A few friends asked me what my 2021 New Year’s resolutions were. I couldn’t give a proper answer. Still feeling 2020 drained all my energy. It didn’t feel like it would make any sense to have New Year’s resolutions. In an attempt to understand why I wasn’t all cheery about 2021, I looked back at 2020. The year going down in history as lockdown year was supposed to be a year to get my sh*t together. No travel and working from home should have led to more downtime with the family, more exercising, reflection, writing, reading, and being more productive.
I was not as productive as I would have hoped in 2020. I missed most of my personal training goals, I was more tired at the end of the year than I felt in a while, and I was more stressed than I can remember. The mental challenge of not being distracted was far worse than I expected. A usual year consists of meetings, traveling non-stop, short trips with the family, hanging out with friends, speaking at conferences, and half-ironman races. Always on the move was the way to go. It gave me comfort. It gave me the feeling I was achieving something. I felt productive. Whether I was or wasn’t didn’t matter. Like everyone else, 2020 forced me to sit down and think. Think about work, life, friends, my health (increased alcohol consumption didn’t help), and the future for our children. Speaking with friends and colleagues, it turned out I wasn’t the only one. The happy hour seemed to have moved from Friday, 5 pm to Tuesday, 12 pm in more households.
The mental challenge of not being distracted was far worse than I expected
Having all of this on my mind, without my regular distractions, was hard. The daily grind taxed me mentally — signing in and out of Zoom calls, getting bombarded by news of injustice and tragedy every time I refreshed the page on CNN, and knowing that the return to ‘normal’ was a long way away. It seemed like each week, each month, a new personal or societal challenge would come to bear, mentally taxing a system already stretched to its capacity and leaving me more tired than I’ve felt in a long time. In the meantime, I also suffered a knee injury after an ultra run. It is the first time I have to deal with an injury that keeps me away from running for a while. This was the final straw. I wanted to know how I can fix this before going into 2021. Assuming the new year’s start would be very similar to how the year ended (working from home, limited to no travel, etc.). After looking back at my journals and speaking with friends, I picked up a gift I received in March 2020 from my good friend Dennis List. The gift was Jerry Colonna’s Reboot, Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. We all went through our number of self-help books, but this one hit home the hardest. Two parts of the book left a big impression on me because it helped me answer how I can approach 2021 differently than 2020.
“How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?”
“What I am not saying that needs to be said?”
~ Reboot, Jerry Colonna
I took a renewed look at why I have felt less productive than I hoped and what I was actively doing to improve. One of the significant learnings was that I tried to copy how I worked in 2019 to 2020 — a full schedule, always on the go, not taking any breaks from work, social life, and sports. Instead of taking the time to clear my head, I filled the day with more Zoom calls. Instead of taking time to reflect, I worked more hours to make myself feel “productive”. Of course, the opposite happened. The hope of feeling I am getting things done turned into frustration and exhaustion. Being tired more often and not producing the work with which I am familiar. Doing the same over and over and expecting a different outcome has never worked. I am not sure why I assumed it would lead to a better result this time.
The most significant step I took was to build white space in my schedule. Creating room in my schedule was difficult for me because I want to be available for anyone who needs support — going against my advice of saying no. My takeaway was that I don’t have to solve everything through a meeting or zoom call. A quick text back and forth is sometimes enough to be helpful. I have become religious about building time on my calendar to reflect, read, or write. Slowing down helped to provide more clarity, be more diligent, and feel less anxious. I am curious to see if the effect will last and see more improvements throughout the year.
The other major lesson I learned was that it’s OK to feel like crap at times. It was good for me to recognize how I feel and to address the origin of this feeling. It is not always possible to solve feeling like crap but recognizing it was a huge step forward.
I hope that everyone who struggled to get through 2020, has a better 2021 kick-off. The lessons I learned were invaluable and I hope sharing these with you will give a few insights on how I navigated difficult times.