Those of you who have known me for some time might be surprised to read that this is my first comment piece of 2021. Normally, I would be out of the trap like a rabbit during the first days of January with uplifting and inspiring words to share on how ‘new year brings new opportunities in your career’ and there’s ‘no better time to look ahead and shape the team around you for success’.
This year, however, has got off to somewhat of a different start.
I began 2021 much like I do every year. Phone calls to clients and candidates, exchanging pleasantries about the festive break, sending best wishes for the coming year and then moving on to discuss business. But during those early days of January, each conversation followed what was to become a very familiar path.
“So how are things?” I’d ask, to which I was met with, “We’re not really sure.”
I’d had comparable conversations with many of these same people pre-Christmas and the contrast in responses and mood could not be more stark. Then, there was a collective feeling that, let’s face it, 2020 had been – to put it politely – pretty rubbish all round; but as the end of the year approached there was a sense of optimism, the mood was decidedly upbeat, and you felt that a corner was very much about to be turned – “we just need to get through these next few weeks and 2021 will be a new start” (or words in a similar vein).
But then the hammer blow came – tucked into that week between Christmas and New Year when you are never quite sure what day of the week it is – that we were to be plunged back into a national lockdown.
Now you might say that this was not completely unexpected. In fact, you might argue that after the introduction of the tier system, the four week lockdown in November and the last-minute changes to relaxing the rules over the festive period, it was very much on the cards and was, by the majority of people, entirely expected. But despite all of signs that it was coming, it certainly knocked the wind out of a lot of peoples’ sails.
So why was that when we have effectively been living and working under enforced restrictions in some form or another for well over nine months now? The more people that I engaged with, the more apparent the answer became.
It was clear that nobody expected that this would all be done and dusted, as if the chimes from Big Ben would signal the time for COVID-19 to leave the party. But there was something about the shift from 2020 to 2021 that had given people something to hold onto as the end of the year approached, and that, come the new year, things could be and would be different. It was what had driven them on through those final weeks – possibly why for some the November lockdown was close to, as things currently stand, business as usual – as they drew on their last reserves of resilience to see out 2020 and be ready to face 2021 with renewed focus and determination.
And whilst for many, little changed from one day to the next following the lockdown announcement as they were already operating under some degree of restrictions, the collective psyche that we were leaving the rollercoaster of 2020 behind and turning a new page/making a fresh start/opening a new chapter (insert your own favourite cliché as you wish) which had helped people get through the final few weeks of the year had been whipped away overnight.
For many, the news that 2021 was starting with more of the same, took several weeks of mental adjustment whilst they got to grips with the situation, regrouped and reset their priorities. However the last week or so has seen the tide start to turn and my most recent conversations with those that I spoke with at the beginning of the year have been peppered with much more of the resolve and fight that will ensure that we emerge from this.
Any runners amongst you will have no doubt said at some point that the final miles of any race can be the hardest. It seems that there are still a few more miles of this particular race to be run – but we should all remind ourselves that we are now much closer to the end than we were at the beginning.
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