2020 had it all … except what most of us were planning to get from it as we approached this day, New Years Eve, in 2019. We have lived through interesting (and historic) times — a global pandemic, asteroids passing near earth, climate catastrophes, economic shutdowns, and murder hornets in our backyard, to name a few. In the face of the fear and suffering 2020 has given us, we must dig deep to look for and seize the silver linings from our shared experience.

Now is the time to reflect on what we have lost, what we have gained, and what we have learned.

While some struggled to support their families and put food on the table, others, including myself, were privileged to be in a position to ride out the storm in relative safety with our families, government aid, and professions that enabled us to not only continue to work, but to do so remotely. Most, though, struggled with job insecurity, social distancing, bureaucracy, unpreparedness for remote work, and loss of our loved ones to a virus we should have been able to control. With each of these challenges, there were different experiences, responses, and outcomes. 

As with the Great Depression, some were financially wiped out while others realized newfound prosperity and seized on new opportunities in a changing market. 

Whatever your experience of this past year, you have the absolute power to choose what it all means and how you will respond to it.

While I vehemently disagree with the anti-maskers, they did have one really important point – we can’t be ruled by fear. As John Hagel wrote recently, “We need to evolve our emotions and find ways to move from fear to passion.” Unfortunately, fear and pain are much greater motivators for most people over passion and optimism. As I learned long ago, we tend to party when we are successful, and we ponder when we fail. So perhaps more people will now take the time to figure out what they really learned from this past year, and make considered choices about how they want to live in the world going forward.

Which brings me to a big lesson from 2020 that needs more attention, especially given the breadth and number of lessons across economic, social, and personal spheres. 

Slowing down is no longer something we should do or need to do, it is something we absolutely must do. We must become more present and less reactive. 

We need to stop overreacting, being quick to anger, and slow to empathy. We need to slow down and rid ourselves of our snap judgments on people, ideas, and things based too often on emotional, subjective factors instead of more objective and considered evaluation.

This is not only a lesson from our collective experiences of 2020, but a necessary element for us all to move forward into a brighter future, especially in the American body politic.

When building my first startup in the mid 90s, I would regularly hear that these technological advancements were making us go so fast that our minds, bodies, and souls were not capable of keeping up with the increasing pace of change. The increasing speed of every aspect of society within a globally connected, 24/7 real time world. In just a few years, the pace of change was so fast that the market crashed, leading to even more calls for the need to slow down. 

Fast forward to the broadband and pervasive computing era that began with the rise of social media in 2006 and the smart phone in 2007, when a smattering of humanists sounded this alarm once again. 

It was around this time that Carl Honore’ wrote his first book, “In Praise of Slow” and began the Slow Movement. What’s that you say? You never heard of it? Well, neither did I until I did some research for this piece. While this is a nuanced statement, it is important to point out that being slow is different from the idea of slowing down which is really aimed at halting the obsession with speed considering how our lives have been made insufferably hectic and ‘busy’. As he says in the book:

Speed has helped to remake our world in ways that are wonderful and liberating. Who wants to live without the Internet or jet travel? The problem is that our love of speed, our obsession with doing more and more in less and less time, has gone too far; it has turned into an addiction, a kind of idolatry. Even when speed starts to backfire, we invoke the go-faster gospel.

If you’d like to dive deeper into why we are going so fast and what we can do differently, watch his 20min TED talk “In Praise of Slowness,” and check out his books.

Our Costly Obsession with Going Faster

Back in the 90’s (again), I was at a Real Time conference hosted by Fast Company magazine and heard a great antithetical argument to the belief that it was imperative to go faster because the first to market wins. That instead of being first, it was better to be the first to get it right. While we could debate the nuance here ad nauseum, the importance of getting it right is not easily dismissed. As Microsoft showed long ago, sometimes it is better to be a fast follower.

While mavens may feel justified in their ‘blinks’, our cultural norm of going fast has created a world where we have limited conscious grasp on the value of things, and often determine the value of something only by its price tag. I don’t even have time or space here to explain what this has cost us in terms of the environment, wages, and entrepreneurship. Instead, I will simply point you to this Recode piece on “The Real Cost of Amazon.

Some people, naturally and inevitably take the dogma of the go faster society to the extreme. One struggling entrepreneur I spoke with was trying to secure fundraising and get new customers for his B2B service. His belief was that other people’s inboxes were his hotline to instant engagement. If someone didn’t respond within a couple of hours, they weren’t only disrespectful, but they were likely worthless bad people as well. I tried to explain that sometimes I went days without seeing my email inbox as I dropped into deep work, and that cold email outreach would seldom rise to a near immediate response. His response? “I don’t have time for people like that, I’ve got too much to do and too many other people to reach.”

His obsession for instant replies will most likely continue to hurt him and his business until he learns that not everyone relishes the sweet, euphoric feeling of inbox zero, and even fewer are capable of being so responsive. Especially if they are successful and otherwise fully engaged in their own success. 

Going Slower Will Foster Better Conversations and Connections 

Over the last couple of years the collective “we” seem to have lost the joy of connecting with people across social media, having conversations around similar likes and dislikes, meeting people from different backgrounds, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. Now, the internet mob tries to ruin someone’s life as they react and respond to a single word choice, or a differing belief, or a poorly worded statement. 

Everyone needs to take a breath and consider the context, the history of the full human, and figure out what you gain from the interaction. I won’t try to mislead you, it will take more time and effort to fully see the person behind the words causing your ire. It may be simpler and more expedient to spew so much outrage and negativity across the internet, but rarely does it return a positive back to you. Instead, it merely perpetuates the endless cycle of negativity and conflict.

The cost, IMHO, is unacceptable. 

Give Yourself Permission To Go Slow

I’ve worked on this challenge for decades now, across personal, professional, and societal levels. With that said, I’m only now, in my early 50s, bringing myself fully into the present moment, to be more considered instead of reactive. And I’m still failing miserably too often. The magnitude of the problem and what it will take for us to overcome it can’t be overstated. This will be hard, but it starts with simple changes within ourselves and with our habits. It starts with more people bringing awareness to the issue through The Slow Movement and conversations such as this one. 

  • It starts with a single breath before responding to what someone says or posts on social media.
  • It starts with decreasing our screen time; across phones, tvs, and computers and increasing our face to face time.
  • It persists with practice that teaches us to be present and not to react to every sound or every sensation (think meditation, hiking, and coloring books to name a few).

Of course, as my friend Tyler Kellog will tell you, this is all exacerbated by our inability to find the proper words to express our emotions, which is made worse by a common misbelief that we are our thoughts. That we are controlled by our feelings and our perceptions of how things have always been ‘this way’. 

If only we taught classes in empathy for others as well as offered more classes in self management and personal development. If only we could improve our relationship with time and understand that it is our attention and our reactions that require management, not time.

If only we would all slow down … just a little bit. Perhaps long enough to see each other, or to consider our response before unleashing it. Perhaps with a little bit of empathy for the fallible human being on the receiving end of our response. Perhaps with an eye towards a positive outcome for all instead of punishment for the source of our outrage. Perhaps with a desire to understand someone before rushing to judgment. Perhaps we can find more common ground, decrease the number of unnecessarily nasty conversations, and increase the amount of collaboration with ‘the other’ that believes or looks differently than we do.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

I learned this concept from an army general I was interviewing about productivity. It was a motto he learned in basic training, and it stuck with me as a piece of unconventional wisdom more of us should follow. It’s probably why I see this as the key lesson from 2020. We should not rush into, and through everything. 

  • Consider what you really want to accomplish before replying to that email. 
  • Consider how you want to be perceived before you reply to that outrageous social media post. 
  • Measure twice before cutting, or adding the ingredients to the recipe.
  • Create a plan for the meeting before you are sitting in front of your team.
  • Consider what you are really trying to accomplish before reacting and whether your response will achieve that for you.

Are you interested in figuring out how to take this lesson and apply it in your day to day life? I’ve got some simple suggestions, by no means comprehensive, but more than enough to make a real difference:

  • Get a meditation app like Headspace or Calm. Use it. Too busy, or can’t find time to do so? Schedule it on your calendar. Or better still, work it into your morning or bedtime rituals. They both have 10 min programs (and even shorter) to help you slow down and learn to be more present.
  • Get a copy of Brian Solis’ book, Lifescale. Read it. Find a few of his suggestion to try for yourself. 
  • If you are outraged by something someone says or shares on social media, just scroll past it. Don’t give it any of your energy or more oxygen than it is already receiving. Instead, find something positive to share. (From personal experience, I can tell you this is a challenge, especially at first, but it does work and becomes a habit over time, with practice.)

I hope that the lessons learned from 2020 will reduce the disasters, traumas, and conflict we have needlessly created. That we will remember it as the year we finally heard the music and made the world into what we always knew it could be instead of just rushing through each day accepting what it becomes as it so rapidly unfolds from one reaction to the next.

Are you ready to go slow? Have some more tips to share? Please let me know how you are transcending our lizard brains and being more considered, more empathetic, and more fully human.

2 thoughts on “A Lesson from 2020: We Must Slow Down”

  1. Seeing a lot of other people talking about this as well. Very glad to see the conversation starting…

  2. I’ll reprint here the post I put on Medium this week. I definitely need to slow down.
    “During Christmas I decompensated. That’s a medical term. Decompensation may occur due to fatigue, stress, illness, or old age. When a system is “compensated”, it is able to function despite stressors or defects. I have to find my way back to functioning the way I did before Covid. This will involve some self-care.
    I got through all of 2020 with my connection to reality intact, even though I was stuck in the house avoiding Covid, I hadn’t seen my family, and I watched the news religiously.
    I became an early beta tester of Clubhouse, and spent a lot of time there, giving and receiving advice, learning and growing with the platform. I believe that helped me cope. But I didn’t realize that it also meant I was doing too much. I love to be of service, but there’s such an overwhelming need out there for experience and advice that I grew a community I had difficulty managing.
    And so, at Christmas and between Christmas and New Year’s I became incredibly anxious. By anxious, I mean I felt overwhelmed myself. Although I loved everything I was doing, I was just doing too much. I didn’t realize it was okay to say no.
    In my own inimitable way, I drove my blood pressure up into a crisis, and then called my overworked PCP’s office for help. Fortunately, they know me, and they know I have the tools to get it down. And sure enough, meditation works for me. But first I had to be reminded to use my own tools.
    I also became certain I would die without seeing my children and grandchild again. That’s not totally unreasonable because of my age, but I’m in excellent health so far, except for this self-inflicted blood pressure thing. I’m a pretty disciplined person and my life is already full of the results of New Year’s Resolutions from the past: become vegan, exercise in an age-appropriate way, get 8 hours of sleep, floss, do yoga, meditate, etc.
    While I was in this precarious state, one of my stepsons, of whom I have four, had a heart attack on New Year’s Eve. Because he is hard of hearing and his significant other is profoundly deaf and doesn’t really speak, it fell to me to call the hospital and make sure he got the right treatment (he did) Somehow this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
    My daughters convened an emergency Zoom, since they are both living out of town. This was the “what do we do with the elderly mother” call that almost every family has. They noticed how frazzled I was, and discussed with me whether I ought to be living in an elder care community.
    After an hour, we settled on asking my roommate to step up his care of me. (He already cooks and does all the stuff around the house.) But the kind of care I really need is mental, not physical.
    My daughters also reminded me how lucky I was. Healthy, still working, and accompanied by my dog fam if not my humans. What was missing from my resolutions and routines that caused me to decompensate? Gratitude.
    So here I am on the second day of the new year committing to an attitude of gratitude for all the things I had, and all those I still have, and all those I will have A.V. (After the Vaccination). A shift in perspective will be necessary before I can have the Happy New Year I deserve.”

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