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2020 to 2021 - A Tale of 2 Cities? Shifting your Perspective to look at 2021 with Renewed Optimism’

We all have a perspective on 2020, but how should we look at it? Do we lick our wounds or take stock and find reasons to be optimistic for 2021? What tales do we tell to ourselves to promote or denigrate our sense of wellbeing? Are they:

Tales of Optimism

  • Our treasured NHS workers showing that compassion and caring is the new currency for how we should interact with each other?

  • Logistics professionals making those essential food deliveries and many communities coming together to ensure essential supplies are sent to those in need, thus showcasing what it truly means to be human?

  • The employed workforce adapting, and paradoxically thriving amidst the most challenging time in post-war history?

  • Our phenomenal scientists defying the odds and producing vaccines for Covid 19 following the rigorous, scientific and detailed review of all the available data required by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)?

  • The fact that there are more students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds across the UK that started their degrees this autumn?

Or do we dwell on:

Economic Tales of Woe

  • 300,000 jobs lost in the hospitality sector, according to the ONS.

  • 7.4 million adults reporting that their wellbeing had been negatively through feeling lonely in the last 7 days in 2020, according to the ONS.

  • 167,000 deaths from heart and circulatory diseases each year in the UK according to the British Heart Foundation.

  • 2.7 million out of work, 1.4 million than when the pandemic first took hold in March according to the ONS.

Or with a renewed sense of optimism?:

Economic Tales of Optimism

  • The national savings rate, an indicator of economic wellbeing, could peak at up to 17% by the end of the year according to the Bank of England, compared to 6.6% in 2019. This suggests we are taking back control and building our resilience to weather future storms.

  • Whilst certain industries have suffered, others have prospered with billions added to their market capitalization such as Amazon (a whopping £401.1 billion), or Microsoft (£269.9 billion). Astra Zeneca has climbed to the top of FTSE further to the announcement by the government in approving its vaccine. For those that are optimistic, Companies doing well demonstrate there are opportunities to reskill and shift into a higher gear as the economy scales up knowledge-intensive sectors and logistics infrastructure.

  • McKinsey, in a recent study state, that more than 20% of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office. If this trend takes hold, which there is every reason to believe it should, this would mean that three to four times more people are working from home than before the pandemic, which means a profound impact on economies in terms of commuting, transportation, spending.

Who laments the demise of the incredibly busy commute? Or indeed the extra autonomy we may be experiencing from measuring work output in our own way?

Granted, there are always downsides but the upside could further be strengthened if we put in place the required mitigation in terms of lessening zoom fatigue, focus on the holistic wellbeing of employees based on their life circumstances, as well as open up some local working hubs for those that have limited workspace or require a different place to work.

Facing Challenges

We are most resilient and personal growth comes at an exponential pace when faced by challenges and setback no matter what they are, and probably for the first time ever in most of our generation, we are all facing this challenge together.

We have been able to rip up the rulebook in all manner of ways - jurisdictional, work, way of living and still we thrive. We are resilient and we have built back better before such as after the second world war. Institutions such as the NHS, the Commonwealth, and the growth of our world-leading universities to name but a few are a testament to this.

On a more personal level, we have powered through naysayers who insisted that working from an office was the only way to do business, we have found new ways to pivot whether it has been acquiring new skills, finding new work or simply reflecting on our life’s purpose. We can now use this energy to strive forward with meaning, hope and focus in 2021.

A Sense of Renewed Optimism?

So now is a chance to take stock, and approach the new year with vigour and optimism. Why?

Here are some reasons why it pays to be optimistic according to Utpal D, writing for Psychology Today, indicating our sense of optimism:

  • Increases resilience.

  • Leads us to build and maintain stronger social networks.

  • Reduces the likelihood of clinical depression.

  • Strengthens the immune system.

  • Extends life span.

  • Increases the likelihood of bounce back from divorce, bereavement, debt, work challenges etc.

  • Increases propensity to take risks, defy the odds and succeed.

Changing our Perspective

How can we change our perspective so that we are approaching 2021 with renewed optimism?

First a bit of psychology: It is noteworthy that our brains are always looking for problems no matter what our circumstance. We just have to find the problems we enjoy having and enjoy solving. If we feel that the problem has been foisted upon us then we can reframe by changing our expectations by thinking about the things that are truly important in life.

We can be the director of our lives rather than the passengers: If we expect to find work meaningless or uncomfortable we will find it. However, if we look for meaningful reasons why we engage in our work we will see that we are in some way serving others, which is where we can find humility, gratitude and significance.

It is worth spending some time on making this your focus for 2021 by writing down how you are serving others and practising gratitude by reflecting and meditating on how fortunate you are to be of service. As a result, you will note your sense of wellbeing improve, as well as your propensity to be helpful to others.

So how are you going to look back at 2020, and set yourself up for 2021?

Do you choose to lick your wounds and reflect with woe, or recharge with optimism and use this fuel for momentum for a great year that lies ahead on your own terms?

After all:

‘a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’!

Franklin D.Roosevelt.

and our problems can be gifts to cut out a better version of you.

How you deal with 2021 is up to you…..

This article was written by Sean Smythe, Principal Consultant of Polaris HR LTD., a global HR consultancy firm set up in 2013. Our purpose is to work with leaders in business to build back better by using powerful breakthrough techniques to shape the right level and quality of people architecture. We offer expert A-Z employment support, transformational coaching, wellbeing programmes, as well as design and the execution of HR strategy.


Lund, S et al, (November 23rd, 2020): ‘What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs and nine countries,’ www.mckinsey.com.

Polikoff, M et al (2020) ‘What’s the Likely Impact of Covid-19 on Higher Ed?’, www.insidehighered.com.

Utpal, D (2020) ‘4 Reasons Why an Optimistic Outlook is Good for Your Health’, www.psychologytoday.com

‘UK Factsheet’, www.bhf.org.uk

UK medicines regulator gives approval for first UK Covid-19 vaccine’, www.gov.uk.


2020, ‘Prospering in the pandemic - the top 100 Companies’, www.ft.com.





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