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Year in Review 2020: Lessons from a Most Challenging Year

While the year that was 2020 immediately conjures words like “challenge,” “hardship” and “crisis,” there are lessons to be gleaned that offer important perspective as we approach the New Year.

People socially distanced and wearing masks while waiting in line to vote.
Last year at this time, it’s doubtful any of us would have readily agreed to all the challenges that the new year, 2020, would bring. We’ve been confronted with creating and adapting to new ways of learning, working and living our lives amid stressors that we have never experienced before. But for all the hardship the new year ushered in, 2020 has also provided a unique opportunity to reflect. Its lessons are many. Here are a few that rise to the surface for me.

Resilience. The human spirit is capable of withstanding an incredible amount of stress. This year hasn’t been easy for anyone. Large segments of the economy have been decimated and lives have been lost on a massive scale. And even for those of us fortunate enough to have our health and the privilege of a stable job, our lives and routines have been completely upended. We miss face-to-face interactions, parties, celebrations, sports, concerts, performances and countless other social events where we’d mix with crowds large and small without worrying about whether doing so could expose us or our more vulnerable loved ones to an often deadly virus. But in large part, we’ve adjusted. We’ve adapted and we will emerge with a far greater appreciation for a way of life that can be easily taken for granted. Maybe we’ll be less likely to take it for granted in the future.   

Creativity. We suddenly have time for those things we always wanted to try, but didn’t have the time for before all of this forced time at home. Remote work means no more commute, freeing up additional hours in the daily schedule. Those projects around the house are finally getting crossed off the to do list. You read that book. You learned how to play that instrument. You tried that recipe. You took up that new hobby. You explored creative pursuits, and you learned something new. What a luxury it is to have the time and wherewithal to develop new interests.  

Reflection. A CIO I interviewed several years back talked about their daily routine, which started with dedicated time each morning for quiet thinking. While those of us with active work- and learn-at-home households perhaps struggle for quiet whenever we need it, the opportunities, in general, have been more plentiful since the first stay-at-home orders came early this year. Whatever it looks like — a walk around your neighborhood at lunch, morning coffee in the backyard or a quiet space for contemplating potential solutions to vexing problems, personal and professional, time for quiet reflection is precious. 

Gratitude. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to underline how many things there are to be grateful for. Thanksgiving likely looked different this year than in years past, but my hope is that you enjoyed the time to gather with those in your household, share a meal and reflect on the many lessons of 2020. As a veteran of local government work, I’ve always viewed it as a privilege to be able to make a living serving the public, and I’m inspired by the many stories we are lucky to be able to tell about the extraordinary lengths public servants have gone to this year to respond to never-before-seen challenges. You’ll see some of them in our Year in Review feature, and many more at 2021 promises to bring more such opportunities, and having lived through 2020, we’re poised to tackle them with optimism, creativity and a renewed sense of purpose. 

Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.