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What We Learned In 2020

At the end of a year, nonprofits publish annual reports. They release statistics about the lives they impacted and tell stories that remind them of the importance of their mission. As for agencies—well our success each year is demonstrated by the success of our partners. Normally, we reflect on their work and on the projects we collaborated on with them. We go into each new year with a collection of design, technology, and content related insights that make us better at our jobs. And normally, that’s enough.

But this year brought lessons that went deeper than the projects we worked on. Despite the chaos and grief of 2020, a lot of personal and professional growth happened. Our team became fully-remote. We welcomed new colleagues from across the country—and Canada! And some of us made the switch from city to mountain-dwellers.

Even though we’re eager to put 2020 behind us, we don’t want to lose sight of the lessons this year offered. We asked everyone on our team to reflect on the biggest personal and professional lessons they learned this year. And since we don’t make ourselves an annual report, we felt compelled to document these lessons somehow.

So consider this insight a mini-annual report. Though it looks different than an average annual report – we know, we’ve designed dozens! — we hope this insight provides similar guidance for our team in the years to come.

Connection & empathy reign supreme.

Personally, the shared global pandemic experience has reinforced to me how connected we all are. 2020 has made the globe feel smaller. It also has elevated the social inequities that make this traumatic experience more difficult for many of us, so helps maintain a healthy perspective when I, who have so much, feel worn down.

Professionally, my biggest lesson this year was the importance of being mindful of how people’s personal lives are a big part of what they bring to a working relationship—and to work with greater empathy for the impact that situations beyond our control impact our performance. — Matt Schwartz

Focus on the future and the forest.

Personally, I’ve learned the immense benefits of Shinrin Yoku (Forest Bathing). And how reconnecting with the energy of a forest may just be the key to survival – our survival and the planet’s survival. At work, I’ve learned (or have been reminded) that you should never rely on past success to guarantee future success. That is, even if you’ve been rocking the socks off of life for the past number of years, you’ve got to keep pushing, learning, and executing to continue the success! It sounds kind of obvious, but I’m grateful to have been reminded of that this year. – Corey Pomkoski

Appreciate quality time and question convention.

While I can’t sugarcoat the experience of canceling your own honeymoon to quarantine with your partner for the better part of 9 months, we’ve genuinely enjoyed the opportunity to spend so much time together. This year has been all about adapting. Something Constructive has done well this year is thrown convention and norms out the window. As a creature of habit, I’m looking forward to trying to stay flexible, question the conventions of my post, and continue to experiment. — Tom Anesta

Technology tethers us — even when we’re miles apart.

The importance of connection and relationships, regardless of distance or medium. As the pandemic has forced us all to avoid social interactions in some capacity, I’ve personally experienced the ups and downs of loneliness, isolation, and boredom. Through it all, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for those closest to me, both friends and family. Even though I made a difficult decision to move to a new city by myself amidst a global crisis, I’ve managed to maintain a good handle on my mental and emotional health, largely due to the wonders of modern technology (shoutout to Zoom) and the determination (on both sides) required to stay in touch with my most cherished loved ones. — Abel Thomas

Stay flexible and focus on team culture.

Remain flexible and spend time in nature to stay sane. 2020 has been a year filled with grief and hardship for so many people, and those two principles have helped me remain positive. Professionally, focusing on team culture is more important than ever now that everyone is working remotely. Finding the right way to stay connected to co-workers, for the projects we’re working on, and socially, is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. – Lily Moaba

Boundaries are important, and so are dogs.

Remote work is great, but boundaries are necessary. I love the flexibility that working from home provides, but it can also be a slippery slope. Without firm boundaries between work and life, they blur together. It took me a few weeks to realize how unhealthy that can be for my work and personal life!

This year, I also brought home a “pandemic puppy.” And though I’m far from the first person to make this observation, my dog Harley has taught me a lot about presence and perspective. Now 9 months old, she still amazes me every morning with her happy-go-lucky attitude — despite having no idea what’s in store for the day. Maybe a long walk in the park, maybe a trip to the vet, or maybe some unexpected emergency. Regardless, she’s happy to be here and go along for the ride. In a year of such uncertainty, she’s taught me that sometimes—actually, most times—it’s better to focus on the details of the present, not the possibilities of tomorrow. PS: Get a dog.  — Allison Murphy

Develop a positive outlook and a solid process.

It’s easy to spot negativity and get really down when looking through a narrow lens. You need to zoom out: like, way out! With that perspective, it’s even easier to see that people are good, the world is good, and life is all good. During these unanticipated times, work has been fraught with logistical challenges and constant inconsistencies. I’ve found it so important to have a great mission, process, and team in place to help guide you through it. I’m so honored to have experienced this chapter with my friends at Constructive. — Frank Lakatos

Growth can happen in any environment.

I learned that you can grow even in the midst of a pandemic. Your growth will be greater because of the challenges you’ve faced. Professionally, I learned that even when we’re busy working on projects we can still take initiative on issues that we struggle with as a company and work even just a little bit towards it. —  Leah Suter

Details are everything.

Details are everything. What can be seen as subtle differences, for example, in the words we use or the way we define concepts can actually be chasmic in their impact once you explore their differences—especially how they’re felt and understood. I’ve always valued and enjoyed learning, and 2020 has both humbled me and reminded me that there is no shortage of things to explore and learn and ways to change your thinking. From racism to my own privilege, to learning the Indigenous names of mountains that overlook the forests where I love to hike and their stories. There is no shortage of details or viewpoints.

We each have a different way of processing how the pandemic, isolation, and abrupt changes have affected our ability to show up in a professional capacity. I’m grateful to be working for brands and organizations that are directly supporting front-line workers and the millions of Americans currently unemployed. I’ve learned to give people generous amounts of grace and expect their best simply where they are today—not where they were six months prior. And that includes giving yourself some grace, too. Creating psychological safety on teams has always been an important aspect of good leadership, and 2020 has brought psychological safety back to the forefront for me—especially when asking for help, letting others know that you’re just not able to focus at the moment, asking for feedback, asking to hop on a zoom call to co-work with another human being, or expressing different viewpoints. — Paul Sternberg

Change your space, change your mind.

This year I learned that I actually like working remotely. I’m a bit of an introvert, so it has been nice to be able to work in a more controlled environment with the benefits of still having my coworkers a slack message away. Being able to adapt my working habits has made me more productive and creative. When life goes back to normal, I think we all have to take a serious look at advocating for what works best for us and not just going with the flow.

Similarly, I’ve personally found joy in reinventing my apartment. I’ve always been a practical person when it comes to interior design. My partner is more aesthetic-minded, so it’s been a collaboration. Consider painting a wall a new color or finally get rid of a piece of furniture that’s always in the way. Craigslist has been a great resource for quickly finding new homes for furniture. You will feel the weight lifted knowing your space accurately reflects who you are as a person. — Doug Knapton

Maintain relationships with friends and colleagues.

One personal thing I learned in this whirlwind year is the importance of staying connected to people, even while isolating. You need to take care of your own mental health, as well as reach out to people to make sure that they are okay. Professionally, I’ve refined my client presentation skills and learned how to get clients really excited about the work we are doing! — Kevin Ng

Action is the antidote to fear.

I read recently about how action is the antidote to fear, and I think that summarizes a lot of the lessons I’ve learned this year both personally and professionally. If I’m afraid of something or feeling anxious about something, I have to remember to acknowledge it and then do something with it—do the task I’ve been putting off because it scares me; direct my anxious feeling into an activity that’s stimulating or soothing (an activity that’s just distracting works too). For me, that has been cooking or baking, reading, or finding something small to work on around my apartment. It takes work, especially if like me, your brain’s default state is anxious. But the uncertainty and chaos of 2020 really emphasized behaviors and reactions that weren’t helping me live the life I wanted, and I’m grateful for the space and support systems I have that allowed me to learn this kind of lesson. — Kate Styer

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