An Optimist's View Going into 2021
Optimism is about the future. It is not blind positivity nor is it naïve. It is not seeing the glass as half full and ignoring the half of the glass that is empty. It is the ability to see the emptiness of half the glass while choosing to focus the fullness of the other half of the glass. It is the ability to see the good in the face of the bad. It is the practice of looking for the silver-linings in any cloud. 2020 definitely gave us lots of “half empty” things to see. However, this New Year will be defined by our ability to see the “half full” moments.
These are some of the silver linings and lessons that came out of 2020 that will help us make 2021 a remarkable and inspiring year.
ASK FOR HELP AND BE THERE FOR OTHERS
Last year, we learned that no one has the emotional strength to avoid the pain of trauma – any trauma. And the way COVID turned our lives upside down is absolutely a trauma. A dear friend of mine who is active duty military explained to me that every member of the military who goes to combat will, at some point, has to deal with the impact of that trauma. Some will feel that stress quickly while others won’t feel the effects until months after their return. And the way in which people process trauma can be wildly different. There is no one way or right way for us to struggle, but we need to recognize that we mustn’t, and shouldn’t go through it alone.
Lesson for 2021: When we feel stress or strain, tell people. Ask for help. We are much better able to cope when we do it in partnership with someone who cares about us. As important, is to be there to love and support people. Serving others is often one of the most inspiring and fulfilling things we can do in our lives.
FEEL ALL THE FEELS
Another big lesson I learned last year was that we can have multiple, sometimes conflicting emotions, at the same time. My friend and coach, Andrea Garfield, helped me understand that we can feel sad and optimistic simultaneously. We don’t have to feel guilty about having feelings of hope and optimism when surrounded by sadness. Though I am saddened when I think about lost family members and lost livelihoods, at the same time, I feel inspired when I think about the stories of courage, ingenuity and love.
Lesson for 2021: Allow feelings to flow. Don’t edit or judge them…just feel them.
HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS
The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement forced many of us to confront questions and realities that, for too many years, we were able to ignore simply because it was uncomfortable. The killing of George Floyd made it impossible for us to sugar-coat, rationalize or ignore the realities of our world. Unfortunately, so many people, including too many people in leadership positions, didn’t have the uncomfortable conversations they needed to have. Many avoided the tension, not because they are bad people, but because they didn’t know how to start an uncomfortable conversation for fear of saying the wrong thing or accidentally making any tension worse.
Whether we like it or not – we need to learn to have uncomfortable conversations – be they about race inequality or any other subject that causes a person or a group of people to feel left out, forgotten or mistreated. My friend and colleague, David Harris, helped guide me on how to start a difficult conversation. And it goes something like this, “I need to have a difficult conversation with you. I am very nervous to have this conversation because I fear I will say the wrong thing or accidentally trigger you. But this conversation is too important to avoid, even if the result is bumpy and imperfect.”
Lesson for 2021: Learn the skills required to have a difficult conversation. The people in our lives will be thankful for it.
EMBRACE AHEAD AND BEHIND
I look at social media and see people expressing how glad they are that 2020 is over. Except it’s not. Not in the sense of the Infinite Game. Yes, we are passing a calendar marker in an infinite race after a particularly grueling leg, but the race is not over.
I have been so inspired by Dr. James Carse’s (who sadly died in 2020) thinking about the infinite game – it has taught me not to see things in terms of good or bad but rather in terms of ahead and behind. To see ourselves, our work, our country and the world as part of a continuum. To think of 2020 as “bad” and “over” ignores the fact that the impact of things that began or grew in 2020 live on and we will be still dealing with them in 2021. I find it healthier not to think of 2020 as a bad year, but rather that it had more behind days than we would like. And, I look forward to 2021 having many more ahead days. This Infinite Mindset helps us better prepare for what challenges lie ahead and avoid the kind of surprises that throw us off balance.
Lesson for 2021: Embrace an Infinite Mindset.