The end of the year is popularly depicted as a grizzled old man, stooped under the care and worry of the year gone by, ready to relinquish his responsibilities and pass the baton to the rosy-cheeked, diapered baby crawling expectantly into a new year.
I’m not sure if this depiction is true this year, because I’m not sure where 2019 went – it feels like we barely got out of adolescence. And now, here we are, beginning anew. Happy New Year!
A World in Transition
This year feels momentous, somehow, as we click over into the 2020s. And, it’s true that the headlines suggest this decade will continue in a similar vein to the last, characterized by uncertainty and change.
The global world order is in flux.
Later this month, we can expect to see Great Britain exit the European Union after Boris Johnson and the Tories secured a significant majority in parliamentary elections last month. Johnson promised Brexit and Brexit he intends to deliver.
Finalizing the necessary agreements for this to occur and replacing EU-trade agreements with bilateral arrangements with the UK’s major trading partners could make the road to Brexit look smooth and straight. And these difficult negotiations are occurring at a time and place where the concept and value of free trade is being questioned and the World Trade Organization, created to ensure free trade is also fair, is teetering.
Meanwhile, here in the United States, we’re planning for an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate amid a presidential campaign with a bumper crop of Democratic candidates vying for the chance to contest the election with President Trump.
Polarization and populism are rippling across globe.
But it’s not just politics and trade that are vying for our attention these days.
Do you remember 20 years ago when we were wondering whether at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2000 all the lights would go out? How no one knew whether their computer would boot up in the new millennium?
Technology is back in the headlines.
Facebook plans this year to launch Libra, a new cryptocurrency that will enable smooth and simple financial transactions outside of the global financial system. More and more banks are offering Bitcoin trading to their corporate clients; expect that to move into the retail sector, too. And the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is evaluating the launch of exchange-traded funds of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies within the global financial system.
The technology sector now knows more about each of us individually than we do about ourselves, it seems. And the privacy concerns this raises for both citizens and policymakers are significant.
“Don’t be evil,” is how Google describes its code of conduct. But, evil intent is not the only way that bad things occur. In fact, negative impacts more often emerge from the sum of individually innocuous decisions made by an organization, rather than direction by a Bond-villain CEO.
And at the same time these companies are leveraging us – our personal data – for corporate gain, governments around the world are pressuring these companies to create “backdoor” access to these systems and encryption technologies so that law enforcement agencies can investigate and monitor for public safety.
The challenge is that governments are no more immune than technology companies from generating unintended negative impacts while pursuing legitimate goals, creating yet another set of privacy concerns.
Uncertainty and Opportunity
My point in bringing up these issues – and there are many more – is that fundamental beliefs and systems are being questioned, and the coming decade could be a period of significant and disruptive change.
“Uncertainty” is the watchword for 2020. But times of disruption can open new opportunities, if we’re willing to position ourselves, to change, in response to these new realities.
It’s possible to begin a change any day of the year, of course, but the beginning of this new year is a good time to take stock of where you are, to evaluate various aspects of your life, and assess what, if anything, you might want to do differently in the areas of health, relationships, career, personal growth, etc., in the year ahead.
The idea is to look for small, repeatable actions that you can take that begin modifying your behaviors to support the changes that you’re seeking to make. In most cases, the dramatic shifts are not the best way to do this, because they rarely stick. Rather, it’s the patient accumulation of incremental improvements, implemented consistently over a sustained period that lead to lasting change.
We cannot expect to control or shape the events around us. But responding to change and disruption is mostly a mental game, and it is a learned skill.
Writing in his journal – writing to himself – nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius put it thus, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.”
May we find strength in 2020.