2020’s Lesson: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

When Lauren Parker stepped into her new role as CEO on January 1, she knew this year was going to have its challenges. Little did she know just how many — and how significant — those challenges would be.
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When I stepped into my new role as CEO on January 1, I knew this year was going to have its challenges. Little did I know just how many — and how significant — those challenges would be. A global pandemic. A deepening recession. A contentious political divide. All of these macro-issues made an impact on our small business in significant ways — and yet, I remain optimistic.

Throughout 2019, leading up to our leadership transition, Ann, Whitney and I pushed ourselves to hammer out a clear and inspiring vision for the agency we sought to lead. Let me tell you, we had grand plans for our first year at the helm. Then in mid-March, just like everyone else, we were thrown for a loop when the severity of the coronavirus set in. (Fun fact: Ann was traveling in Europe at the time and, thankfully, managed to snag a spot on one of the last flights back to JFK before lockdown.) It was then that we had to throw out our playbook and start from scratch without really knowing what was ahead. As a risk-averse, type-A planner, this was uncomfortable.

We quickly put in place a detailed set of protocols to keep our team and our clients safe, which we communicated as directly and transparently as possible, assuming the remote work existence would be in place for a few weeks, tops. As we came to understand the reality that work as we knew it wouldn’t be returning anytime soon, we had to pivot again. How can we continue to serve our clients effectively from afar? How can we continue to network and build relationships in the market? Where should we invest resources back in the business to ensure we’re set up to succeed in the near and long-term? There were many days I stared at the phone expecting it to ring off the hook (Gen Z, ask your parents about that reference) with clients wanting to pull the plug.

Despite all the uncertainty around us, our team focused on three things: 1) attention to exceptional client service, 2) delivering smart, strategic work across all accounts, and 3) expanding our expertise and service offerings. It came down to basics and honing in on what we do best. It’s now December and I’m proud to say we didn’t lose a single client. We didn’t have to layoff any employees or cut pay. In fact, we expanded our client roster, now serving clients across six states and we’ve added four new full-time employees since March. By year’s end, our business performance will be up more than 15% compared to last year.

Through all this year’s twists and turns, it’s made me realize that I need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s in the “oh-no-what’s-coming-next” moments when our character, our resilience and our grit are tested. It certainly hasn’t been the year I expected, but I’ve learned and grown more as a leader, a communicator and a person than any other time in my life.

I have no idea what’s in store for 2021, but I’m comfortable with that.