Facing 2021 With the Building Blocks of 2020

Like most people I was stunned over the last few days as I watched the riots in and around the US Capitol building. The tensions of 2020 had spilled over, unwelcomed, into the new year for the United States. For us here in Trinidad, we are still grappling with the challenges that the covid-19 pandemic brought to our doors. Clearly, we all have to face the reality that the late New York Times writer, Hal Borland aptly stated, “Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on.”

The question is, how do we go on in a way that keeps 2021 bright, with hope for better days? I propose that we work on the only thing that we truly have any control over – ourselves.

Focus on Triumphs Not Failures

Many of the goals that we set early in 2020 were rendered impossible or irrelevant by the middle of this one-of-a-kind year. While watching goals go up in smoke is not a morale booster for any of us, along with the general havoc, 2020 gave us new priorities that also enriched our lives.

In the banking sector we had to prioritise helping our customers and communities survive the crisis, over debt collection. We had to put employee safety over increasing efficiency. It was a challenging shift in mindset but in the end, we have found ourselves learning new ways of thinking and working, and we are more in touch with our customers’ needs. No, we certainly didn’t hit all of our 2020 goals, but I believe that we became better bankers, and better people.

Maybe you suddenly had to learn how to be a schoolteacher, at home, or figure out how to work alongside an energetic toddler, or magically run your family on a lower income. No doubt it’s been tough, but remember what you’ve gained. Are you more disciplined, closer to your children, or did you discover that you have a budgeting super-power? Whatever it is, take the time to soak it in an appreciate yourself for your perseverance. If you made it through 2020 chances are nothing can stop you!

Be Patient About Regrowth

The anxiety to wash away the troubles of any year can make us vulnerable to overspending in the belief that this gadget, system or “opportunity” will get rid of our problems fast, but even more so in 2020. There never was a magic pill and there isn’t one this year.

Businessman and motivational speaker, Nido Qubein brilliantly says, “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go. They merely determine where you start.” So start by remembering that impatience leads to risky behaviour that may worsen your current situation. Short cuts are only delays in disguise.

Be patient with yourself and release the guilt of past mistakes. Honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses so you know the best areas to expend your efforts and which areas you need to ask for help. You can begin to build a solid foundation for sustainable financial growth right where you are.

Manage your risks

Risk management might sound like the realm of investment bankers and insurance brokers, but in reality, it is an important part of everyday life and a skill that is vital for us to improve. We must learn to anticipate, measure and mitigate risks. We are still living in the alternate reality that 2020 ushered in, and we have to be a bit more careful of our choices this year. We need to be able to anticipate the possibility of further lockdowns, sudden job loss and other extreme circumstances. We can then measure the likelihood of these outcomes based on what we see occurring around the world and the region. These likelihoods may not occur, but we must weigh the chances carefully and determine the level of risk we are willing to take with any major financial decisions.

We have to acknowledge that every choice we make today will either leave us better, or worse prepared for possible challenges in the future. Saving as a way to mitigate against these challenges is no longer optional if you want to be prepared for the future. So maybe learn to make homemade pizza and cut back on the take-out and aim to have a minimum of three months of your family’s expenses in savings. Six months would be even better. This way if disaster strikes, you and your family have a buffer of time to get back on your feet. And in the meantime, you have the peace of knowing that you can weather the storm. Now that tastes better than any sushi roll! Also, with several discounted online courses now available, it might be time to take your education up a notch and start reaching for a higher paying position. Or maybe one of your pandemic skills might be the beginnings of a side-hustle that could fund your savings. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it’s all part of managing risk and giving yourself and your family the best possible chance of success.

For 2021 let us do our best to shake off the dust of 2020’s hardships and take control of our future. Remember growth takes time, but you must start somewhere. The smallest seed can spawn the biggest tree. As we learn to be better risk managers, let’s utilize all the hard-won lessons and skills we gained in 2020 and patiently work to rebuild our lives sustainably in 2021.

I leave you with the words of Pulitzer prize winning journalist, Ellen Goodman.

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives ... not looking for flaws but for potential.”

Happy New Year.

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