(Nearly) 10 Reflections and Lessons from 2020

Photo by Anthony Tori

I’m not usually one for new year’s resolutions but after the last year and amidst the turkey coma, tobogganing and frantically catching up on The Mandalorian over the holidays, I found myself reflecting on what I’ve learned and what I can do better.

I don’t have a nice neat list of ten things because, well, that’s not how it shook out. But here’s what I’ve got.

In many ways I was incredibly privileged and fortunate in how 2020 panned out for me. My family remained healthy and I was able to retain my job. I was able to take an unusual but rewarding paternity leave – something that I think is incredibly important for all parents (moms and dads) to do.

At work, while we went through a tough and painful period early in the pandemic, I was floored and so proud of how my team pulled together, showed immense resilience and delivered some truly outstanding work for our clients despite everything thrown in our way.

I was fortunate to be able to approach the widespread protests around societal racism as a learning opportunity. I had a massive blind spot in this area – one born of an ignorance that was fully in my control, and I resolved to address this and took a number of steps to do so – an education I plan to continue in the coming year.

I also had a few personal reflections on how I hope to approach the coming year differently. Here we go…

#1: Put family first.

This sounds obvious, but events of last year made me realize just how central my family is in my life. I’ve always perceived myself as pretty self-sufficient and generally have looked inward for answers in tough moments.

This year though, I faced a series of challenges that I wasn’t prepared to weather solo and while other connections loosened in the face of this, my family became the one place felt I could safely confide and share with no fear of judgment.

My wife and kids really are – of course – the centre of my little world, and I derive more joy from them than anything else. Meanwhile, despite being forced to remain thousands of miles away from my parents, the frequency of our contact over the last year also made me feel closer to them than I have in a long time.

These strengthened connections with family were driven by other events, but I plan to focus more deliberately on them this year.

#2: Ground decisions in values.

I’ve always been goal-focused, but one of my realizations in recent months is the goals I’ve set for myself have mostly been finite and often arbitrary – and once achieved, they left a hollow that was hard to fill. Focusing on my values more recently has given me new-found clarity in what matters and who I want to be, and just as critically, the reverse.

This year I’ll still set goals, but I plan to consciously ground more of my decisions throughout the year in my values than I have in the past. (I have two physical reminders of lessons from last year on my desk; this is one of them).

#3: Focus on experiences over things.

The stripping away of the majority of the experiences that nourish and sustain me mentally (travel, camping, exercise, etc.) provided a reminder of how important experiences are versus physical “things.” It rapidly became clear that the latter does not and cannot replace the former.

Once the opportunity for a broader range of experiences returns, I plan to focus more on them. For now, I want to become more ‘present’ in the everyday moments that happen all the time.

#4: Better personal care.

When I’m in good shape physically, it supports my mental health. I feel better, I work better and I’m just generally more pleasant to be around. When I threw out my back last year and was suddenly unable to do the most menial things, my mental health plummeted.

Unfortunately I can’t wave a wand and fix my back… but I can focus on more broadly taking better care of myself overall, physically and mentally. That means making space for my own needs alongside those of others.

#5: Read more.

I rediscovered reading in 2020, with a vengence. In recent years I’ve found that I rarely just have time to sit down and read and always found that I allowed other things to take up the limited free time I did have, but audiobooks let me dive in whether I’m on my commute (RIP… for now), exercising or even just doing the dishes.

I read a slew of books to better educated myself on the racial issues that came to the fore last year (a huge blind spot for me that I’m working hard to address), I read a number of biographies, books on parenting, novels and more. I learned more, decompressed more and – I think – became a better person last year as a result of it.

I plan to continue 2021 the way I left off in 2020 on this one.

#6: Work smarter.

For most of my career, my deep mental stamina has been my resource in tough career moments and has sustained me through some periods of insane workloads. But with kids in the picture, that’s insufficient. Working harder just means less time with them, so if I really mean to focus more on them then I need to work smarter and let go of the things that don’t matter.

This will mean breaking some habits and redefining expectations – both of others and of myself.

#7: Let go more.

I realized last year that I was failing to heed the counsel I give many of team members. Specifically: Control what you can control, influence what you can influence, and don’t sweat (or bank on) what’s out of your control.

I’m going to focus more on this in 2021.

#8: Keep learning.

People often ask me what has kept me in my job at a single agency for over a decade, in an industry where turnover averages 25-30%. My answer is always the same: I’ve never felt comfortable and as a result I’ve never stopped learning.

Challenges and discomfort have never been hard to find in my role, and I plan to keep on searching out discomfort in the year ahead.

#9: Make a difference.

Last year, in a year in which so many things in the world felt like they were spinning out of control, I found myself compelled to start to do more to make a difference – something that has become a core value for me as a result. As a result I started educating myself more on some of my social blind spots, diversifying my network, volunteering more and mentoring a number of people in the industry.

I plan to continue on all of these fronts in the year ahead.

YMMV

When people ask me about my own career path I often talk about the central role of this blog early on in my career, noting that it started as a place that let me figure out my own thoughts, throw them out there and see what people thought in turn.

This post really fits that mold. I don’t pretend – or necessarily even aspire – that these lessons will have any resonance for anyone other than myself, but forcing myself to put them down on paper is itself both useful and cathartic. Perhaps that reflection itself could be lesson number 10: get back to writing more. We’ll see.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.