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BY Joel Junker

Personal Reflections on 2020

2020 threw us a wicked curve ball that would make Clayton Kershaw’s signature pitch look like a slow softball pitch (click here if you do not know who Clayton Kershaw is), and they continued to come one right after the other.  First, we faced the pandemic, followed by shutdowns that led to record unemployment in April and social justice movements, then a rebound in the economy and declining unemployment; and now in the latter half of the year, we have a spike in more infections and a divided national election.  I am sure I missed something and even that list does not include personal challenges each one of has carried through this.

While historians do not believe Winston Churchill originated the following quote and cannot agree on when he said it, they do believe he said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  I want to ensure I used 2020 to be better in 2021 and that includes reflecting on what I learned in 2020.  The following are 5 themes from my reflections on the past year.

I learned to live with uncertainty.
I have taken several personality tests over the years and I invariably score low on ability to deal with uncertainty.  My natural tendency is to assume uncertainty will lead to the worst possible outcome and to avoid that, I think about every possible outcome and prepare for it.  That is exhausting.  Post survey results recommended learning to lean into uncertainty by not trying to think about all possible outcomes, realize that uncertainty exists and live with the stress that comes with that.  The idea is that over time, like any other muscle that gets exercised, I would get more comfortable with it.  2020 offered lots of opportunities to live with uncertainty.  I had no choice but to live with it because so much was out of my control.  What I learned is to focus on my sphere of influence and do the best I can with what I could control.

I also learned that while something is uncertain, it does not necessarily mean it will lead to a bad outcome.  Several examples support this.  Like many, most of my planned vacations changed due to travel restrictions but I adapted and had meaningful, relaxing vacations with family members.  The Cameron-Brooks team pivoted to virtual conferences and we really had no idea the impact it would have on results.  We had 4 successful virtual conferences where the candidates consistently set records of interviews resulting in positive results.  With more time at home and not traveling, I improved my golf game and improved my fitness with more time to exercise.

I learned the benefits of slowing down.
COVID made all of us slow down.  I no longer traveled and my children’s sporting events and other activities were canceled.  I had more time on weekends and evenings that I never had before.  I kayaked and fished with my son, had more opportunities to take naps on the weekend, played a round of golf most weeks, spent more evenings hanging out with my family and read broadly to include good fiction.  Professionally, when I traveled so frequently I went weeks without seeing some of my team members, now I meet with each one personally weekly.

When COVID passes, and people assure me it will pass, I will remember to have dinners with family, prioritize my team members, evaluate what travel is necessary, rest on the weekends and read for pleasure.  Life is a lot more enjoyable when every minute is not on a schedule.  I am more effective and productive when I have time to rest and have variety in my life.

I re-learned the importance of seeking first to understand.
The social justice movement of the Spring showed all of us how important it is to seek first to understand.  Even political discussions in my home end poorly when one is only trying to convince the other of his or her point of view instead of asking and trying to understand the other person’s perspective.  This also includes that everyone has been dealing with the pandemic in his or her own way.  I have team members with family members in nursing homes they cannot visit, family members who have passed away and were not able to have services, and another teammate who has a wedding coming up that’s not at all what she planned when she set the date.  Everyone is carrying some burden.

What if we slow down, take time to look inside someone’s heart, really seek to understand him or her?  Maybe we do not agree, but I think a lot of progress is made when we help others feel understood and take time to listen to them.  I personally learned I am more fulfilled and centered when I take time to listen and understand.

I journaled more frequently.
During the 2008 to 2009 Great Recession, I journaled my experiences and worries.  When the pandemic hit in March, I went back to those journals to see what I was thinking back then.  I learned that it was stressful, but Cameron-Brooks and I not only made it out, but we emerged even stronger, more capable.  That gave me a lot of confidence the same would happen this time.  This will not be my last crisis, though I hope last pandemic, so I am journaling again.  I learned from my podcast guest Michael Bungay Stanier to answer three questions a day: “What will I let go of?” “What will I focus on?” and “What am I grateful for?”  I go back and read what I wrote in past months and weeks.  I see common themes – giving up control, focusing on doing my very best and getting better, and consistently being grateful for my family and the Cameron-Brooks Team.

I have more capacity to adapt and overcome than I realize.
I have more confidence in myself.  As disruption and change kept coming and with no end in sight, I had only one choice: face the adversity head on.  I turned to Dory from the movie Finding Nemo who famously said, “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do?  Just keep swimming.”  I led the effort to adapt our Conferences to the virtual format because I did not want to let candidates, companies or the C-B team down.  I changed our recruiting process to the virtual format conducting numerous Zoom calls a week.  I also adapted to the constantly changing needs of our team members who needed to quarantine or isolate and work from home.  Certainly, I did none of this by myself and I am grateful to everyone at C-B and my family.  We are not out of the woods yet, but I am going to “just keep swimming” and believe we will eventually make it to the other side.

I hope in some ways this inspires you to reflect on what you learned in 2020.  I encourage you to share by emailing me or posting a comment here.

I wish everyone a meaningful and safe holiday season.  I look forward to 2021 with you!