Celebrate 2020, even if you want to flush it down a drain
Consciously recalling happy memories makes you happier in the long term. So resist the temptation to slam the door on 2020, and make time to be grateful for the highlights.
In 2017, either three or three hundred years ago, depending on which way you look at it, I had a team of people who had given me their all. They had been part of a hugely disruptive business merger and they had invented, reinvented, and occasionally torn to shreds and started all over again, pretty much every playbook we had. They had even won awards. Actual awards! Proud does not do justice for how I felt about the blood, sweat, tears and laughs they had put in.
Unfortunately, the success was not matched by the business we were part of. What started off on the crest of a wave in the first half, began to slide downhill in July, and became an avalanche of rocks by the end of the year (I am aware I'm mixing my metaphors with abandon now.) My guys had trained hundreds of people, redesigned websites, secured media coverage. Hell, some of them accidentally became slime influencers in the name of social content creation. But there was to be no year end bonus for any of them, because executive management don't get one of those when they miss their targets by a country mile, and so the same applied to the rest of us.
If there's no cash, there's no cash. But there's a such a huge psychological component of a bonus: it's a recognition of effort, that it IS worth putting in the extra on the days you'd rather not be making slime recipes. So I threw a Year In Review.
As befitting any Year In Review, there was a dress code. Of Christmas sweaters. There was music. There was a hot cocoa bar with marshmallows. There were videos, there were photos, there were gifts (I paid for them myself in case you're drawing conclusions about the reasons for the profit free-fall), there was audience participation, there were speeches, there were even goddamn tears. TEARS. I'm that good! Actually, more to the point, THEY were that good. I wouldn't have sat up to the wee hours trawling Instagram for photos of candle launches for just anyone, you know.
No, it didn't pay for anyone's summer vacation. But it was recognition and celebration and it felt good. When I look back on 2017, I don't think of the number of times I had to drop everything to cut the media budget. Or the effort it took to hold a golf umbrella over a group of people who had no idea about the torrent of lava headed in their direction. I look back on the hot cocoa bar and the tears and think, well, at least we had that.
For most of us, this has been a year that we want to slam the door on. We've all been hit in different ways: lost people, lost jobs, lost things we took for granted. There's no putting lipstick on the 2020 pig. But hunt hard enough and you'll find the good memories. My advice is: honor 2020, because happy memories are proven to make you happier in the long run. If it's not in a Year In Review for your own team, do it for yourself.
Here's my 2020. At least the parts I want to remember.
There was once a time when you could get on a plane and go places. Imagine that! When you're an airline employee it's even easier and (whisper it) sometimes you get upgraded. And if the flight attendants find out that you're family of the Delta family, you're guaranteed the flight of your life. In January my mum came over to visit me. She navigated the non-rev world all on her own, and got plied with champagne for the whole 9 hours. I'm so glad she did, because otherwise it would be a year since I'd seen my family. Now it's just 11 months :)
In February, my former employer Delta paid out the biggest employee profit share in airline history. The decal on the plane in this photo includes the names of all 90,000 employees that made it happen. By the end of the summer, 15,000 of those employees would have gone. Remarkably, entirely voluntarily and without a single lay-off. But we didn't know that during this very wet team tour of the baggage handling facilities at Hartsfield Jackson. I have ALWAYS wanted to see what happens to your bag after it's dropped off at the check-in agent! You would not believe what it takes to hit the bag-in-15-minutes promise. The guys who work the ramp are the unsung heroes none of us deserve.
This feels like the equivalent of looking at hieroglyphics. What is this ancient culture? What was their belief system that they're so close to each other, without any regard for social distancing? Have they not heard of masks?! This was the last time I was able to go back to my other home of the UK. By sheer chance, it was the last normal weekend in Europe, before Italy spiralled into lockdown. It was also the weekend before my friend's son Wilfred had a mild cold that turned into a leukaemia diagnosis. Of all the things I'm grateful for this year, this weekend might be the biggest. We didn't know it at the time, but it was the boost we needed before the tsunami of 2020 engulfed us. One day we will do karaoke together again.
That's how those months felt. Dear god, what WAS this, how did the movie Contagion get it so right? I know because I watched it at least 3 times, marvelling at the detail. For sure, somewhere, someone was peeling off Gwyneth Paltrow's face.
My gratitude in April was going through the first raging phases of the pandemic in Atlanta, a nice spacious city. In a house with outdoor space. With no mortuaries overflowing, no constant sirens, no perpetual reminder that the medical profession was selflessly going through Armageddon. Knowing so many people in Manhattan living through exactly that every day, not something I will ever take for granted.
I will dance on Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's grave for reopening the state well before it was safe to do so, putting lives at risk so he should stop paying unemployment insurance, and also get some sycophantic Brownie points from his hero DJT. But I won't lie, the day I drove past my favourite coffee place and it had reopened after an 8 week hiatus... I almost wept. 2020 has been a lesson in appreciating the little things we used to take for granted, but turn out to be the things that make us glad to be alive. I will never again drink an iced almond latte from San Francisco Coffee House without saying a little prayer.
Travel is one of the things I define myself by. I am Someone Who Has Been Everywhere. So, First World problem though it might be, having my wings clipped this year has been mentally tough on me. In June, as the George Floyd protests exploded across the US, by chance I had taken my first trip out of Atlanta since the pandemic began.
While civil unrest raged, and rightfully so, I was surreally detached, tucked away in a house at the top of mountain, overlooking a town called Black Mountain. I found tranquility, mountain air and a local coffee shop called the Dripolator. I returned to Atlanta having bought a house. I will not be taking any more questions at this time.
By July, I had made a major life decision. I was going to leave my corporate job and train as a coach. Looking back now, I'm not totally sure how the decision-making process went... But I have since learned from coaching class that I am a person led by their gut, so it makes sense that I would make my decisions based on what feels right (that's also an example of validation coaching, in case you were wondering.)
Yes, it was scary. But it also opened up a whole new world to me, one that I'm forever grateful to have found. Part of that new world was creating my own website and designing my own logo. I am what you might call a Renaissance woman.
I wrote last week about #milesforwilf, the collective efforts of 5 friends in two different countries to walk 1,239 miles to raise money for research into blood cancer after our beloved Wilfred passed away earlier in the year. I have always been grateful for those four ladies, but never more so than this year. It has been a good reminder that location is just geography; if you love people, they're always with you. Even on this scrabbly path in Glacier National Park, as I sat and had a chat with Wilfred about the mountains he never got to see for himself, I know there were 4 friends celebrating with me, even five and a half thousand miles away.
In retrospect, my trip to Montana made me overconfident about travelling. What's the big deal, I thought. Douse yourself in hand sanitizer, keep your distance, wear a mask religiously, it's fine. I was wrong.
I have always loved California, it's my happy place. In September I ventured to San Diego just as the West Coast started to burn. It was far from the hellish scenes of San Francisco and Oregon, but I find it hard to describe the mental toll of the sense of foreboding from that apocalyptic ashy sky. I have never been so grateful to live in humid, wet Atlanta, or to land back in the relative safety of the city in a forest.
I quite often think about the things that are normal now but 2019-us would goggle at. Wearing masks, meeting for video-coffees without leaving your home, making your own sourdough... It has particularly been the year that everything went virtual. And that has unforeseen benefits.
If you had told me in March that I would love cardio dancing, I would have looked at you with barely controlled derision. What? The thing where you have to be co-ordinated? And look like an idiot to the earnest people in the weights room on the other side of the gym window? No thank you.
However, working out from home has been weirdly liberating. I tried boxing (good until I punched myself in the knee), yoga (not bendy enough) and then, for some reason I don't remember, cardio hip hop.
It was SO MUCH FUN that I didn't care that I lay on the ground panting afterwards. Exercise is not fun. What a discovery! In October I "joined" a live dance class (ME! A DANCE CLASS) where we got sassy! And krunk! And ratchet! All words I needed to look up. This has been a good year for sweeping aside everything you think you know and saying - well, why not? What else am I going to do with my time?
I entered November with a sense of foreboding and dread. As I wrote at the time, being in the US for this most vital, not to mention bizarre and hard-to-call, election was a strain. Never before have I been so appreciative of the right to vote. Not that I had it, but I knew plenty of people who did. I take it as almost a personal point of pride that Georgia flipped blue, even though it was nothing at all to do with me.
I know that many people in the US won't talk politics. I'm foreign and so have an excuse. I also have minimal interest in Democrat vs Republican. What I feel strongly about is the right of any human being not to live in fear because of their gender, sexuality, religion, or the color of their skin. Had we had another 4 years of Trumpism, I was genuinely scared for what it would mean. So after countless hours of live maps and developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sociodemographics of the counties of Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, this was my face when CNN called Pennsylvania for Biden. Sheer, unadulterated joy. I know intolerance will never be over. But now at least we should get a reprieve.
We made it to December. Which has seen the silent launch of my new business venture. Anyone can launch one new business in a year, why not go crazy and launch two. Watch this space for the actual launch, and in the mean time enjoy this photo of two very serious businesswomen having a serious business discussion about business.