By the time this is published, there will probably be a lot of blog posts going around about 2020. This is one of those.
Except this will not be a list of things I’m proud of as in things I’ve achieved during one of the weirdest years for most of us.
Instead, I’m listing down the biggest learnings and realizations that life still managed to shove down my throat despite having spent most of the year indoors, as far away from world experiences as possible. Though, I have to say - I’m proud of these learnings just the same.
Sharing is caring, they said. So let me do just that. Here's are the things I learned about life, leadership, and relationships in the year of Covid, 2020. At least about mine. I hope these learnings will be helpful to you too, no matter your context and experience.
On setting boundaries between life and work
Don't wear pyjamas "to work". - Wearing normal clothes made me feel like I was separating my home life from my work life. Changing into my outdoor clothes felt like flipping a switch in my brain telling my entire body that it was time to wake up and be productive, even before I've had my coffee. Changing out of my jeans after work into my lounge pants also helped me switch off and really decide that it was time to turn into a potato.
Take proper lunch breaks. - Even when I was going to the office, I've been pretty strict with my lunch hour. No C-level meeting was going to get in between me and my food! I continued that even when I was working from home. I made proper lunches. Ordered in when the fridge was empty. But I took my hour and ate in peace. Sometimes there were exceptions, but they remained just that. Exceptions. Taking proper lunch breaks allowed me to recharge for the afternoon. Clear my head and regroup my brain cells. I got to rest. Even on days when things were hectic. And especially on those days.
Respect your weekends (and everybody's too). - When the place I work and the place I rest is one and the same, it's pretty tempting to just pick up my laptop on Saturday afternoons, under the guise of "I'm just going to check my email". Hours later, I've already responded to all unread messages, completed a deck, and it's already Sunday.
Sure, I could tell myself that I was just trying to make some progress in my to-do list. But I'm also starting a new week tired and annoyed that I didn't get to binge watch the new Netflix series that just dropped. And as much as I hate to admit this out loud, I'm also coming into the week, a bit resentful. Because unconsciously, I'm also setting the same expectation on other people. To do more. Work more. When I shouldn't.
On Leadership and the many things it can mean
Embrace your strengths. Even the ones you think you don't like. - I've been told multiple times by peers, managers, and mentors that I am great with people. That I have the ability to make people feel comfortable even in the most serious situations. And despite strongly avoiding conflict like the plague, that when faced with one, I know how to handle it. But it's a strength I've never really been able to capitalise.
I don't like to people. My excuse of choice. I've said this so many times, it's pretty much become part of my personality.
This year though, I've found myself leaning more into this strength. As daily life just became more exhausting and people struggled with motivation, boundaries, and grief, I’ve used this strength a lot to understand how I can engage better with the people around me - in a way that they really need to be engaged with.
In the end, I've started to like this strength of mine. Sure, it has unlocked a ton of new opportunities. But more important, it has helped me create new connections, and helped people feel better and regain their confidence when they needed it the most.
So while I still don't like to people,I realized that I like creating safe spaces for people more.
Team culture trumps everything else they write about in books or talk about in trainings - If you ask me if we're doing Scrum or Kanban, I would tell you that I have no idea. I'll also tell you that it doesn't matter (at the risk of getting yelled at by purists out there). What I will also tell you is how proud I am to work with the people I do. We churn out amazing things, sure. But what I'm more proud of is the attitude that comes with those amazing things:
The readiness to help out even if it means doing things that are beyond our job descriptions.
The willingness to try new things for the sake of becoming better.
The candidness with which everybody gives and receives feedback.
I used to think it's because we have the luxury of being a small team - less people means less egos. But I recognize now that it's more than that. It's our team's culture that allow us to look past our job descriptions and put focus instead on what matters. That we accomplish the goals we've set for ourselves. That we deliver on our commitments - to each other and to our stakeholders. And while we don't always get 100%, that there's a shared ambition to try again next time.
You don't have to have the title to be a leader - I used to obsess about titles. Head of Something Cool. Chief Person In Charge. I used to think that I need the title to be able to have any significant impact on anything. To be ~important. But this year (and the many conversations I've had with my manager(s), my mentor, and my peers) made me realize that:
Helping people feel safe, seen, and heard is an opportunity to lead
Helping people find words for their thoughts and feelings is an opportunity to lead
Helping people become more confident about their strengths, contributions, and voice is an opportunity to lead
The title doesn't mean jack if you're not helping. And if you're helping, not having the title doesn't mean jack either. Being a leader is a choice. A choice to care about people and to help them always be at their best. And I can't believe I'm typing this “out loud” - but I think it’s time to admit to myself that I've become one. 😱
On self care and being a good human being
I've seen so many posts, stories, and infographics reminding us to take care of ourselves and to proiritize our needs and wants. And I think they've multiplied by a hundred fold this year when the pandemic broke out and everything went to shit.
And while I agree that we should always look out for number 1, I think there's more to it than just that.
Prioritizing ourselves does not have to be at the cost of other people's welfare. The best example of this is, wearing masks. So many people whine about wearing masks because they're ineffective at protecting us from anything anyway. But wearing a mask has never been about protecting ourselves. It has always been about protecting other people from the stuff we might be carrying around. I wear mask for other people. And other people wear a mask for me. That's how we all stay safe. With nobody giving more or less than the other.
And it's the same with life. Wanting to take the time to work on yourself is, I think, a necessary endeavour. I know this. Unless I'm in a good place (physically, mentally, and emotionally), I am unable to give my best; thus unable to help the people I work with. Having personal goals and ambitions and wanting to do more things to help me achieve my personal vision is important too. It's a way to learn more, evolve as a person, and discover new opportunities to help others.
I will be the last person to say that these are wrong things to spend time on.
But what I'm observing is that these have also become an excuse for us to neglect our commitments, ignore our accountabilities, and sometimes even take advantage of other people.
We talk so much about how hard it is to trust people these days. But we hardly question our own trustworthiness. We're so fixated on getting more or being more; that we put other people at a disadvantage in the process.
So yes, we should spend time on our ambitions. We should prioritize our own needs. But never at the expense of other people. Sometimes it's the simple things - like delivering on the things we say we will do. And when we can't, we set the right expectations. If we expect other people to do right by us, we should start by doing right by other people too. With nobody giving more or less than the other.
Life is not a walk in the park. Just when I started thinking that I've got things right this time - life decided that I should be wrong.
Success is not just about the number of zeroes you see in your bank account. It's not just about the title you put in your Linkedin profile. Although both give you access to a lot of things, I will admit.
This year, I've learned that success is also about being able to navigate the shitty parts of life with grace and confidence, and helping other people do the same. It's about treating other people and their time with respect. And providing value to the world with the same energy that we demand value from it.
It's also about having the ability to learn. Continuously learning how to be better. At being a colleague, neighbour, and partner. At being a better human.
And sometimes it's starting with little things like kindly telling people that they're on mute before they start speaking. 🔇
Got questions, feedback, violent reactions? Leave them in the comments below👇
Happy holidays, you lot! 🎉
I also learned how to bake banana bread, take care of plants, and the names of the members of Black Pink.
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