Downtown Austin, Texas — December 22, 2020–9 months and 9 days after COVID-19 changed our city.

An Unexpected Year

When browsing through social media over the last few weeks I find consistent themes around the word or the quote of the year. Yes, “you’re on mute” is likely to hands down win in the quote category, but it is the word that is trickier.

This past year has caused pain and disillusionment for so many of us, but there have also been sparks of joy and celebration. Every month had a new headline about the pandemic, the murder of black men and women, raging wildfires, and hurricanes. And throughout all this pain and confusion there were also headlines of heroes, whether they were medical workers, first responders, delivery drivers, or someone offering a complete stranger support, a lot of good happened too.

The people who follow me on Facebook see that I try to pick a favorite person every day and have done this for several years. “Try” this year has been the key with everything we have faced, but even with dry stretches that sometimes lasted a week or more once a favorite person showed up many more followed in their place. Sometimes they did little things and other times they accomplished the impossible, but all made the world better.

What has been new for me this year was sharing a quote. Sometimes these are about business and career growth, and sometimes they are about getting out of my own way so that I can be healthier. Either way it is a daily reminder to myself that I must work on me, because if I do not then I will fail as a friend, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a leader.

But what this truly showed me was what I wanted for myself and how I wanted to be treated both personally and professionally. I had never given that much thought before, at least not about defining the treatment I deserve and how I set boundaries around other people’s behavior. Once I did that work and understood how the lack of boundaries affected me and in turn affected those closest to me then I began making decisions about who could and could not continue in my life, both personally and professionally.

If it had not been for the pandemic which led this high extrovert to spending more than 90% of my time alone since mid-March, I would have never done this work, or even realized it needed to be done. It was a gift in a way, a one good thing that came out of all of this. And the freedom of guilt that I had when ending these associations with people who I finally realized did not respect me, because they did not respect my boundaries, was a feeling I had not expected. Before this work, ending any type of relationship felt like agony to me as I feared hurting the other person’s feelings or losing a potential connection in business. It is not that I stopped caring, it is that I realized I was in a losing battle that even if I won in the eyes of others, I was not winning at all in trying to salvage the unsalvageable.

And this brings me to my word of 2020.

Unexpected.

Nothing I planned turned out the way I thought. The playbook I created for my business was tossed out the window on March 13. How I lived my life and how I perceived my value as contributor to my work and personal community prior to that day was upended. The plans with friends, the vacations with family, the coaching of my staff, all of it changed and I changed with it. It was all unexpected, but I am a better person because of it. There is still work to be done, but I am entering 2021 with new insight, more awareness, and a strong desire to keep this growth as a focus every day.

I will continue to look for favorite people, because that was great advice from Mr. Rogers, and he was right about needing to find the helpers around us. I will continue to share a quote to remind myself, with accountability, that I have work to do. I will continue to evaluate what I need my boundaries to be so that I can be open to new opportunities while ensuring that I am not entering toxic interactions. But most of all I will continue to be hopeful for what comes next, even if it is unexpected.

CEO of Austin Technology Council, Advisory Board Member of Austin Forum on Technology & Society, Adopter of Shelter Pets, Former Foster Mom, and Sales Geek