This week is the American holiday of Thanksgiving. As a dual British-American citizen, it’s still a holiday I celebrate here in Scotland, and it really is one of my favourite holidays of all.
Because the premise is: things are (or have been) very hard, so you gather together with family, eat good food and lots of it, and you give thanks for it all. For the food, the family and friends and tribe, and all the good things you’ve received or experienced even through the hard times.
The pilgrims did this at the first thanksgiving. They’d fled for a new country. They went across the ocean in a (old and slightly leaky) boat. Half of them died on the way over. More people died when they got to the new land of promise. They took to burying bodies at night so it wouldn’t be as evident how few of them there were.
It was really tough. The winter was cold and hard. They were sick and weak. People were dying. But they planted anyway, in the spring, and they harvested in the autumn….and they got together and had a feast and gave thanks to God for all the good.
It’s been a really tough year for all of us. We’ve all been sick and weak in some way this year, or in many ways. People we care about are sick, or are gone, and won’t be at the table with us. We’re all at breaking point some days, and we care so much it hurts. There’s anger and bitterness and fear and the world seems like it’s falling apart. We sort of want to wipe the slate clean of 2020 and pretend it didn’t happen.
But we can’t do that. And I won’t do that. Despite all the jokes (which aren’t really jokes) about what 2020 is doing to us, or has done, hard things aren’t magically going to go away in January, and it’s not 2021 which is going to save us.
And actually, when I think about it, there are good things and blessings I’ve experienced this year which I never would have without the hard things of 2020.
I made myself write them out, the other day.
I was having a tough day and was tempted to moan and complain about how hard it all was. But I was studying that day about gratitude, and meditating on it, and I was reminded that gratitude is a choice. And it is always available to me. Always.
Gratitude doesn’t mean you pretend hard things are good things. The virus is bad, the pandemic is bad, and this whole year has been tough. But there are still good things, and I wrote them down. These are specific gratitudes arising as a direct result of this pandemic and the way the world has gone in 2020. I would not have these things without it - or I wouldn’t appreciate them in the same way.
Routine. Most days are actually quite similar. I get up, I have a quiet meditation and prayer time, I go for a walk, I come back and eat breakfast, I start work. Day after day. Over and over. I’ve never had that before in my life. It’s healthy, and good.
Walking paths. Right round the corner from my house are these walking paths in the woods - literally in less than a minute I’m amongst trees and walking along a river and seeing the sun rise over the tree tops. It’s quiet and it’s beautiful nature and it keeps me sane when I’m not allowed to travel.
The most supportive team ever. I can’t imagine a better tribe to go through the shitstorm that is 2020, with. They work hard and choose rest and encourage me and each other on the tough days and ask good questions and are so creative and fun.
Hope. No matter what happens it is still there.
Faith. It does not proceed from me but is given as a gift, and I am so grateful for it.
A profitable business. PF has been profitable since the beginning, but this year has really amazed me. In March, I had no idea how things would go - none of us did. But we just kept serving accountants and helping them through some tough times, and we actually ended up getting more business than ever: whilst remaining profitable, even when adding three new team members. These are TOUGH times for many businesses and I am daily amazed and honoured to have a business which has been so needed (and wanted!) during 2020 particularly.
Better systems and scaling. Because I haven’t been traveling, rushing about to events and meetings and workshops, I’ve had more time to spend with the team, working on our “PF Way”. Confirming what the best way is to do things, being more clear on what works (and doesn’t), documenting it so the new team members can get up to speed faster...it’s been such a blessing I didn’t imagine I needed.
Focusing on the team, culture, and coaching. We’ve been working for years to remove me from the day to day work with the clients, and to have the team focus on that. Because of this year, we’ve been able to do that. Now I spend most of my time directing the team so they can help more clients and do great PF marketing, and on creating content, working on our new website, group coaching with accountants, and some one to one chats with clients too. I’m loving it and we’re at the point where it genuinely is better for our clients to have sessions with the team, because they have a system for it and all work together. It’s not just me.
Knowing who my friends are. When everything falls apart, you see who is there: who shows up and who doesn’t, who is helpful and healthy and who isn’t.
More connection with family. In ‘former times’, I’d chat now and then with the fam, but we’d focus most of our quality time on when I was there in person. Now, because we can’t have that, and because I’ve got more time in the evenings and on weekends, I’ve had more and longer deep conversations with the fam than ever before. I still often feel like it’s not enough and I wish it was more, but when I think about it and the type and depth of conversations we’ve had over the phone and facetime and even text, I’m grateful.
Counseling sessions. I started meeting with a counselor this year, to work through some extremely tough things from the recent and the far past. I’ve had counseling years ago, but 2020 pushed me to do it again, and I am immeasurably grateful. I’m reading good books, getting help, thinking through things in a healthier way, and growing right down to my soul. There’s something about the whole world suffering together which helps you realise the value of asking for help.
Reading more (good) books. I’ve been much more intentional about my reading this year. Have read 54 books so far, although when my back went out that sort of slowed down (no sitting on the sofa, no reading in bed). It’s harder to read at a standing desk or read whilst wandering about the house, and I don’t love audio books as much as holding a physical book. But still. In spite of everything, I’ve read more and better books this year, and they’ve blessed my soul and business and heart and mind.
Learning to get comfortable with who I actually am. This has been a lifetime struggle for me: the comparison game, the imposter syndrome, the people pleasing. I’m sloooooowly learning to simply be who I am (I can be no other!), look out for the people and things that encourage the best qualities of me, and respect others for being different than me (and that’s okay). A crisis shows you who you are, right down to your core. What you do with that understanding shows you even more.
Being more willing to have hard conversations. There’s just no space or energy to over-worry about what people think, or wonder how they will respond. And definitely no space to let their opinions or hurt or issues rule how I behave and what is acceptable. I feel like I’ve got a long ways to go on this still, but there’s a little less dread and a little more “okay, let’s just talk about this” than ever before. It helps too that most other people I talk to are being more open and authentic, too, with less defensiveness and less faking.
Chats with my neighbours. I actually talk to them, now. I’ve lived on this street for five years and still wouldn’t know everyone’s name, but a few of my neighbours and I just stand and chat for ages, and talk about real things, and look out for each other, and care for each other.
Three new team members. Because the business moved on so quickly, we were (later in the year) able to not only hire for the one role we had been hoping to hire for back in March, but to hire three full time team members who have fit into the PF family so incredibly well. They are a privilege to serve and care for, and they look for ways to care for me, too. I’m thankful for Katie, Elaine, and Steph.
Rest from travel. In previous years I was dashing about the country (or the world) constantly. At least twice a month I was in Manchester or London or Dublin or Belfast or Birmingham or or or. I was in America, rushing to a conference and then rushing to see my family and then rushing to another event and then home and then off to another workshop…. I did love it, and I do miss some elements of travel, but it was too much. I was more worn out than I realised, and it was like a wheel I didn’t know how to get off. Now that nobody is really doing that level of travel, and the whole world has slowed and quieted down, I have a better sense of how I want my life to be. Of where I want to travel (when we can again), and who I want to travel with. I looked back at pictures and realised there were so, so many of me with...strangers. People I don’t know well, people I spent hours and days with, had fun with, ate good food with and talked marketing with...but when travel returns, I’m going to choose better.
….and there are hundreds more, thousands more. Every day I add a few more to the list.
So I'm grateful. For what I wouldn't have, otherwise.
What would your gratitudes be?
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