How 2020 Brought Clarity to My Work & Life

I recently asked my network what one word they would use to remember 2020, and the responses were all over the place (much like the year itself)! Here is a sample of the responses: amazing, battle, exhausting, forward, perseverance, growth, revelation, overcoming, learned, fantastic, whew, challenging, evolution, interesting, renewal, change, resilience, contentment, bonding, reflection, long, surreal, fortunate, devastating, advance, clarity, depressing, connection, transformative, disruptive, creativity, stormy, patience, discovery, and unforgettable.

What these varied responses tell me is that while we shared in the external effects of the global pandemic, our internal experiences were all very personal and subjective. There is no right or wrong here. Good or bad. Our unique experiences and perspectives are what shape our collective consciousness and create a beautiful fabric of the shared human experience. This could be why I so enjoy reading and hearing about other’s life stories, thoughts, and feelings. (Side note: Two of my top three reads for the year were memoirs – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and Untamed by Glennon Doyle.)

So, in the spirit of sharing stories, here’s the 30-second version of mine: In January, I read a book that shifted my entire mindset about motherhood, work, and life (yes, one of my goals in 2021 is to become pregnant!). In February, I attended my first and last in-person work conference of the year in Dallas. In early March, my husband and I took a trip to the Bahamas and returned just as Covid was starting to hit the states. During that trip we had decided we wanted to limit our travel that year and focus on our home and family – little did we know our wish would be granted! In April I turned 35. In June we kayaked the rivers and lakes in Vermont. In September we traveled to Maine with my parents and took a moonlit swim in the Atlantic Ocean. In October I celebrated a decade of working at Adam Hergenrother Companies as Adam’s Force Multiplier.

In between, I enjoyed al fresco dinners with my husband at home, I laughed, I had long conversations with my sisters, parents, and brother, my grandmother moved out of the home she lived in for the past 50 years and into an assisted living facility, I read, I started working with a coach and a therapist, I cooked, I crafted, and I gained a lot of clarity about what is most important to me. I got clear on who I wanted to be, how I wanted to play, what I wanted to create, and how I wanted to show up in the world each day.

2020 was my year of clarity. Here’s what I learned:

The best way to be successful at work is to be myself

It may have taken me 10+ years to get here, but that was part of the process of uncovered and rediscovering who I am. I’m just grateful that I work in an environment that fosters this type of personal growth! It is interesting to look back at what our innate desires were as children and how society and teachers and people shape where our life goes (if we let them). I always wanted to be a writer. I’ve also always been naturally assertive and take-charge. What I focus much of my time on now as Chief of Staff checks both of those boxes.

Beyond the “work,” I have been able to slowly emerge from the identity I created as a workaholic (which absolutely served me for many years), to become more of who I really am – a multi-passionate, multi-layered businesswoman. I enjoy deep conversations about spirituality and scalability, a casual blazer and jeans, a transparent and direct leadership approach, big ideas and streamlined execution through leverage, creativity and clear communication, as well as humor and honesty.

And, I don’t want to work all the time. I love my work and I love being able to unplug too. The more I have been able to foster all facets of myself, the more true I am to my true nature, the more I have flourished. It sounds so counterintuitive – the less I work the more successful I am? But it works. Alignment leads to impact which leads to success.

Remote work works

For many years Adam and I have talked about how proximity is power – especially between a Founder and a Force Multiplier. We really pushed back against the idea of having any of our leadership team or core staff working from home on a regular basis or even working outside our state. The pandemic forced us to look at this differently. More accurately, Covid forced us to actually experience running the company more remotely, and for that we are both grateful.

The long and short of it is that remote work works, if you have the right team in place, the right standards, expectations, and accountability measures, as well as clear and consistent communication. Because our teams already operated quite autonomously with these accountability and communication measures in place, we experienced a smooth transition to remote work. It also made us take a look a future hires and talent and really determine where we would source candidates from in the future.

Now, not all positions work well from home. Adam and I did conclude that while he and I could largely work remotely and have little disruption to our work, he and I still work best when we can be in-office together Monday – Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday being flex or work from home days. During this transition, it also became very evident to us that Adam’s EA needs to be in-office to handle the day-to-day office administration and operations.

Personally, this helped bring a lot of clarity around how and where I wanted to work in the future and gave me peace that if someday I decided to work from home or even move out of state, my partnership with Adam and the work we do would not suffer.

I can pause for parenthood without killing my career

Earlier this year I read a book that completely changed my perspective on having children, Work, Pause, Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career. Look, I understand there are hundreds of thousands of women over the years who have had successful careers and successful personal lives. However, because my career is so important to me, I was having a hard time seeing how I could make both work with the high standards and expectations I currently have for myself as Chief of Staff and the ones I would have for myself as a mother.

What was also really impactful for me with this book was hearing the perspective of men and women as they navigate the challenges and choices with their careers when they become parents. Even if children end up not being in the cards for me, I think this book helped me become a more empathetic leader. I truly started to understand what it takes and what it means to be a working parent.

Uncertain times call for a certain type of leadership

As our company navigated the government shutting down many businesses, to a global pandemic, to protests, to homeschooling, to employees leaving (voluntarily or involuntarily), to sick staff members, to PPP loans and PPE, I had the privilege of seeing first-hand how a leader handled the uncertainty and the unprecedented situation we found ourselves in. In fact, as Force Multiplier, I didn’t just watch but was able to participate in and help shape the decisions we made.

Did we always get it right? Nope. But that is not what leadership is about. It’s about making the best decision at the time with the information that you have and then making the next best decision. It’s about admitting when you get it wrong and clearly stating what you will do to fix it or make a change moving forward.

Uncertain times call for transparent, clear, and frequent communication, especially if things are not going well. But that communication must be coupled with a strong and resolute way forward. One without the other leads team members questioning the viability of the organization and the leader. This year we overcommunicated virtually every step of the way to keep our companies informed, focused, and feeling supported as things outside of our control unfolded. If we got anything right this year, it was that. And that is a lesson I will take with me to handle any challenging situation in the future.

My job is to organize, delegate, and communicate

As a Chief of Staff or Executive Assistant, it’s really easy to get caught in the trap of being the catch-all position for your leader or the organization. While it is true that a lot of varying tasks and responsibilities fall into your lap, what I have discovered over the years is that just because I know about it, it gets told to me (or asked of me), doesn’t mean I actually have to do it. For many years, as our company was growing, I was the one who needed to execute the task or project. Now, with our company and team at the size it is, that is no longer the case. But doing it myself was a hard habit to break! I still slip into that mode from time to time, but usually, catch myself before I go too far.

This year Adam and I really broke my role down into a few of keywords: organize, communicate, and delegate. That’s my job in a nutshell. I must organize the ideas, projects, people, time, and resources necessary to keep all companies moving forward. I need to help communicate the vision, the ideas, the projects, or the process to the necessary people, as well as create content and help connect the dots across all organizations to create opportunities and growth. I need to delegate projects and tasks to the appropriate people, support them, and hold them accountable to the results.

When I feel myself getting caught in the weeds, I go back to the mantra: organize, communicate, delegate. It brings me focus and clarity so that I can continue to make the biggest impact for Adam and the organization.

2020 was one for the history books. I am thankful that amidst such a turbulent year, I was able to gain clarity in many areas of my life.

What gift did 2020 give you?

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