The 2020 Effect part II: What I Learned from an Unexpected Year Working on the Road and Living with my Parents

Mike Weppler
Adventures in Life and Leadership
8 min readDec 19, 2020


The continued story of my 2020 experience, which involved working any job I could find and moving back in with my parents. Life and leadership lessons abound.
Jenny Sturm,

(Begin with Part I here)

Doing the Impossible: Counting people in a year of perpetual transition

While working with the latter company, I took on additional work with the Census, racking up hours to reach my income goal before moving on. Overall, the experience was as expected, and again people were nicer than I thought they would be, with a few “don’t bother me” or “I don’t want to tell the government anything” exceptions. In the most heated moments, I was able to practice my newfound mindset, receiving these as opportunities to practice grace.

Assigned to a mix of neighborhoods that ranged from wealthy suburban to economically challenged, I experienced a swath of responses. Beautifully, the ratio of kind responses to cold resistance was fairly similar in both environments. Some in each community had concerns, while most others were cooperative and at times even welcoming.

Both responses created powerful moments for me. First, the negative responses reminded me that political polarization and social tensions create a palpable culture of distrust that has real effects on human perceptions of one another, and our behavior toward one another in real life. Second, the positive responses served as a reminder that people have good in them, which often comes out when we remove them from the pressures of their circumstances and invite them into a common moment — in this case, a tall guy with a clipboard, a disarming smile, and a beard overflowing from behind his mask.

The broader challenges I experienced in working with the Census were not necessarily the issues you might expect. While issues such as turnover and technical problems were real, they are also expected in such a massive project. Phones would freeze and need a reboot, workers would find better work and suddenly leave, but these were not surprises. The more troubling issues were contextual, systemic, and organizational.

Project logistics were jostled by COVID’s arrival just as the Census was getting on its feet. As Adam Chandler recently described,

“Accurately completing a census case means knowing who lived at an address on April 1, 2020, whether that information is taken from a resident or a neighbor. The further you stray from the reference day, the less accurate the data become, particularly in a time of heavier population displacement. As my fellow enumerators and I descended upon our communities in late summer, we were presented with the challenge of sorting out the composition of neighborhoods that had rapidly changed over the course of more than a few tumultuous months.”

These living transitions were driven by economic challenges, university closings, natural disasters, and even by record-low mortgage rates as people accelerated their home-buying plans.

The system’s inefficiencies were also frequently apparent. I was often sent to addresses on which there were clear notes in the system that a response would not be retrievable. Other times, when I arrived to many others, the residents were adamant they had already submitted their reply months before. I can only imagine the taxpayer dollars that were wasted by sending people into dead ends.

Organizationally, the hiring system was based on a series of computerized questions about one’s background, which I believe was to reduce the chance for bias, as well as the HR budget. As a result, while many of the workers selected were highly competent and proactive, others were not able to navigate a mobile phone or just seemed not to care, and some managers were simply unable to manage the large number of workers assigned to them. In a project that determines the allocation of government representation for our nation, as well as over $1 trillion in state and local funding, the cost of resulting inaccuracies in many communities may be significant.

Still, from my vantage point, the ability to get so many managers and workers up to speed so quickly, and that so many of them were indeed competent, is applaudable. Census administrators should be praised for the technological efficiencies in launching the first online Census in history, training such a large incoming workforce, stewarding taxpayer money well by streamlining the hiring process (even if perhaps not in the most effective way), launching campaigns to increase trust in the handling and importance of Census information, and accomplishing a massive feat in a condensed time period during a turbulent year.

My lessons?

· Proceed with grace despite the unexpected.

· Public discourse has real impact on peoples’ perception of and behavior toward one another. Be prepared for how it may affect them, and be a voice for creating a more understanding and constructive discourse.

· People in all types of neighborhoods can be kind or cold, as our circumstances do not define us. Removing people from the pressures of their circumstances can bring out the best in them.

· Never take shortcuts on critical people decisions such as hiring, alignment, and training.

The Value of Family

As a bonus, I’ll share what was probably the most important lesson of all.

Many young people faced similar situations this year, forced to relocate and stay with family in the wake of workplace shutdowns, universities closing or going online, COVID fears, and the decimating wildfires on the west coast. I have little doubt that many of these young people experienced the same pause and frustration I did, whether the humbling reality of moving back in with parents, or the reminders of all the ways we want our future home and habits to look much different than our parents’.

Still, an incredible thing happened: I learned the value, the treasure, of getting to know my parents as an adult.

By the grace of God, I have grown at least enough to have eyes to see some of those wonderful things we never really recognized or appreciated about our parents when we were young. The way Mom does little things to demonstrate her love, much of which often goes unnoticed. The way Dad always has a smile or a joke for the people he meets throughout his day. And above all, how much they CARE and will do anything for their children.

I believe life comes down to relationships, even though that’s not my natural inclination as a “task-focused” personality. Thankfully, this belief has helped me become far more balanced, and it drove me to go beyond simply recognizing my parents’ beautiful acts and qualities. Specifically, I took the time to apologize to them for the times I had not honored them as my parents in the past. I took the time to have little 5–10 minute conversations with my Mom about my plans or about the simple things going on in each of our lives. I took the time to go fishing and play golf with my Dad, as well as asking questions about his life and childhood to better know him as a man and as a human being, not just as my father.

No matter how ready I was leave their house from day 1 to day 367, I am grateful and will forever treasure this experience shared with them.

Savoring and Investing the Treasure

While I am thankful to have moved on in my life and career, I now treasure each of these experiences. I could not be more excited to begin my own family, yet having enriched relationships with my parents allows me to move forward with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude. And while I have moved on to more robust and interesting consulting projects, I take with me invaluable lessons that help light the way for how I lead and guide others.

Here are three essential life and leadership lessons I am taking with me from this unexpected, challenging, and enriching year:

· Keep my eyes open to reminders that God is ALWAYS with me, that He is good, and that I can trust Him. I can find grace even in unexpected times or responses from others, and can choose gratitude for these experiences rather than fear and frustration. In difficult times, I can recall that He is often simply waiting for me to take a ready posture so that He can show me, grow me, and prepare me for a bigger and brighter future ahead.

· See value in the people right in front of me, taking the time to truly know and appreciate them. Especially family.

· Find ways to recognize and bring out the best in people — both their goodness and their greatness. People have both in them, no matter their background or community. Circumstances, public discourse, and personal choices play a part in burying these deeper inside of each of us, but it is there. Therefore, acknowledge this impact, and take responsibility for adapting my approach or even beginning to improve those realities on their behalf. Additionally, when it comes to leading an organization, division, team, or family, I will remember the leadership commitments above in order to bring out the best in others:

· Cast vision and train people, rather than micromanaging

· Cultivate peoples’ strengths and capacity, and celebrate their successes, rather than criticizing their momentary failures or present shortcomings

· Seek to delight stakeholders and fight for my team, rather than extracting everything I can from them or leaving them high and dry

· See the organization through the lens of the people who make it what it is, even if this means looking beyond the scope of my own team

An obvious goal in challenging times may be to simply reach the destination. However, as a mentor once advised me, our priority should be to mine the journey itself for treasure. Though God does not cause us pain, He does withhold his protection from hardship if He thinks it will mold us into a better person. Yet, only we have the choice whether to embrace the opportunity.

If you have found yourself in similar times, face them now, or encounter them in the future, I offer these lessons for you to claim for yourself in order to improve your experience and expedite your growth. Certainly your valleys will not look the same as mine, and perhaps your lessons will not be the same either. But if you take only one nugget with you, I hope you will remember the value of finding gold in the midst of challenges and trials. This treasure may come in the form of personal growth, improved relationships, or preparation for the opportunities to come.

Rather than just close your eyes and wait for the detour to end, open your eyes and find the beauty, opportunity, and perhaps even find yourself in the midst of that valley.



Mike Weppler
Adventures in Life and Leadership

To live a life worth imitating: Son, Husband, Father. Passion for developing leaders + elevating families, organizations, & the discourse of US/Global affairs