Looking Back at a Year of Disruption

On an evening in March (you know, the night), I knew something had changed significantly but, like many others, couldn’t see past the fog of shock. At the time, I was watching in real-time as the NBA canceled games, the government canceled flights, and Tom Hanks canceled our collective Covid bubble — and despite what was unfolding before my very eyes, my life looked relatively stable. I had recently celebrated a decade with the same employer, and I was living comfortably with my fiancé — both my boys were living with their mother, we had wedding plans made and were on track for saving for it. After some transitional touch and go post-divorce years, things were settling in.

But what is the saying? Ah yes — man plans… God laughs.

In the span of just a few months, I transitioned both of my boys out of their mother’s house, moved my younger son in with me, moved my fiancé out, back into her old place, assisted with her renovation in the process, canceled wedding plans and found myself unemployed along with many of the Covid-disrupted workforce. And really, these things were the tip of the Iceberg — there were struggles and traumatic experiences that are only appropriate to share with more intimate social circles — but I suspect it’s not all that distinct from the stories that make up our collective trauma that is/was 2020.

Disruption can be a good thing. I recall reading about the health benefits of being immersed in bone-chilling water (when done appropriately), but the thing about shocks to the system — it is a blurry mix of benefits and detractors. And blur is a great word for 2020 as every day became Blursday, and some of our defense mechanisms kicked in, especially during those early days. I remember learning about the third least known response to a threat. There’s flight, fight, but there’s also freeze (playing dead). Many days felt like everything was happening in slow motion, time was frozen, and fatigue was just a part of the everyday new normal, no matter how many walks or meditation breaks one took.

Despite all the disruption, I still look back with a grateful spirit. Growing up in a blue-collar town has made me sensitive to the plight of the small business owner. While I spent the summer, like so many others grappling with the sights, sounds, and struggles of social justice playing out — I also could not help but think how these small business owners would ever mount a comeback. I sometimes wonder what “the new world” will look like with fewer small business owners and more big corporate entities who benefitted from the disruption. I think a part of me has been mourning this transition and still is. A decade from now, we are going to be living in a world completely dominated by only the biggest and most resourceful global corporations, with the technology players leading in size, influence, and dominance. The great consolidation has been greatly accelerated.

I write this thinking about the past and wondering about the future — overlooking snowy rooftops and a frozen Lake Michigan. Chicago, my adopted home, which allowed me to raise a family and prosper, is unlikely to be my home in the not so distant future, and I am still a bit undecided on where, but it will be warmer and smaller, and I’ll be skating to where the puck will be in five years or so (or at least this is the hope).

Everyone has their own word for 2020. Professionally I advocated for resilience. Personally, I experienced disruption. Disruption, as positioned by the business evangelists, is a positive thing — it’s dynamic and innovative. It’s also uncomfortable and stressful. But it can definitely foster personal growth if you permit it.

Looking forward, after a year of disruption comes the possibility of rebuilding and resetting and recalibrating for a time in my life where age holds a different meaning. The hustle of my 20s and 30s becomes replaced with purpose and intent — I must know why I will be working so hard, and to what end and to what purpose does it serve?

So here’s to 2021 — from personal and professional disruption to something else that isn’t likely to be predictable but hopefully is purposeful.

CMO, strategist, thinker and doer. I write about human behaviors and the relationship we have with technology and brands

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