receive government financing for development, like never before. With all of this, there is hope in this New Year knowing that we’ve turned a corner with this once-in-a-century pandemic. 

The Impact I’ve Experienced in 2020

While this year was personally and professionally challenging, I realize my privilege as my health and the health of my immediate family was not impacted, nor was my opportunity to continue contributing to the mission and business of my employer, UPMC. Nonetheless, the impact I’ve experienced in 2020 has been great. Below are three developments I saw make a positive impact on an otherwise disruptive year.

Work is Now a Verb, Not a Place 

This year, a lot of jobs that had no interest in previously going remote were forced to find solutions. In a matter of weeks, organizations learned how to adapt to virtual and remote reality while figuring out how to maintain productivity. I touched on productivity earlier this year, sharing how we can enhance our efficiencies, even while working from home. 

While not every job has been efficient with remote work, and many people still prefer “normal” working environments, this glimpse into a remote reality does have some companies reconsidering if they want to go back to “normal.” For example, Google announced that working from home will be extended well into 2021, with talk of continuing a “hybrid” schedule, and other companies following suit. As this article in Forbes produced, this shift to an acceptance of remote work — and it being a choice offered to employees rather than a request made by the employees — can open new possibilities to those who struggle with “conventional” working environments.

Compassion, Patience, and Grace

From Zoom conference calls to fully remote learning, technology has brought on its fair share of challenges this year with forced remote life. Amidst this, I’ve been pleased by the degree of compassion within the workplace as we’ve all struggled to get comfortable working from home. When the inevitable occurs — “you’re on mute,” or wifi challenges, or your child or dog interrupts an important virtual meeting — I’ve found, by and large, these disruptions have been met with patience and understanding, as we’re all continuing to try and figure it out. People have learned time management like never before, balancing work, school, parenthood and so much more…all at the same time.

Being Anti-Racist is Not Optional

Besides COVID-19, 2020 found us coming to terms with our country’s racial pandemic as well. 

The heightened attention on this topic last year has been unlike anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime. For some of us, these are daily realities but for others there was a genuine awakening. 

The conversation became so mainstream you couldn’t turn on the news, or better yet, commute to your office, without seeing firsthand the frustration of so many, self-included, who took to the streets proclaiming ‘something just isn’t right’ as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and so many others became household names for all the wrong reasons. 

This moment feels different from where I sit. And what’s different is the degree of action many companies are putting behind their pledges especially when it comes to defining expectations for what it means to be an anti-racist organization. Organizations, to some extent, are investing in this work as they hadn’t done before. Some are now forming community partnerships while others elevate expectations for employee education or reexamine hiring practices. I wrote more on this topic and why we need to actively work to become anti-racist, which you can read here.

It’s been said, “Those who do not learn history are destined to repeat it.” 2020 was hard. Although I hope in time, we can look back and appreciate the joys and learnings we gained along the way. The New York Times asked readers, What is something positive you discovered about yourself, your family, your community and maybe even your world this year?” Here are some of those responses. 2020 saw people come together in times of need like never before, and I’m confident we will continue to do so.

Cheers to the New Year!